Moto Z2 Force Review: A Tough, Flexible Phone

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Tough as nails in the front, with a party in the back. That’s the gist of the Moto Z2 Force, a shatterproof phone you can trick out with a wide range of add-ons via a clever magnetic system. Yes, this handset has all the latest features and specs you’d expect for a $750 flagship — including a Snapdragon 835 processor and dual rear 12-megapixel cameras — but like all Moto Z devices, it’s really all about the Moto Mods.

Want a louder speaker for blasting your guilty ‘80s pleasures? There’s a Moto Mod for that. A projector that can beam a 70-inch picture, a power pack that can double your battery life, or even a 360-degree camera? Moto offers that, too. So, is this modular phone worth more than its many (optional) parts? Yes, though it still doesn’t beat our favorite Android phone.

Updated May 21

We've updated our review of the Moto Z2 Force based on our in-depth smartphone drop tests. See the results below.

Moto Z2 Force Specs

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Price$750, or $30 per month
CPUSnapdragon 835
OSAndroid 7.1.1 Nougat
Screen5.5 inches OLED (2560 x 1440)
microSDup to 2TB
Rear CameraDual 12 MP
Front Camera5 MP
Battery2730 mAh
Size6.13 x 3 x 0.24 inches
Weight5.04 ounces

Design: Tough and sleek, but a bit behind the times

We’re not saying you should ever slam your phone down in anger, but the Moto Z2 Force can take it because its ShatterShield display employs five layers of protection and is guaranteed not to shatter or crack for up to 4 years. The phone’s back is pretty durable as well, as it’s made of 7000 series aluminum. (Just how durable, though? We'll discuss that more in a moment.)

And yet despite this robustness, the Z2 Force is one of the thinnest phones in the land, measuring 0.24 inches thin and weighing 5.04 ounces. This is important, because the Z2 Force feels a lot bulkier once you start adding on Moto Mods. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is thicker and heavier at 0.3 inches and 5.5 ounces.

The Z2 Force’s biggest standout design feature is its oval-shaped fingerprint reader. It’s not only fast and accurate, it enables handy gestures. For instance, you can swipe left on the reader to go back, swipe right to show all open apps and long press to launch Google Assistant.

So what’s not to love about the phone’s design? Compared with the Galaxy S8 and the LG G6, the Z2 Force just doesn’t look as modern, because it has pretty large bezels above and below the 5.5-inch screen. The Galaxy S8 and G6 are almost all screen up front, and the S8 throws in sexy curves on both sides. I’m also not a fan of the pronounced hump for the Z2 Force’s dual-lens camera — it reminds me of a robot head — and the fact that there isn’t a headphone jack onboard Motorola’s phone.

The Z2 Force can take a splash, as Motorola treated the handset with a water-repellent nanocoating. However, it’s not fully water-resistant like the Galaxy S8 or the LG G6, both of which can be submerged.

Durability: The best we've tested

We tested the toughness of the Motorola Z2 Force by dropping it on its face onto wood from a height of 4 feet and 6 feet; we then dropped it on its edge and face onto concrete from 4 feet; we then dropped it on its edge and face from 6 feet onto concrete; finally, we dropped from 4 feet into a water-filled toilet.

The Z2’s ShatterShield display didn't break through all of our testing, including a 6-foot face drop onto concrete — something that caused damage to just about every other phone we’ve tested. The only physical signs of damage were tiny nicks on the bottom edge of its aluminum frame.

Unfortunately, the Z2 isn’t waterproof; the phone seemingly died a few seconds after taking a dunk in the toilet. After it dried out, though, it came back to life, with no apparent damage. This rugged phone ended up with a toughness score of 8.5 out of 10. To see the results of other smartphones, as well as our complete scoring methodology, check out our smartphone drop tests.

Moto Mods: Expanding a fun (but pricey) ecosystem

As I snapped Moto Mods on and off the Z2 Force, I felt the same sort of glee I did as a kid playing with Transformers. Make that Gobots. Those were much easier to transform.

Using intuitive magnetic add-ons, I had a literal blast playing with the JBL SoundBoost 2 ($79). It packs a 10-hour battery and is splash-proof, but the best part is the sound quality. The speaker gave “Wild Thoughts” from DJ Khaled and Rihanna a robust thump that simply wasn’t there without the Mod. I also love the speaker’s built-in kickstand. Just keep in mind that you’re paying extra for the Moto Mods snap-on convenience; you can get a very good cheap Bluetooth speaker for under $40.

Motorola’s Insta-Share Projector Mod ($299, but free with Moto Z2 Force pre-orders) is the one that made my kids say wow. I beamed the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok from my living room sofa onto the ceiling, and for a moment it felt like we were at the drive-in. That’s not a total compliment, as the audio coming from the Z2 Force sounded just as tinny as those car-mounted speakers my dad used to attach to our station wagon door.

The projector does beam an image up to 70 inches as advertised, but the 50 lumens of brightness means you’ll need a very dim or dark room. This Mod also wouldn’t project Netflix movies or shows, giving me an error message, instead. Bummer. (Motorola told me that it is aware of this bug.)

As I snapped Moto Mods on and off the Z2 Force, I felt the same glee I did as a kid playing with Transformers. Make that Gobots. Those were much easier to transform.

The newest Moto Mod is the $299 Moto 360 Camera, which records 360-degree video in 4K along with 3D sound. The front and rear cameras on this Mod capture 150-degree, ultrawide-angle footage, and you can easily pan around to see all around you — and yourself — as you shoot. The only thing you won’t see is the phone itself.

I captured some 360 video with the Mod while walking across the rooftop patio of our office building in New York City, and it was kind of trippy to be able to rotate the picture around to see a gardener spraying the plants with water to the left and the gleaming silver metal chairs reflecting the hot summer sun on the right. Then I noticed as I panned up that there was a clear dividing line in the video between the front and back cameras, as the sky was two different shades of blue.

Coming soon is a new Moto Gamepad that lets you snap the Moto Z2 Force into a Mod that adds dual control sticks, a D-pad and four action buttons. The price is kind of steep, though, at $79.

Other Moto Mod options include a Mophie Juice Pack for $79.99, which adds a 3,000 mAh snap-on battery, a vehicle dock from Incipio for $64.99 and a $39.99 Moto Style Shell with wireless-charging capability. You can also snap on  several Moto Mod Shells ($19.99 to $24.99) to trick out the device in different finishes, including wood, fabric and leather.

OLED Display: A sharp and colorful canvas

It’s not the brightest, but the Moto Z2 Force’s 5.5-inch OLED quad HD screen is very colorful and pretty accurate. When watching the trailer for Justice League, I could make out every wrinkle in Wonder Woman’s forehead, and even some scuffs in her gold headpiece as she threw a “I’m-going-to-kick-your-ass” look at the enemy.

The screen produced a very impressive 199.7 percent of the sRGB color gamut on our tests, which beats the LG G6 (134 percent) but falls short of the Galaxy S8’s 255 percent in Adaptive mode. Regarding color accuracy, the Z2 Force turned in a quite good Delta-E score of 1.06 (0 is perfect), which is on a par with the LG G6’s 1.1. However, the Galaxy S8 was even better with a 0.28 score.

The Z2 Force’s screen could be brighter, as it registered an average of 331 nits on our testing. That’s lower than the OnePlus 5 (394 nits), the Galaxy S8 (437 nits) and way lower than the LG G6 (557 nits). However, I found it fairly easy to read the Z2 Force's display in direct sunlight.

Cameras: No Galaxy S8 killer

The Z2 Force packs dual 12-megapixel cameras that offer two key features for taking photos, but one of them didn’t work very well. Just as important, the overall image quality from this flagship doesn’t measure up to the similarly priced Galaxy S8.

What can you do with the Z2 Force’s two lenses? For starters, there’s a depth-enabled mode that tries to mimic the Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, focusing on the subject while blurring out the background. I say “tries” because the Z2 Force had trouble making an orange daylily pop on the first two attempts; instead, the flower itself got blurred. On the third try, the area to the top of the flower looked too blurry. By comparison, a photo of the same flower snapped by the iPhone 7 Plus exhibited a blur effect that was a more consistent throughout the frame.

On the plus side, the dual cameras also enable true black-and-white photos with no processing required, which can make for pretty dramatic results. A shot of I took of my pouting 9-year-old son looked downright artistic. Same thing goes for a photo of the Flatiron Building, although the monochrome photo looked much drearier than the color version. What the dual cameras don’t do is provide an optical zoom, which both the iPhone 7 Plus and OnePlus 5 offer.

In other test shots versus the Galaxy S8, the Moto Z2 Force was a step or two behind, but not in a portrait I took of two colleagues. Henry has more color in his face in the Moto shot, while he looks paler in the S8 image. The two photos are very close in quality, though the S8’s photo offers a bit more detail when zoomed in.

An indoor photo of a basket of apples was literally night and day between the Z2 Force and the S8. The Motorola image looks much darker and blurrier around the edges, while the S8’s shot looks like we turned the lights on (we didn’t).

Things didn’t get much better for the Z2 Force at Bryant Park, where I snapped a photo with people on the left and a potted plant on the right. In the Z2 Force’s shot, the flowers look out of focus, and there’s less detail on the pot. The S8’s image looks much sharper and the flowers have more intense pinks and purples.

The Z2 Force’s front 5-MP camera did an admirable job. A selfie I took indoors in good light faithfully captured my blue-and-white checkered shirt and green eyes, but the image from the S8’s 8-MP front shooter looked sharper when zoomed in.

Performance: Speedy, with one exception

The Moto Z2 Force is fast — except for one key area. The good news is that the Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM combine to offer snappy everyday performance. Most apps opened quickly, in about the same amount of time as the Galaxy S8, and exiting to the home screen from apps was just as swift.

MORE: Best Smartphones on the Market Now

Speaking of swift, the Moto Z2 Force easily handled the resource-intensive Asphalt Xtreme: Rally Racing game. Even with other rally cars blowing sand in my face as I sped through the Ancient Ruins track, the animations of nearby pyramids in the background and planes speeding overhead looked smooth.

The only area where the Z2 Force feels slow is with its camera. I noticed it took Motorola’s phone a half second or longer than the Galaxy S8 to fire up the camera from the lock screen, which can mean the difference between snagging or missing an important shot. The camera was also considerably slower to capture images and be ready for the next shot.

This flagship’s benchmark scores were certainly competitive. On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the Z2 Force notched 6,489. That’s better than the Galaxy S8 (6,124) and just behind the OnePlus 5 (6,542), and that model had twice the RAM at 8GB.

On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, which measures graphics prowess, the Z2 Force scored 39,807. That’s slightly better than the OnePlus 5 and beats the Galaxy S8 (35,903).

Battery Life: Better than expected

I was worried that the Z2 Force’s relatively small 2,730 mAh battery wouldn’t offer much endurance, especially given that the last Z Force packed a huge 3,500 mAH battery. But I was pleasantly surprised by this phone’s longevity. The handset lasted a very good 10 hours and 23 minutes on the Tom’s Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over 4G LTE on 150 nits of screen brightness.

MORE: Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

That runtime is just a bit below the Galaxy S8’s 10:39, but it’s significantly behind the Galaxy S8+ (11:04). The OnePlus 5 lasted even longer 13 hours and 6 minutes. All of these tests were run on T-Mobile’s network. The average phone lasts 9:40.

It’s worth noting that the original Moto Z Force turned in a time of 10 hours and 15 minutes, which makes it seem like the Z2 Force delivers longer endurance. But we tested the earlier model on Verizon’s network, whose phones tend to last shorter on a charge than those running on T-Mobile.

Software and Apps: Useful gestures

The Moto Z2 Force attempts to add value on top of Android 7.1 Nougat with a trio of Moto-branded features. My favorite is Moto Actions, which lets you perform all sorts of shortcuts with a series of gestures. For instance, you can open the camera just by twisting the phone in your hand, or turn on the flashlight by making a chopping motion.

Moto Display shows notifications on your lock screen without zapping power, and Moto Voice is designed to let you issue commands to the Z2 Force by using your voice. The latter sounds better on paper than in practice, as saying “Show me my calendar” or “Show me Chrome” doesn’t save that much time. Google Assistant does the same thing.

Motorola says the Z2 Force will be updated to Android Oreo later this fall.

Bottom Line

Having a shatterproof screen provides peace of mind, but the real reason to get the Moto Z2 Force is for the extra expandability of the Moto Mods. Is this flagship worth $750, which is what you’d pay for a Galaxy S8? If you like the idea of transforming your phone and adding capabilities to it on the fly, I’d say yes. But the Z2 Force isn’t a slam dunk, because the dual cameras didn’t work as well as I hoped and the design (while strikingly slim) doesn’t match the sex appeal of today’s bezel-free phones.

Then there’s the fact that the best mods cost $80 and up. For that reason, I’d recommend the cheaper Moto Z2 Play over this phone if you can live without the latest Snapdragon 835 processor and a screen that won’t crack. At $408 for the Z2 Play, you’ll have plenty of dough left to pick up a few more Mods. Nevertheless, the Z2 Force is a viable flagship contender for those looking for a combination of versatility and extreme durability.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.