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LG launched a modular phone earlier this year, but the LG G5 didn't convince many that modularity was that useful. The new Moto Z Force Droid Edition also focuses on a modular design, but after using a few of them for a week I am already convinced that Motorola's implementation is better.
Motorola launched the Moto X back in 2013 and its small form factor, enhanced gesture controls, pure Android experience, and customization options made it one of my favorite devices I still own today. I haven't been this excited about a Motorola phone since that original Moto X.
After checking out the new Moto G4 and G4 Plus, solid devices available at low prices, I was expecting the same rather ordinary design in the Moto Z Force Droid Edition. It turns out that the new Moto Z Force is well constructed, has a unique approach to mods, contains a great camera, and is a phone I can recommend to smartphone buyers.
Cameras: Rear 21 megapixel f/1.8 aperture with 1.12um pixel and front 5 megapixel f/2.2 aperture with 1.4um pixel
Water resistance: Water repelleant nano-coating
Battery: 3500 mAh non-removable with TurboPower fast charging technology
Dimensions: 155.9 x 75.8 x 6.99 mm and 163 grams
The Moto Z Force Droid incorporates the same specs found in other high end Android smartphones with the addition of a rugged display that should handle typical accidental drops. It's the first Android phone without a headphone jack, but Motorola did include a USB Type-C to 3.5mm dongle in the box. I use a pair of wired Bose noise-cancelling headphones when I travel so I am personally not ready to give up on the headphone jack.
It would be nice to see the Moto Z Force launch with Android Nougat, but hopefully we see it updated before the end of the year after Google rolls out the OS and new Nexus devices.
The Moto Z Force is a rather large device with a 5.5 inch display and rather wide bezels, when compared to other modern Android smartphones. There is a tall bezel below the display where we find the word Moto and a fingerprint scanner. Just like the Moto G4 Plus, the fingerprint scanner only serves to unlock the phone or turn off the display. It does not serve as a home button or for any other function, which seems like a waste of space to me and is not what I prefer.
Unlike many other phones with 2.5D curved glass, there are defined edges around the front display of the Moto Z Force with the glass butting up to the metal edges.
There is one speaker on the Moto Z Force, found above the display in the handset speaker. HTC does this with the HTC 10, but HTC also has another speaker down at the bottom. Volume is decent on the Moto Z Force, but Moto did a better job with stereo speakers on previous Motorola phones.
The display looks fantastic and the fact that it is shatterproof is a major benefit to owning the Moto Z Force. Field workers will appreciate having a phone they can drop without having to worry about breaking screens as they get work done.
A USB Type-C port is found at the bottom and a Turbo Charger is included in the box. Motorola reports that you can get up to 15 hours of battery life in just 15 minutes of charging. Battery life of the 3,500 battery is rated at up to 40 hours. I've experienced great battery life over the past week and am easily going for more than a day every single day.
The camera performs well in most conditions and includes OIS and laser autofocus. I often see the "hold camera steady" notice while taking photos so it isn't as quick to capture pictures as the Samsung Galaxy phones.
LG brought us modularity through attachments that slide up and into the LG G5 through the bottom. This meant that the phone had to be shut down and restarted whenever a new module was attached. This also meant that the module had to incorporate a battery to replace the one slid out of the bottom.
The only modules we have seen for the LG G5 were the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play that added a DAC and headphone jack and the LG Cam Plus that added physical camera keys and about doubled the thickness of the LG G5. You could also replace the battery with a spare. That's all there was to the LG G5, which did nothing to sell the power of modularity.
With the new Motorola Z and Z Force, Motorola is launching with the JBL SoundBoost speaker, Incipio offGRID Power Pack, and Moto Insta-Share Projector. There are also various back cover designs that attach to the magnetic back of the Moto Z and Z Force to quickly give your phone a different look.
These three main mods are more compelling than what LG launched with, but hopefully we will continue to see more launch in the coming months. I was sent the speaker and projector to check out for a couple of weeks.
The Moto Insta-Share Projector module is available for $299.99. The 125 gram attachment snaps on the back to project up to 70 inches on a screen or wall in front of you. The projector has a resolution of 854x480 with a brightness of 50 lumens and a lamp life of 10,000 hours. An 1100 mAh battery is also included to provide up to 60 minutes of projection time with a USB Type-C port for charging up the module.
After attaching the mod to the back, you simply press and hold on the power button to turn on the projector. There is also a dial to focus the picture at your desired distance with the bottom of the mod serving as a stand to hold your phone at any angle from zero to 180 degrees.
I put Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the Moto Z Force Droid and was pleasantly surprised by the resolution and quality of the projector. I then loaded up an Excel spreadsheet and a PowerPoint presentation to view those on a white board. While this accessory is expensive, it could serve sales and marketing teams well on the road. Imagine only having to pack along this mod in the included draw-string bag to give your next presentation.
While many of us typically use headphones to enjoy music, people also like to share videos they capture and YouTube videos with others. There is also a large market for Bluetooth speakers that go to the beach, outside for summer parties, and wherever you want to enjoy music with others.
The JBL SoundBoost speaker snaps on the back of your Moto Z phone and provides 6W of speaker power, 1000 mAh of battery power for 10 hours of music, an integrated kickstand, and speakerphone functionality. The USB Type-C port is found on the front of the JBL SoundBoost so you need to charge it up before attaching it to your Moto Z Force. It sounds good and can take the place of an external portable speaker for some situations.
Moto Z Force Droid Edition image and screenshot gallery
Like all modern Motorola Android phones, you will find a very pure Google experience on the Moto Z Force. I installed the Google launcher because I like to have the Google Now home screen panel on my phones. The quick controls, app drawer, and settings are all stock Android fare.
The Moto Z Force Droid launches with Android Marshmallow and the May 2016 Android security patch. Motorola stated it will issue an update soon after the release of the Z Force, but it will not commit to timely monthly updates as we have seen from Samsung and Google.
Everything runs smoothly on the Moto Z Force Droid and all has been stable as well. I personally like some of the customizations and enhancements offered by phone makers, but purists will enjoy using the Moto Z Force.
Motorola has always offered some cool enhancements and gestures that I am pleased to see continue here on the Moto Z Force Droid. To view and change the default for these enhancements, launch the Moto app on the phone. Enhancements include the twist to launch the camera, chop motion to turn on the flashlight (extremely handy when I go to be late each night), reach to trigger Moto Display, flip to enable do not disturb, pick up to stop ringing, customized Google Now voice command support, and more.
I am not a Verizon customer and am used to devices with very little extra software. Verizon went to town on this device and includes VZ Protect, VZ Navigator, Verizon Voice Mail, Slacker Radio, Slotomania, NFL Mobile, Message+, Juice Jam, go90, Genies and Gems, Game of War, Cookie Jam, Cloud, Caller Name ID, Audible, Amazon Kindle, and My Verizon. Apple gets away from having to install all of this bloatware on the iPhone and I hope someday that Android manufacturers will be able to offer phones without these apps. It's fine to have a carrier section of the app store to install apps if the customer wants the app, but it's a shame that carriers can consume internal storage with its preferences.
Pricing and competition
There are plenty of great Android smartphone options available today for $400 or less. Devices like the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy need to offer unique compelling features to justify the $700 to $900+ selling price. The Moto Z Force Droid starts at $720 with $50 more for 64GB of internal storage. Swappable backs start at $19.99 with Moto Mods priced from $59.99 to $299.99.
Check out the CNET review where the Moto Z Force Droid earned 8.2/10 stars.
While the Moto Z Force Droid has a premium price, it does offer a shatterproof display, cool Moto gestures and functions, long battery life, and unique expansion capability.
The Moto Z and Moto Z Force Droid phones are currently limited to the Verizon network. I switched carriers in the past to gain access to a specific phone and could justify switching to Verizon for the Moto Z Droid Force. However, the phone will eventually be offered as an unlocked model that will be free of the carrier crap so I'll wait to see when that launches.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
I had no real expectations for the Moto Z Force Droid so was pleasantly surprised by the rock solid design, camera performance, and interesting approach to modularity. It's a rather big and heavy phone, especially when a Moto Mod is slapped on the back.
The Moto Z Droid is thinner and lighter than the Z Force Droid, but it loses the shatterproof display and the camera drops down to a 13 megapixel shooter. The battery on the Moto Z is also quite a bit smaller at 2,600 mAh. If I was going to buy one of these new Verizon Droid phones, I would pay the extra $96 to get the improvemens in the display, camera, and battery.
With phones like the Moto G4 Plus offering a similar form factor and core experiences, it can be tough to justify paying three times the cost for the Moto Z Force.