Moto Z2 Force review
The Moto Z2 Force stands out in a world of status quo Android phones in 2017. It successfully taps into the exciting world of MotoMod accessories that can instantly upgrade your phone and marks the return of the Motorola’s shatterproof screen in a refined form factor.
It's a combination of last year's ultra-thin Moto Z and the shatter-resistant Moto Z Force with fresh specs. The result is a thin and light phone, but one that retains that hard-to-break screen. All MotoMods – new and old – are compatible with the Moto Z2 Force, thankfully.
For this reason, the look and feel is consistent 12 months later, but the differences are noticeable upon closer inspection. It’s 13% thinner and 12% lighter than last year’s Z Force, yet Motorola was able to squeeze a dual-lens camera on the back for superior photos.
To get there, the new Force makes sacrifices in other areas, namely in battery life. It moves from a sizable 3,500mAh to a 2,730mAh battery capacity that definitely can’t stretch into two days anymore. There’s also still no headphone jack.
The Moto Z2 Force is faster, thinner and takes better photos than Motorola’s first attempt at a modular phone a year ago. But you have to go into this knowing that it’s also a pricey phone that is now more determined than ever to get you to spend even more money.
Price and release date
Moto Z2 Force launches on August 10 in the US and later this summer in the UK. We should see the same end-of-summer launch window for Australia and a few other regions in the world.
It cost $720 (about £550, AU$903), or $30 a month on contract. This means it costs the same as the , which has a larger, elegantly curved screen, but no MotoMods. The 360 Camera MotoMod is $299 (about £266, AU$375).
In the US, the best news is that while the Z Force was a Verizon-exclusive, the Z2 Force will work with all American carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular as well as Verizon. Many are also offering a fantastic freebie: one pico projector MotoMod with any pre-order.
Design and MotoMods
The Motoa Z2 Force counts as an ultra-thin smartphone at just 6.1mm in thickness, even if the Moto Z2 Play with a larger battery is actually a hair thinner at 6mm. It feels extremely lightweight at just 145g.
Its slim design and flat, non-curved back actually serve to make the heft of MotoMods add-ons tolerable, whereas the original Moto Z Force was 7mm and 163g on its own. Motorola’s expecting you to magnetically attach MotoMods, whether they’re simple Style Shells or battery packs.
MotoMods now consist of a Moto 360 camera and forthcoming Game Controller, in addition to all previous mods: Turbo Power battery packs, JBL speakers, a 10x zoom Hasselblad camera and the Insta Share projector. These mods are what make this phone exciting, and Motorola promises there are more to come.
Moto Z2 Force is thin and light at the base level, but it’s not at all delicate. In addition to the ShatterShield screen, it’s unibody design has been upgraded to 7000 series aluminum for a more durable frame. It comes in Lunar Gray, Super Black and Fine Gold color options, each with an attractive brushed metal finish. Standard colors by any measure.
But you won’t find its unique fingerprint sensor on other phones. It’s borrows one-button navigation from the Moto G5 and , which optionally makes sliding right and left on the button mimic on-screen back and recent buttons, and long pressing it turns the screen on and off. On this phone, it’s a slightly wider sensor pad, which makes a lot of sense given its dual role.
If you can’t get around the lack of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack or camera bump, then this phone isn’t for you. But know that the camera bump is a non-issue once a MotoMods is attached and the phone comes with an USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter in the box. Sadly, no upgrade will this splash-resistant phone waterproof. That remains a Motorola weakness in 2017.
Display and ShatterShield screen
It’s comparable to Samsung’s best-in-class AMOLED displays, minus the curves. And while LG with the LG V30 and maybe Apple with the iPhone 8 are moving to OLED, Motorola’s screen have been far ahead of this trend.
Better yet, its Moto ShatterShield could save you from a cracked phone thanks to a five-layer protection. Motorola guarantees it won’t crack for up to four years, but it’s not scratchproof, which is a key concern due to the plastic top layer. It’s also not shockproof. If you want that, wait for the .
The third reason we like the Z2 Force display is the return of the Moto Active Display that turns on every time it senses motion from its infrared sensors. It lights up a limited portion of the screen to display the time, date and interactive notification icons.
New this year is the ability to quick reply and take other actions by pressing in on these notification icons. Before you could only open the app by flicking the icon up or dismiss it by flicking it down. You can do a lot more without ever lighting up the screen.
This is Motorola’s unique, interactive spin on an always-on display, and it's just like the phone itself. There’s nothing out there like it.
Android 7.1.1 and Moto apps
Motorola isn’t a Google company anymore, but it uses stock Android with very few refinements, and the ones that are here, we actually like outside of carrier-imposed apps.
Our AT&T Moto Z2 Force review unit, for example, came with Firefox Mobile and a dozen other app advertisements no one had asked for. There are a lot of commercial deals here for a phone that isn’t any cheaper than it was a year ago.
The good news is that Android 7.1.1 presents some refinements if you’re upgrading from an older Android phone. The app drawer button is gone, but the drawer itself is still here. Just swipe up on the bottom tray of home screen icons. Nested notifications make the notification shade cleaner, too. Quick settings icons are now somewhat customizable.
You can summon Google Assistant by giving the fingerprint sensor pad an extra-long press. So, remember, that’s tap to go to home, long press to turn the screen on and off and longer press to initiate Google Assistant. It’s confusing for the first day and that’s it. Your muscle memory will adjust.
Other Moto shortcuts we liked include twist the phone twice to open the camera, karate chop twice to turn on the flashlight, and turn the phone over to activate Do Not Disturb. That’s ideal for meetings or dinner time conversations.
Specs and performance
Moto Z2 can be just as fast as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus, and it’s no wonder, it has the same specs, at least in the US. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 is the chipset of most new Android flagship phones launching right now.
The only time we ever saw slowdown was when we were re-downloading all of our apps to the phone. At that point, it was about half as fast as normal. Multitaskers shouldn’t have a serious problem, however. The Snapdragon 835, so far, has had a good track record.
It’s coupled with an Adreno 540 graphics chip, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage – except outside the US where it’ll get 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. You can at least remedy the storage shortfall since all versions include a microSD card slot.
The Moto Z2 Force has a new dual-lens camera on back that takes excellent photos with its own twist to things – a theme for this modular smartphone.
It pairs two 12MP cameras, both identical with an f/2.0 aperture and larger 1.25 micron pixels, and uses laser and phase detection autofocus to capture photos faster than last year’s phone, though the focus is not always accurate.
One camera is dedicated to monochrome photos, following the concept of capturing true black-and-white photos without the need for a filter. Most users probably won’t notice the differences between it and simulated software black-and-white filters, however.
What is unmissable is the depth of field capabilities of the Moto Z2 Force camera. Depth photos can apply bokeh (blurring) to the background, like iPhone 7 Plus portrait photos. Motorola goes one step further and lets you use selective black-and-white here, too, for a really unique effect.
But, one step forward and two steps back: Neither camera has optical zoom capabilities like the iPhone and there’s no optical image stabilization. That affects both photo and video shakiness. Moto Z2 Force can record 4K video, yet OIS is sorely missing.
The front 5MP camera has a standout feature of its own: a front-facing flash that’s better than a simulated display flash. You can also get a wide-angle 85-degree selfie on this camera with a f/2.2 aperture, which is helpful for group shots.
The Moto Z2 Force cameras aren’t the best we’ve seen from Android phones in 2017, but they’re just close enough for most people to be completely satisfied. Plus they include standout features like selective black-and-white, true monochrome and a front-facing flash to make a difference.
Here’s where the Moto Z2 Force ultra-slim form factor really hurts itself: it has a 2,730mAh battery that gives it nearly all-day battery life, but significantly shortens what we experienced from the Z Force a year ago.
Nearly all-day battery life isn’t good enough. If you’re using Google Maps or the Hotspot feature in a city, the phone will drain before the day is through. If you’re a heavy phone user, you’re going to want to buy a MotoMod battery pack right away.
Battery packs aren’t a deal breaker. This is an already thin smartphone and adding one gives the design a nice curved grip on the back. There are also a bunch of personalizable styles, though the new generic-looking Turbo Power battery pack is the best for efficiency.
Consistent with everything we found in real-life tests, when we ran an HD video for 90 minutes – our standard lab test for all phones – we saw the battery by 15%. The best news is that the Moto Z2 Force doesn’t take long to charge and the charger is detachable from the wall brick. Last year’s charger was all one piece. Motorola is at least listening to some of our feedback.
The Moto Z2 Force proves that modular accessories aren’t just an ambitious concept, they’re a successful idea in the Z series’ sophomore year, and it still has room to grow. Motorola does this while keeping its smartphone line up-to-date with a faster chipset and improved camera. It has some neat tricks with selective black-and-white photos and a front-facing camera flash.
Attaching the Moto 360 Camera to the new phone has been fun and it’s easy to do since there’s no Bluetooth pairing required. We felt the same way about the Insta projector and JBL speaker last year. You’re just going to have to consider forking over even more money for a MotoMod battery now that this slimmed-down Force phone has a weaker battery. It moves Motorola further away from its affordable Moto X days.
The future is as expensive as it is exciting sometimes.
Who’s it for?
Moto Z2 Force is for early adopters who want something new from their smartphone every few months, and Motorola's bench is deep, from the 360 camera, to the projector, to the 10x zoom camera attachments. It has a high early adopter appropriate price to match, unfortunately. Things get even pricier when you include the almost essential battery mods to bring the battery life back to where it was before.
Should I buy it?
Yes, if you’re willing to take advantage of the fun and exciting MotoMods, then Moto Z2 Force is an easy purchase decision compared to other Android phones. There’s nothing else out there like it. The Essential Phone still needs to launch and it remains an unproven freshman effort. But, keep in mind, while Moto Z2 Force is the first successful modular phone, there are slightly better Android handsets out there with longer battery life and superior cameras – ones that aren’t concerned about thinness and your willingness to buy its accessories.
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