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Moto Z2 Force review

The Moto Z2 Force, 360 Moto Mod now available at major carriers in the U.S.

how does fast charging work
Moto Z2 Force
MSRP $799.99
“The Moto Z2 Force packs impressive specs in a thin frame, but it will drain your wallet dry.”
  • Incredibly thin
  • Moto Mods are user-friendly
  • Great software experience
  • Sharp, vibrant display
  • Depth Effect and True B&W are useful, fun
  • Not waterproof
  • Camera has frequent shutter lag
  • Poor battery life
  • Screen scratches easily

Motorola’s Moto Z lineup is all about Moto Mods. They’re magnetic snap-on accessories that give phones new abilities, like an extended battery or wireless charging. Both last year’s Moto Z and the new Moto Z2 Force look naked without some type of mod covering the 16 pogo pins on the rear. But to sell the Moto Mods, you need to have a great base smartphone. In our Moto Z2 Force review, we found Motorola’s latest flagship has a few problems that compromise an otherwise good phone.

Chunky bezels, glass scratches easily

At a glance, the 5.5-inch Moto Z2 Force looks similar to Motorola’s 2016 model. A closer look shows some slight design changes that make the phone look nicer. For starters, there’s a thin grey border on the rear of our black Moto Z2 Force that looks sleek. Sadly, the camera still pops out like a sore thumb, but you’ll notice a new dual-camera setup squeezed in. Talking about the rear design may be moot, though, because many owners may have a Moto Mod slapped on it half the time.

On the front, the flash and the fingerprint sensor are more oval than before. The volume rocker and a textured power button are on the right edge, and a USB Type-C charging port sits at the bottom. There’s no headphone jack, though a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter comes included. The earpiece is the only speaker on the phone, and it’s not good — music can get relatively loud, but it fails at bass.

The screen’s glass is not seamless with the edge of the phone, either. When you slide your finger from the edge of the screen, you can feel the raised sharp edge of the glass, which gives it a rough, unpolished feel. The Moto Z2 Force also has chunky edges around the display, making it look like a 2015 device if you sit it next to bezel-less competitors like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 or LG’s G6.

Unlike most smartphones, Motorola does not use Corning’s Gorilla Glass to protect the screen from scratches and cracks. Instead, it uses its own proprietary “Shattershield” technology, which offers a “five-layer protection system.” Motorola says the screen is guaranteed not to crack or shatter for four years. This guarantee does not protect against scratches, and likely for good reason. The Moto Z2 Force scratches easily. We have yet to drop the phone, but on the very first day of leaving it in our pocket, we found two visible scratches on the top of the screen.

On the very first day of leaving it in our pocket, we found two visible scratches on the top of the screen.

In response to our problems, a Motorola spokesperson told us that, “ShatterShield addresses the top consumer pain point of cracked and shattered screens and we have seen overwhelming consumer response in favor of this product innovation. Like past generations, the structure does not contain glass and we encourage screen protector usage to guard against scratches. Moto Z2 Force Edition is as durable as the last generation with a more seamless integration of the top layer/liner.”

We haven’t seen any more scratches yet, but we imagine the phone won’t look pretty after a year.

Motorola made the Z2 Force 13 percent thinner and 12 percent lighter, but we’re not sure why. We like how thin the phone feels, but it comes with the compromise of having the camera stick out, and the battery shaved from 3,500mAh to a measly 2,730mAh. Both of these problems can be solved by slapping on a battery Moto Mod, but that adds thickness to the phone, and you have to shell out more money.

On a more positive note, the display is solid. It can get really bright — enough to see the screen outdoors in direct sunlight. The 5.5-inch AMOLED screen has a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, and it’s sharp (535 pixels-per-inch), with deep blacks and vibrant colors.

Moto Mods

We’re fans on Motorola’s modular Moto Mod system. It’s incredibly user friendly, as all you have to do is slap a mod on the back of the phone. There are a number of mods available, and they’re growing — a gamepad and a 360-degree camera mod are the most recent additions.

Moto Z2 Force review power pack
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Our main gripes have to do with price. Both the phone and the mods cost too much. Motorola should either offer the phone for a lower price, or make the mods cheaper. It’s hard to ask people to shell out upwards of $70 or even $300 for a mod after spending $720 on the phone. The 360 Moto Mod is available for purchase in the U.S. at Motorola’s website, along with Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. It will also be available at Best Buy later this month.

It’s sad that Motorola has cut down the battery so much to make the phone “13 percent thinner and 12 percent lighter.” It feels like a way to get you to spend more money on a battery mod. The speakers, which don’t sound good, have also received a similar treatment (though it’s the same setup as last year). There is a convenient JBL Soundboost 2 mod you can buy for $80 if you want to blast music from your phone, but we’re surprised there’s no mod that adds a headphone jack.

High-end specifications, great software experience

On paper, the Moto Z2 Force should perform like all the other top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 835-equipped smartphones. It comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (and an international version with 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage), and there’s a MicroSD card slot you can use to get more space.

Here’s how it fared in some benchmark tests:

  • AnTuTu: 171,894
  • Geekbench 4 CPU: 1,898 single-core, 6,355 multi-core
  • 3D Mark Slingshot Extreme: 2,775

Looking at the AnTuTu score, the Moto Z2 Force scored higher than the Galaxy S8’s 155,253, and a little under the HTC U11’s 175,748, which means it’s about as powerful as the best phones you can buy. Benchmark tests aren’t the be-all and end-all, and in our eight days of testing, the Moto Z2 crushed everyday tasks. Apps opened quickly, swiping around was fast and responsive, and scrolling was smooth. We had no issues when multitasking either.

We did run into infrequent hiccups, some of which could be the fault of apps themselves. To be fair, these are the same apps we’ve installed on all the devices we test, and so we feel as though we should mention that apps like Facebook Messenger kept force closing, and games like Tiny Archers occasionally lagged (more than we’ve seen on other 835-powered phones). Don’t get us wrong: overall performance is great, but we did run into more app force closes than normal.

Overall performance is great, but we did run into more app force closes than normal.

“We have thoroughly tested Moto Z2 Force performance with a number of apps and benchmarks, and it is testing extremely well and in line with our performance expectations,” a Motorola spokesperson told Digital Trends. “We do not however test with all third party apps, and some of course are coded better than others.”

We noted the issue specifically with Facebook Messenger, and Motorola said it will take a look.

Motorola has been doing a great job in keeping the software fairly close to Google’s default, stock version of Android. The Z2 Force runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat, and it has the July 1 security patch. We had the Verizon model, and we found an annoying amount of Verizon bloatware and some other apps we’ll never open. Sadly, you can only disable these apps – you cannot uninstall them. Otherwise, the user interface looks similar to what you would see on the Google Pixel — there’s even the Google feed when you swipe to the right from the home screen.

Motorola does have a few useful tricks that have been persistent on its phones for the past few years. The proximity sensor on the front of the phone lets you wave your hand over to see the time and any notifications at a glance — notifications also fade in and out thanks to Moto Display. Some of the gestures are pretty handy, too – you can chop twice to turn on the flashlight, and twist the phone twice to launch the camera. Moto Voice has also changed. As we’ve seen on the Moto Z2 Play, you can now say “Show Me” as a wake word to launch apps, or see the weather. Saying “Show Me” Facebook, for example, will launch the Facebook app whether your screen is off, or if you’re in another app. We haven’t found the need to use it much, but it can be helpful when driving.

Good dual cameras … ruined by shutter lag

Motorola has jumped on the dual-camera trend with two 12-megapixel shooters on the rear camera, and they have an aperture of f/2. We actually like the output we’ve been seeing of these photographs — the colors are accurate, and they feature a lot of details. The lack of optical image stabilization is disappointing, because we’ve taken a decent number of photos that ended up a little blurry due to low-lighting and slight movement. (Make sure you stay still!)

The dual-camera setup introduces two new features — Depth Effect, and “true” black and white mode. The latter means you can shoot exclusively in “true” black and white. It doesn’t look as great as the monochrome photos we’ve seen from the Huawei P10, but it’s a fun feature to have and play around with.

Depth Effect is the same exact feature as Apple’s Portrait Mode, where the camera applies a blur, or bokeh, effect around a subject. When using this feature on phones like the OnePlus 5 and the iPhone 7 Plus, you can see a live view of the depth effect on your screen before capturing the photo. Motorola offers this as well, but what you see on your screen often looks terrible and not promising. After snapping the photo, it processes and it looks surprisingly good. Like the other phones, picture quality is low in this mode, so it may not look good in poor lighting.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

As much as we like the photographs taken by the Moto Z2 Force, the experience is far from the same. The problem? Shutter lag. Too many times we’ve had to retake a photo because there was a big delay in tapping the shutter icon and the actual capture. We have a lot of blurry photos. A phone like this should have almost zero shutter lag — taking a picture should be quick, especially at this price.

We don’t see shutter lag on every photo, but it happened enough to say it’s frequent. Launching the camera by pressing the power button twice (or by twisting the phone twice) also isn’t as fast as we’ve seen on other phones. Sometimes the camera won’t even open, and we have to try the shortcut again.

Motorola said it’s looking into the shutter lag, and occasional processing performance issues we saw.

It’s a shame because the lag really does kill the camera experience on the Moto Z2 Force. We’re hoping Motorola issues a software update to fix these issues.

Almost a day’s worth of battery

The original Moto Z Force had a whopping 3,500mAh battery, but Motorola must have realized it could rake in more money by cutting the capacity and having people buy a battery Moto Mod to extend their phone’s battery life. That’s exactly what has happened on the Z2 Force.

Not a lot of people are clamoring for thinner phones but battery life is still a pain point.

We’re not sure why else Motorola would cut the battery capacity so much. Not a lot of people are clamoring for thinner phones — we certainly aren’t — but battery life is still a pain point for most smartphones.

The Moto Z2 Force has a battery capacity of 2,730mAh. Last year, we claimed a two-day battery life on the Moto Z Force, and now we can hardly get through a day. With medium to high usage of browsing social media, taking pictures, watching videos, and listening to music, we ended the day with around 14 percent by 7 p.m. On particularly intensive days, we saw the phone hitting 30 percent by 3 p.m.

We obliged and slapped on the Moto TurboPower Moto Mod, which works really well. It can charge your phone back up once fully. Is it worth $80? No, but it’s better than carrying around an external battery pack and cable.

Thankfully, Motorola’s TurboPower fast charging technology is excellent. In 20 minutes, the Moto Z2 Force recharged from 47 to 76 percent.

Warranty, pricing, and availability

Motorola offers a standard 1 year warranty from the date of purchase, and this lets you refund or replace a device that has encountered a manufacturing defect. The Moto Z2 Force’s display and lens are protected in a 4-year warranty from the date of purchase, but this does not protect against scratches, normal wear and tear, and other cosmetic damage. You can add Moto Care Protection and Coverage to extend your warranty, but you’ll have to pay up — options start at $60.

The Moto Z2 Force is available for purchase in the U.S. at various locations — including Initially, Motorola listed the Moto Z2 Force’s price as $800, but it has since been reduced to the same price as last year’s Moto Z Force — $720. Thankfully, unlike last year, the Force is available on all carriers as well as at Best Buy — starting at $30 per month depending on the carrier. It’s worth noting that for a limited time, Motorola is offering an Insta-share projector mod for free when you purchase the smartphone. You can read more about the best places to purchase the Moto Z2 Force in our buying guide.

Our Take

The Moto Z2 Force is a good phone that’s plagued by too many issues. There are better phones at this price range.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes and no. If you’re really in love the modular aspect of the Moto Z series, then you should go for the Moto Z2 Force, or the cheaper Moto Z2 Play – there is no competition in the modular space.

If you don’t care about the mods, then take a look at the HTC U11 and the Samsung Galaxy S8. They offer similar specs, without many of the hiccups we encountered. The OnePlus 5 has the same processor and is also an excellent choice, for a much lower price.

You should also check out our list of the Best smartphones and Best cheap phones.

How long will it last?

The Moto Z2 Force’s build quality is fairly solid, and paired with the shatter-proof guaranteed screen, we expect this phone to last you for more than two years. Software updates, on the other hand, will likely end after the second year of the phone’s launch, and it’s unlikely Motorola will keep up every month with Google’s security updates.

Should you buy it?

No. There are great alternatives at this price that provide a faster camera experience, longer battery life, water resistance, and better smartphone design. Again, if you have already invested in Moto Mods and are looking to upgrade, or if you really like the idea of them — you won’t be disappointed. There’s a lot to like about the Moto Z2 Force, such as its software experience, capable camera, and of course, the mods.

Update: The Moto Z2 Force and 360 Moto Mod are now available for purchase in the U.S.

Editors' Recommendations

Julian Chokkattu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Julian is the mobile and wearables editor at Digital Trends, covering smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and more…
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