Motorola Z2 Force review: MotoMod accessories make this the Swiss Army Knife of smartphones

For the uninitiated, Motorola is one of the most confusing tech companies out there.

Bear with me: it was initially spun off into two separate companies: Motorola Solutions, which handles telecommunications and Motorola Mobility, which makes phones.

The latter was acquired by Google in 2011 and then by Chinese electronics giant Lenovo in 2014.

It still makes phones, but it has also licensed the brand name out to third-party accessory makers – which is why we get the likes of the Motorola Verve Ones Music Edition headphones.

Right? Make sense? Let’s plough on…

Motorola already released the Motorola Z2 Play earlier this year. It was good .

But it’s kind of like the Diet Coke variant of this handset – the Motorola Z2 Force.

Both phones look pretty similar – but while the Z2 Play offered decent battery and a lower price, the Z2 Force opts for unbridled power and stonking build quality. It also ups the cost to £719, which is well within premium territory of Apple, Samsung and Google.

The important thing to note is that, like the Z2 Play, the Z2 Force works with Moto Mods, clip-on accessories that do things like improve the battery or camera performance. These are sold separately and the idea is that you can pick up whichever one improves the feature you use most.

Right, so with that all cleared up – here’s how I got on with the Motorola Z2 Force.

Design

As I mentioned above, there’s not much to distinguish the Z2 Force from the Z2 Play on the outside, which is no bad thing.

The phone has been thinned down (by 13%) compared to last year’s model to 6.1mm and has a sleek metallic body. No sign of iPhone 8-style glass here. Where that comes to bear is on the battery, which has been cut from a 3,500mAh unit to a 2,730mAh one. More on that later.

The thinness means that the so-called “camera bump” is here – which for some people can be a bit of a turn-off. I’m not that bothered to be honest but it does seem a bit pointless to have a thin phone with a protruding lens.

Motorola boasts of a “ShatterShield screen” on the Z2 Force which can withstand drops of four or five feet. I tried it and, sure enough, it didn’t smash. It does, however, scratch. Which is a bit of a pain.

Also, it’s not got the same level of waterproofing as the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the iPhone 8 – which really should be standard on phones nowadays.

Even more egregiously, it drops the 3.5mm headphone jack. That’s right, if you want to listen to stuff you’re going to need either Bluetooth headphones or a pair with a USB-C connector. Thankfully, there is a dongle supplied in the box but it’s small and easy to lose. Unfortunately this is looking increasingly common among phones today, so we might have to get used to it.

All that being said, the Moto Z2 Force has some serious positives. For a start, it’s really tough and can stand up to the wear and tear of daily life. Secondly, the screen is excellent. The 5.5-inch AMOLED display is bright with a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution and really impressive colour reproduction.

Features

The Moto Z2 Force with battery Mod

The Motorola Z2 Force is a very capable Android handset all on its own. It’s got the same processor as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and 4GB or RAM. There’s 64GB of internal storage that can be increased up to 1TB with compatible microSD cards.

The phone also builds in a fingerprint scanner on the front at the bottom – rather than around the back like some other Android handsets.

But where it really starts to shine is when you start adding in the Moto Mods.

These accessories magnetically attach to the back of the phone and add different types of functionality. I was given a 360-degree camera and a Nintendo Switch-style Game Pad mod that added joysticks and physical buttons for on-the-go gaming.

Motorola has opened the development up to third-parties and has committed to supporting them through three generations of device. That means all the ones built for last year’s Moto Z will work with this phone as will anything built for whatever next year’s device happens to be.

All worked seamlessly and it’s a promising idea to be able to customise your smartphone in this way. But there is a drawback; the cost.

The Moto Mods accessories

The Moto Z2 Force tips the scales at £719 and the Game Pad mod will set you back £79 alone. Want the 360-degree camera accessory? That’s going to be £239. All of a sudden, you can be spending over £1000 souping up your blower.

It’s not expected that you rush out and buy all of them together – more that if, after a few months, you want to get into 360-degree filming, you now have a gadget capable of doing it with an add-on rather than having to spend £500+ on a dedicated 360-degree rig.

I was impressed by the versatility afforded by these add-ons and love the fact that at any time in the Z2 Force’s lifecycle you can improve a particular feature with one of these mods rather than buy a whole new phone.

But – and it is a big but – if you want more sound or a better battery, there are a huge amount of third-party bluetooth speakers or external batteries out there at a fraction of the price. They’ll support any phone not just the Moto Mods.

Furthermore, if Motorola didn’t have to support the mods, it may have been able to beef up the battery or put stereo speakers directly onto the phone.

Camera and battery

Motorola has followed the likes of the Huawei P10 and the iPhone 8 Plus by putting in dual cameras.

Both use 12-megapixel sensors but one is a dedicated to monochrome – meaning you get better black and white pictures than if you just used a filter. Of course, there’s an argument to be made whether or not end users really notice the difference.

The depth-of-field is impressive though, and you can get some nice blurring effects on portrait photos similar to the iPhone 8 Plus.

However, a big drawback is that the camera has no form of optical zoom or optical image stabilisation (OIS). You can buy a Moto Mod to address the former but OIS surely is a must especially as we’re starting to use our phones to capture more and more video footage.

See below for samples of a regular photo, black and white version and a depth-of-field shot taken with the Moto Z2 Force.

A shot taken with the Z2 Force’s depth of field engaged
A standard picture with high dynamic range engaged
The same picture taken with the Moto Z2 Force’s black and white sensor

Also, low-light performance isn’t quite as good as I’ve seen elsewhere. Barring the OIS and low-light performance, this is a really good camera though and you’ll be able to capture some pretty impressive shots – especially in black and white.

Battery performance is also something to be wary of. The 2,730mAh battery will get you through the day if you’re a moderate user but it’ll feel the impact if you use your phone for everything – gaming, watching videos, recording footage, etc.

This is where the Moto Mod battery pack becomes a sensible purchase although, as I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to buy an external battery for any phone.

Conclusion

There are a few points to bear in mind when considering the Z2 Force. Firstly, the lack of a headphone jack is a pain – although there is an adapter in the box. Secondly, the fact it’s not fully waterproof is a bit of an issue in my eyes. And lastly, the battery can take a pounding if you’re not careful.

What’s more, it’s a really expensive phone to begin with and will only get more so if you buy the Mods to accompany it.

Even with all those points, I still really did like this phone and what it represented. It’s durable, tough and just as speedy as the Galaxy S8 or the Google Pixel. And the camera is pretty good too – although I would really have liked to see OIS included.

Which leads me to conclude that, rather than getting the Motorola Z2 Force, I would urge you to pick up the cheaper Moto Z2 Play instead . You can still get all the benefits of the Moto Mod accessories, but you’ll have a better battery and save yourself several hundred quid.

It’s not that the Z2 Force is bad – it’s just that what it proposes has a very limited audience. Modular phones are great for gadget fans, but it’s still hard to see it hitting mass adoption.

But couple the two Z handsets with the likes of the excellent low-price Moto G5 Plus that Motorola also has in its roster and it becomes clear (despite the last few years of confusion) Motorola is in top form.

It might not have the glitz of an iPhone or a Samsung device, but for those of us that want something a little bit special and a little bit different, Motorola has a lot to offer.

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