Until recently, it was easy to tell lower-cost smartphones from their premium brethren without even turning them on or handling them. All you had to do was look at the size. A 5-in. display? Obviously lower-cost. A 6-in. display? Okay, now you're talking flagship.
Once that was settled, you could pretty much figure that that the other specs would follow suit, including the type of processor, the phone's build (plastic vs. metal), its display quality (HD vs. AMOLED), etc.
Motorola was one of the main architects of this: For example, last year's version of its well-made but relatively lower-end Moto G had a 5-in. display and started at a very reasonable price of $180. On the upper end of the feature-set range, the Moto X Pure came with an impressive 5.7-in. Quad HD display and ran about $400.
Now, however, things have changed. Motorola has just introduced its fourth-gen line of Moto G phones, along with a new line of Moto Z premium devices -- and they're all the same size. It seems that Motorola has decided that a 5.5-in. screen is the best compromise between smaller, less expensive phones and the larger (excuse the expression) phablets.
Not that the phones are all that similar in other aspects. The new Moto G and Moto G Plus have been improved as far as processor, camera and other features are concerned; they are also (especially the Moto G Plus) comparatively more expensive, which may not be that much of an advantage. And the new Moto Z, which is replacing the popular but well-worn Moto X, is something new altogether.
Moto G and Moto G Plus
There is actually not a lot of difference between the fourth-gen Moto G and Moto G Plus. Both are equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor (a decent but not terribly speedy octo-core chip), a respectable 1080 Full HD display, a 3000mAh battery and a 5MP front-facing camera. The Moto G Plus has a somewhat better back-facing camera (16MP vs. the Moto G's 13MP) and while both are available with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, the Moto G tops out at 32GB while the Moto G Plus goes up to 64GB and 4GB of RAM.
Both offer the familiar replaceable plastic backing -- which doesn't feel at all cheap and is, in fact, rather comfortable -- covering the SIM and SD-card slots.
And while the size of the display has gone up from last year's model, the price has as well: The Moto G starts at $200 and the G Plus starts at $250.
Moto Z and Moto Z Force
Meanwhile, the upcoming Moto Z and Moto Z Force are two slim, slick-looking premium smartphones with a difference: Magnetic backs that can accept a variety of attachable modules called Moto Mods. These initially include a back-up battery, a projector and a speaker.
Motorola is not the first manufacturer this year to try to come up with a modular phone. The LG G5, which we reviewed back in April, offers replaceable batteries and other features that slide out from the bottom of the phone. I have to say that, on first look, Motorola's method -- simply snapping the module magnetically onto the back of the phone -- seems more elegant and simpler than LG's.
Both the Moto Z and Moto Z Force are built with a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, a 5.5-in. Quad HD AMOLED display, up to 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. They are equipped with USB-C ports (for fast charging); while the Moto Z has a 13MP rear-facing camera, the Moto Z Force has a 21MP camera with a number of additional enhancements. The Moto Z Force also has a display that is guaranteed by Motorola not to crack or shatter.
Interestingly, while the Moto G line comes unlocked, the Moto Z and Moto Z Force will only be available (for now) at Verizon Wireless.
Of course, you can't really judge a phone by its specs, or even by first impressions -- but how it works in the long run. We are in the process of trying out both sets of phones, and will report on how they do in about a week.
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