Review: Motorola Moto Z2 Force
Editor's Note: The Moto Z2 Force runs identical software to the Moto Z2 Play, which Phone Scoop recently reviewed. Some portions of the following text have been carried over from that earlier review. Rest assured, we thoroughly tested every facet and feature of the Moto Z2 Force and updated everything unique to Motorola's latest phone.
The Moto App now handles the ambient display on Motorola handsets and manages the lock screen and notifications.
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The Moto Display function in the Moto App can wake the screen regularly with a list of the current notifications; show important notifications on the lock screen as they arrive; or leave the screen entirely dark. The behaviors are fully customizable, which is something I've long appreciated about Motorola smartphones.
The Z2 Force screen will wake when you double-tap the glass. It also adds a touch-and-hold feature for lock screen notifications so you can glean a bit more info, such as email sender and subject line.
If you press the screen lock button, the display wakes fully to show the clock, wallpaper, and notifications listed below the clock. There are also shortcuts to the Google Assistant and camera on this screen. You cannot customize the shortcuts.
The Z2 Force's fingerprint reader performed very, very well. I like the feel of the indented oval much better than that of the slightly raised square on last year's phone. It was quick to record fingerprints and consistent at recognizing fingerprints on the first try. When you're done using the phone, press the fingerprint reader to automatically put the display to sleep and lock the phone if you wish. That's cool.
The Z2 Force ships with Android 7 Nougat with minimal tweaks from Motorola. Owners can customize the typical stuff, such as wallpapers, widgets, and so on. The home screens behave as expected for an Android Nougat phone.
The app drawer is almost standard Android. It doesn't include a dedicated button on the home screen. Instead, you swipe up from the dock to bring up the app drawer, similar to Pixel phones. Apps are listed alphabetically in the drawer, with four app suggestions and a search bar lining the top. The Z2 Force trades the white background found in the Pixel app drawer for whatever wallpaper you have set for the home screen. The app drawer doesn't support folders, nor does it allow you to hide apps.
The notification shade, Quick Settings tool, and main settings screens are all standard Android, and work accordingly. There are no themes or other fancy interface tricks on board, which is fine as far as I am concerned.
As noted earlier, the fingerprint sensor doubles as a navigation pad and it is managed via the Moto App. You have to turn it on manually. I found it takes practice. The space in the button itself is rather small for the swiping gestures needed to navigate back or turn on the app switcher. Turning on the nav pad eliminates the on-screen nav controls, which frees up screen space. Some people may find the trade-off worth it.
There are plenty of Verizon-branded apps aboard, and a whole folder of Verizon stuff on the home screen. I'm annoyed to find un-deletable apps such as Verizon Message+, Caller NameID, Verizon Cloud, Slacker, and Yelp aboard. The only bit of bloatware you can get rid of is Final Fantasy. Since it takes up 100 MB of storage, I strongly suggest you send it to oblivion.
With respect to performance, the Moto Z2 Force has a 2.4 GHz Snapdragon 835 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. This is the best set of specs we've seen on a Motorola smartphone. The Snapdragon 835 delivered blistering performance across the board. The phone ran really, really well.
The Z2 Force does not have a dedicated physical camera button, but there are several ways to open the camera. The good-old wrist-twisting gesture that Motorola has included on its phones for years is still my favorite way to open the camera. Alternately, you can use the lock screen shortcut or home screen icon. The app opens swiftly.
There are three controls on the left side of the screen (timer, flash, HDR) and three on the right (mode, shutter, front camera). I like that both the flash and HDR tools can be set to on, off, or auto. As for shooting modes, the Z2 Force offers auto, video, panorama, depth-effect, black & white, and manual.
The depth-effect and B&W modes are new and unique to the Z2 Force. Both rely on the second image sensor. The depth-effect uses depth-of-field data generated by the two lenses to create in-focus and out-of-focus regions within the photo. Your subject has to be close, within a few feet, and the background has to be at least several feet further away. It works best outdoors, with portraits of people. It's an odd version of the effect and produces a lot of weird haze at the top of images, while keeping most of the bottom half in focus. I've seen this bokeh effect created more effectively from other phone makers, such as Huawei.
Because the second sensor only collects monochrome data, it's perfect for creating true black & white images. It's a simple point-and-shoot mode that only allows you to adjust exposure and focus.
The default is always auto mode. Slide your finger up or down to zoom. Tap to focus and set exposure. Press the shutter button to take standard pictures, or press-and-hold to capture a burst. Swipe from the left side of the screen to access more minor settings such as grid-lines and resolution.
The manual mode lets you take full control over focus, ISO, shutter speed, brightness, and white balance. The controls line the top of the screen and are easy to adjust. It's a shame the shutter only lets you select speeds as slow as one-third of a second; that's hardly long enough to get creative or take really great night shots. There's no time-lapse mode, nor is there any sort of GIF maker.
Motorola moved the slow-motion video capture tool to the video section of the app, which makes sense. The slow-mo tool is easy enough to use.
The layout of the camera app is fine for novices to use effectively, and flexible enough in manual, B&W, or depth modes to unleash your inner Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. The Z2 Force's processor and RAM combo ensure quick performance of the camera, which ran fluidly while I reviewed it.
The Z2 Force has dual 12-megapixel Sony IMX 386 sensors: one captures full color images and the other captures monochrome images and helps with contrast and focus. Each sensor has a lens with an aperture of f/2.0 with both laser autofocus and phase-detection autofocus.
I found the phone takes very sharp pictures with good contrast, exposure, and white balance. The majority of images were above average in terms of quality. The additional information gathered by the second sensor helps give color pictures that extra bit of wow. I was pleased with the performance of the HDR setting, which truly helped deliver amazing levels of contrast.
There's no doubt this phone outpaces the lower-end Z2 Play, which has a single sensor, and yet it falls just short of what Apple, LG, and Samsung have done with their own flagship devices. The Z2 Force delivers laudable results, even if they're not the absolute best.
The front-facing camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and can capture wide-angle panoramas. The two-tone LED flash truly helps make Snapchat and Instagram selfies pop when you're shooting in low light. On its own, the selfie cam does well, balancing exposure, focus, and white balance. The beautification tool can help erase your skin's imperfections if you wish.
As for video, the main camera shoots footage up to 4K and the selfie cam can snag 1080p. The 4K stuff looks great, if you have a monitor capable of displaying it, but I think most people can stick with 1080p when shooting video. The samples I captured with the Z2 Force were clean, sharp, and colorful.
You can certainly rely on the Z2 Force to capture those everyday moments as well as vacations and other important events.
The Moto App contains a third tool called Moto Voice. The tool sort of mimics Google Now in that you blurt out voice commands and the Z2 Force obliges. It takes several minutes to walk through the tutorial. Rather than say "Hey Google" or "OK Google" you simply say "Show me my…" to see your calendar, your call log, and so on. It works pretty well for opening apps and seeing basic personal info, but Moto Voice can't complete more complex actions such as composing a message. It will react when the phone is locked.
Honestly, just use Google Assistant, which is on board and fully functional.
Just a quick word on Moto Mods: The Z2 Force is of course compatible with the existing and new Mods from Motorola. We have several of the latest on hand and are testing them separately. The Z2 Force interacts with Moto Mods perfectly and we look forward to sharing our thoughts on the Motorola 360 Cam Mod soon.
Review: Motorola 360 Camera
Motorola expanded its ecosystem of Moto Mods this year and none is quite as enticing as the 360 Cam. This snap-on modular accessory adds a 360-degree camera to your Motorola smartphone for capturing immersive pictures and video.
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