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Hands On with the Moto Z2 Force

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Jul 25, 2017, 12:32 PM   by Eric Zeman & Rich Brome   @rbrome

Motorola today announced the Moto Z2 Force, the company's newest flagship phone. The phone sports a durable ShatterShield display, thin metal design, dual cameras, and of course supports the company's Moto Mods system of snap-on accessory modules. We took it for a quick spin and have some first impressions to share from our hands-on time with it.

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Motorola is back with a new version of its nigh-unbreakable Z2 Force. The phone largely picks up where last year's model left off and promises to be an attractive addition to Motorola's line of Moto Mods-compatible smartphones.

The Moto Z2 Force is nearly identical to not only last year's Moto Z, but also the new Moto Z2 Play. The Moto Mods ecosystem played a large role in determining the phone's general shape and dimensions, as the Mods platform has strict requirements. The phone boasts a metal chassis and a new metal rear plate that is installed within a polycarbonate frame. This arrangement is much like that of the Z2 Play, but the Z2 Force has higher-quality series 7000 aluminum on the rear that is made all-the-more attractive with a brushed texture. The front panel is formed by 2.5D glass and all the edges are curved where they meet the frame. The phone comes in black, gray, and gold. All three variants are really nice.

Body  

I am impressed with the build quality and overall in-hand experience of the phone. It is impressively thin (though not as thin as the original Moto Z), considering all the technology packed within. Motorola's ShatterShield engineering has come a long way since it first debuted two years ago. The new display is much thinner than the first-generation ShatterShield, and it also offers better clarity and brightness. The metal chassis feels incredibly strong. I dropped the phone a number of times onto the concrete floor and, as advertised, the screen didn't shatter.

Like all Mods-compatible Motorola phones, the Z2 Force is sizable in terms of width and height. I have no trouble using it one-handed, but I'm sure some will find it too wide to grip comfortably. The slim profile does allow you to slip it into your pocket with ease.

The 5.5-inch screen carries over the quad HD resolution we saw on last year's model. The screen has a fine size and resolution, and on-screen elements are sharp and free of visible pixels. The brightness is solid, considering how thick the screen's protective elements are, and colors looked accurate to my eyes. Viewing angles are decent. Motorola has kept the thick bezels around the screen, which I beginning to dislike a bit. When asked, Motorola's Rudi Kalil said it is paying attention to the new 18:9 aspect ratio and bezel-less designs on some of today's phones and yet Motorola is happy with it's current design and screens.

The Z2 Force uses the same multi-purpose fingerprint reader that is on the Z2 Play and G5. The sensor doubles as a trackpad. You need too manually turn the feature on. Once you do, the on-screen Android controls disappear and you'll need to rely on the fingerprint sensor to navigate through the menus by swiping your finger back and forth. The sensor itself is indented just a wee bit to help your thumb find it more easily.

Motorola positioned its usual arrangement of hardware buttons high on the right edge of the phone. The first your thumb will encounter is the ridged lock screen / power button. It is small, but offers good travel and feedback. The separated volume buttons are also small, though their smooth texture makes them easy to tell apart from the screen lock button. The tray for the SIM and microSD memory cards is on the top edge. The left edge is free from controls. The USB-C port is tucked into the bottom. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack.

The rear panel is much more attractive than that of the original. Last year's phone had a weird, ridged glass panel across the back that I never really cared for. The new brushed aluminum is far more appealing. The camera module has the same size and shape (it's HUGE!), but it has new powers. The module now has two sensors and lenses, in addition to a two-tone flash. The dual 12-megapixel cameras capture color and monochrome. Using them together allows the Z2 Force to capture more accurate contrast thanks to additional exposure data. Meanwhile, the phone's software allows users to use the monochrome sensor to shoot true black-and-white images, or use its depth-sensing capabilities to help produce fine bokeh effects. It's a nice upgrade, though the results will need to prove themselves out in the real world.

Motorola upgraded the user-facing camera experience. The sensor has an 85-degree field of view for wider selfies. The real improvement, however, is the addition of a two-tone flash on the front to provide better skin tones in end results. Few phones can make that claim.

As for software, the phone runs a near stock version of Android 7 Nougat. It's the same build we saw on the Moto Z2 Play just last month. The stand-out features are of course buried in the Moto app. This is where you'll find the controls for Moto Display, which includes a new reply feature, and Moto Voice, which lets you issue simple voice commands to see certain apps and information on the phone.

Interface  

A few words about network support. Unlike the Moto Z and Z Force, which were sold exclusively by Verizon Wireless, the Z2 Force will be sold by most U.S. carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon.) Motorola will offer an unlocked variant of the phone, but the unlocked models will be specific for each carrier. In other words, there is no one global unlocked variant. Motorola explained that it had to build in specific network technology for each of the major U.S. carries for forthcoming 1 Gbps network service. This means Motorola has multiple SKUs for the phone, rather than just one or two. You can buy it unlocked, but you'll have to specify which carrier you use at the time of purchase.

Last, the new Mods. Motorola showed off a new gaming controller and a 360-degree camera. Pricing and availability of the gaming controller weren't immediately made clear, but the 360-degree camera goes on sale August 10 for $299. That's a lot of money, but 360-degree cameras are a lot of fun.

Mods  

The Moto Z2 Force is pricey at $750. Most U.S. carriers are offering it with service plans for about $30 per month. If you're already invested in the Moto Mods ecosystem, the Z2 Force is a nice upgrade.

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