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Moto Z4 is a midrange phone and a Verizon 5G early-adopter machine

Motorola's new phone aims to be a solid alternative to the Google Pixel 3A XL and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.

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The Moto Z4 with its $349 Moto Mod 5G accessory. 

Angela Lang/CNET

The Moto Z4 phone is an anomaly. It costs $499, which puts it in competition with the midrange $479 Google Pixel 3A XL that packs one of the best cameras on any phone you can buy. But the Moto Z4 can also run on Verizon's sapling-size 5G network via a $349 Moto Mod accessory. That puts it toe-to-toe with the $1,299 Galaxy S10 5G, the most expensive phone Samsung currently sells -- what Galaxy Fold?

But the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde classification of the Moto Z4 is part of its appeal. At its core is a solid specc'ed midrange phone with a 6.4-inch OLED display, a Snapdragon 675 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It runs a near-stock version of Android 9 Pie with a promise from Motorola to update the phone to Android Q in the future.

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The Moto Z4. is capable of taking 48-megapixel photos with its rear camera.

Angela Lang/CNET

The Moto Z4's rear camera gets a few upgrades over last year's Moto Z3. It has what Motorola calls "Quad Pixel technology," which uses pixel-binning to allow for 48-megapixel photos. This follows a trend of other recent higher-end midrange phones, including the OnePlus 7 Pro.

Motorola added Night Vision to help photos you take in low-light situations look better. It takes a burst of eight photos and combines them into one in order to minimize image noise and increase brightness. In initial testing, Night Vision worked well-enough. Images look clean of noise albeit quite contrasty, too. I look forward to spending more time testing it against Night Sight on the Pixel 3A XL and Night Mode on Huawei P30 Pro.

The camera improvements continue around to the front of the Moto Z4 with a 25-megapixel front-facing camera that uses the same "Quad Pixel" tech as the rear one. That's a lot of pixels for a selfie photo.

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The Moto Z4 has a fingerprint reader built into the screen.

Sally Neiman / CNET

Overall the Moto Z4 feels more premium than the cheaper plastic Pixel 3A XL. The OLED display offers a good amount of brightness and contrast. When I watched videos on the screen there was a nice balance of color and dynamic range. 

There's an optical fingerprint sensor is built into the display, similar to the technology used on OnePlus 6T and 7 Pro. As with the OnePlus phones including the 7 Pro, setup was seamless however I found myself having to scan my finger several times to get it to work. I'm curious if, over time, I nail the positioning on the first try. In a bit of good news, however, the 3.5mm headphone jack has returned along the bottom of the phone after disappearing on last year's Z3 and Z2 Force.

The Moto Z4 lacks wireless charging and IP-rated water resistance (Motorola says the phone can withstand spills and rain). The omission of these features are just a couple of the sacrifices made to help the Z4 make that $499 price point.

The Z4 supports Motorola's existing "mods" for attaching accessories such as a battery pack, camera, gamepad or projector. Currently, if you buy an unlocked Moto Z4 you get the 360-degree Moto Mod free.

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The Moto Z4 will be available in "flash gray" from Verizon starting June 13, with a "frost white" color arriving on June 27. And if you live in one of the pockets of Verizon 5G, you can snag the phone for $240 ($10 per month for 24 months) with the 5G mod dropping to $200 for a "limited time," allowing you to get a 5G-ready Z4 for $440. That's ridiculous compared to the Galaxy S10 5G.

Whether the Z4 can rival the Pixel 3A's camera or if its cheaper price can top the value of $669 OnePlus 7 Pro's performance remains to be seen. Stay tuned to CNET for a full in-depth review. 

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