Motorola’s indestructible phone is back, but does the Moto Z2 Force improve on the ambitions of its predecessor?
- Shatterproof screen
- Top notch performance
- Absurdly expensive
- Camera struggles in low light
When Motorola first launched its tough-as-nails smartphone, the Moto X Force, it was a surprise hit, at least with my fellow staffers at Expert Reviews. Its rugged, shatterproof housing and long-lasting battery life made it one of our favourite smartphones of 2015, but last year’s follow-up, the Moto Z Force, failed to reach UK shores.
Blighty hasn’t been forgotten this year, though. Oh no; the Moto Z2 Force is here and it looks to strengthen the indestructible qualities of the original, with up-to-date internals and an intriguing pair of dual rear cameras.
Moto Z2 Force review: What you need to know
The new Moto Z2 Force (effectively the third-gen Moto tough phone) keeps the shatterproof screen from the Moto X Force, slims itself down and adds the ability to snap on Motorola’s wide range of mods, just like the Moto Z2 Play.
It has a 5.5in, 1,440 x 2,560 display on the front and is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 processor, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, expandable up to 1TB via microSD. There’s also a pair of dual 12-megapixel cameras on the back.
Moto Z2 Force review: Price and competition
Unlike its similarly shatterproof predecessor, the Moto Z2 Force isn’t the mid-range marvel we hoped for. The Z2 Force is expensive and will set you back a wallet-wilting £719 when it shows up in UK shops.
At that price, the Moto Z2 Force is knee-deep in flagship territory, competing with the likes of the iPhone 8 (£700) and the 128GB Pixel 2 (£729). Samsung’s excellent Galaxy S8 Plus can be picked up for around £630.
Moto Z2 Force review: Design
The Moto Z2 Force cuts a familiar figure. Its brushed metal exterior might look identical to Moto’s previous efforts, but – like the Z2 Play – there are a handful of subtle (and welcome) changes on closer inspection.
For starters, the Z2 Force’s aluminium unibody is just 6.1mm thin (13% skinnier than last year’s) and it weighs 143g. The rubberized rear has disappeared, in favour of a slick, fingerprint-friendly gun-metal finish.
You’ll spot the volume rocker and power button on the left edge, with a USB Type-C port on the bottom, but no 3.5mm headphone jack beside it, which is a shame. The camera protrusion on the back reappears, jutting 2.7 millimetres from the rest of the device, which means it isn’t a particularly desk-friendly phone.
Surprisingly, given its tough credentials, Motorola is still to add proper waterproofing – the Moto Z2 Force only has a water-resistant coating.
Moto Z2 Force review: Mods
Love them or loathe them, Motorola’s wide-range of smartphone modifications are here to stay, it seems. These Moto Mods offer a bunch of extra add-ons and connect to the back of the phone via a series of magnetic connector pins.
As it stands there’s a good selection of to choose from. You’ll find Moto’s Turbopower pack, which attaches an extra 3,490mAh battery; the Moto Gamepad with Nintendo Switch-style mini-joysticks and buttons; and the Moto 360 camera which, as the name suggests, adds a 360-degree camera to the phone.
Moto Z2 Force review: Display
The Moto Z2 Force’s screen isn’t the last word in cutting edge but it does the job. It’s 5.5in across the diagonal, with a resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 and uses P-OLED panel, just like the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
Like the Z2 Play, you can choose from either Standard’ or Vibrant display modes in the settings. The latter produces colours that are horrifically oversaturated, while Standard isn’t quite so in your face.
Neither is particularly colour accurate, however. In Standard mode, our X-Rite colour calibrator returned an average Delta E of 3.06 (0 is perfect) with the display struggling to reproduce colours across the palette. Maximum brightness isn’t all that impressive, either, reaching only 355cd/m2 – you may have to shade the screen in bright light to read it.
Mind you, given it’s a P-OLED panel, contrast ratio is effectively perfect, which means both movies and photos benefit from plenty of pop and perceived detail levels are absolutely superb.
Moto Z2 Force review: Performance and battery life
At first pass, fans of the first phone might be disappointed to discover that the slimmer chassis and electronics needed to accommodate the mods has necessitated a reduction in both battery size and capacity. The new Moto Z2 Force has a 2,730mAh battery while the original’s was 3,500mAh in size.
You’d expect battery life to be cut short, but that isn’t the case at all. The Moto Z2 Force reached 16hrs 40mins in our continuous video playback test before running flat, where the Moto X Force lasted 15hrs 12mins. The Z2 Force stacks up pretty well against 2017’s other flagships, too.
There’s plenty else to like here as well. There’s the latest octa-core Snapdragon 835 chip inside, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable via microSD. As expected, the Z2 Force is rapid. Here’s how it did in Geekbench 4’s suite of demanding CPU tests, which measures overall multi-core and single-core performance:
As for GPU performance, the Moto Z2 didn’t perform so well. That higher resolution display is to blame, and unlike the Galaxy S8, there’s no way to knock down display resolution to increase graphics performance.
Moto Z2 Force review: Camera
The Z2 Force’s new 12-megapixel dual-camera setup on the rear allows for post-shot and real-time selective focus, along with image background replacement and selective black-and-white editing.
In testing outdoor scenes didn’t pose the camera too much of a problem. In fact, the Moto Z2 Play picked up plenty of rich colours and crisp details in sunny conditions, particularly in hard-to-capture areas like foliage. Flicking on HDR did a tremendous job at lifting the shadows, too.
The Moto Z2 Force’s dual cameras did struggle in low-light conditions, however. Simply put, neither lens let in enough light – the f/2.0 aperture isn’t the brightest – and I found that photographs captured in low light lacked detail and were ridden with noise. A shame, especially since the cheaper Moto Z2 Play did such a good job at producing punchy, detail-rich images in low-light.
Moto Z2 Force review: Verdict
With Motorola guaranteeing its five-layer “ShatterShield” screen won’t crack for four years, the Z2 Force would see you through to your next phone upgrade in 2021, and perhaps as a holiday backup for a couple of years after that.
And that makes Motorola’s tough phone a tempting alternative to the usual crowd of fragile beauties we normally see in shops. If you’re plagued with a case of the butter fingers, Moto’s Z2 Force offers peace of mind that no other smartphone brings to the table.
The only thing that makes me pause in my recommendation is the price, which at £719 means it isn’t quite the force to be reckoned with it once was.