Moto Z2 Force review:

The Moto Z2 Force is a really good phone, and that has nothing to do with its mods.


Thin? Check. Powerful? Check. Flexible? Check. Durable? Check.

The phone to beat? Hard to tell.

Motorola’s newest premium phone, the Moto Z2 Force, arrives at a strange time. The biggest and best phones of the year are right around the corner, most likely: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, the next iPhone (or, iPhones) and an expected Google Pixel 2.

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Where does that leave the Z2 Force? The sequel to last year’s Z and Z Force phones is thin with a sharp design and very good specs. In several significant ways — processor, camera and display — it’s a step up from the excellent midrange Moto Z2 Play. And, it adds Motorola’s shatter-resistant ShatterShield, a feature that used to be a Verizon exclusive on the older Z Force.

It’s also compatible with Motorola’s snap-on MotoMods, an idea that seemed bold last year but now feels like it’s treading water, as the idea of modular phones has migrated to niche status on such specialty handsets as Essential and Red’s Hydrogen.

Forget about the mods, just focus on the phone. The Moto Z2 Force is great. But it’s no bargain. Starting at a whopping $730, it’s a premium-priced phone, and it will get a lot of competition very soon. 

Do you wait? I would.

That shatter-resistant display doesn’t mean scratch-resistant

“ShatterShield” sounds like “impact-proof,” but really it means “won’t break when you drop it accidentally from 4 or 5 feet.” I dropped the Z2 Force a handful of times on concrete, face first. It survived, but it doesn’t look pretty. The aluminum case got very dinged up, and some parts of the display were mega-scuffed. We did an even deeper drop-test: and the results lined up with my experience. That said, we would agree that the screen is effectively crack-proof under all but the most outlandish conditions.

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After a few drops, scratches were definitely present.


Josh Miller/CNET

Also, the Z2 Force lacks water resistance. Its nano-coating is meant to survive splashes, but it’s not so dunk-friendly as many phones are now, including the iPhone 7 ($810.00 at Amazon Marketplace) and Samsung Galaxy S8 ($669.88 at Amazon Marketplace).

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One camera’s color, one monochrome. Using both allows depth effects.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Dual cameras means new features

Two 12-megapixel cameras on the back are Motorola’s first foray into dual cameras, joining the iPhone 7 Plus, LG G6, OnePlus 5 and others. A few new features come aboard with them. One of the two cameras is monochrome, one color. A truer black-and-white mode claims better black-and-white photos. Shots did look great, but I never had problems shooting black-and-white before with a filter. More impressive is the camera’s mixing of black-and-white and color shots, but again, honestly, you could just use an app to the same effect.

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A photo of myself with the rear cam, using depth effect.


Scott Stein/CNET

A new depth mode mimics that popular bokeh-type effect, but the results I got ranged from acceptable to way too artificial.

Camera quality, in my time using it so far, seemed good, but not always great. I had some autofocus issues, and low light performance wasn’t stellar. Extra controls over manual focus, white balance, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation help.

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Trying to transpose the background to a black and white shot of a cafe using Depth Editing didn’t work out well.


Scott Stein/CNET

Also, an in-beta depth-editing mode allows some neat but rough-edged tricks. Depth-enabled photos can be re-edited for different in- or out-of-focus adjustments. You can also keep the foreground color and turn the background black and white, or vice versa. Or replace the background of a photo with something else, like on-the-fly Photoshop. My attempt to transpose myself to a nearby cafe backdrop looked pretty bad (the camera didn’t resolve my outline well; see above).


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