Motorola Moto X Force full review
Not content with launching two new Moto X phones in 2015, Motorola has surprised everyone by quietly releasing a third: the Moto X Force – known as the Droid 2 Turbo in the US. And it’s not just a revamped Moto X Style or Moto X Play with a shatter-proof screen: the Force has its own identity and specs and is the new Motorola flagship. Also see: Moto X4 latest rumours
It starts with a 5.4in Quad HD screen, has 3GB of RAM and a Snapdragon Processor (clocked higher than the Moto X Style’s) and a battery that’s claimed to last a full two days. There are high-spec cameras, and ‘TurboPower’ which claims to provide 13 hours of use from just 15 minutes’ charging.
And unlike its siblings, it supports wireless charging out of the box. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.
Moto X Force review: Design and build
While similar to other Motorola phones, the X Force is subtly different in design. Instead of a constant radius at the back the bulk is quite flat, with more sharply angled edges. The aluminium frame is thicker, too, extending a few millimetres in at the sides before you get to the textured back cover.
Mobilefun.co.uk provided us with the base black ballistic nylon version, but you can use Motorola’s Moto Maker to choose ‘pebbled’ leather in natural, cognac or black. There’s also a soft grip option in more colours, but all are quite muted compared to the more vivid options you get with the Moto X Play.
You’ve also got the option of a white front with Light Silver frame, or black and Dark Gray. Then you can choose an accent colour which affects the camera surround on the rear and the top grille at the front. The white version is uglier than black, we think, but the fact that the front of the black version is largely featureless makes that ugly in its own way as well. It’s not a great-looking phone like the Moto X Style.
The only option you can select which will change the £499 price is to go for 64- instead of 32GB of storage: that’s an extra £35. In the US, the phone costs $624 and $720 respectively.
The bezels at the front are reasonably small, although there’s quite a bit of space below the screen with nothing going on: it’s a shame Motorola didn’t go for physical touch-sensitive buttons rather than on-screen buttons.
Unusually there are three grilles at the front. Only the bottom-right is a loud speaker. The top one is for phone calls, and the left-hand bottom grille appears to be only for show, since nothing comes out of it, although it could be an oversized microphone grille for symmetry.
There are five mics in total, with two on the rear for directional pick-up when recording videos.
What’s missing is a fingerprint scanner: the current trend on the latest high-end Android devices. This isn’t just annoying because it means you can’t easily unlock your phone, but also because you won’t be able to use it to authenticate purchases via Google Pay when it eventually arrives over here. You can use the in-built NFC with the Tap & Pay feature with certain apps, though.
If you’re after a dual-SIM phone, it’s frustrating that the combined SIM and microSD tray is marked as SIM1 / microSD or SIM2 but the software lacks any SIM management options. It’s only in other territories that both SIM slots work in the Moto X Force.
Unlike some phones, this one sticks with microUSB. For some people that will be a relief as it’s universally compatible, but the reversible USB-C connector is undoubtedly the future.
Moto X Force review: Screen
The highlight feature is the screen. You’d be forgiven for assuming that Force meant that it’s a screen which responds to pressure, like the new iPhones’ 3D Touch screens. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s a special five-layer screen that is intended to be unbreakable, and won’t let you down even if you drop it.
Motorola calls is ShatterShield and it involves five components. At the base is an aluminium frame for strength. On top is a P-OLED screen that’s flexible and can take an impact (the P stands for plastic). On top of that is a dual touch layer, dual because there are two touch-sensitive layers, so the lower-most will take over should the upper-most fail because of a drop.
Covering that is the traditional glass you’d usually expect to see on any smartphone – Motorola calls this the ‘interior lens’. On the very top is a glass screen protector, the ‘exterior protective lens’ which is becoming a more common accessory for popular smartphones. It works in the same way, in that it’s a sacrificial screen protector that’s also user replaceable.
Unlike sticking a glass protector on any other phone, the Moto X Force’s ‘exterior lens’ is itself protected by a plastic surround. In the box you get a dual-purpose SIM tray and screen protector removal tool. If you damage the protector, you can remove it by prying it up with the plastic tool. The plastic also helps you to align a new protector – it’s impossible to stick it on squint.
With so many layers you might imagine that image quality or touch sensitivity is impaired, but it really isn’t. Yes, if you look closely you can see that the screen protector’s openings are marginally larger than the glass below around the grilles, but those who don’t know it’s there are unlikely to spot it.
Such is Motorola’s confidence in the system that it offers a four-year warranty against the screen failing due to accidental damage. The glass screen protector isn’t covered by it, so if you break that you’ll have to pay for an official Motorola replacement (£20).
The screen itself is a 5.4in Quad HD AMOLED panel, a return to the technology used in the first two Moto X phones, but not in the second two - the Style and Play which use IPS screens. Quad HD means a resolution of 2560x1440 and at this size, it's a pixel density of 540ppi. It’s bright enough at 578cm/m2 – measured with our Spyder4 - but while some will love the oversaturated AMOLED colours (we do) others will think them overblown and innacurate.
Moto X Force review: Performance
While the X Force is a great performer, it has launched at an awkward time. Qualcomm has already announced the Snapdragon 820 which will power many flagships next year. Plus, rival flagships which launched earlier in 2015 have already had price cuts which makes them cheaper than the Moto X Force.
However, as it stands today, the X Force is a quick phone. It has basically the same setup as the Nexus 6P - Snapdragon 810 (at 2GHz), Adreno 430 and 3GB RAM – and performed similarly in our tests, managing 40fps in the T-rex game test and 4455 in Geekbench 3.
In general use it also feels fast, and there are some neat Motorola additions including two hardware co-processors which enable the phone to respond very quickly to motion and voice commands. These tweaks (covered in more depth in the software section) make the phone more usable, such as the double-twist to launch the camera app when the phone is asleep, and a notification display when you wave your hand over the screen.
Motorola has also put a big battery inside (non-removable of course), and claims it will last a full two days. The actual amount of time it will go between charges will depend on what you’re using it for, but we comfortably got over a day’s use in our subjective testing. You might just get two days if you use the X Force lightly, but intensive use will render that an impossibility.
In our battery rundown test, the result was lower than expected at just over 5.5 hours. The Nexus 6P lasted well over 6 hours in the test, and the 5X just over 7 hours.
As well as wireless charging you get a ‘TurboPower’ charger in the box which really saves time over using a generic USB charger. For example, we connected it with the battery at 25 percent and 20 minutes later it was charged to over 60 percent.
Moto X Force review:Cameras
There’s no change to the cameras compared to the Moto X Style and Play. That means 21Mp at the back and 5Mp at the front.
The range of shooting modes is subtly different, as it doesn’t shoot 1080p60 like the X Style, but it records slo-mo in 720p, which is better than the 540p mode of the X Play. It can also record 4K video at 30fps, and supports HDR video in 1080p and 4K.
There are both front- and rear flashes, with the rear being a dual-tone colour correcting unit that’s become common on many phones.
Photos are generally good, as are videos, but they’re not quite on a par with the Nexus 6P or 5X. One of the main disappointments is the smearing of certain textures which appears to be the fault of the noise reduction system. In the photo of St Pancras (admittedly taken in less than perfect conditions) the roof tiles are sharp, but much of the brickwork is a smeary mess. So the lens and senor are capable of capturing detail, but it won't necessarily make it through to the saved photo.
For more photo samples, plus video, see: Best phone cameras 2016
Here's the 100 percent crop:
Moto X Force review: Software
Motorola keeps the stock Android interface, which we love, and adds useful extras throughout. As well as the Moto app which we’ll come to in a minute, there’s Attentive Display which keeps the display on when you’re looking at it, overriding the timeout if necessary. That’s handy when you’re reading something but not interacting with the phone.
With Moto, you can record a custom phrase which launches the hands-free mode that you can use to access Google Now as well as reading out emails and text messages. There’s also a driving mode which automatically reads those aloud, and a night mode which you can configure to allow only priority interruptions to alert you.
Moto Display is configurable to show notifications from only certain apps and thanks to the AMOLED display, it uses very little power as it only lights up the necessary pixels.
Actions include the double-twist for camera, but you can also double karate chop to turn on the torch. Merely moving your hand over the screen displays notifications when it’s asleep, and picking up the phone does the same thing.
And like Siri on an iPhone, you can set Moto Voice to work when you lift the phone to your ear. Then you can say a command and get a reply more discreetly.
The fact you get Android Lollipop out of the box is bad timing, but Motorola has confirmed that an update to Marshmallow will be available “soon”.
Motorola Moto X Force: Specs
- Android 5.1.1 Lollipop 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor (MSM8994) Adreno 430 GPU 3GB LPDDR4 RAM 32 or 64GB built-in storage, up to 2TB microSD card slot 149.8 x 78 x 7.6-9.2mm 169g 5.4in AMOLED display, Quad HD (2560x1440) 540ppi 3760mAh battery with TurboPower (PMA and Qi wireless charging) Water Repellant nano coating 4G LTE 802.11ac dual-band WiFi 21Mp rear camera with Dual-LED flash 5Mp front-facing camera with LED flash Bluetooth 4.1 LE Front-facing mono speaker NFC GPS