Motorola used to be my favorite Android OEM. The company made excellent smartphones, were one of the best in terms of software, and clearly listened to customers to deliver something that was unique and fun to use. Then, Lenovo bought them. As much as I enjoy Lenovo products, I was scared to see what would happen to Motorola, and just as I and many others feared, things went south.

A lot of the great things Motorola was doing were scrapped, but the company still continued to impress. The introduction of the Moto Z line was jarring, but interesting and unique. This year, we’ve got the Moto Z2, and it’s shattered a lot of what I previously loved about the Z line.

The best gifts for Android users

HARDWARE |

Same Design, But Refined

The Moto Z from last year was a massive change for Motorola. The Moto X was designed as a phone that could comfortably fit in your hand and stand out a bit from the crowd. While the Z continued on the latter, it wasn’t really the best thing to look at. The Moto Z2 Force changes things up a bit, introducing a refined design with a brushed metal look on the rear and a cleaner overall aesthetic.

Just like the original Moto Z, the Z2 Force offers up a massive camera bump and the connections for Moto Mods on the back. Really, there’s not much new in the hardware department at a glance, you could easily mistake the Z2 for the Z.

When Thin Is Too Thin

That goes for the thickness of the phone too. Motorola has decided to merge the Moto Z and Moto Z Force into one phone this year, and the Z2 Force takes the “best” of both worlds. On one hand, it’s super thin like the Moto Z, but it also offers the shatterproof display of the Moto Z Force (more on that later).

Unfortunately, that thin profile is one of the biggest weaknesses of this device. At 6mm, it feels too thin, in my opinion, without a Moto Mod attached. The sharp corners on the back don’t help with that either.

Honestly, it’s starting to feel like Motorola’s only purpose for the Z line is to sell you Mods, and it’s annoying if you ask me. At least with the original Moto Z you got a Style Mod in the box to help with the thickness, but the Z2 doesn’t include a Style Mod and it’s just unbearable to use without one.

As Usual, A Sturdy Build

As we’ve come to expect from Motorola devices, though, the Moto Z2 Force is still a very sturdy device. The metal build is strong despite being so thin, but there’s no heft to it. It’s a bit of a weird feeling, having something so strong that is so light, but I guess that’s a good thing.

Solid, But Is That Enough?

The Moto Z2 Force’s hardware is good, but it feels a bit stale if you ask me. Obviously, we expected this phone to disappoint a bit in the design department considering the commitment to make former Mods compatible, but it’s as if Moto didn’t look at the rest of the industry at all.

Motorola could have easily made the Z2 Force water-resistant instead of water “repellant,” or introduced a “bezel-light” display, but they didn’t. Rather, we have a 2017 phone that costs more than most, but feels like a 2016 phone.

DISPLAY |

In the display department, the Moto Z2 Force isn’t too different from its siblings, at least on paper. The 5.5-inch AMOLED display is solid. It’s not quite as good as something like the Samsung Galaxy S8, but it’s good. The colors are good, brightness suitable, and the overall experience is what we’ve come to expect from flagship phones.

ShatterProof, But Vulnerable To Literally Everything Else

One of the biggest selling points for the Moto Z2 Force is its ShatterShield display. The 5.5-inch panel is advertised as being impossible to shatter, and that’s for good reason. As with the first Moto Z Force, the ShatterShield tech essentially replaces the fragile glass with several layers of plastic. While you can still break the display, it won’t ever shatter.

However, that’s not to say it isn’t prone to other issues. As Motorola has previously stated, the ShatterShield is shatterproof, not scratchproof. That’s an unfortunately accurate statement, as the Force’s display is easily the worst at avoiding damage in that way.

In just a few days, I managed to get a few knicks on the display despite trying to avoid them, but I was one of the lucky ones. Fellow reviewers have reported far worse results, so it’s pretty clear that you’ll want to get an extra screen protector on this phone if you don’t like scratches, especially since something like your fingernail can cause them.

SOFTWARE & PERFORMANCE |

Stock Android, But Better

Android varies wildly between devices, but Motorola’s view on the operating system has always been one of the best, the reason being that they don’t change anything major. Rather, Motorola takes what Google gives, and improves it.

The Moto Z2 Force comes out of the box with Android 7.1.1 and a super clean build. There’s bloat depending on your carrier model and a couple tweaks here or there (especially for Moto Mods), but overall, it’s a pretty Stock experience.

What’s different about Moto’s software compared to Stock Android is the additions over top. Those are powered by the Moto app and include several different gestures to perform a variety of actions. These include chopping to toggle the flashlight, waving for Moto Display, and twisting the phone to activate the camera.

What I love about Motorola’s suite here is that it doesn’t feel intrusive, it’s all entirely optional, and it makes using the phone better. Moving back to my Pixel or any other phone is going to be tough now that I’m obsessed with these gestures, again.

A Beast On Paper And In Practice

The Moto Z2 Force combines that excellent, lightweight software with some of the best specs you’ll find on the market today. That includes the killer Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. Like you would expect, the phone flies through everything. Not once during my testing period did I notice any significant lag on the phone, something I can’t say about other certain 835-powered phones.

MOTO MODS |

The introduction of the Moto Z line brought us Moto Mods, the company’s take on smartphone modularity. Long story short, Moto Mods connect to the phone through a handful of magnets and pins, enabling the phone to do a few extra things.

Depending on the Mod you install, you’ll add something extra to the phone. That might mean extra battery life, better optical zoom, wireless charging, and more. With the Moto Z2 Force, though, the latest Mod is a 360-degree camera.

360 Mod

360-degree cameras are in themselves nothing new, but adding one to your phone is something that isn’t possible with a traditional device. The 360 Mod perches a camera a the top of the phone and instantly takes over the camera app when you attach it.

There are two primary modes for shooting with this camera. The primary is, of course, 360-degree mode, with the other being ultra-wide angle — my personal favorite.

The quality of the camera is pretty decent, but it’s certainly not quite at the same level as standalone options. My colleague Hayato Huseman will have more on the 360 Mod next week, so stay tuned for that if you’re interested in picking one up. Just based on initial impressions, though, I’d personally say you’re better off saving a bit of money and going for Samsung’s second-gen Gear 360 which significantly undercuts the Mod’s $299 price point.

BATTERY LIFE AND CHARGING |

“Honey, I Shrunk The Battery”

The biggest and most jarring difference from the Moto Z Force to the Moto Z2 Force is the battery size. Going from 3500 mAh to a measly 2730 mAh pack is a huge difference, and it feels like that in use too.

I’ll give credit where it’s due, this phone lasts longer than I expected it to on a charge, but that’s not saying much. The Moto Z2 Force is no battery champion, it’s barely in the race if I’m totally honest. Just about everything else in this class can easily last most users through a day and change, but the Z2 Force is lucky to get to 6pm for anyone but a light user.

An average day with 2-3.5 hours of screen on time leaves the phone with not much remaining, if any at all. If you’re picking this phone up, it’s a good idea to keep a charger, battery pack, or battery Mod handy, because you will absolutely need it at some point.

TurboPower Works As Well As Any Other Fast Charging

Fast charging on the Moto Z2 Force is done through the included “TurboPower” charger. Like any other fast charger, it tops off the device quickly, but I wouldn’t say it feels faster than anything else. Regardless, it’s always great to see this feature included, especially on phones with battery life this poor.

CAMERA |

The Moto Z2 Force is Motorola’s first smartphone equipped with a dual-camera, and it works pretty well. Looking back, Motorola has had some very poor cameras, but the Force delivers. The dual-12MP sensors work together to create a sharp image that has pleasing colors indoors and out, handles low-light well, and has solid stabilization in video.

I don’t think this beats out the Google Pixel or Galaxy S8 by any means, but it holds its own in the market today as a good camera.

As for the features enabled by the dual-camera, they work just fine. “Depth” mode (Portrait Mode) works as well as it does on any other phone using a similar feature (if not a little worse), and the selective color modes are interesting and could prove useful for many on social media.

AUDIO |

A Front-Facing Speaker Is Always Appreciated

Audio is something I value in any smartphone, but that isn’t always through a pair of headphones. I love a good speaker, especially when it’s front-facing. While Motorola doesn’t include the stereo speakers seen on the Moto X Pure Edition, the front-facing speaker is still appreciated.

It sounds good, despite lacking depth, and gets fairly loud too.

Life Without The Headphone Jack Isn’t All That Bad

The big story in the audio department on the Moto Z2 Force is the lack of a headphone jack. With only USB-C and Bluetooth to rely on, is it the worst thing ever? Not really. A year ago I fully understood why this was such a bad thing, but at this point, I think the market has started to mature to the point where dropping the headphone jack isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a slight annoyance. That all depends on how you look at it, though.

THE LITTLE THINGS |

An Excellent Fingerprint Sensor

One awesome change on the Moto Z2 Force is the fingerprint sensor. Instead of last year’s ugly sensor, we have a cleaner look and what feels like a faster sensor. It works well, and the navigation gestures which it enables are awesome.

What Happened To Moto Display?

One of my favorite Motorola features over the years has been Moto Display, but in the Moto Z2 family, it’s been ruined to an extent. This is because Motorola seemingly ditched two of the IR sensors that made Moto Display so responsive, leaving us with just one. The functionality is mostly the same, but activating it isn’t nearly as effortless, and that’s a shame.

FINAL THOUGHTS |

At the end of the day, the Moto Z2 Force is a bit of a mixed bag. I can honestly say that this is a good phone, but it isn’t without some potential deal breakers. The scratch-prone ShatterShield is something I couldn’t personally live with for the length of an installment plan, and the poor battery life feels like a move designed solely to sell an expensive battery add-on.

Everything about the Moto Z2 Force feels like an anti-Motorola move to me. Where previous phones from the company gave customers what they wanted, the Z2 Force feels like Motorola took the most potentially profitable parts of previous phones and kept those, rather than keeping features that customers actually cared about.

Personally, I’d have trouble recommending the Moto Z2 Force to the average joe. Unless you need a screen that can’t shatter or Moto Mods really appeal to you, it’s probably best to look at other options.

If, however, you do want to buy a Moto Z2 Force, you’ve got plenty of options. Unlike last year’s Verizon exclusivity, this phone will be available from every major US carrier starting on August 10th. Pricing varies between carriers, but lands between $720 and $799.


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