Moto Z2 Force India review: A great phone let down by a poor camera

Motorola is bringing the Moto Z2 Force to India six months after its global debut, and that puts the phone in a tough spot.

Motorola launched the Moto Z2 Force in the U.S. over six months ago, and while the ShatterShield tech was a welcome addition that allowed the phone to stand out, the $720 retail price and woeful camera meant it wasn't quite as good as flagships from Samsung and LG.

For its Indian launch, Motorola is making a few changes: the Moto Z2 Force sold in the subcontinent comes with 6GB of RAM and Oreo out of the box, and the phone is priced at a much more inviting ₹34,998 ($540). Positioning the phone in that segment is a smart move from Motorola, as it goes up against the likes of the OnePlus 5T, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2, and the Nokia 8.

Moto Z2 Force What you'll love

Back when Motorola unveiled the Moto Mods platform with the first-gen Moto Z, it said that it would support the ecosystem for three years, which meant there wasn't a lot of room to alter the design language for future generations. Therefore, the Moto Z2 Force shares the same aesthetic as the Moto Z2 Play — including antenna lines across the border at the back — but there are a few differences that make it stand out.

The phone is made out of 7000 series aluminum, which gives it added durability and lightness. Then there's the fact that the Z2 Force is just 6.1mm thick, making it one of the thinnest phones available today. The lightness combined with the durability of ShatterShield is a potent combination, as you don't really have to worry about breaking the phone should it take the odd tumble.

ShatterShield is designed to make the Z2 Force more resilient to tumbles, and after exhaustively testing it over the course of the last month, I can attest to its effectiveness. In an age of fragile smartphones with glass backs and easily crackable screens, it's almost cathartic to throw the Moto Z2 Force around. The fact that you can intentionally drop the device and be sure that it won't take any damage is amazing, particularly for someone as clumsy as me.

There's a plastic film applied to the display that makes it withstand tumbles, but ShatterShield goes way beyond that: the phone is designed around a shockproof aluminum chassis, there are two touch layers above the display, as well as an internal lens that provides added protection.

This is the most fun you'll have with a phone.

The five-layer design ensures that the phone can take a pounding and come out without any damage. Motorola is confident enough in ShatterShield that it offers a four-year warranty against breakage. The one downside with the technology is that the external film covering the screen is highly prone to pick up scratches — I saw micro-scratches littered all over the panel after just a few a days' of usage.

The 5.5-inch Quad HD panel is the best that Motorola has included in a phone, and while it won't win any display awards, it is perfectly serviceable. The 2730mAh battery doesn't seem nearly enough to drive a device of this caliber at first glance, but Motorola has optimized it incredibly well, and you won't have any issues getting the battery to last a day on a full charge.

I routinely saw over four hours of screen-on-time spread out over the course of a day, and the Z2 Force held up very well on days I was traveling. In India, Motorola is bundling the Moto TurboPower Mod with every purchase of the Moto Z2 Force, a welcome move as the mod allows you to quickly top up the battery.

With the mod included, you're essentially getting the best of both worlds — a sleek phone that lasts a full day without breaking a sweat, and an attachment that charges the battery when you need it. It certainly does make a difference once you start using the device.

Motorola also nailed the software experience on the Moto Z2 Force. The phones comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, and the user interface is thankfully devoid of any customization. The only differentiator is by way of Moto Actions — a series of gestures designed to make it easier to control the phone — and Moto Display notifications.

With Moto Display, the screen lights up every time you get a notification, and you get the option to select what apps show up and use quick replies without ever having to unlock the device. Moto Voice is also a useful addition that lets you access information like pull up your calendar or call logs through a series of "Show me" commands. If you want to look at upcoming events on your calendar, all you have to do is say, "Show me my calendar" and the service will surface your calendar app. It's a nifty addition, but if you're like me, you'll just end up using Google Assistant.

With the Z2 Force offering top-of-the-line specs, you're never short on performance. Sure, the Snapdragon 845 is on the horizon, and we'll see devices powered by Qualcomm's latest platform in a few months' time, but the Snapdragon 835 is no slouch. The Z2 Force is on par with the Pixel 2 when it comes to the performance side of things.

Moto Z2 Force What needs work

My main issue with the Moto Z2 Force is the camera. It isn't the camera sensor itself is bad — you can take decent shots from the Moto Z2 Force — but the amount of effort required to do so isn't worth it most of the time. The phone takes too long to focus on a subject, and when it finally does, there's an infinitesimal window where you have to hit the shutter button before it switches focus again.

For every decent shot I managed to take, I ended up with four or five blurry ones wherein the phone just refused to focus.

Then there's the display, which still sports a 16:9 panel and not 18:9 like most phones available today. With even budget devices making the switch to the 18:9 form factor, the thick bezels at the top and bottom of the Moto Z2 Force seem ungainly. To Motorola's credit, the fingerprint sensor at the front is one of the fastest out there, but the sizeable bezels made the Moto Z2 Force look outdated last year. In 2018, it looks archaic.

Another area where the Moto Z2 Force is lacking is the speaker. There's a single speaker tucked away in the earpiece, and it's neither loud nor detailed. Call quality isn't particularly great either.

While the phone has a nano-coating that allows it to withstand the occasional splash of water, Motorola should have included IP6X water resistance.

Moto Z2 Force Bottom line

If you care about camera quality, then you'll have to look elsewhere. The Moto Z2 Force is capable of taking decent photos, but the amount of effort it takes to get a good shot just isn't worth the hassle, particularly when you're paying over ₹30,000 for a phone. However, if you don't take as many photos and are willing to use a third-party camera app or switch to manual mode, then the Moto Z2 Force becomes much more palatable.

The ShatterShield tech makes the phone virtually indestructible (I tried), and the sheer performance of the Snapdragon 835 combined with Motorola's unique customizations make the device an absolute delight to use.

A phone this sleek and thin shouldn't be this good. But it is.

Overall, I didn't think I'd enjoy using the Moto Z2 Force as much as I did. I was initially going to use it for just a few weeks to evaluate its performance, but nearly a month later, I'm still hooked. At 6.1mm and just 143g, the Moto Z2 Force is the thinnest and lightest phone I've used in a while, and the fact that it performs just as well as a Pixel 2 XL continues to amaze me.

Switching back to a 16:9 display after using the Galaxy Note 8 and the Pixel 2 XL wasn't ideal, but the panel itself is the best yet on a Motorola phone.

And although the quoted battery life is a paltry 2730mAh, I routinely got a day's worth of usage out of the Z2 Force. If you're running out of juice in the middle of the day, there's always the bundled TurboPower Mod — all you have to do is hook up the mod to the back of the phone, and it charges the device up via Motorola's TurboPower charging.

The phone does get hot when charging with the mod, and I wouldn't recommend carrying it in your pocket while doing so. But it is a novel way to top up your phone in a pinch.

What Motorola has managed to create in the Moto Z2 Force is a device that is a viable alternative to the mighty OnePlus 5T. And there aren't many of those around.

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