Moto Z2 Force Review
Even with a drastically smaller battery, the Moto Z2 Force still puts on a really solid showing
While there are a number of good reasons why Motorola might have wanted to make this year's Moto Z2 Force a thinner phone than its predecessor, that move to slim down the handset comes at a cost, and that's clearest when we talk about battery capacity. The first Moto Z Force arrived with a healthy-sized 3,500mAh battery, while the thinner Moto Z went with a 2,600mAh component. And though this new phone gets its name from the former, its battery is more in line with the latter, as the Z2 Force offers a 2,730mAh battery.
But raw capacity isn't everything, and this year's new hardware – and in particular, the power-efficient Snapdragon 835 processor – can help stretch battery as far as it can go.
In our custom tests, the Moto Z2 Force was able to operate, screen-on, for between seven and eight hours on a charge. That's largely in line with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, and easily manages to push past battery life expectations from the original Moto Z Force. Now don't get us wrong – the new Z2 Force would have been even better if it returned with a 3,500mAh battery of its own, but we're happy to admit that our doubts about the phone's power endurance were basically unnecessary.
That's just the half of it, though, and perhaps due to the phone's conservative battery capacity, recharging times are exceptionally fast, and with the included Motorola Turbo Power adapter, we were able to bring the Moto Z2 Force back from depleted to fully-charged in between 80 and 110 minutes – that's not bad at all.
Though you won't find extras like wireless charging built-in, it's easy to add that or even an external battery pack with the help of Moto Mods add-ons.
When talking to Motorola at the Z2 Force launch event, the company indicated to us that it wasn't really interested in phones with day-plus battery life any more, as users tended to charge their devices every night anyway. With its smaller battery, the Moto Z2 Force may be cutting it close with day-long endurance, but especially looking at how its performance rates compare to other flagships, we doubt users will be too disappointed.
How much are you willing to spend for some trick photography?
As a Moto Z phone, the Z2 Force supports the full range of Moto Mods hardware, but for this review we're interested in the most recent add-on, one that launched alongside the Z2 Force itself: the Moto 360 Camera.
Essentially, the Moto 360 Camera is a dual-wide-angle-camera system not unlike Samsung's Gear 360 or LG's 360 Cam: images and video can be taken with one or both lenses simultaneously and stitched together to capture the entire world around the camera.
The hardware includes two 13MP cameras, as well as an array of four microphones for capturing sound from multiple angles. And though it's easy to overlook, there's also a physical shutter button on the Mod's back, hiding in the Motorola-logo dimple.
On one hand, that greatly eases setup and helps conserve battery life, not having to rely on a wireless connection to stream video in real time between devices. But it also makes Motorola's camera less flexible in terms of placement. We'd love to see some sort of stand built into the Mod's back, but for now you'll either have to hold it in your hand or work out some kind of third-party mount.
Motorola's software succeeds more in some areas than others. Editing 360-degree content is relatively easy, letting you crop out areas you don't want to keep. But sharing options could use work, and the 360 camera app itself takes noticeably longer to start up than the phone's built-in camera. Speaking of that, you can switch between the phone's native camera and the 360, but the app always defaults back to the latter. So while you can leave the Moto 360 Camera attached when not in use, if you're going to be taking a lot of regular pics, you may want to save yourself some hassle and disconnect it.
In the end the Moto 360 Camera is a decent alternative to the Gear 360 for Motorola users, but its $300 price point feel excessive; it's especially hard to justify in the face of Samsung's option going for just $230. At half this price, it would be an easy recommendation, but you're going to need to be really, really into both 360-degree filming and Motorola smartphones in order for this purchase to make sense.
Motorola made a big gamble with the Moto Z2 Force, giving us a phone that wasn't clearly a direct follow-up to either the Moto Z or original Moto Z Force. But while that could have been a disaster, instead the company has managed to strike a solid balance between what we liked best about both those models, and in the process created one that really does manage to convince us that the Moto Z family only needs one flagship.
But at the same time, the Moto Z2 Force can be a hugely frustrating phone. The biggest problem there is the screen, and Motorola could really stand to benefit from dropping its ShatterShield project. The concept is sound, but instead of leaving us worry-free about a phone that won't bust up its screen when we drop it, we're instead left terrified of a phone that's liable to get a scratched-up screen just from looking at it funny. Your experience may differ, but we find it a lot easier to avoid dropping our phones than to keep anything remotely sharp from going anywhere near their screens, and by giving us a display like this, Motorola has replaced one minor concern with one that's maybe even more difficult to live with.
Then there's the missing headphone jack, and while we were willing to wait and see how this experiment played out with the Moto Z phones last year, the continued availability of the jack on the Moto Z Play series has just made it harder and harder to accept its absence on the Moto Z2 Force. Shouldn't a more expensive phone offer more features, not fewer?
Flagships themselves have changed since last year, and this year's hard-to-ignore arrival of 18:9 screens has left more traditionally-shaped phones like the Moto Z2 Force feeling a bit “fat” in comparison. We realize Moto Mods support doesn't give Motorola anywhere to go here, but it puts this model at a disadvantage, all the same.
While we have some legitimate complaints about how the Moto Z2 Force came together, it's also a very well-equipped, powerful phone with decent battery life, great recharge times, a pretty nice camera, and top-of-the-line performance. And with support for Moto Mods, it's easy to get even more mileage out of the hardware.
The Moto Z2 Force can be a really fantastic smartphone, but it's going to take a little work. Absolutely buy a screen protector. And you're not going to be getting anything close to your money's worth if you don't pick up a couple Moto Mods. But for the user who's willing to do a bit of legwork, and also has faith that Motorola can smooth over a few of the software's rough patches through future updates, the Moto Z2 Force can easily be a powerful, versatile handset.