Moto Z2 Force Review: Modular Flagship Phone

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  • Pros

    • Outstanding OLED display
    • Fingerprint scanner
    • Moto Mods
  • Cons

    • Only comes in black
    • Really strong competition

Although Apple and Samsung get much of the attention in the phone market, Motorola is still in there swinging. It’s latest flagship model is the Moto Z2 Force, which has a large display, speedy processor, and a high-end camera.

This is the third model in this series, as it succeeds the original Moto Z and the Moto Z2. Like those, it’s a modular device that can be expanded with Moto Mods.

This Android handset comes in at $720, and can be used at any of the big four U.S. wireless carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, as well as U.S. Cellular.

Moto Z2 Force

Moto Z2 Force Build and Design

Large phone displays are popular, but bulky handsets are not. The only way to keep a device with a 5.5-inch screen from being a brick is make it super slim, and Motorola succeeded in this goal: the Z2 Force is just 0.24 inches thick. The casing wrapped around its sizable screen is 6.14 by 2.99 inches.  

That makes the device generally comparable in size to it top rivals, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Apple iPhone 8 Plus.

It weighs in at a light weight 0.32 pounds (5.0 ounces). That’s a bit less than its chief competitors.

In real-world terms, the Moto Z2 Force rides fairly well in a front pants pocket or in a rear one. Just be careful not to sit on it.

Speaking of which, one of the nicer aspects of having a super-slim device is that it can be wrapped in a protective case without ending up too bulky. Or a Moto Mod can be added.

Motorola put on a nano-coating that gives this handset a “water repellant barrier to help protect against moderate exposure to water such as accidental spills, splashes or light rain.” To be clear, it is not waterproof.

Like the Model T, shoppers can have any color they want as long as it’s black. There are no other color options.

Display

The Moto Z2 Force is built around a 1440 x 2560 pixel (Quad HD 1440p) resolution screen. Given its 5.5-inch diagonal measurement, it packs in 534 pixels per inch. This means pixels are so tiny they blend together to appear as a continuous image.

This is an OLED display, a type that has several advantages over traditional LCDs. Colors are generally brighter, to the point where our tests found that the Z2 Force can easily be used in direct sunlight. And the screen itself is thinner and lighter, contributing to the svelte design of this handset. 

The downside is that OLED screens are subject to burn-in, in which items that frequently appear on the display can become permanent ghosts. Users should be careful about long periods running the same application, such as a GPS app.

The aspect ration is 16:9, which is the same used by widescreen movies. That makes this display well suited for playing video.

Motorola used a proprietary technology called ShatterShield to protect the screen. The company promises to replace the display if it breaks within 4 years of purchase, but it will charge $49 for each replacement. Keep in mind though, ShatterShield doesn’t mean the display won’t get scratched up if the device isn’t taken care of, and that isn’t covered by the warranty. 

Ports, Buttons, Speakers

A highlight of the third-generation Moto Z, as with its predecessors, is a connector for Moto Mods. These are proprietary accessories that clip to the back of the device and bring additional functions. This can be a louder speaker like the JBL SoundBoost 2 ($79.99), an extra battery like the mophie Juice Pack ($79.99), or dual-function offerings the Tumi Wireless Charging Power Pack ($79.99) which is both a battery and receiver for Qi wireless chargers. 

On the bottom edge is a USB Type-C port, a relatively new and more convenient replacement for the old micro-USB. This allows the phone to charge much more quickly, and it’s reversible, so plugging it in is easier. Wired data transfers will also be faster, but the X2 Force doesn’t support other USB-C Thunderbolt functions, so don’t, for example, expect to be able to hook a monitor up to this port.

Just below the display is a fingerprint scanner. This is a convenient way to unlock and lock the device without having to mess around with passwords. In our testing, the biometric scanner was quite reliable about recognizing the fingerprint is was trained for, and not mistaking others for it.

On the top edge of the handset is a tray that holds both a nano-SIM and a microSD card. The good news is that the tiny storage card can be up to 2 TB in capacity, although the largest currently available is 256 GB. The bad news is that because the SIM and SD card are on one tray, it’s not possible to casually swap out storage cards. A full shutdown and reboot will be required. 

Motorola is following in Apple’s footsteps by jettisoning the headset jack. Instead, users who still have wired headphone must use an adapter provided by the company that plugs into the USB-C port.  Or they can get any of the myriad Bluetooth headphones and speakers available.

That said, the speaker in the Z2 Force is pointed toward the user and puts out a surprising amount of sound. In our tests, we found it easy to hear audio playing in a moderately noisy environment, even with the handset several feet away.

Camera 

We expect high-end phones to boast very powerful cameras, and the Moto Z2 Force delivers. This includes a pair of 12 MP ones on the back with an impressive set of features. The highlight is bokeh images, in which the person or object in the foreground is on focus while the background is blurred out. 

Moto Z2 Force Bokeh Image

Also, one of the cameras is black-and-white, so it’s easier to take professional-looking black-and-white photos. Admittedly, that’s a niche feature.

Motorola promises zero shutter lag because what’s being displayed in the viewfinder is exactly the image that will be captured.

There are other bells and whistles too, like laser auto focus and a professional mode. The latter is nice for those who want to manually adjust the focus depth or the ISO.

On the front of the Z2 Force is a 5 MP shooter. This is paired with beautification software designed to smooth out our rough patches in selfies.

Not only do the rear-facing cameras have an LED flash, the front-facing one has its own flash, too. Taking selfies in bad light has never been easier.

Moto Z2 Force Performance

A flagship phone needs a powerful chip, so Motorola went with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor that has no less than eight CPU cores. There are four that run at 2.46 GHz when more performance is needed, and the rest run at 1.9 GHz when battery savings are more important. An Adreno 540 serves as the graphics processor.

The official listing for RAM is 4 GB, but the amount available to users is 3.64. This is respectable for an Android device, and far more than is in cheaper models.

We tested the Z2 Force with the Geekbench 4 benchmarking application and found that while it outperforms its rivals from Samsung, it’s well behind Apple’s offerings.

Geekbench 4 performance comparison:

 

Synthetic benchmarks aside, all of these high-end models offer outstanding performance. There  might be some rare situations where the Z2 Force is minusculy slower than the latest iPhone models, but these certainly won’t come up on a daily basis.

Unlike other phone makers, Motorola only offers this handset in one configuration, and that includes 64 GB of storage. Those who want more will need to invest in a micro-SD card.

Software

The Moto Z2 Force launched running Android 7.1.1 Nougat, an updated version of the operating system Google launched in 2016. An upgrade to Android 8 Oreo has been promised but has not yet materialized. 

This phone comes with all the standard Android communication, productivity, and entertainment software, as well as the option to download more from the Google Play Store.

Whether there’s more bloatware apps added depends on which carrier the product is purchased from. Our test unit is from Verizon, which was generally restrained about pre-loading extra software that the user probably doesn’t want.

Wireless

Motorola designed the the Z2 Force to work with the 4G LTE networks of all the big four U.S. wireless carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. And it didn’t forget U.S. Cellular, either.

This handset also supports almost every type of Wi-Fi technology there is: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz with MIMO. Plus, it shipped running Bluetooth 4.2, but support for Bluetooth 5.0 will be available when the promised Android 8 upgrade is available.

Battery

Motorola says the 2730 mAh battery in the Z2 Force can last for 24 hours in a mixed use scenario. That’s another way of saying that it will keep going for a whole day if it’s not used to much.

We tested the battery in another way: by asking it to continuously play video streamed over Wi-Fi. This is a very demanding task, so it gives an indication of what the least amount of time between charges will be. In this torture test, Motorola’s device lasted 9 hours and 40 minutes.

Battery life (listed in minutes):

 

Those who want an even longer battery life can invest in one of several Moto Mods that are external batteries.

One of the big advantages of putting a USB-C port in this computer is extremely fast charging. Using the cable and charger provided by Motorola, we were able to give the Z2 Force 20% of total charge in a mere 10 minutes, and 26% in 15 minutes. Just 30 minutes of charging was enough to add 51% to the battery.

Just be aware, the fastest charging happens when the battery is nearly empty. Going from 90% to 100% is a much slower process because the device needs to careful not to overcharge the battery.

Wireless charging isn’t built into this phone. However, there are several Moto Mods that will add this capability.

Moto Z2 Force Final Thoughts

Moto Z2 Force

It’s not easy to stand out in the very competitive market for cutting-edge phones, but Motorola succeeded with the Moto Z2 Edge. The design is slim, the display looks spectacular, the cameras are well above average, and the performance is good. But it’s the capability to add new features through Moto Mods that sets this handset apart from the crowd.

The downside is that this product  faces some really strong competition. Those who aren’t interested in one of the add-on modules might well wonder why they shouldn’t just get a Samsung Galaxy S8 like so many of their friends and co-workers.

Unfortunately, the Z2 Force doesn’t really stand out in price. At $720, Motorola’s offering is about the same as the Galaxy S8. It is less than the $799 Apple iPhone 8 Plus, though.

Pros:

  • Outstanding OLED display
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Moto Mods

Cons:

  • Only comes in black
  • Really strong competition

 


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