When I originally reviewed Motorola’s Moto Z2 Force flagship last year, I wasn’t impressed. The battery life wasn’t very good, the screen had a weird warping issue because it’s mounted upside-down (don’t ask me why – I have no idea), and the cameras were nothing to write home about, amongst other things. Overall, for the price you pay, the device just didn’t meet my expectations.
But then the phone showed back up in my office. With the beef I had with the phone, I was hesitant to check it out again. And then it got upgraded to Android Oreo. This ultimately convinced me to pop my SIM card back in and give it another shot. And unsurprisingly, the device has improved. But not so much that I’d say I’ve turned a full 180-degrees from my previous stance.
Let’s start with the design. This part of the review is pretty much the same as last time. The Z2 Force is stupid thin, comes with a really nice aluminum build, and feels sturdy but light. It’s not waterproof, though, but I don’t really mind this.
I’m also a really big fan of this black finish opposed to the gold finish I reviewed previously since it comes with black bezels instead of white.
In fact, let’s talk about the bezels real quick. Yes, they look clunky and dated by 2018’s standards, but Moto kind of drove itself into a corner when guaranteeing the current set of Moto Mods would work with the next three years worth of Moto Z phones. Therefore, they kind of had to retain the same look as 2016. But never fear: rumor has it the bezels are shrinking this year. Let’s hope that rumor is accurate because I can’t imagine Moto skipping another year without getting rid of the bezels on at least one of its phones.
While we’re still on the topic of design, let me just mention a few more points. The earpiece above the screen doubles as the loudspeaker and sounds decent, there is no headphone jack next to the USB-C port on the bottom (boo!), the volume and power buttons on the right side feel clicky and well built, and the fingerprint scanner on the front of the Z2 Force is super reliable and can be controlled like a touchpad thanks to custom software. It’s worth mentioning I never opted to do this, though, since it isn’t that good at reading gestures. It’ll likely improve over time, however.
Also on the front of the Z2 Force is obviously the display, and it’s great. It’s super colorful thanks to the AMOLED panel and gets bright in direct sunlight, and it’s got a Quad HD (2560×1440) resolution so everything is pin sharp. It’s also a decent size at 5.5-inches and is good for viewing content with its 16:9 aspect ratio. Sure, most phones are switching to 18:9 screens and higher resolutions, but like I said, things should improve this year for the Moto Z line if rumors are any indication.
The Z2 Force also has a ShatterShield layer on top. This means, according to Moto, the phone’s screen is shatter-proof. You can drop this thing multiple times and the screen won’t crack. Disclaimer: I didn’t test this during my usage, but I’m taking Moto’s word for it.
The only downside to ShatterShield is the fact that Moto uses plastic and not glass, therefore making it extremely easy to scratch. As you can see above, I have some minor dings on my unit just from putting it in my bag. Meanwhile, all of my glass-covered phones, such as the Moto Z2 Play, remain clean. Just be careful where you put this thing.
Also, the display is still mounted upside-down. You will see jelly scrolling. Just a warning.
Inside the phone, you’ll find all the specs that made 2017 flagships great: a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of baseline storage. These specifications are extremely powerful, and when combined, you get a phone that’s really nice, fast, and fluid during day-to-day operations. Gaming, multitasking, scrolling through social media – you name it, the Z2 Force is probably great at it.
Not only do I give the Z2 Force’s specs credit for this experience, but what runs on top of the specs should also be mentioned. Moto has famously put super-clean builds of Android on its phones, and with a near-stock build of Android 8.0 Oreo, you get Pixel 2-level performance. I kid you not, while I was reviewing the Pixel 2 XL, I compared Google’s offering with Moto’s running Oreo and they shared the same exact speed and fluidity. Therefore, if you want a phone with the same speed as the Pixel 2 but with more features, the Z2 Force should definitely be considered.
While Android Oreo doesn’t bring a ton new in terms of custom features (the standard array of Moto Actions is present in one app), the Z2 Force does take advantage of what Oreo already brings to the table. For instance, there’s obviously better performance, better notification control, picture-in-picture, a simplified Settings app, Google’s smart autofill and selection tools, Notification Dots, better security, and more emoji. Overall, it’s just a nice piece of software to have on Moto’s 2017 flagship. It feels complete in a way.
Oreo is also supposed to bring better battery life, and this is an area the Z2 Force desperately needs help with. I wasn’t impressed with the 2730mAh cell on board before, and I still aren’t now. I’ll admit, I can squeeze out about 3 – 3 1/2 hours of screen-on time with Oreo, but that’s still not very impressive. Basically, that’s just enough for me to get a full day’s worth of mid-to-heavy usage. Therefore, don’t buy this smartphone if want great battery life because you won’t get it.
With the Z2 Force, you get your standard USB-C connector with fast charging to juice back up, but I also chose to test out Moto’s wireless charging Moto Style Mod with a gray fabric coating. By attaching this Mod, you’re able to use a wireless charger with your phone and charge up, something that isn’t possible with the phone itself. It’s definitely one of my favorite Moto Mods on the market even though it doesn’t do very much other than provide wireless charging and a nice look for the back of your phone.
Now that we’re on the topic of Moto Mods, I need to mention that I still feel like the Z2 Force is an attempt by Moto to get you to spend more money and buy more Mods. I did this breakdown in my previous review that I still believe is relevant to this day.
- 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.
Hopefully, the Moto Z3 will have its own set of strengths that won’t rely on Moto Mods since they’ll be outdated next year.
Finally, let’s talk cameras. I’ll keep it brief: don’t use the stock camera app. There are two 12MP lenses on the back to do black-and-white and portrait mode tricks, but neither are very good and what you get out of the cameras, by default, isn’t all that pleasing. What you want to do is use the modified Google Camera APK from the Pixel 2 with portrait mode. That’ll get you results similar to the Pixel 2 since the same HDR+ processing will be applied to your shots. And with the Portrait setting, you’ll get nearly the same portrait mode photos you’d get from Google’s smartphones. Take a look for yourself.
It’s a shame that Moto still can’t build a good camera without help from Google and hacky developers. Maybe this year, the company will deliver a true contender to the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and Google Pixel. Until then, just keep using ported Google Camera APKs to take photos.
Here’s where I stand with the Z2 Force now that we’ve entered 2018: it has an outdated design that no one wants to look at going forward but packs performance that makes its $720 price totally worth it. If you can stand the so-so camera performance (get that APK!), okay battery life, and scratch-prone display, buy the Z2 Force. You won’t get this experience on any other phone except the Pixel 2. Plus you can get Moto Mods if that’s your thing.
In the same breath, the Moto Z3 will be launching later this year and likely feature a Snapdragon 845 processor and Android Oreo. This indicates the performance on that device will likely be even better than what’s presented with the Z2 Force. So unless you need a phone today, wait for the Z3. But if you’re going to a carrier store in the extremely near future to pick out something new and don’t wanna stick to the norm, buy the Z2 Force. It’s gotten better with age, something you can’t say about a lot of other Android phones.