/Moto Z2 Force: Modular Monster or Mistake?

Moto Z2 Force: Modular Monster or Mistake?

If you’ve spent any time on Reddit/Twitter/YouTube in the last few weeks, then you likely know about this device. While its been called all sorts of things, let me preface it by saying this: It surprises. For all the negative things floating around (rightly so, in some light) I was excited being a fan of the concept from Gen 1, but also concerned due to lacking things like a headphone jack, shrinking the battery, missing out on water resistance, screen surface materials, etc.

All of these you’d consider essential in this day and age, are exempt. So that begs the question, should you spend $750, be it outright or for the next 2 years? As I’ve spent the last few weeks on T-Mobile using this as my daily driver, I aim to answer that – that is after all why I’m here!

DESIGN

From a design standpoint, the Z2 is largely unchanged from last year, that is all to do with the Motorola/Lenovo promise to keep the mods compatible for several generations. This could be looked at 2 ways, in one light it guarantees the mods you spend hundreds on wont go obsolete for your next phone, in other ways it hurts since there can’t be any real radical design shifts – Especially seeing as minimal bezel phones are catching on more and more. Granted, these bezels aren’t bad and surely manageable like the HTC U11 or Google Pixel, however they still leave something to be desired.

The front is fairly unassuming. You’re greeted with a 5.5 inch Super AMOLED screen packing a 2560×1440 resolution, which gets you roughly a 70.4% screen-to-body ratio.  Compare this to the just announced V30 with an 82% screen to body ratio, and the Note 8 having almost an 84% screen-to-body ratio and you begin to see where the differences lie. The 2016 Pixel XL has a 71.2%, and the U11 comes in at 71.4%.

It’s all in taste. Personally, I prefer to see something more like the G6 or S8 active where it has a very similar screen to body ratio, while still remaining flat. Should Qualcomm successfully develop and integrate a fingerprint sensor into the screen for 2018, I would certainly welcome a larger screen and be able to keep the mods functionality.

Around the back you’re met with a fairly sizable camera hump, something that will disappear with any mods you decide to use – speaking of disappearing, I can certainly see a use case for the  Moto Z2s thinness. Using the Gamepad or the Incipio OffGrid Power Pack, the two I own currently, the stock lightness really makes the phone a perfect balance when using these mods.

The aforementioned camera(s)- yes there’s two of them! The main sensor being a 12 MP IMX 386 color sensor with 1.25µm pixels, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, laser-assisted autofocus, secondary camera is a 12 MP IMX 386 monochrome sensor with 1.25µm pixels, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, laser-assisted autofocus. The idea is that the monochrome sensor can capture more light than the primary color sensor, so it uses software to merge the two together. The results are fairly mixed, something I will touch on later with samples to boot.

Perhaps the most interesting thing, and what makes this phone “modular” is those pogo pins.

Pins are where all the action lie – turning your phone into a battery king, a mobile emulation system, throwing on a speaker to share tunes with your family/friends/people sitting next to you in Starbucks. The possibilities are endless. Lenovo is encouraging development constantly, and helping to back community ideas if they gain enough traction. Like I said earlier, my two current mods are the recently released gamepad, the Incipio OffGrid PowerPack (which adds wireless charging!) with the projector coming per Motorola rebate. I’ve also ordered the SoundBoost 2 via T-Mobile. Full reviews of those mods will arrive at a later date – probably all cojoined in one article, unless you’d prefer to see in depth/separate reviews of each. Be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on the matter.

Doesn’t the gamepad mod give it that PSP/PSVita-esque look? I kinda thought so too. 

PERFORMANCE

It goes without saying stock Android is really buttery. While this does have extras, it may be one of if not the cleanest “skins” you’ll ever see on a device. It’s got additional features without being intrusive or bogging down the device – best of all, the RAM usage is very low as you might expect.

Since I’m sure everyone will ask, lets start off with the synthetic benchmark testing. Before that, lets talk specs.

NETWORK Technology GSM / HSPA / LTE
LAUNCH Announced 2017, July
Status Available. Released 2017, August
BODY Dimensions 155.8 x 76 x 6.1 mm (6.13 x 2.99 x 0.24 in)
Weight 143 g (5.04 oz)
SIM Single SIM (Nano-SIM) or Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)
– Splash resistant
DISPLAY Type P-OLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 5.5 inches (~70.4% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution 1440 x 2560 pixels (~534 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes
Protection Shatterproof
PLATFORM OS Android 7.1.1 (Nougat)
Chipset Qualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835
CPU Octa-core (4×2.35 GHz Kryo & 4×1.9 GHz Kryo)
GPU Adreno 540
MEMORY Card slot microSD, up to 256 GB (dedicated slot)
Internal 64 GB, 4 GB RAM
CAMERA Primary Dual 12 MP, f/2.0, laser & phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Features 1/2.9″ sensor size, 1.25 µm pixel size, geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, HDR, panorama
Video 2160p@30fps, 1080p@30/60/120fps, 720p@240fps
Secondary 5 MP, f/2.2, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
SOUND Alert types Vibration; MP3, WAV ringtones
Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm jack No
– 3.5 mm to USB-C headphone adapter incl.
– Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
COMMS WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot
Bluetooth 4.2, A2DP, EDR, LE (5.0 after SW update)
GPS Yes, with A-GPS
NFC Yes
Radio No
USB Type-C 1.0 reversible connector, USB On-The-Go; magnetic connector
FEATURES Sensors Fingerprint (front-mounted), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
Messaging SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Email, IM
Browser HTML5
Java No
– Fast battery charging
– MP3/AAC+/WAV/Flac player
– MP4/H.264 player
– Photo/video editor
– Document viewer
BATTERY Non-removable Li-Ion 2730 mAh battery
MISC Colors Super Black, Fine Gold, Lunar Grey
Price $720 USD
TESTS Performance Basemark OS II: 4363 / Basemark OS II 2.0: 3609
Basemark X: 38615
Loudspeaker Voice 68dB / Noise 70dB / Ring 86dB
Battery life

Now to the benchmarks – first up is Antutu, then Geekbench 4, followed by AndroBench for storage measuring. I believe it has UFS 2.1,  Thank Mr. Skeletal. 

As you can see here, the Z2 beats both the U11 and the S8+ I tested, though not by a large margin. The U11 scored 169k, the S8+ got 159k, the TouchWiz resource use really shows in benchmarks and real world use. Finally, here’s the results from AndroBench. Unfortunately I no longer have access to those devices to re-test, though it would be interesting to see scores of the U11 now that its received a fair bit of updates.

Performance is exactly what you’d expect from an 835 device with virtually nothing running in the background thanks to the incredibly light skin. Games like GTA San Andreas, Mortal Kombat, Injustice, Minecraft Pocket Edition as well as various emulators run without a hitch. Especially fun with the Moto Gamepad, which really gives it that PSVita feel. Very enjoyable.

 

CAMERA

Once a luxury on a smartphone, now literally a deciding factor for many people. The stock camera app is decent in all except HDR+, but since I highly recommend you just jump straight to the Google Camera port for ideal results, that’s what a majority of these will be. The camera is fairly consistent and balanced in daylight, and only manages to struggle in certain conditions where there’s a less than ideal amount of light on the subject, you really have to toy with the exposure to get it to behave.  These photos were shot in Farmington, CT at the Farmington Polo Club during the Dream Ride Experience Event.

One of the things I see the Z2 Force camera struggle with is detail preservation/color balance. Especially on that Spyker logo, you can see its just a mess. Very soft, not just there but throughout the picture. All photos were shot in JPEG ,HDR+ on.

Look at the sky on the 4th, 6th & 7th photo. The camera, Google or Moto would not properly expose for the subject matter, so I had to manually toy with it as I mentioned before. This resulted in a grey-ish sky, not entirely sure what caused such madness be it the aftermarket camera app, or the sensors inability to balance light.

I’d assume the latter, as Motorola is historically known for generally balanced shots with no issues in terms of over-exposure – saturation possibly, but certainly not exposure. It certainly won’t win any awards, but with the right amount of patience you can get some quality photos out of this.

Though, in a generation where HTC is on par/exceeds Samsung/LG, its really disappointing to see Moto drop the ball on this one, not that you should have any reason to be surprised.

 

BATTERY LIFE

At this point, the battery life is probably what will inevitably hold most people back from buying this phone – let me make it perfectly clear, this phone is certainly usable for light use throughout the day, but anything more severe you’d be wise to pony up $70+ for a Moto Mod battery pack. All of those people on the Internet saying “SHRINKING THE BATTERY LIFE IS BASICALLY A MONEY GRAB TO SELL MODS!!!” well, I wish I’d have room to disagree, but they’re more right than I’d initially have thought..

This is kind of a tough ball game. Some days I could easily squeeze out 5 hours without any Mods attached – other days it would get 3.5-4 and barely last 15~ hours which for most folk is enough but again, going out on the town post work? Invest in a power pack. I myself found an Incipio OffGrid Power Pack at a local electronics store for $30. That was a really great find – scour Craigslist/eBay and you can definitely come across a good deal.

The benefit here is that even at its smallest capacity of 2200mAh, that’s effectively all of the Z2s battery life – which means it will easily get you through a day and a half if not more. The biggest issue with solutions such as this – known as “stopgap” is that Android isn’t built for these kinds of things. So instead of being able to brag about your amazing longevity via battery stats, Moto basically treats it as being on a charger vs something like a ZeroLemon which is just a giant battery. I wish it worked this way instead of the current implementation, but such is limitations.

Right around the 4th day of usage, I got one of my hallmark days without the Mod (prior to buying it) 19 hours usage, 5 hours SOT.

As you can see, that was in my experience about the best I got. Granted, this was on a work day inside of a concrete building where signal without WiFi calling is iffy at best. I would blame the poor battery life on that alone, however less than stellar battery life seems to be a compounding issue across the board. It’s a shame – though as I mentioned earlier, on one hand the weight and thinness makes it a real pleasure to use with the Mods, on the other hand any typical longevity will certainly suffer as a result. I feel like a broken record repeating myself, but this unfortunately the case.

WRAP-UP 

The entire story is finished. Hearing a fair bit of story about my previous review (U11) being too long but still enjoyable, I decided to trim this one down and only write what I felt necessary. Don’t think I missed anything here – but I might have, in which case this could be slightly different depending on when you’ve read it. Read that if you feel so inclined and let me know. Still a work in progress, trying to find that ideal balance.

The main takeaway here is this. The Z2 is an amazing phone if you have money to shell out on Mods. However, this late into 2017 – I’d suggest waiting for the Pixel XL 2/Essential Phone or picking up a U11. The Note 8 is also out now and LG is dragging their feet with the V30. I wish they’d release it already – for those that know me personally I was an outspoken supporter of the V20 and its A/V capabilities. Quit teasing me LG.

Anyhow, this review isn’t about the V30 or the Note 8, its about the Z2.

What I can say is this. Do buy it if the freedom of having a gamepad/camera with true optical zoom/projector/extended battery life all in one phone specifically built for it is enticing. That freedom however comes at a price, seeing as anything else you buy will not be able to utilize it – with that being said, spend wisely and scour for reasonable used deals to which there are many. I’ve seen these go on Swappa for $500~ around the time I’m writing this. At that price for a gently used Z2, spend a few hundred on Mods and hang on to it. If you want to immediately switch to the Pixel XL 2 or other phone in a few months time – unless your wallet is a dumpster fire I don’t suggest it. Though who am I to judge how you spend your money? I can only hope more companies adapt a modular system similar – so that mods such as these have a hope of working across the board from OEM to OEM, as much of a logistical nightmare as that may be, it would be incredible while not necessary.

Though smartphone companies rarely push the envelope anymore – so this is a nice change up even in its second gen. Yes, there will be a seperate bit covering all of the mods at some point in the future, though I feel that’s best confined to a separate bit for convenience sake.

Stay modular my friends.