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Moto Z2 Force Review: $720 for ShatterShield

Motorola’s flagship smartphone for 2017, the Moto Z2 Force, was rumored and rumored constantly leading up to its announcement. There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the device’s unveiling in late July, and everyone seemed to want to get their hands on the handset. We were part of this crowd, and Verizon has finally been able to hook us up with a unit. I thought I would love the device. I really did. But I’m not gonna sugar coat it: you probably wanna skip this one unless you’re a specific kind of person. Let me explain.

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Let’s start with the build. The Z2 Force has a nice, polished, metal back that doesn’t attract fingerprints as some might think. In fact, this gold finish we received looks good pretty much always, which is a good thing. Chamfers sit at the front to give off a premium aesthetic, while an aluminum frame adds a bit of grip. However, you may still drop this guy due to cold or chapped hands this winter.

Luckily, Moto has you covered. As hinted at in the “force” branding, the Z2 Force sports a ShatterShield 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display. The company’s ShatterShield guarantees no matter how many times you drop your phone, its display won’t break. This is a claim we can stand by as past ShatterShield smartphones we’ve handled survived all kinds of tumbles. This one does the same. However, due to the display being mainly plastic and not glass, it scratches much easier. Therefore, you’ll either wanna get a screen protector to prevent scratches or never put it anywhere other than your pocket or an open space. Put it in a bag with keys or your charger and you’re bound to see some type of scuff when you take it out. This isn’t really a big deal as long as you’re careful, but I can only imagine people being pretty absent-minded while handling this guy.

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Speaking of the display, the Z2 Force’s actual screen looks good. Colors are vibrant, blacks are pitch black since it uses OLED technology, and viewing angles are decent. The 5.5-inch form factor is getting a bit tiresome at this point, however, since most 2017 flagships are switching to bezel-less screens closer or around the 6-inch mark. Therefore, it makes the phone feel a little dated, but there’s literally nothing Moto can do.

Why do I say so? Because of Moto Mods. Last year with the first Moto Z, the company promised the magnetic accessories would work with the initial three generations of the phone. This means we were bound to see the same design this year and likely the same design next year as well. Unless Moto somehow shrinks the top and bottom bezels to increase the screen size, expect a very similar handset for the Moto Z3. And this is really unfortunate since most of the industry is going towards more rounded handsets and 18:9 aspect ratios with little to no bezels. Moto really blocked themselves in a corner, and I don’t really know when they’ll be able to get out.

Oh, and the Z2 Force is in no way waterproof. This could be due to the pins on the back or the fact it’s not very well sealed off, but word of advice: don’t get it wet.

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Below the screen sits a fingerprint sensor which is pretty fast to identify a user’s fingerprint. Touching and holding the sensor turns on and off the screen while flicking on a setting in the custom Moto app onboard lets you use the sensor to navigate the phone with swipes. This deactivates the software navigation keys and focuses solely on the fingerprint reader. Overall, I’ve never really cared for this feature as I didn’t on the Z2 Play I reviewed a little while ago either, but if you’ve wanted more room on your smartphone screen for content, this feature will likely be of your interest.

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Sitting atop the screen is an earpiece which doubles as the loudspeaker on the Z2 Force. Moto’s been doing this for a while rather actually installing a proper speaker, but at least it sounds decent. It’s actually more bassy than what’s been on Moto’s smartphones before, but it still sounds like you’re listening to music through an earpiece. Tinny is pretty much the name of the game here.

Besides that, there’s a front-facing camera, ambient light sensor, and dual-LED flash above the Z2 Force’s display. On the back sit pins for connecting Moto Mods, dual rear cameras, and the Motorola logo. The right side of the phone houses the volume and power buttons, the left side is blank, and the bottom sports a USB-C port. Notice how I never said the words “headphone jack.” That’s because, for whatever reason, Moto simply won’t include a headphone jack in their flagship smartphones anymore. It’s interesting because they can’t use the infamous “we made our phone too thin” excuse since the Z2 Play packs a 3.5mm jack and is even thinner than the Force. Really, I have no idea why Moto keeps doing this, but I’ll probably get to the bottom of it one day.

One fateful day.

 

As for specs, you’ll find everything other 2017 flagships pack in the Z2 Force. There’s a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and an Adreno 540 GPU. Everything’s powered by Android 7.1.1 Nougat which remains super clean with the addition of some slight Moto tweaks and a few apps. Overall, performance has been great, gaming is stellar with zero dropped frames, and multitasking is a pleasing experience.

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Now’s probably a good time to talk about connections. We tested the Z2 Force on Verizon’s network and were pleased with what we saw. Data speeds were always pretty snappy, call quality was excellent, and we never really went below having two bars. This may be different depending on where you live, but at least for us, the Z2 Force didn’t flop in the network department.

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Regarding the cameras on this device, the Z2 Force packs dual cameras for the first time on a Moto smartphone. They both have 12 megapixels to work with, and their quality, in a nutshell, isn’t all that great. When in normal mode, photos tend to come out a bit over saturated, but at least sharpness and exposures are decent. I’ve said this before in other Moto phone reviews I’ve done, and that’s photos taken with these cameras look like Moto photos. Unfortunately, despite costing around the same as a Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8, the sensor still isn’t up to par.

To help the camera’s quality, Moto’s dual camera setup allows for the same type of bokeh effect present on the iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8. By utilizing each camera (one normal and one depth-sensing), you can get natural bokeh photos with your subject in focus. In all reality, Moto needs to do a bit more work before this feature is actually something you’ll wanna use since keeping your subject in focus requires super sharp edges. Anyone with a fine amount of detail on them likely won’t be in complete focus when taking a bokeh photo. And this problem is on a lot of phones with the same feature. Unfortunately, there is no perfect implementation of this feature just yet, so for now, the dual cameras on the Z2 Force are a bit of a gimmick.

They’re even more gimmicky when you consider one of the lenses is completely black and white. Moto says with the secondary camera, you can take true-to-life black and white pictures that will be sharper than a photo with a black and white filter on top. However, I never really found images taken with this camera sharper or better in quality than photos with a black-and-white filter on top of them. And just to specify, none of the photos above have a filter on top so you can be the judge as to whether they actually look any better.

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The front-facing 5MP camera, in a few short words, is totally fine for Snapchat and Instagram. I suspect you won’t be doing much with it other than that, so just deal with it.

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As for battery life, the Z2 Force packs nothing to write home about. There’s a pretty small 2730mAh battery powering this thing, and I can’t seem to get through a full day. If I drift off and start using my iPhone a bit more I can, but when strictly using the Z2 Force from the time I get up (about 7 AM) to the time I go to sleep (about 11 PM), I have to plug-in at around 7 or 8 PM. Some of you may find that a success if you go to bed earlier than I do or wake up later, but I honestly don’t.

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And that brings us to the Moto Mods, because if you buy the Z2 Force, you’ll at least need the battery pack mod. I wasn’t able to try any out during my testing of the device, but I’ve used them enough to have some thoughts. But I won’t hit you with a thousand more words on them. Instead, I’ll list all the case scenarios you’ll need one when using this phone.

  • Need some more camera tricks? You can buy the Hasselblad True Zoom Mod or 360 camera mod for $300 a pop.
  • How about a louder speaker? You’ve gotta get taht $70 JBL SoundBoost 2.
  • Are you struggling to make it through the day on a single charge? The Moto Turbopack can help with that for an extra $80.
  • A bigger screen is what you wish? Moto’s still selling that $300 projector if you’re into that.
  • You’re a hard-core gamer but hate touch screen controls? There’s an $80 Gamepad for that.
  • Oh wait, you want extra flair for your Z2 Force, right? Because the design isn’t enough? $20 can get you a Style Mod, while $40 can get you a Style Mod with wireless charging.

See where I’m going with this? Every fault the Z2 Force has, there’s a Moto Mod that may or may not improve your experience. And that may sound great, but they’re all so expensive. I don’t really wanna spend $80 on a speaker that only works with one type of smartphone. I wanna do that like I wanna buy a $300 360-degree camera that I can only use with Moto’s Z line. And remember what I said earlier? These Moto Mods are only guaranteed to work for another year, so you’ll have to buy new ones in 2019 which I’m sure will creep up fast. Overall, the mod situation with the Z2 Force makes the handset less appealing as a whole which stinks since the accessory line is the device’s main selling point.

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And that brings us to the conclusion: should you buy the Moto Z2 Force? To me, it’s simply not worth it. As a smartphone alone, it has too many shortcomings. The battery life is nothing special, the speaker is small and tinny, the display, while shatter-proof, is easy to scratch, the cameras are gimmicks, it’s not waterproof, and there’s no headphone jack. And yeah, the software is nice and clean and you won’t need to replace your screen if you drop it, but I don’t really find those highlights compelling enough to actually buy this phone. Even the specs aren’t that special since they’re in practically every other 2017 flagship smartphone. And the only way to fix the Z2 Force is by spending a whole ton of money on Mods which, again, will only last another year.

And then there’s the price: the Z2 Force costs a minimum of $720 if you buy from Motorola themselves, but through Verizon from whom we received our unit, the handset costs $800. Nowadays, you can get a Galaxy S8 with the same specs, a much flashier/waterproof design, and way better cameras for $200 less on sale. And let’s not forget about the LG V30 which is about to go up for sale which, at least in our early testing, also has this list of perks.

In the end, if I were you, I’d skip this one because, in a nutshell, you’re really only spending $720 for ShatterShield and an entry into the Moto Mod ecosystem. Maybe wait to see what Moto has to offer next year. Otherwise, just go buy the new Samsung or Apple phone and you’ll be satisfied.

Rating: 6/10

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Max Buondonno is a technology enthusiast who has been working as a journalist in this industry for more than two years. He has grown up in the age where everyone has a smartphone which has influenced his decision to become a professional technology writer, his passion in life. He's dipped his toes in the development of websites, while you can ask him anything about Apple, Google, or Microsoft and he's bound to give you an answer. He's reachable on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and email.

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