A while back, I got the opportunity to review Lenovo’s 2016 flagship smartphone known as the Moto Z. I praised it for being so speedy, having nice, clean software, and offering a great and seamless modularity system known as Moto Mods. Of course, I did have some caveats like the fact that the phone felt a bit too thin for my taste, the camera isn’t all that great, and battery life was less than average. Fortunately, the Z has a big brother: Z Force. It features a bigger battery, a thicker design, and a camera with more megapixels, plus even more. On paper, this phone should resolve all my problems, right? Well…
Let’s jump into MBEDDED’s review of the Moto Z Force Droid Edition.
What’s in the Box
I won’t talk about this for too long as what comes in the box of the Moto Z Force is nearly identical to what you get with the standard Z. You’ve got the phone itself, a wall charger, a USB-C male to 3.5mm female headphone adapter, a SIM removal tool, a Style Mod (we’ll get to that soon), and plenty of Verizon-branded paperwork since this is a Droid edition. No headphones, no stickers, nothing else.
Hardware & Design
The design of the Moto Z Force is pretty much what you’d expect from a flagship smartphone in 2016 and is extremely similar to the Z’s. You’ve got a full metal build along the sides and back, while the front remains glass which, Moto claims, is shatterproof. We’ll talk about that in a second.
One of the biggest differences between the build of the Z Force and the standard Z is the thickness. For the Z, the girth measures in at just 5.2mm. However, on the Z Force, the girth measures in at 7mm. By no means am I complaining about this factor as I thought 5.2mm is just too thin for a phone. Therefore, I really like the feel in the hand you get from Z Force as it features a thicker design and a ridge which adds extra grip. Overall, I like the Z force much more than the Z in terms of design and build.
On the front of the Z Force is where a 5.5-inch QHD Shatterproof display sits. Regarding the quality, I have to say this screen is beautiful. Colors are pretty on point, vibrancy and clarity are excellent, and viewing angles are pretty great. Of course, I just said “Shatterproof” and many of you may be wondering what I mean by that, so let me explain…
As Lenovo and Moto tend to do often, they’ve built a display panel into the Z Force which they promise will never shatter regardless of how many times you drop your phone. This is done via a unique layering process which is composed of 5 different layers that help absorb shock from a drop. And I have to say, they tell the truth.
Now look, I didn’t do any crazy drop tests from a 200-foot building or anything, but I did drop it a few times on its face from about 4-5 feet high to see what would happen, and unsurprisingly, Moto’s claim is legit. This thing just won’t crack.
It’s worth noting that I was extremely careful with my testing, meaning I didn’t intend to cause damage to the rest of the body of the Z Force. Therefore, during my drop tests, I never experienced any scuffs or chips in the metal build of the device. However, some other reviewers who tested this handset did experience some damage to the frame of the Z Force, something which occurred with simple, non-aggressive drops. Therefore, owners will have to note that the rest of the phone isn’t as durable as the display by any means.
One little tidbit I’d like to bring up about the special display found on the Z Force is lint pickup. I’m assuming that the shatterproof layer on top of the handset isn’t as smooth as something like Gorilla Glass because it tends to pick up a lot of pocket lint and dirt from my fingers and pocket, and you can’t blow it off either. You literally have to rub the phone’s screen on your shirt a few times every time you take it out of your pocket. It’s a rather odd design flaw I thought would be worth a mention here as I didn’t experience this with the standard Z.
Regarding the rest of the phone, on the back of the Z Force (which is still prone to extra-sticky fingerprints) is a 21MP camera, Moto branding, and 16 magnetic pins for connecting Moto Mods. Also on the front of the device is a fingerprint sensor, a 5MP front camera, an earpiece, a couple of microphones, and an ambient light sensor. On the left, there’s absolutely nothing, while on the right there’s volume up and down buttons alongside a textured power button. These keys are still way too high for the average user, so prepare to shimmy your hand up your phone to reach your volume controls if you plan on using this handset.
Last but not least, on the bottom of the Z Force is one single port: a USB-C port. No headphone jack is present on the Z Force even though Moto could’ve added it without sacrificing literally anything. I assume the company wanted to add the IO exclusively for the Z Play, but I still think they could’ve added it nevertheless for their more expensive offering.
Oh, and can I mention that Black/Lunar Grey color option? Because if you plan on buying the Z or Z Force, opt for the Black model. It’s way better than the Gold variant, trust me.
Overall, the build quality of the Z Force is really nice. By no means can I bend the handset, the thickness is on-point for extra hand comfort while operating, the weight, while hefty, feels nice in the hand at 163 grams (27 grams more than the standard Z), and the cool, metal design keeps things feeling classy as ever. All in all, if you’re a sucker for great build quality, you’ll love this handset.
Specs & Performance
For reference, here’s a rundown of the specs of the Moto Z Force.
- Quad-Core Snapdragon 820 processor
- Adreno 530 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage
As you can see, these are the same internals as the standard Z. And if you read my review on that smartphone, you already know how this puppy performs. But I’ll tell you anyway.
Light operations like browsing the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all super fast. You can tear through all your social networking thanks to the quad-core Snapdragon 820 on board, while switching through applications is also a pleasant experience thanks to the 4GB of RAM on board.
In addition, playing light games like Stack and Doodle Jump are also a great experience thanks to the high-end internals on-board. You also get great performance out of graphic-intense games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Suicide Squad: Special Ops thanks to the Adreno 530 GPU which pairs well with the 820 to deliver smooth graphics throughout. So really, the performance of the Z Force is what you’d expect from a phone with these specs: great.
Regarding the fingerprint sensor, it’s the same one found on the standard Z, so that means its super fast and recognizes my fingerprint every time. Only once in a while if my fingerprint is sweaty it’ll respond with an error, but that’s on me. Not the sensor itself.
Storage wise, I’ve said before that I can survive with 32GB without having to pop in a microSD card. However, for those who need more space, Lenovo also sells both the Z and Z Force in a 64GB variant. Of course, that’ll cost you more, but it’ll be worth it in the end if you really need that space.
Going into 2017, the specs of the Z Force are going to be outdated. However, this doesn’t oppose the statement that this phone is still really fast and snappy. Just because a new version of something comes out doesn’t mean the old version is much worse, because I can assure you, if you buy this handset next year, you’ll still be impressed by its performance. It’s a flagship-level smartphone with top-of-the-line specifications that will remain speedy for a long time, trust me.
Ever since the Moto Z and Z Force launched, they’ve seen a recent upgrade to Android 7.0 Nougat, an update I anxiously waited for while testing the Z Force. After I installed it, I noticed right away all of the differences between it and Android Marshmallow, the Z lineup’s previous software version. Of course, a vast majority of the software experience is the same as the standard Z, so I won’t bore you with the details. But for those wondering, here’s a few bullet points.
- It’s nearly stock Android Nougat.
- Not many customizations are present.
- Moto app comes pre-installed with various actions to enable including Moto Display (ambient display with preview of notifications and current time), double twist to launch the camera, double chop to activate the flashlight, “OK Moto” voice control, and swipe to shrink screen.
- All of Nougat’s shining features are present including better multitasking, new Settings app, improved notification shade, and more.
- Daydream VR support is built in for use with a Daydream View headset.
- Since it’s a Droid, there’s a whole folder of bloatware installed that can’t be removed. Sigh.
If you’d like some specific details digging into what’s mentioned here, check out our Moto Z Droid review.
Motorola’s cameras don’t have a track record for being great, and the Z Force’s sensors, unfortunately, fall along this line.
It’s worth mentioning that the rear camera of the Z Force comes in at 21MP while the standard Z has a 13MP sensor, so with the Force, you’ll get better-detailed photos across the board. However, much like the standard Z, the Z Force struggles in some situations where focusing is key, less graininess needs to take shape, and exposure could be turned down a notch or two. In addition, highlights tend to get blown out too often, so be sure to try to avoid highly lit areas.
All in all, photos with the Z Force are good, but I wouldn’t call them great. See for yourself.
Regarding video capture, the Z Force can shoot up to 4K at 30 frames per second. Sure, it looks nice on paper, but when blown up, you’ll likely be disappointed by the sensor’s capabilities as it’s practically the same story as shooting pictures.
On the front of the Z Force is the same 5MP camera with LED flash found on the standard Z, which, if you recall, I loved. It produces a nice, sharp image with good detail and a decent amount of light. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that I prefer this camera over the 21MP rear camera. Therefore, if you’re a big selfie taker, you’ll love this sensor.
The front camera, while can’t shoot 4K video, can shoot up to 1080p video which looks rather decent. It won’t win any rewards, but it’s decent enough to call it good.
If you tend to take lots of pictures with your phone, you’re gonna be disappointed with the Z Force’s array of cameras. This is so unfortunate since the phone costs upwards of $700. However, if you only use your camera for the occasional Facebook upload or Snapchat Snap, the sensors will do fine since they’ll be butchered by the processing to upload the photos anyway. Nevertheless, as I previously stated, don’t expect the cameras on the Z Force to replace your DSLR or point-and-shooter.
On paper, you’d expect the Z Force’s 3500mAh battery to be able to get through at least 3 hours of screen-on time when paired with a QHD display and a Snapdragon 820. And fortunately, this is the truth… sort of.
Normally, I’ll be able to get 2 1/2 hours of screen-on time, easy. But once in a while, the Z Force would push our 3 – 3/12 hours of screen-on time, something I find extremely peculiar. No, I never cheated and plugged in before the end of my day or use the Incipio OffGRID Moto Mod during this testing. All I did was use the phone as I normally do.
I should also mention that the Z Force charges really quickly. In less than 2 hours, I can charge the battery inside the handset from 0% – 100%. Lenovo really did a great job with the Turbo Charge technology built in, so if you’re in a pinch and need to fill up, plug your phone in for 10 minutes. You’ll get like 20% more juice.
Note: During my testing, I didn’t have an active SIM card installed in the Z Force. Therefore, if you get the handset on a data plan, your battery life may vary.
I reviewed the three Moto Mods I was sent in my Moto Z review in-depth, so check out that review for more detailed information. But in a nutshell, here’s my thoughts on the in-box Style Mod, Incipio OffGRID Power Pack, JBL SoundBoost speaker, and Lenovo InstaShare Projector.
- The Style Mod looks and feel great in the hand, doesn’t add too much bulk, and gives the Z Force a clean a premium appearance. If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with this Mod.
- The OffGRID Power Pack adds a lot more bulk and weight to the Z/Force, but you can live with it. It also provides another 2 hours or so of battery, but that’s it. It charges while connected to the Z/Force, but it takes forever. There’s wireless charging for those who need it, but I never did. Oh, and if you pop this sucker on the back of the Z Force specifically, you’ll have a giant and heavy phone to carry around.
- The JBL SoundBoost speaker sounds great, if a little tinny. There’s plenty of base, clarity is on point, and highs sound nice and crisp. Yes, this Mod is thick too, but you really won’t be carrying it around on your phone all the time.
- The InstaShare projector is still one Mod you’ll use once, put on a high shelf, wait a month, show your friends spontaneously, and then let it collect more dust. However, will say that I used it a bit more often for football games, but it never really was my favorite regardless.
To me, I think the standard Z is better suited for using Mods with. The Z Force is a bit too thick to properly accommodate the Mods’ sizes, while the overall appearance of a Mod attached to the Z Force looks a bit out-of-place. Therefore, if you plan on buying the Z Force, you may wanna hold off on buying Mods if your picky about phone thickness and design. On the other hand, however, if you’ve got the cash, just buy one or two. It’s the best modular system for phones ever, period.
The Moto Z Force, while doesn’t check all of my boxes for a perfect smartphone, does patch up a few problems I had with the standard Z. For one, the design is much thicker, so I can cross that off the list. The camera, while still isn’t great, is a bit better when compared to the standard Z, especially in the detail department thanks to the 21MP on board. Battery life is…well… maybe slightly better?
Okay no, that’s a lie. The battery life between the Z and Z Force is basically the same and I have no idea why.
Still, if you’re looking to pick up the Moto Z, you may wanna consider the Z Force instead. You get a thicker phone which is necessary for most folks who carry their handsets naked (in other words, without a case), the camera is slightly better, the battery is bigger for what it’s worth, and you get a Shatterproof display.
All in all, in more ways than one, the Moto Z Force is the safer bet. As my final opinion, I give the Z Force an 8/10 with points deducted for the camera and battery life. Regardless, the Z Force is a speedy phone with a great modularity system. If you’re looking for something different in your next smartphone, this handset is definitely worth considering.
Where to Buy
You can pick up the Moto Z Force Droid from Verizon exclusively for a discounted $15/month for 24 months on a 2-year contract. Alternatively, you can get the handset for a one-time payment of $720.
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