Moto Z2 Force Review: A Shatterproof Competitor

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ShatterShield Finally Goes Mainstream with the Moto Z2 Force

Motorola has launched its 2017 flagship smartphone in the Moto Z2 Force. On paper, it doesn't look like much of an upgrade. It has a smaller battery, relatively the same design but with a beefier processor in the Snapdragon 835. Leaving it to be a fairly unimpressive smartphone, at least on paper. But we have been using the device since its launch date last week, and have a different opinion. The Moto Z2 Force is one of the best smartphones Motorola has ever made, and that's really saying something. So let's dive deep into the review and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly on this device.

Specs

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The Moto Z2 Force sports a 5.5-inch Quad HD – 2560×1440 resolution – display. This is a P-OLED display which has a 70.4% screen to body ratio, so it does still have some large bezels around it. This is also Motorola's ShatterShield display, which is Shatterproof. Under-the-hood, we have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. This is an octa-core processor made up of four 1.9GHz Kryo cores and four 2.35GHz Kryo cores. That is paired with Qualcomm's Adreno 540 GPU for graphics and 4GB of RAM. There is also 64GB of storage available, with around 53GB available out of the box. Motorola has included a micro SD card slot for expanding that storage, and the Moto Z2 Force does have support for Adoptable Storage.

Motorola uses two 12-megapixel cameras on the back of the Moto Z2 Force, one of which is a black and white or monochrome sensor. These sport f/2.0 apertures and also have laser autofocus, phase detection autofocus and dual-tone LED flash for those low-light conditions. The front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel f/2.2 aperture sensor, which also has a dual-tone LED flash available for it. Other odds and ends in the spec department include Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and NFC. There is no headphone jack here, but there is a USB-C port. There is a front-facing fingerprint sensor, and a 2730mAh battery which is non-removable. Finally it runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat and the June 1st, 2017 security patch at launch.

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In The Box

Inside the box with the Moto Z2 Force, you don't get many goodies. You get the wall charger, which is a Turbo Charger, the USB-C cable, as well as the usual assortment of quick start guides and warranty information. And that's it. There's no headphones and no Moto Style Shell, so it appears that will need to be purchased separately. Now when it comes to the box design, it'll likely be different for each carrier. Our AT&T model here has a blue inside, with the AT&T logo on the front of the box.

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Hardware

Since the Moto Z2 Force does still work with all of the existing Moto Mods that debuted last year, the design hasn't changed a whole lot from the original Moto Z Force. There are a few subtle changes though. Like the change in the back of the device. Instead of being a glossy backside, it now has a brushed aluminum look, which looks really nice, especially in the black color that we have here. It doesn't pick up fingerprints anywhere near as much as the Moto Z Force did with its glass back, which is good. Especially for those that don't grab a Moto Style Shell for it.

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For the most part, the ports, buttons and everything else are in the same spots. The right side has the volume buttons and the power button below it. These are also black on this model, so they do blend in a bit, but they do stick out making it easy to find them. On the bottom, you'll find the USB-C port, with the SIM/micro SD card tray at the top. Noticeably missing here is the 3.5mm headphone jack. Something that was also missing on the Moto Z Force last year as well. It's still strange that the Moto Z Play and Moto Z2 Play both got the headphone jack, but the Moto Z2 Force does not. So users will have to stick with Bluetooth for this smartphone.

The backside is rather stealthy as well. There's the dual-camera module on the back which does stick out quite a bit. Most people will dislike how much the camera protrudes, and we really can't blame them. But there is a reason for this camera protruding, and that is Moto Mods. The camera helps to keep the Moto Mods in place, along with magnet and pogo pins at the bottom. So that users won't have to worry about them falling off. The back also has a black Motorola logo and a dark gray AT&T logo which looks nice. Now if you don't like seeing that AT&T logo, you can simply pop on the Moto Style Shell and it's gone.

The front of the device looks pretty much the same as the Moto Z2 Play, however some things are moved around. THe flash is on the right side and the camera is on the left, that's reverse from the Moto Z2 Play. The "Moto" logo is also down above the fingerprint sensor, instead of below the earpiece. Otherwise, it'll look the same. The "Moto" logo does look better at the top, although we would prefer it to not be on the front at all and offer up a truly stealth front of the Moto Z2 Force.

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Display

The display is the real star of the show here with the Moto Z2 Force, and it could also be the downfall of the device. The display uses Motorola's ShatterShield, which is a POLED display, similar to what LG used on the LG G Flex and G Flex 2 a few years ago. This is what allows the screen to flex without damaging the display. However the downside to this, is the fact that Motorola has a thin sheet of plastic – almost like a pre-installed screen protector – over the display which scratches insanely easily. In fact, a fingernail can scratch up the display. Which is not good for Motorola. The company has since come out and stated that it's a good idea to put another screen protector on the display, and that users are able to get it replaced if needed. But it should still not scratch that easily.

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Now the actual display is pretty good. It's a Quad HD display, as you would expect from Motorola in 2017. But since it's a POLED display, it doesn't look as sharp as a regular AMOLED display would be, and that leaves the user with a somewhat disappointing experience. It does also attract grease from your fingers quite easily. I had to continually wipe it down, as it looked pretty disgusting after using it for a while. But it appears that these are some of the trade offs for having a shatter-proof display, which is still a pretty new technology, all things considered.

Performance

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Inside the Moto Z2 Force is a Snapdragon 835 chipset along with 4GB of RAM. That's pretty much standard specs for a 2017 flagship device, and the performance that comes with that chipset and that amount of RAM is also pretty standard. The Moto Z2 Force is pretty fast, it flies through just about any task you throw at it, and it also stays nice and cool providing some great battery life, which we'll get to a bit later. The Snapdragon 835 is an octa-core chipset that runs on the 10nm process which means it's a fairly small chipset, allowing companies like Motorola to add more battery capacity or make the smartphone smaller. But that doesn't sacrifice performance, and that is the case here.

With 4GB of RAM inside, you'll never have to worry about the Moto Z2 Force slowing down or needing to close other apps so that it stays nice and fast. 4GB is plenty of RAM in 2017, and likely for the next few years. Motorola has also included 64GB of internal storage, which is another popular spec in 2017. This is going to allow users to have enough room for storing all of their favorite apps and games as well as pictures, music and much more. And with this dual-camera on the back of the device, it's definitely a good thing to have that extra space. But if you do need more, there is a micro SD card slot available as well, for even more space. Which is another great thing to have, and it does support Adoptable Storage.

Fingerprint Sensor

Motorola has kept the fingerprint sensor on the front of the Moto Z2 Force, again, likely due to Moto Mods. The fingerprint sensor is now more of an oval instead of a square like with last year's models. It also gains some added functionality. Now this isn't actually new with the Moto Z2 Force, as this functionality has been present in the Moto G5, Moto G5 Plus, Moto E4 and Moto E4 Plus, also launched earlier this year. The fingerprint sensor can now be used for navigation. Touching it takes you home swiping left or right can do back or recents. And a long press will turn off the display. It's a great way to get a bit more screen real estate out of the Moto Z2 Force.

As far as the fingerprint reader's accuracy goes, it's spot on. During our time using the Moto Z2 Force, we never really had any issues with it recognizing the finger we had set up with the fingerprint sensor. This is really quite common now in 2017, but it's still worth mentioning. The sensor was quite fast as well, now it may not be the fastest, but for most users, they won't notice the difference.

Sound

Motorola has decided to stick with keeping the 3.5mm headphone jack out of the Moto Z2 Force for some reason. And that reason is definitely not "courage". Nevertheless, it doesn't mean that you can't enjoy some music with some headphones on the Moto Z2 Force, because you can. You'll just need to stick with Bluetooth headphones for now. That's unfortunate for a few reasons, one being the fact that it is something else you need to charge. Another is the fact that Bluetooth audio quality isn't always as good as wired sound. But we did test out the Moto Z2 Force with a few pairs of Bluetooth headphones and everything sounded as they should. There were no surprises there.

Now when it comes to the speaker, Motorola has stuck to using the earpiece as the only speaker on this phone. This does keep the Moto Z2 Force with a clean look, but it would have been better to have a second speaker, preferrably on the bottom or on the front of the device, to add even better sound – like the Moto X 2015 did. The speaker, though, is actually quite good. It gets plenty loud without sounding distorted at all. The lows are nice and full of bass, while the mids and highs do sound crystal clear. This shouldn't be surprising in 2017, but the speaker did not sound tinny at all, like the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom that we reviewed recently, did.

Phone Calls & Networks

The Moto Z2 Force will be available on all of the major carriers in the US. That includes AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and US Cellular. Our review unit here is of the AT&T variety and thus we've been using it on AT&T's network, so our thoughts in this section will reflect that. When it comes to data speeds, we enjoyed some pretty good speeds on AT&T's 4G LTE network. Now AT&T is not the fastest in this area (actually one of the slower networks), but the speeds are still plenty fast to use. We're talking speeds of around 20-30Mbps, so definitely usable.

On the phone call front, you get all of the usual AT&T features here like HD Voice and VoLTE. During our review period, we made quite a few calls and none of them dropped, and everyone said that we sounded crystal clear on the other end. Definitely a good thing to hear.

Moto Mods

Now we can't talk about the Moto Z2 Force and not talk about Moto Mods. After all that's what makes this device so special. Now the Moto Style Shell isn't included in the box this time around – although it is very possible that carriers will offer up some sales for the Style Shell with a purchase of the Moto Z2 Force. This Style Shell adds some grip to the device, but perhaps more importantly, it adds Qi Wireless Charging. There are also a few other Moto Mods available, like the JBL SoundBoost 2 and the Moto Turbo Power Pack, so that you are able to quickly charge up on the go and get some great music on the go as well.

Motorola has said that the Moto Z2 Force is compatible with all existing Moto Mods. That includes the ones that launched last year. Motorola has even said that next year's Moto Z3 lineup will be compatible with these, which is a good look for Motorola, but it's also something the company had claimed last year when the Moto Z line first launched, so this isn't surprising, but definitely good to see on Motorola's part.

Benchmarks

With the Moto Z2 Force, we ran all of the usual benchmarks. These include AnTuTu, 3D Mark and GeekBench 4. With AnTuTu, the Moto Z2 Force scored a 175,818, which puts it in between all of the other Snapdragon 835-powered devices out there like the OnePlus 5, HTC U11, Galaxy S8 and the Xiaomi Mi 6. Over on 3D Mark, it picked up a score of 3613. Finally, on GeekBench 4, it picked up a single-core score of 1901 and a multi-core score of 6463. You can see the full results down below.

Battery Life

Inside is a 2730mAh battery, which is indeed smaller than the Moto Z Force's battery from last year. That seems to be a common theme from Motorola this year, as it also shrank the battery size of the Moto Z2 Play compared to its predecessor. However, during the review period, we did notice that the battery life was still quite good on the Moto Z2 Force. It seems to be right on par with what you would get out of something like the Galaxy S8 or the HTC U11, with similar specs and similar battery capacities. We were able to get four hours of on screen time on a single charge, and that included plenty of YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and plenty of time outside under direct sunlight. Since a good number of us do use our phones outside and spend a lot of time on social media, this seems to be pretty close to what normal users would experience. So this should get you through a full day and then some.

Of course, if it can't get you through a full day of usage, there is Quick Charge 3.0 to bring it back to 100%. The Moto Z2 Force does have Quick Charge 3.0, and we tested it out during the review period. The Moto Z2 Force was able to go from around 10% to 100% in just under an hour. Which for any phone is pretty impressive. Since this battery is slightly smaller than some other smartphones with Quick Charge 3.0, it does charge up a bit faster.

Finally, when it comes to the battery, many people were upset that it did not feature Qi Wireless Charging. That is technically correct, but the Moto Z2 Force can charge wirelessly. It's done the same way that the Moto Z2 Play charges wirelessly, and that's using the Moto Style Shell. Since the Moto Z2 Force is made of metal, it makes it tougher to do wireless charging, but the Moto Style Shell gets around that, and surprisingly enough, the device does not really get hot at all when charging wirelessly. It does charge slower than plugging it into the wall, which is likely better for the battery in the long term, but it does still work well.

Software

Motorola is launching the Moto Z2 Force with Android 7.1.1 Nougat and the June 1st, 2017 security patch. Now the hardcore Android fans are going to complain that the security patch is nearly two months old, which is true. But it is still a recent one, and Motorola doesn't roll out these security patches each month. Instead it rolls multiple patches together to push out fewer updates. So the June 1st, 2017 security patch isn't a big deal, on the Moto Z2 Force, and it is good to see it running on Android 7.1.1, the absolute latest version of Android, currently.

When it comes to the software on Motorola phones, it has been largely unchanged for a few years now. Motorola has kept with its formula of using stock Android and adding on a few extras to make the experience better for its users. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Starting with the launcher, you'll notice that it is very similar to the Pixel launcher. Perhaps the biggest difference here is the fact that the app drawer is translucent instead of having a white background. Which actually looks a bit better. But you can still swipe up from the bottom to open the app drawer, swipe left to right to get to Google Now, etc.

Now all of the changes to the software live within the Moto app, which Motorola is able to update through the Google Play Store. This is a good thing since the company is able to fix bugs or roll out new features without having to push out a software update. Within the Moto App, you have three sections, Moto Actions, Moto Display and Moto Voice. If you have used a Motorola device in the past few years, you'll know what to expect here. Under Moto Actions, there are a slew of gestures you an enable or disable, granularly. This includes using the fingerprint sensor as navigation, the Chop Twice for Flashlight, Twist for Quick Capture, to name a few. There doesn't really seem to be anything new here, other than the one-button navigation which we saw with the Moto G5 lineup earlier this year.

With Moto Display, this is the not-quite, always-on display that Motorola has had since the original Moto X in 2013. You can wave your hand over the Moto Z2 Force to see what notifications you have, you will also see it "breathe" when you do have new notifications. This can be turned off if you wish. There is also a night mode, that keeps the display dark at night, so it doesn't wake you up. Finally we have Moto Voice. Which is something that a lot of people may not use, since we now have the Google Assistant. But with Moto Voice, your phone is always listening to your voice. Now it can do a few things that Google Assistant can't, yet. Which includes adjusting WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. But for the most part, it does everything that the Google Assistant does, which is also available here.

Now, before we wrap up the software section of this review, we have to talk about bloatware, since the Moto Z2 Force is now a carrier-branded device. Our review unit here is an AT&T model, and there is a ton of bloatware here. There's a good 20+ apps that are pre-installed here, luckily a good number of them can be disabled or removed. But things like AT&T Remote Support, cannot. So if you're not a fan of bloatware, you'll want to keep this in mind. Obviously each carrier is different, usually AT&T and Verizon have the most bloatware on their devices. Otherwise, the software experience on the Moto Z2 Force is exactly what you'd expect. It's minimal, offers a great experience with useful features, and it's smooth. There's no "jank" like you might see on other devices, and there's no slowdowns whatsoever. Of course, the Snapdragon 835 is a big reason for that.

Camera

The Moto Z2 Force marks Motorola's first smartphone with a dual-camera setup. It has now joined the group of dual-camera smartphones with the Moto Z2 Force, and it looks like they've gone the unpopular route of using a color sensor and a monochrome sensor, which is what Huawei is doing with its smartphones – thanks to its partnership with Leica. Motorola is using dual 12-megapixel sensors here, both of which have an aperture of f/2.2. There is also laser and phase detection autofocus on this camera setup, so autofocusing is super fast, even in low-light, which is nice to see. Motorola's camera app hasn't changed much here, but there is now a new mode for taking true black and white photos. Motorola has been talking up this mode because you can take monochrome photos without doing any post-editing, thanks to that monochrome sensor.

The camera can do 4:3 aspect ratio pictures in 12-megapixel, if you want a more wide-screen image like a 16:9 aspect ratio, that drops down to 8.3-megapixels. For video, it is able to record in 4K at 30FPS, Full HD at either 60FPS or 30FPS, and then of course HD and VGA at 30FPS each. So unfortunately, Motorola hasn't gone the route of giving us some incredible slow-motion capability with this camera, but that's also not something most users are going to use anyways. The other mode that Motorola has now added is called Depth. Which is essentially its own Bokeh mode. Now we did also test this out and it doesn't seem to be as good as its competition. But more on that in the photo quality section. Overall, Motorola has kept its minimal camera app minimal while adding features. It remains one of the easiest to use camera apps, for beginners, and still great to use for professional photographers.

Camera Quality

Okay, so Motorola has added a second camera to the back, but does that make much of a difference? Well the answer is, sort of. The camera does seem to have some challenges when it comes to bad lighting, or not-great lighting. For instance, in the subway station in New York City. As you can see in a couple of the images below, the camera had a tough time deciding on what it should focus in on, and some areas were a bit more blown out than they should be. There were some pictures taken outside in Manhattan which had the background blown out too, not it was an overcast day, so it is a bit tough to tell, but it is blown out a bit. That wasn't the case with every photo though, which is a good thing.

When it comes to Depth, the Moto Z2 Force seemed to only want to focus in on a small area in the center of the camera. Not the actual object, just that area. So there was a pole that I had it focus in on, and it only focused on part of the pole, not the entire pole. But the pictures that did come out as I had expected them too, did turn out pretty great. So it's clear that there is some work that needs to be done here, not to mention the fact that there is some practice needed for the user.

The camera does take great photos about 98% of the time. There might be that time or two where the photo doesn't come out as you'd expect it too, but for the most part it's pretty good. Motorola does still lag behind the competition however, as this is definitely behind the HTC U11, Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. But it will likely be much better next year, after a year of more R&D on dual-cameras.

The Good

Shatter-proof display

Snappy Performance

Plenty of Storage

Moto Mods Customizability

Available at All Carriers (and Best Buy)

A Good Camera

Google Daydream Support

The Bad

Price

Display can easily be scratched

Smaller Battery than its Predecessor

No headphone jack

No USB-C to 3.5mm Dongle in the Box

Wrap Up

The most controversial question about the Moto Z2 Force is whether it is an actual upgrade from the original. And this is because the design is basically the same. The specs are mostly the same, aside from the upgraded processor. And the battery got smaller. Now this might not be the phone that Moto Z Force owners are going to go out and buy, but it is still a good one to grab. If for no other reason than the ShatterShield display.

Should I Buy the Moto Z2 Force?

For $720, probably. This all depends on what you need and want from a smartphone. If you are someone that drops your phone a lot, then the Moto Z2 Force is a definite buy, due to the shatter-proof display. Otherwise, there's a lot of competition in this price range. From the HTC U11, Samsung's Galaxy S8, the LG G6 (which is actually quite a bit cheaper), not to mention the upcoming LG V30 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8. So there's a lot of questions to answer, when it comes to whether you should buy this phone. But with the ShatterShield display and Moto Mods customizability, it's a great option. And since it is available from all carriers, it's an even bigger deal than last year's model.

Buy the Moto Z2 Force (Motorola.com) Buy the Moto Z2 Force (AT&T) Buy the Moto Z2 Force (Sprint) Buy the Moto Z2 Force (T-Mobile) Buy the Moto Z2 Force (Verizon)