Motorola is one of the oldest and most important companies in the history of the United States. Moto was founded in 1928 after the Galvin Brothers purchased the bankrupt Stewart Battery Company, its plant, and the plans for its battery eliminators for $750 at auction. Its first products were simple by today’s standards, they allowed radios to run on household electricity, but this was the start of something huge.
In the ’30s Motorola began selling the first car radios to police departments and by the time the first World War began, hand-held walkie talkies made by Motorola were in our troop’s hands. World War 2 brought new challenges and the Motorola made AM SCR-536 radio was vital to our success in Europe. In 1943 Motorola went public and by the time 1947 rolled around its biggest sellers were television sets and radios.
Fast-forward to more recent history. Motorola was known for its semiconductors in the 80s and its cell phones in the 90s. Even though Motorola was one of the first companies to mass produce phones, it was overtaken in the late 90s as the largest seller of phones by Nokia. The 2000s brought us amazing devices like the Moto Razr that would influence our culture for years to come.
And then the smartphone wars started. In the early days of Android, Motorola produced the DROID. It’s a phone that the company is still known for to this day, but Moto failed to capitalize on its success and produced disappointing follow-ups.
I distinctly remember the Motorola Backflip that my wife loved. When we bought it the salesman at AT&T told us we’d probably be back in a few months for a replacement or to return it. That thing soldiers on for another three years before my wife finally gave up on it.
What many of you who are reading this will probably remember most is when Motorola came out with the Moto X lineup. It smartly dropped its attempt at a skin atop Android and went with a mostly stock look with small improvements atop. Motorola was one of the first to truly integrate voice commands into its phones and quick updates were a key selling point for the X lineup.
The Moto X lineup was followed up with cheap, yet good phones in the Moto G and Moto E lineup that redefined what you could buy on a budget. Google bought Motorola for a hot minute, mostly for its patents, but we also got the Nexus 6 out of the deal which was controversial due to its size but loved by many.
That brings us to today when we’re seeing an entirely new lineup from Motorola, the Moto Z. The new lineup includes the Moto Z Droid and Moto Z Force Droid. The new devices are focused on fast and slim phones that can be expanded through modules that attach to the back. The selling points look great on paper, but how does it perform in real life? Read on for our full review.
- Dimensions: 6.14 x 2.98 x 0.28 in
- Display: 5.5 in, 2560 x 1440 (AMOLED)
- Processor: Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820
- Storage: 32/64GB
- RAM: 4GB
- Battery: 3500mAh (non-removable)
- Cameras: 21/5MP
The Motorola Moto Z Force Droid stacks up with every other flagship on the market. The Snapdragon 820 has been the processor of choice for flagship releases in the United States market for early 2016. Pairing it with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage is pretty standard at this point. The Z Force Droid shares the same specs with the Samsung Galaxy S7, HTC 10, and LG G5. It’s only outclassed by the OnePlus 3 which offers 64GB of storage and 6GB of RAM.
Where the Moto Z Force Droid beats almost every other flagship is in battery size. We’ll talk about real life battery stats later, but we love the inclusion of a huge 3500mAh battery in this flagship phone. There are other phones on the market with larger batteries but most feel like novelties that just throw the highest capacity battery into a phone it can as a novelty.
The huge battery is needed to drive the impressive display. We’re getting used to seeing beautiful AMOLED displays, but the display on the Force is in the league of Samsung’s current generation panels. Max brightness is very good and perhaps just short of usability in very bright outdoor situations, but will do the job in pretty much every other circumstance. Viewing angles are excellent with almost no color shift at all. The colors feel bright and pop with vibrancy. If you’re looking for a phone to look at for the next two years, you’ll be happy with the Moto Z Force Droid.
The truly stand-out feature of the display is not all the pixels, but the Shattershield technology. Motorola boasts that the Moto Z Force Droid’s display is guaranteed not to crack or shatter, just like its predecessor the Droid Turbo 2. The fine print says the following:
“The display and embedded lens are warranted against shattering and cracking for four (4) years from the original date of purchase; scratches or other damage to the protective lens is not covered by this warranty, but should always be in place to prevent scratches and other damage to the underlying components. This phone is not shockproof or designed to withstand all damage from dropping. All other warranty exclusions, including scratches and other cosmetic damage, intentional damage or abuse, normal wear and tear and other limitations apply.”
Motorola did make the Moto Z Force Droid thicker than the Moto Z to include this technology (as well as a bigger battery), but I think the trade-off is worth it. I haven’t tried to destroy the display on my review unit, but I think any person purchasing this phone with their own money will love the fact that there is a four-year warranty on their display. I see so many people with cracked screens that are holding until they can afford a new device. You completely avoid this issue with the Moto Z Force Droid.
Just under the display is a square fingerprint scanner that serves as nothing but a fingerprint scanner (although you can hold it while the display is on to turn the display off). I’m not in love with the aesthetics of the scanner and its placement, but it does function fabulously. I’ve not had a misread yet and it’s as fast as the Nexus 6P, OnePlus 3 or iPhone 6s. I’d like to see the button function as a home button as well even though the rest of the buttons are on screen. I think Sony has the right idea about how to do fingerprint sensors: put it in the power button. Hopefully other OEMs will follow suit.
On the bottom of the phone, we find only a USB type C port, no headphone jack. And, the top of the phone doesn’t have anything besides an antenna band. So, if it’s not on the bottom and it’s not on the top, what gives?
Motorola decided to beat Apple to the punch and remove the 3.5mm jack. Now, I know the arguments for it (makes the device thinner and cheaper), but I just can’t get behind removing a universally accepted port. Is it perfect? No. Is it old? Yes. But does it work almost flawlessly? Yep.
To its credit, Motorola does include a USB type C to 3.5mm adapter so you can still use your wired headphones, but it seems like a messy fix to a problem it didn’t need to create in the first place.
The only speaker is housed in the earpiece which is situated between the front facing camera (left) and the forward facing flash (right). The flash is an excellent inclusion that we think dramatically improves those selfies. Some have crowed that the front facing camera is only 5MP, but it does a great job. It’s as good as any selfie cam I’ve seen yet.
The left side of the phone is barren which means the right side houses all of the buttons. I don’t think Motorola got it right here. I prefer staggering of the power and volume buttons on either side of the phone personally, but the placement here is all wrong. The volume buttons are very high on the device making quickly turning the volume up a pain. The power button sits just under them but is virtually indistinguishable from the volume buttons except for some ridges. The buttons are too small and too high. Luckily they are very clicky and provide good feedback when pressed.
The build of the Moto Z Force Droid is out of this world. Never before have I felt such a light, yet sturdy phone. There is zero bend or creak when force is applied to the body, but it doesn’t feel unwieldy like say a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 did when it was popular. The device is equally weighted on top and bottom so it’s easy to reach the top of this 5.5″ screen. The band around the side feels strong and easy to hold, while the back feels smooth and flat. Motorola has been known in the past for the curved design of its phones and while that has been shuttered, it’s for the best. The back houses a pronounced camera bump, a Motorola logo and pogo pins at the bottom (more on those later).
The build of the Moto Z Force is so good that I play with it even when I’m not using it. It feels that good.
As I mentioned previously, the modern Motorola is known for keeping a close to stock Android feel in its phones. The minor additions help it stand out against competitors like Samsung and LG which apply a heavy skin to its phones. If you’re coming from a stock Android phone like a Nexus device, the Motorola Moto Z Force Droid will feel familiar to you.
But, that’s not to say this is a stock Android device. Since this phone is a Verizon exclusive, that means Verizon’s suite of apps come pre-installed on the device. By my count, there are 17 apps Verizon preloaded but all of them except Visual Voicemail can be disabled or outright uninstalled. Disabling apps isn’t a perfect solution since you’re unable to reclaim the space the apps take up in storage, but at least you can unclutter the phone a bit.
The look of the device does stay undeniably stock Android, and that’s a positive in my book. While some lament that Android feels feature bare without the software additions from Samsung or LG, Motorola adds smaller, but useful apps like the Moto app (previously called Moto Assist).
The app allows you to control features like the Active Display which shows you notifications in a battery friendly manner, voice controls, and actions. The actions that Moto included do things like keep the display on while you’re looking at it, allow you to turn the flashlight on by chopping the phone twice through the air, or swiping in from the button of the phone to make the screen smaller for one handed use.
With Voice controls, you can train the phone to react to a custom phrase. In previous devices you’d have to use the stock phrase of “Okay Moto”, but we’re allowed more customization. One of my favorite features of the voice commands is the ability to have the device read text messages while you’re driving or you have a headset plugged in. I HATE messing with my phone while driving, but I want to stay in contact too, so this is a happy medium.
Adisclosure before we get into the battery section. The review unit we were supplied by Motorola is locked to Verizon since the Moto Z Force Droid is a Verizon exclusive. I’m a T-Mobile customer which makes normal daily usage very hard to measure. I’m not pulling the phone out of my pocket every few minutes to check messages or notifications and I’m not engaging in the normal phone conversations with friends and family that call me on my everyday number. I usually like to give real world usage in my reviews but since this isn’t possible I’ve done my best to find out the information about the battery I can to relay to you.
As I mentioned before, the battery is a non-removable 3500mAh unit. The capacity alone puts it near the top of the list for flagship phones released in the last few years. The only other comparable phones on the market in the US are the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (3600mAh) and the Huawei Nexus 6P (3450mAh). You can import some great phones released only in Asia like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Pro (4100mAh) and Lenovo K5 Note (3500mAh) that rival it in capacity as well.
Adding to the excellent battery life is the Turbo Charging that Motorola enables in its phones. The Moto Z Force Droid comes with a Turbo Charger 30 which outputs at 5V at 5.7A. The only phone I’ve seen charge nearly as fast in person is the OnePlus 3 which has proprietary Dash charging (rebranded VOOC charging). Both phones will get you to about 60% battery in 30 minutes.
In day to day use where I was using the Z Force Droid as much as possible without making phone calls or texting I was getting over six hours of screen on time. This included such activities as reading Reddit, watching videos on YouTube and Netflix and streaming music with Google Play Music (check out the Monstercat Podcast!). I would expect roughly 4.5 to 5 hours of screen on time with normal usage, but that’s just an estimate at this point.
The battery benchmark early results are promising. I have zero doubt that this will be a battery champion amongst the competition.
The Motorola Moto Z Force Droid has a 21MP camera with a f/1.8 aperture, laser and phase detection auto-focus, optical image stabilization, dual-LED flash, and 1.12 µm pixel size. The main shooter can record 4K video at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps, and 1080p at 30fps. The front-facing camera is a 5MP camera with f/2.2 aperture, has 1.4 µm pixel size, an LED flash, and can record 1080p video.
Maybe the most defining aspect of the camera is the camera bump on the back of the phone. It feels like it sticks out more significantly than any other camera bump I’ve ever seen on a phone. This is partially a product of how thin phones are getting and partially a design choice by Motorola. This isn’t just a little hump that houses the camera, it is a rounded, crafted statement on the rear of the phone that screams “I have an amazing camera”.
There are Pogo Pins on the back of the Motorola Moto Z Force Droid that connect to accessories. These add-ons can be attached to the phone to expand the functionality. During the reveal press conference, Motorola showed a projector, speaker, extended battery, and rear covers.
The way Motorola has gone about adding modular functionality is pretty brilliant. Attaching modules to the back of the phone through the use of magnets is a much better option than say, the LG G5 which you have to remove the bottom of the phone. This leads to issues like the gap between the bottom and the rest of the phone. By placing modules on the rear of the phone, the only thing you sacrifice is some thinness. That’s a pretty easy trade-off, especially when you take into consideration how thin the Moto Z Droid and Moto Z Force Droid already are.
You’ll hear more about the speaker and extended battery accessories in our Moto Z Droid review, but for now, we’re going to focus on the projector. Dubbed the “Moto Insta-Share Projector” the device allows you project a picture up to 70″ and adds an hour of screen time due to the included battery.
During my testing I found the picture to be pretty clear, but not bright enough to use in my living room during the daytime. Where I think this will really shine is during the fall when we’re outside around the fire. I’d love to be able to cast a college football game onto the side of my house using the ESPN app.
The Insta-share Projector comes in at a hefty $300, but I know that it would be my first purchase if I was buying this phone for personal use.
Also included with our review unit is a wood Moto Style Shell. These snap to the back exactly like the projector and add a little flair to the phone. I found the phone to feel a bit thick with it on the back, but I’m coming from a OnePlus 3 which an extremely thin feeling phone, so my perception may be a bit skewed. Along with the wood back, Motorola also announced leather and textured style shells that will be available.
When Lenovo bought Motorola from Google many people were rightly worried about the future of the company. The Moto X line was loved by many Android enthusiasts for it’s close to stock Android software and the ability to customize the outside of the device with Moto Maker. Lenovo will have to prove that it can continue on Motorola’s promise of quick updates and minimal skins. This has always been a key to customers that buy into Motorola’s way of thinking.
I don’t know what the future holds for Lenovorola, but this is certainly a good start. The Moto Z Force Droid isn’t a perfect device, but if you’re looking for a flagship phone right now (on Verizon), it’ll be hard not to pick it up.
The long-term success of the device, I believe, will lay in the adoption and pricing of the Moto Mods. This is such a great idea I have no idea why someone didn’t come up with it sooner. Motorola stated that it will be opening it up so third party companies are welcome to come in and make their own Mods, but will the promise be kept if the phone doesn’t sell well? As a reminder, LG made the same claim, but no new modules are yet to be found for the G5 It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg problem. No one is going to make mods if there aren’t users to buy them, but customers might not buy the phone if they can’t take full advantage of one of the best features of the phone.
Pre-order have just begun for the Moto Z Droid and Moto Z Force Droid at the time of publication. The Z Droid can be had for $624 and the Moto Z Force Droid comes in at a hefty $720. Phones are getting more and more expensive, but I truly think that if you’re going to spend that kind of money on a phone, this is the one to get. It has almost everything you can want in a phone. I’ve been through just about every phone on the market and the Motorola Moto Z Force Droid is my favorite so far.