The path that Motorola has taken with the Android lineup over the past couple of years has been interesting. They have produced some great phones like the Google branded Nexus 6 while others like the Moto E lineup have been lackluster at best. But through late 2016 until now, the company has been hitting its stride and that is powerfully evident with the new Moto Z2 Force. This 5.5″ phone runs the latest Android Nougat 7.1.1 build and has all the makings of a true hit. With battery life that is above average, a zippy Snapdragon 835 processor and excellent cameras, it should be on your shortlist of phones to consider as we wind down 2017.
Motorola recently provided a Moto Z2 Force to review (via my work over at Gear Diary) and I have to say, it’s one phone that I’ll be a little sad to depart with when it goes back to them. Here’s my review.
Specifications of the Moto Z2 Force
Let’s cover the basics first on what is under the hood of the Moto Z2 Force. It is powered by the Snapdragon 835 SoC processor, an octa-core processor with 4×2.35 GHz Kryo & 4×1.9 GHz Kryo cores. It is coupled with the Adreno 540 GPU which gives great graphics performance with the 835. This SoC/GPU combination is married up with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage built into the chassis. That storage can be expanded an additional 256GB thanks to the dedicated MicroSD slot.
The display is a 5.5″ P-OLED capacitive touchscreen that renders at 1440 x 2560 pixels. That gives you a very comfortable ~534 ppi (Pixels Per Inch) so eye strain won’t be a problem for most. That display is listed as “shatterproof” by Motorola and, in fact, the guarantee it.
The rear main camera of the Z2 Force is a dual camera configuration with each camera listed at 12MP f/2.0. Like other dual camera phones out there, there is one dedicated RGB camera and one dedicated monochrome camera. It sports both laser and phase detection autofocus with a robust 1.25 µm pixel size which gives excellent photo quality. The rear cameras also have a dual-LED flash. The front facing selfie camera is a 5 MP, f/2.2 shooter and it too has a dual-LED flash.
The variant of the Moto Z2 Force that was sent to us is the Verizon version. There is also a Sprint and unlocked version of the phone available. The unlocked variant covers a wide range of GSM, HSDPA and LTE bands. If you are considering the unlocked version of the phone and are on a GSM carrier like T-Mobile or AT&T, you will have no problem using it and getting LTE support. For this review, I tested the Verizon variant of the phone and had excellent call quality. Here are the bands supported:
- GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 1900 / 2100 & CDMA2000 1xEV-DO
- LTE band 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 12(700), 17(700), 20(800), 25(1900), 26(850), 28(700), 29(700), 30(2300), 38(2600), 40(2300), 41(2500), 66(1700/2100), 252, 255
Along with the cellular antennas, you have 802.11ac support for Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth 4.2 LE support. Motorola does plan to update this phone to Bluetooth 5.0 with a software update shortly. It also has built-in NFC support so using Android Pay will not be a problem with this phone.
Powering all of this is a 2730mAh Li-Ion battery that is not user changeable. It is charged by USB-C which is the only port on the phone. There is no 3.5mm headphone port but a dongle is provided if you want to use such a headset with the phone.
Finally, like many of the 2016/2017 Moto mid-range and flagship phones, the Moto Z2 Force supports Moto Mods. For those who are not versed, Moto Mods are hardware add-ons to the phone that give you extra functionality. These include things like 360-degree cameras, wireless charging backs and the like. For this review, Motorola provided us the 360-degree Moto Mod which I will cover later in this review in the camera section.
All-in-All, the Z2 Force is, pardon the pun, a force to be reckoned with in the market. Spec wise, it is right up there with other flagship devices but when you start expanding what the phone can do with Moto Mods, you have something extra that other manufactures simply don’t offer.
Physically, the Moto Z2 Force measures 155.8 x 76 x 6.1 mm or 6.13 x 2.99 x 0.24″ in old money. It weighs in at 143g which is just slightly over 5 ounces. The chassis is an all aluminum design so it feels solid in your hand but not overly huge despite its 5.5″ display. Motorola designed this phone with about a 70.4% screen-to-body ratio so it doesn’t have huge bezels which add to the girth of the phone. That’s helped too by the 6.1mm thin design.
On the front of the phone, above the display, you will find the front facing camera and supporting dual-LED flash, the proximity sensor and speaker for the phone. Below the display is the fingerprint scanning button and the microphone. There is also a pinpoint microphone for using the Z2 Force as a speaker phone.
The back of the phone has the side-by-side dual camera configuration at the top-center while at the bottom are the rows of connection points for Moto Mod accessories. The cameras are a bit raised from the otherwise reasonably smooth back of the phone but that too is nothing out of the ordinary in many phones today.
On the bottom edge of the phone is where you will find the USB-C connector for charging and accessories while the right side of the phone has the power button and volume rocker. The left side of the phone is uninterrupted while the top edge has the SIM/MicroSD tray.
Benchmarking & Performance
It is one thing to have a fast processor like the Snapdragon 835 that is in the Moto Z2 Force, but it is another thing entirely to actually optimize the hardware and software to fully leverage the prowess of that processor. Motorola has done that with this phone. When I reviewed the Huawei P10 earlier this year, I felt it was the fastest phone I’d ever reviewed in over 13 years of reviewing phones. Those feelings have been topped by the Z2 Force. It is unbelievably responsive to every action you make on the phone and Moto has done a phenomenal job of optimizing the user experience to fully take advantage of the hardware under the hood.
Put it this way: My daily driver has been a Pixel XL for months (although I, from time-to-time use the Huawei P10). The Pixel didn’t feel slow until I used the Moto Z2 Force. Nor did the P10 for that matter. Both, however, pale in comparison to this phone.
Looking at the performance of this phone using the Benchmark II app, the Moto Z2 Force scored a stunning 4363. For comparison, the Pixel scores 2901 while the Huawei P10 scores 3393. This may be the purest way to measure a device’s performance and few phone are in the stratosphere like this one.
It’s one thing however to have some powerful chipset but another thing entirely to have an Android build that takes advantage of it. I’ve encountered plenty of devices that have such a poor Android build that the phone is sluggish at best. That is not the case with the Z2 Force. Moto has a beautiful and well optimized User Experience that takes full advantage of the hardware under the hood.
So, let’s talk about the User Experience on the Moto Z2 Force. In a word: Awesome. Moto’s native launcher is strikingly similar to the Google Pixel Launcher with their own customized icons for apps like Email, Phone and Camera. But this doesn’t feel far off from a native Google launcher so the learning curve is very low. The launcher supports app shortcuts so long pressing supporting apps will pop-up things you can do quickly with that app. By default, the now familiar round clock with weather information is in the upper center of the home screen. The outer ring of this widget is also a visual battery indicator to show you how much battery you have remaining.
The Moto launcher also has built-in support for Google cards like the Pixel or Google Now Launcher and Google’s Wallpaper app is the default wallpaper selection app for the launcher. Access to the app tray is done by swiping up on the app tray.
Moto also has what they refer to as Moto Motions built into the launcher. This gives you the ability, for example, to switch from the front camera to the rear camera with a twist of your wrist.
As I mentioned earlier, my Google Pixel XL is my daily driver and when I pick up the Z2 Force, it feels very much the same. There isn’t anything I don’t particularly like about it and Moto has done a fantastic job with it.
With dual-12MP cameras at the rear, the expectation for photo quality from the Moto Z2 Force was high for me and it did not disappoint. Picture quality was outstanding in bright sunlight as well as low lighting situations. Color accuracy was also very good from both the rear as well as the front cameras.
In shooting comparative photos from the Z2 Force and the Pixel XL, the two are virtually indistinguishable when it comes to daytime shots. Indeed, I personally think the photos out of the front facing camera on the Z2 Force are better than the Pixel XL front facing camera. Low light shots however were slightly better, especially with color accuracy, from the Pixel XL.
The bottom line here is that this phone does an excellent job on photos and you won’t be disappointed.
Coupling this is the well designed and feature rich camera app from Moto. You have standard photo and video shooting modes but also a professional mode that allows you to adjust all of the settings in a shot – ISO, white balance, exposure, etc. The UI for this looks strikingly similar to the camera app in Windows 10 for Mobile.
360-Degree Camera Moto Mod for the Moto Z2 Force
As I mentioned earlier in this review, one of the cool elements of the Moto lineup are the Moto Mods. These hardware add-ons give you specific and expanded functionality over the phone alone. Moto has a wide range of these and for this review, they sent us the 360-degree camera.
Like other Moto Mods, the 360-degree camera magnetically attached to the back of the Z2 Force and it is instantly recognized by the phone. There is literally no configuration (although I did need to do a software update for the camera when I added it to the phone). Depending on the Mod you’ve attached, an app will open up that guides you through how to use that particular add-on. In my case, the 360-degree camera walked me through how to use it, view photos, zooming, etc. Frankly, it’s super simple and the photos out of it are outstanding.
If there has been one knock on the Moto Mod concept it has been the price. They are spending with the 360-degree camera just shy of $300. That’s about half the cost of the phone itself. So yeah, you are really going to want to justify the cost for these add-ons. The good news, based on using the Mod for a few days, you won’t be disappointed in the ease of use or quality.
During my review of the Moto Z2 Force, I streamed music from Google Play Music as well as made test phone calls to check the overall audio quality. Overall, I’m very pleased with the quality. Sound is crisp and clean on phone calls as well as streaming content. It can be a little tinny at the top range but frankly, most phones suffer with this given the size of the speakers and the limited power driving them.
When you combine the power efficency of the Snapdragon 835 and those which Moto has built into the Z2 Force, you have the makings for great battery life and you get it. On the surface, the 2730mAh battery seems small but I had no trouble making it through an entire day with it doing my normal amount of email, texting, music and video streaming from YouTube. All in, I was able to get about 10 hours of battery life between charges which is very similar to that which I get with the Pixel XL.
Charging of the battery is quick thanks to the USB-C connector and up to a 5V charge when connected to AC. I was able to get from 10% to 60% battery in about 20 minutes in charging.
Conclusion & Recommendation
Without hesitation I strongly recommend the Moto Z2 Force. This phone has all of the specs you would expect from a flagship device, is comfortable to hold, has an excellent user experience and solid camera performance. You add to this the Moto Mods that, while expensive, give you even further functionality to the phone, you have the entire package in your hands. I don’t get overly enamored with phones these days but the Moto Z2 Force is one that is easy to love as it is a joy to use.