Moto Z2 Force vs. Moto Z2 Play: Which modular marvel is worth your money?

Moto Z2 Play vs. Moto Z2 Force Moto Z2 Play lifestyle image
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
The Moto Z2 Play has proven itself to be a competent, well-rounded midranger, especially for those who don’t require the latest processor or display technology. However, Lenovo recently announced the Z2 Force, which boasts stronger specs in many areas. Will they make a difference where it counts, though, especially in terms of everyday usage? Below, we pit the Moto Z2 Force vs. Moto Z2 Play to find out which one comes out on top.

Specs and performance

Lenovo Moto Z2 Force

moto z2 force vs play lenovo isolated 2

Lenovo Moto Z2 Play

moto z2 force vs play lenovo isolated 3

Size 155.8 x 76 x 6.1mm (6.13 x 3 x 0.24 in) 156.2 x 76.2 x 5.99mm (6.14 x 3 x 0.24 in)
Weight 5.04 ounces (143 grams) 5.11 ounces (145 grams)
Screen 5.5-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED P-OLED touchscreen 5.5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED touchscreen
Resolution 1,440 x 2,560 (538ppi) 1,920 x 1,080 (401ppi)
OS Android 7.1.1 Android 7.0 Nougat
Storage 64GB (U.S.) 128GB (International) 32GB
MicroSD card slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 626
RAM 4GB (U.S.) 6GB (International) 3GB
Connectivity 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera Dual 12MP rear, 5MP front 12MP rear, 5MP front
Video 4K 4K
Bluetooth Yes, version 4.2 (update to Bluetooth 5 coming with Android 8.0) Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, proximity sensor Gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, proximity sensor
Water resistant Yes (water-repellent nano-coating) Yes (water-repellent nano-coating)
Battery 2,730mAh 3,000mAh
Ports USB-C, Moto Mod connector USB-C, Moto Mod connector
Marketplace Google Play Google Play
Color offerings Super Black, Fine Gold, Lunar Grey (T-Mobile exclusive) Lunar Grey, Fine Gold
Availability Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Best Buy Verizon, Motorola
Carriers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular Verizon
Price Starting at $720 Starting at $408
DT review Hands-on 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Z2 Play features Qualcomm‘s Snapdragon 626 processor, which is a strong chip on its own, but easily outclassed by the Snapdragon 835 found in the Moto Z2 Force. The Z2 Play’s 3GB of RAM also pales in comparison to the Z2 Force’s 4GB. While the Z2 Force comes with 64GB of storage in the United States, the Z2 Play is only available in a 32GB configuration.

Although the Z2 Play handled a wide variety of tasks with ease in our testing, it wasn’t flawless. Graphics-intensive games caused some hiccups, which is less likely to be an issue with the Z2 Force’s superior silicon. If gaming is important to you, or you’re a power user who juggles many different apps simultaneously and could use the extra gigabyte of RAM, the Z2 Force will likely better serve your needs.

Winner: Moto Z2 Force

Design

Moto Z2 Play angled on table
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Not much has changed in terms of the way these phones look and feel, though, that’s somewhat to be expected. Lenovo had to keep as much similarity between the two phones as possible, so the Moto Mods that are currently available would remain compatible with the new Z line. Both devices support a range of attachments, including Hasselblad’s TrueZoom mod and JBL’s SoundBoost 2 speaker, as well as the recently-released Moto TurboPower pack and the upcoming 360-degree camera.

While the Moto Mod issue has limited what could be done in terms of design, the first Moto Z was an attractive device, and so are both of these phones. Lenovo shaved about a millimeter off the original Z Play, however, and two millimeters off the Z Force. The mix of materials has also slightly changed, and the antenna band now circles the metal slab that comprises the rear of the phone. This creates a two-tone effect in both devices, though it will likely be covered up by a Moto Mod, or one of the interchangeable Style Shells.

Overall, however, the Z2 Force and Z2 Play have almost identical proportions. They feel similar to hold, and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart unless you knew precisely where to look. Fortunately, even if you spring for the less-expensive Z2 Play, you won’t be sacrificing anything in terms of design.

Winner: Tie

Display

Moto Z2 Play hero shot
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While both the Z2 Force and Z2 Play feature a 5.5-inch AMOLED display, there is one major difference between them. The Z2 Force’s screen sports a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution, while the Z2 Play touts only a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. Although the full HD panel is certainly sufficient, the added clarity offered by QHD makes the display on the Z2 Force the superior option.

No matter which Z2 you buy, both benefit from Moto Display, a feature where you can glance at notifications simply by waving your hand above the phone. It’s a small addition that really differentiates Lenovo’s products, and leverages the AMOLED technology and proximity sensors in a clever, practical way.

Winner: Moto Z2 Force

Battery life and charging

Moto Z2 Play in hand bottom view
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Lenovo has made a controversial choice with the Z2 Force, and that’s the decision to slim down the battery from last year’s model. Although the phone’s predecessor offered a 3,500mAh battery, the Z2 Force only has room for a 2,730mAh unit. This would be frustrating for most devices, but it especially hurts the Z2 Force, given that long life was such a huge part of its predecessor’s appeal.

Fortunately, the Z2 Play has a larger battery, though it too is considerably smaller than the one in the device it has replaced. The Z2 Play’s 3,000mAh battery provided nearly two full days of use in our testing. Lenovo seems to have traded longer battery life for thinness, and while we preferred the extra 500mAh found in last year’s Z Play, the newer midranger still managed to exceed our expectations. Hopefully, the Z2 Force is also not terribly affected by the slimmer design.

Both the Z2 Force and Z2 Play also offer TurboPower, fast-charging tech that provides eight hours worth of juice in 15 minutes with a specialized wall adapter.

Winner: Moto Z2 Play

Camera

Moto Z2 Play angled view close up
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The photography experience looks to be very different between these two devices. Lenovo has jumped aboard the dual-camera train with the Z2 Force, trading last year’s 21-megapixel lens for a pair of 12-megapixel ones, each with an f/2.0 aperture. In terms of the front-facing camera, there’s a 5-megapixel shooter for selfies — same as the Z2 Play.

Speaking of the Z2 Play, its camera setup is much more conventional. A single, 12-megapixel lens is all the phone employs, and we found it to be pretty mediocre in our testing. Broad daylight shots were solid, but the Z2 Play struggled in low-light scenarios. The lack of optical image stabilization and the occasional, small shutter lag also resulted in blurry photos from time to time.

We’re expecting an improvement across the board with the Z2 Force, and the tricks that many phones with dual lenses employ — like depth-of-field for portraits, in the case of the iPhone 7 Plus and OnePlus 5 — should make things a little more interesting. For example, one of the Z2 Force’s cameras shoots exclusively in monochrome, allowing for true black-and-white photography. If Lenovo can deliver better low-light performance and speed up the shutter, the Z2 Force has a much better camera.

Winner: Moto Z2 Force

Software

Moto Z2 Play in hand front
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both the Z2 Force and Z2 Play run the latest version of Android, version 7.1.1 Nougat. The Moto brand is known for keeping the operating system as close to stock as possible, and as such, the company doesn’t make any dramatic changes or tack unwanted layers onto the experience.

The Z Force Droid, however, was a Verizon exclusive last year, and so it inherited all of the carrier’s apps, as well as a heap of bloatware that couldn’t be uninstalled (only disabled). Thankfully, the Z2 Force will arrive on other networks this go-around, meaning there could be less unnecessary apps to put up with depending on where you go to buy your phone.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

Moto Z2 Play mods on top
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Motorola will make the Z2 Force available for $720. Meanwhile, carriers are charging a bit more, at least at launch.

Verizon has listed the full price for the Z2 Force at $756. However, customers who enroll in a two-year contract with the carrier will be able to snag one at $15 a month over 24 months. Meanwhile, Sprint’s Z2 Force runs $792, with the option of $33 over 18 months. Finally, T-Mobile is charging $750 outright, or $30 over 24 months. Some carriers are sweetening the deal with a free Instashare projector Moto Mod, too, which typically runs $300.

Meanwhile, the midrange Z2 Play comes in at half the price, starting at just $408. So long as you don’t mind missing out on the better processor, display, and camera, you can save roughly $400 and nab a phone that’s compatible with the same Moto Mods and features a bigger battery. It’s a convincing offer if you’re not swayed by the latest tech, as the Z2 Play has more than enough power for most users. Besides, you’ll have more cash to spend on some Mods, which can get pretty pricey.

The Z2 Play is currently a Verizon exclusive, though that will change at the end of the summer when Motorola says it will make an unlocked version available through its website. Whether the phone will arrive on any other carriers down the line remains to be seen.

Winner: Moto Z2 Play

Overall winner

There’s no getting around it — the Z2 Force will be a better phone, with state-of-the-art internals that the Z2 Play simply cannot compete with. However, the $300 price differential between the devices, along with the Z2 Play’s better battery life, complicates the comparison. Ultimately, the one you choose will be based on your priorities. If a tighter budget or maximizing time between charging is important to you, the Z2 Play is likely a better fit. But if you want the most powerful modular phone on the market, the Z2 Force is a serious flagship with a price tag to match.

Update: Added Motorola’s reduced price for the Moto Z2 Force

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