Motorola kicked off the era of Moto Mods last year with the Moto Z and Z Force. The latter was only available on Verizon in the US, but this year the Z2 Force is coming to all US carriers. It's also the only flagship phone the company is releasing this summer—there's no regular Z phone at all. That makes the Z2 Force a critical phone for Motorola as it seeks to convince consumers and mobile carriers that Mods are a good idea.
The Moto Z2 Force is designed entirely around Moto Mods, not only in the overall shape and size of the device but in the way this second generation Z phone has changed compared to last year. There are some things to like about the Z2 Force like the capable camera, a clean build of Android, and the overall speed. However, it's outweighed by an over-reliance on Moto Mods and a fundamentally flawed shatter-proof display.
|Storage||64GB with microSD slot|
|Display||5.5-inch 1440p AMOLED with ShatterShield|
|Camera||Dual 12MP rear, 5MP front|
|Measurements||155.8 x 76 x 6.1 mm, 143g|
|Performance||The Snapdragon 835 is used to great effect here. There's no lag at all.|
|Fingerprint sensor||Standard Motorola; the front-facing fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate.|
|Camera||Overall impressive image quality. Black and white photos look cool.|
|Display||The ShatterShield display is extremely easy to scratch and dent, and the top layer is no longer replaceable.|
|Headphone jack||There isn't one.|
|Camera again||Depth photos are disappointing, and low-light performance is lacking.|
|Fast charging||Maxes out at 15W, half as fast as last year's Z Force.|
|Design||Moto made this phone thinner than last year's and chopped off battery capacity. Also not water-resistant.|
|Moto Mods||Moto Mods are still spectacularly uncompelling.|
|Price||$720 or more for a phone that has a pricey Mod ecosystem is kind of crazy.|
Motorola's Z-series phones are recognizable even at a glance; it's a consequence of giving over the entire back side of the phone to a modular accessory system. The back of the phone is aluminum with the same ultra-smooth finish we saw on the Z2 Play. It feels solid but picks up fingerprints more readily than most aluminum phones. Who cares about that, though? You're supposed to attach things to the back.
Without a Mod attached, the Z2 Force's camera module sticks out like all the other Z phones. I think it looks awkward, and the flat back isn't the most comfortable to hold. Thus, a "Style Shell" is recommended. Motorola never came through with a wide array of shells, but the handful of wood, fabric, and leather covers do look nice. They attach magnetically and make the phone much more pleasant to grip. The Style Shell also covers the Mod connectors at the bottom of the rear panel, which stick out like a sore thumb.
On the bottom edge, we have the Type-C port, and that's the only port on the phone. Motorola still insists on removing the headphone jack from its premium phones, but the mid-range and cheap devices have them. It was egregious to remove the 3.5mm jack last year, but this time it's just a continued, expected annoyance. More OEMs will likely be ditching the headphone jack as we roll into late 2017 and early 2018. At least Motorola still includes the passive USB to 3.5mm adapter in the box.
On the right edge are the buttons, which are identical to the Moto Z2 Play. There are still separate bumpers for power, volume up, and volume down, but the volume up and down have been moved a little farther away from the power button. I find myself pressing the wrong button at times, but it's not as problematic as it was on the first gen Z phones.
On the front right under the screen is Motorola's fingerprint sensor, which has changed since last year. 2016 Motorola devices had a small square sensor, but now it's a larger oval. Accuracy is top notch, and it's nearly as fast as the OnePlus 5. Motorola has traditionally been one of the best with fingerprint sensors, and it shows here. I also quite like that you can long-press on the sensor to put the phone to sleep.
This phone is 6.1mm thick, which is almost a full millimeter thinner than last year's phone. It's also 20g lighter (163g vs. 143g). The battery has a capacity of 2730mAh, a big decrease from the 3500mAh cell in last year's Force. Are you getting a feeling of déjà vu? That's probably because very similar things were said about the Moto Z2 Play, which was thinner with a smaller battery compared to the first gen device.
This phone is billed as durable because of the shatter-proof screen, but it's not properly water-resistant. Other phones in this price range are adding IP protection, but Motorola still just has "water repellent nano-coating." As it points out in the fine print, that's not the same as being waterproof. It just won't die instantly upon being splashed.
It's obvious at this point Motorola is letting Mods dictate the design of Z phones. It's slimmer and lighter with the assumption people will be attaching Mods, but are they? Slimming the Z2 Force down by 0.9mm isn't going to make the bulky projector or speaker Mod a better experience, but the smaller internal battery might encourage you to buy that $80 battery Mod. This isn't a win for anyone except Moto and the carriers, and even then only if consumers suddenly decide to buy Mods with their $700-800 phone.
The display is what makes this phone a "Force" and not just a regular Moto Z, and it's also the biggest issue with the Z2 Force. The 5.5-inch 1440p AMOLED panel itself is beautiful to look at with accurate colors, better viewing angles than last year's Force, and enough brightness to be visible outdoors.
The problem with the display isn't so much the AMOLED panel as it is the material covering it. Motorola's ShatterShield display technology makes this screen nigh impossible to crack, but that's because it's composed of multiple layers of plastic. As we learned with past ShatterShield phones, that means it can and will pick up scratches. In the case of the Moto Z2 Force, it seems to scratch very easily. You can read about this in greater detail here, but let's go over the basics.
After just a few days of use, the Moto Z2 Force has several scratches on the screen. I used the Z Force for a few weeks last year and didn't get any scratches. After shifting around in a drawer with other phones for the past year, that phone only has a few very light scratches (phones with glass screens don't have any). Motorola swears up and down that the Z2 Force's screen isn't softer than last year's, but that simply does not match my observations. With both phones side-by-side, I can press with my thumbnail and leave a permanent dent in the Z2's screen. That's not possible with the Z Force.
I'm convinced that the Z2 Force is going to pick up many more scratches than the original Z Force did, and you won't be able to do anything about it. Previous ShatterShield phones had a removable top layer, so you could replace it once it got scuffed up—Motorola even sold them on its website. The Z2 Force uses a new design that binds the top plastic sheet to the display, making it impossible to replace without also replacing the entire screen assembly. The new design is thinner, but it was not a worthwhile tradeoff.
In addition, the plastic doesn't seem to be bonded properly to the display on my unit. Pressing on the plastic in some locations produces a clicking sound—it's like the adhesive isn't sticking well enough. I've noticed this happens a lot around the fingerprint sensor and the flash, so the bottom and top of the screen. Motorola can probably address this in later batches, but I can't say for certain if early retail units are like this.
Another design quirk of the Moto Z2 Force's display is that the plastic cover sits above the bezel of the phone. Last year, the metal surround was flush with the surface. The new one feels slightly more slim in hand, but you can also feel the rough edge of the plastic cover all the way around the screen. It's the same story around the fingerprint sensor. It's unpleasant enough to make the fingerprint swipe gestures useless.
Motorola hopped on the dual camera hype train with the Moto Z2 Force. There are several ways OEMs can make use of a secondary sensor, but Motorola has gone with one of the least useful approaches. The camera module (which looks like a smiley face now) includes two 12MP sensors, one that does standard RGB and the other for monochrome. The primary purpose of that monochrome sensor is to capture depth information about your photos.
After capturing a depth photo, you can use Moto's editing interface to change the focus or apply selective black and white. You just tap a region to indicate what you want to keep focused, and the rest can be desaturated or blurred. It's fine in theory, but the results are usually disappointing. There are instances where the phone does a good job of separating the background, but that's the exception rather than the rule. Too often you end up with inconsistent edge detection and layers that blur together. The blur effect itself doesn't look very natural, either. Sometimes it results in an unexpected "tilt-shift" effect. See the park bench photo in the gallery below.
Another irksome thing about Motorola's dual camera array is that you need to switch modes to take advantage of the depth sensing features. Capturing these photos is also slower than regular ones, so you won't be able to use it on anything moving. The black and white images are a separate mode as well, but that's understandable. The quality of these photos is great—very sharp and contrasty.
It isn't all bad news, though. The camera is overall above average. It's a definite improvement over last year, though the Moto Z2 Force won't be a match for the likes of the Pixel or Galaxy S8. In bright outdoor light, the images are well exposed, and the colors are accurate. There are a few blown-out areas on occasion, but auto-HDR flips on to limit that. Capture times are not instant, but fast enough to get action reasonably well. The only issue here is a tendency to over-sharpen, which can cause detail to be lost in places.
Indoors with good light, the Moto Z2 Force camera is still competent. There's not too much noise, and capture times are still quick. Although, the ISO starts to ramp up quickly when light is less than ideal to keep capture speeds down. The lens is only f/2.0 when many other flagship phones are sitting as low as f/1.7. Thus, the Moto Z2 Force doesn't pull in as much light. The result is darker photos with more noise. It's still a step above mid-range phones, but you can really tell the difference in poor lighting compared to something like the Pixel.
The front-facing camera is only 5MP, which is lower than many other phones. However, Motorola includes a front-facing dual LED flash to go with it. You get more natural colors with this unit than single LED flashes.
Performance and battery
The Force packs all the hardware you'd expect from a 2017 flagship phone including 4GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 835, and 64GB of storage. I don't think benchmarks tell the whole story, but here are a few of them for your own information.
Even Motorola's modestly specced phones are responsive, but the Moto Z2 Force is just plain fast. There's no lag to speak of, even when installing apps in the background or hopping between multiple apps. Motorola doesn't do any wacky memory management, so everything stays running in the background as expected. I've even left games overnight and found them still suspended the next day. Speaking of games, the Moto Z2 Force tears through those pixels like no one's business. It gets a bit toasty while doing it but not as uncomfortable as the Galaxy S8.
The battery life is not great, but it's average. Now, everyone's usage varies, so you may see very different numbers than I do. For reference, I used the Z2 Force for a lot of email management, a bit of gaming, messaging, and browsing the web. It doesn't fall too far short of the mark set by the Z Force, but it is still weaker. I get a solid day of use with a bit left over at the end. So, there's no range anxiety like I had with the Moto Z last year. With heavy use over the course of a day, the Moto Z2 Force can manage about five hours of screen time; maybe an hour or so less than the Z Force last year. You could probably make it a day and a half with an hour or two less usage. You should be able to get by with the battery in the Moto Z2 Force, but imagine if it was still 3500mAh. That would offer truly amazing battery life.
Top: Moto Z2 Force, Bottom: Moto Z Force
Recharging the Moto Z2 Force is fast, but not as fast as it should be. Last year, The Z Force supported Moto's TurboPower 30W standard, and it even came with the Turbopower 30 charger in the box. The Moto Z2 Force only charges at 15W, half as fast as last year. That's still reasonably fast, but it could be so much better. Just like the battery capacity, I don't know why Moto would take a step backward when it was in such a good place before.
Like all of Motorola's phones, the software on the Z2 Force is one of its best aspects. This is a clean build of Android 7.1.1 Nougat with Motorola's now-standard list of enhancements. There's no heavy skin or duplicate apps—wherever possible, Motorola is using Google apps and services.
Motorola used to ship phones with the Google Now Launcher, but that's no longer in active use by Google. The home screen is similar to Google's Pixel launcher, but it's based on the open source code. We get a home screen with a swipe-up app drawer and a Google Feed panel to the left of the main home screen. Imagine the Pixel launcher with dark translucent bits instead of light ones, and you've got the Motorola launcher. It's quick and uncluttered, but a bit light on features. The only thing Moto added is the option to rotate to landscape.
The Moto app gives you quick access to all the custom features built into the device. Moto Actions and Moto Display are still robust and useful offerings. I'm particularly fond of Moto Display, which shows notifications while the phone is asleep (and it's not buggy like it was on the Z2 Play). I like Moto Display more than ambient display on other phones because only a small part of the screen (the notification icon) is active. You can pick the device up without waking the screen up as long as you avoid touching that spot. One of the features of Moto Actions lets you wake up Moto Display by waving your hand over the phone, which is very handy when you've got the phone laying on your desk. I also use the twist gesture for the camera and the chop for flashlight all the time. These are excellent features.
Moto Voice got a downgrade in 2017, but that's not surprising as Google Assistant has surpassed Moto's solution. Now, Moto Voice uses "Show me" commands to pull up bits of data while the phone is asleep. For example, you can say "Show me the weather," or "Show me my next meeting," and you get an overview screen that disappears after five seconds. I've used the weather command a few times in practice, but there's not much functionality here.
My general concern with Motorola's software, which I've expressed several times before, is the lack of innovation. Moto is still riding high on successful features from the Moto X phones. The only remotely useful feature it has added this year is fingerprint reader navigation, but that's not enjoyable on the Z2 Force because of the screen design (see above). I've been hoping Motorola would focus on software and blow us away again, but it seems more interested in selling expensive Mods.
While I'm not happy Motorola dropped the battery capacity, I will admit the Z2 Force does alright in this department. It'll get through a day comfortably with around five hours of screen time. I'd call it average. The speed is anything but that—this phone is fast thanks to the clean software and Snapdragon 835 tuned to take advantage of all that horsepower. It's close to Pixel levels of responsiveness.
The Moto Z2 Force is a phone for people who love Moto Mods, but I'm not sure how many of those people exist. I'd guess somewhere in the 1-2 dozen range, though. The phone is slimmer and lighter this year to make Mods marginally more comfortable to use, but this phone becomes an awkward beast when you attach any of the Mods we have now. Even the battery pack, which is the only Mod I can see many people buying, makes this phone too big and cumbersome. I've been waiting for Motorola to convince me that Moto Mods make sense, and it hasn't.
The 360 Camera Mod
The display is this phone's most obvious issue. Motorola claims that the ShatterShield screen on the Z2 is not any softer or more prone to scratching than the Z Force last year. That has very much not been my experience, though. In just a few days the Z2 Force has become badly scratched just from typical use, and this was not the case with last year's Z Force. I'm also shocked that a phone this expensive could feel so cheap; the screen makes loud clicking noises every time I use the fingerprint sensor.
Motorola is asking $720 for this device, and some carrier versions are even more expensive. That's too much considering the issues I've had with the screen and Motorola's insistence that you also buy a bunch of expensive Mods. If you actually want Mods for your phone, you're better off getting the Z2 Play or one of the Z devices from last year.