Motorola’s smartphones don’t quite have the same recognition of the giants like Samsung or Apple, but the Lenovo-backed company still presses forward nonetheless. And we’re glad of it too. Motorola’s approach to flagship smartphones is much different and darn right interesting when compared to the competition, largely in part to its modular design. If you were a fan of those neat Moto Mods that could expand the smartphone’s functionality in a snap, you’ll be glad to hear that Motorola is progressing it this year.
Continue onward to our Moto Z2 Force Smartphone review to find out if Motorola has managed to sidestep the rest.
Summary: The Moto Z2 Force is a durable and cleverly designed top-end smartphone. Both the magnetically modular system and shatterproof screen are tremendous features that we wish we could find on other devices, giving the Z2 Force an edge where some other aspects are yesteryear, such as the considerable bezels and rear camera hump. It ultimately comes down to which features matter most to you, but you’ll be getting a solid and speedy smartphone regardless.
What We Liked
- Shatterproof display
- Interesting design and premium construction
- Dual cameras
- Moto Mod options are compelling
What We Didn’t
- Camera hump
- Scratch-prone display
- Significant bezels
- No waterproofing
Moto Z2 Force Specs
Display 5.5" P-OLED, QHD resolution (2,960x1,440), ShatterShield protection
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (octa-core, 2.35 GHz, Adreno 540 GPU)
Memory 4GB of RAM
Storage 64GB internal and microSD expansion (up to 2 TB)
Rear Camera Dual 12MP sensors (1 monochrome, 1 color), f/2.0 aperture, 1.25µm pixels, PD and Laser Auto-Focus
Front Camera 5MP, f/2.2 aperture
Battery 2,730 mAh (non-removeable), no wireless charging
Software Android 7.1.1 (Nougat)
Colors Super Black, Fine Gold, Lunar Grey (depending market)
The second chapter in Motorola’s Moto Z story is more of a follow-up than an evolution. Many of the original Moto Z‘s features make a return, such as its exceedingly thin profile, premium construction, and ingenious magnetic pin system that is used for custom accessory attachments. Yes, unlike LG with the G5, Motorola isn’t giving up on the idea of a modular phone and has instead expanded on the available options with the Z2 Force debut.
This iteration is a great thing for fans of the Moto Z’s unique design, and we appreciate the switch of the back cover material from fragile glass to an attractive brushed metal…but we can’t help feel like there was some progression that Motorola missed out on. This notion is a result of the bezel-busting top-dogs this year from LG and Samsung (the G6 and Galaxy S8, respectively). If you’ve used one of these flagships, the front of the Moto Z2 Force may be an eye-sore, mostly because of its substantial bottom chin. This also means that despite the 5.5″ sized display, the phone is still almost the size of the 6.2″ Galaxy S8+. Some of it gets justified by a front-placed fingerprint scanner, which is miles ahead of the Galaxy S8’s compromised placement adjacent the rear camera lens.
But that’s not the only aspect that puts the Z2 Force a step behind. The camera(s) bump is still prominent, there’s no waterproofing rating, no wireless charging, or no headphone jack. Sure, these particular features aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but the sum of them at a $750 price tag may be, especially in light of the direct competition at the same cost.
Alas, these negative points don’t mean that we’re dealing with a missed opportunity whatsoever. The build of the Z2 Force is as solid as can be, and feels fantastic in the hand due to its extremely thin and light design. The matte-finished metal frame and brushed metal back cover are luxurious, further complimented by gleaming chamfers on all edges.
The Moto Z2 Force matches its top-end rivals for under-the-hood specs. That is, we have the latest Snapdragon 835 octa-core chipset coupled with 4GB of RAM. On-board storage is also at a generous 64 GB internally, with up to 2 TB microSD card expansion. Ultimately, this all means that the software of the Z2 Force flies like no tomorrow. The speed is also assisted by the fact that Motorola opts for minimal software bloat to the pure Android build. The smoothness and fluidity of the UI reminds us a lot of the clean Android experience in the Google-made Pixel phone.
The Z2 Force’s exceptional thinness does mean that battery capacity takes a step back. That’s no understatement; we’re down to 2,730 mAh from the 3,500 mAh battery in the original Moto Z. But before reaching for that pitchfork, know that the Snapdragon 835 processor came with significant battery-saving optimizations. The downgrade here isn’t as drastic as it appears. In our use, moderate usage would comfortably get us through the day. But you may want to look elsewhere if you’re a heavy user, as the direct competition pushes above 3,000 mAh. Or you can opt for Motorola’s battery pack (covered further in the review).
An increasing trend in smartphones is the exclusion of the long-established 3.5mm audio jack, and Motorola is alreday on that boat. Like with the current iPhone, wired headphone users will have to carry around a dongle adapter that gets audio out of the charging port. Interestingly, we don’t see a speaker grill anywhere along the frame of the phone. This is because Motorola cleverly incorporated the loud speaker into the earpiece. It’s great to have the external sound pointing in the right direction, but its mono and tinny qualities are a far cry from those manufacturers that have a two-speaker implementation.
One of the tricks Motorola has up its sleeve on its flagship phone is the ShatterShield display. As the name implies, it means that the Z2 Force display is impervious to shattering. Motorola achieves this by constructing the front with a multi-layer plastic panel. This technology is so robust that the company warranties it for four years, which is rather unheard-of.
One may think that this extra focus on screen durability may mean that the display quality makes a step back, which is fortunately not so here. The Z2 Force sports a QHD resolution OLED screen like the big boys. It is vibrant, colorful, and performs admirably against sunlight in the outdoors.
However, we must caution that the screens plastic and shatterproof quality does make it more prone to scratching than the Gorilla Glass 5 panels used in most of today’s flagship smartphones. We strongly recommend a screen protector with the Z2 Force.
Motorola jumps on the latest dual camera trend with the Z2 Force. Smartphone manufacturers vary on how they end up using the secondary sensor, such as LG tacking on a wide-angle lens or Apple with a 2x zoom on the Plus model of the iPhone. Motorola follows in the steps of Huawei and incorporates a monochrome sensor to assist the standard color sensor. Two primary advantages of this kind of camera system is better lighting data (the black and white sensor reads this information better) and better depth of field quality.
In Auto mode, it’s not immediately apparent that we’re using a dual-camera system; pointing and shooting functions as normally would. Jumping into the camera options displays the extras. Aside from the typical Manual mode, we have a Depth mode and Black & White mode. The latter is self-explanatory (it shoots with the monochrome sensor). Depth mode is the most interesting benefit of the dual cameras, where we can substantially put a subject into focus. The background blur gives off a similar effect to Apple’s Portrait mode, but here we can edit the effect in post. Motorola includes a “Depth Editor” function that allows for changing the focal point and/or adjusting the amount of blur. Pretty neat.
That’s all fine and dandy, but does the extra sensor actually equate to boosted image quality of standard shots? You can judge them via our samples below.
A nice thing to be aware of is that due to the design similarities between the original Moto Z and its successor, all of the previous mods are compatible, such as the Hasselblad True Zoom camera, Style shell panels, or that neat Insta-share projector that we checked out in our Moto Z Review. We have a few to look at in depth, thanks to our friends at Verizon Wireless.
This mod was one of my personal favorites. Since the existence of the Xperia Play back in the early Android days, a part of me has been longing for another attempt at a phone with a physical gamepad. Motorola has now come to the rescue.
While the mod’s implementation doesn’t have the most finesse (its horizontal length is a bit much), its shear benefit to heavy mobile gamers is sure to outshine any pickle about the design. It has all the buttons you’d expect in a gaming controller – analog sticks, d-pad on the left, 4-button array on the right, and bumpers on top – and feels tactile and right. Inside is also a 1,035 mAh battery that lasts about 8 hours.
Another new mod is the Moto TurboPower. As implied, the shell contain a battery pack within, which will add a whopping 3,490 mAh of juice to the phone’s 2,730 mAh capacity. Sure, the combination adds a tad more thickness to carry around, but this is the most seamless way we’ve seen to insure you don’t end up with a paperweight on a busy day. There’s no cables involved, just snap the shell on whenever you end up in that dire low-battery situation.
Like the Hasselblad mod for the camera, the SoundBoost (as the name implies) takes the phone’s audio output to another level. Produced by JBL, it packs dual 27mm, 3W speakers for stereo sound. This mod essentially turn your phone into like that of a Bluetooth speaker.
Since that kind of audio power would take a toll on the phone’s battery, the mod has its own 1,000 mAh capacity within. It can last about 10 hours from a full charge before tapping into the phone’s battery.
Earlier, we touched on Motorola’s excellently responsive take on Android. It is one of the best things about this phone, leaving us wishing that more Android smartphone manufacturers would lighten up their custom interfaces. Motorola maintains most of Android’s Material Design software elements, such as the floating overlays and animations, circular icons, and even the Google Now aggregator as the most left panel. What’s more, Motorola uses Google apps where applicable (i.e. phone dialer, photo gallery, calendar, calculator).
What’s also notable is that the Moto Z2 Force is running on a current Android Nougat build (version 7.1.1). The latest Nougat didn’t only bring software optimizations from the original build but some new features, like quick actions by long-pressing on app icons, a new set of emoji’s, and the ability to send GIFs directly from the keyboard.
One of the largest software benefits of Motorola phones is the Moto app. Motorola doesn’t attempt to create its own voice assistant like some other manufacturers, but inserts some useful features not found in stock Android. The Moto app lays out three sets of these: Moto Actions, Moto Display, and Moto Voice.
The Moto Z2 Force is best thought of polished Moto Z. Many of the same qualities are carried over, such as the super thin profile, clean software, magnetic pin system for modular add-ons, and unfortunately those substantial front bezels. Motorola is essentially betting that improved internals, a secondary camera sensor, and wider variety of Moto Mods is what it takes to succeed. We’ll let buyers be the judge of that, but we will say that at the $750 price point, some of the competition has the clear upper hand in terms of features.