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Circuit Breaker

The Moto Z2 Force doubles the cameras, keeps the shatterproof screen, and is coming to every carrier

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Flagship specs, and most definitely a flagship price

Motorola's smartphone with the nearly indestructible screen is back — and now it's on every major US carrier. Today the company is announcing the Moto Z2 Force, the successor to last year's Verizon-exclusive Moto Z Force. It goes on sale August 10th and preorders begin today.

The Moto Z2 Force is the closest thing to a flagship phone that Motorola has released this year, and it’s got all the hardware specs to show for it: inside is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. It runs Android 7.1 with a promised upgrade to Android O to come. That's all standard fare for an expensive 2017 smartphone, and the Z2 Force is certainly expensive at around $720. It's priced even higher on some carriers like AT&T ($810). This version is much thinner than last year’s phone, but that sleek design comes with a significant sacrifice in battery capacity; the Z2 Force has a 2,730mAh battery compared to the 3,500mAh battery in the old Moto Z Force. Between this and the Moto Z2 Play, Motorola sure does seem obsessed with slimming things down lately, and what are we gaining? Oh, there’s no headphone jack on this thing either. Be prepared to go wireless or live the dongle life.

Three things set the Z2 Force apart from other high-end Android handsets: the screen, the camera, and MotoMods. This device’s main selling point is that it’s got a display that won’t shatter or crack from everyday falls. It’s not edge-to-edge, but it’s tough. Motorola calls this technology ShatterShield. TThe tradeoff of ShatterShield is that since the front layer is plastic, it’ll scratch much easier than other phones. Motorola can replace that front “lens” if it gets bad enough; the company let users do this themselves with prior Force phones, but not this year.

Like last year, the Z2 Force has a 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display. Motorola barely says anything about it in the phone’s press release, so I’d expect it to look largely identical, which means it should be just fine, sharp, and vibrant. Apart from its slimmer measurements, the phone’s overall design remains similar to its predecessor, which is necessary to maintain compatibility with Motorola’s snap-on MotoMod accessories. Motorola is now using 7,000 series aluminum to make sure the Z2 Force’s svelte frame won’t buckle or bend under stress.

But what’s inside that big round camera module has changed considerably. Motorola is following other phone makers including Apple, Huawei, and LG in implementing a dual-lens camera system. The Z2 Force features two 12-megapixel f/2.0 cameras. They’ve got phase detection and laser autofocus, though Motorola makes no mention of any optical stabilization. One camera shoots in monochrome, and the other shoots in color. That’s very similar to what we’ve seen from Huawei, and the cameras are designed to work together to create higher-quality images than what you’d get from just a single unit.

Including two cameras has also allowed Motorola to add depth-of-field effects like blurring the background behind your subject — similar to Apple’s Portrait mode. There’s a “True B&W” mode too, which uses just the monochrome sensor to capture a “true” black-and-white image instead of simulating the look with software. This all sounds promising enough, but Motorola’s cameras have a steady track record of being just okay. I’m interested to see whether the company finally has something that can hold its own against the Pixel, Galaxy S8, LG G6, HTC U11, and so on. There’s still a flash up front for the 5-megapixel selfie camera.

The Moto Z2 Force works with all existing MotoMods, and I’m sure Motorola and its carrier partners will be very eager to sell you a battery pack to compensate for that reduced battery size. The company is formally launching its own 360-degree camera MotoMod today, as well, which records 3D audio in addition to the usual immersive visual perspective. In terms of software, the Z2 Force runs Android 7.1.1 out of the box with Motorola’s usual array of helpful features and improvements. For a rundown on what’s new with those, read Dan’s recent review of the Moto Z2 Play.

Other odds and ends:

  • Unusually, international models of the Moto Z2 Force have better specs than what US carriers will be selling. Outside the US, the phone includes 128GB of storage and 6GB RAM. Keep in mind that there’s microSD support, so the storage difference isn’t a big issue. More RAM is always nice though.
  • Your color choices are black, white/gold, and a lunar gray color that’s exclusive to T-Mobile.
  • The phone ships with Bluetooth 4.2, but Motorola says it will be upgraded to Bluetooth 5.0 when the Android O update arrives. Neat!
  • The Z2 Force isn’t water-resistant like the Galaxy S8 or LG G6, but it does have the same “water protection” nanocoating as other Moto phones to guard against emergency spills and maybe a light mist of rain. Don’t take it swimming, and don’t expect it to survive toilet baths.
  • You’ll get a free Insta-Share Projector MotoMod with purchase for a limited time.
  • That asking price sure does feel very high when you consider the OnePlus 5 and often-on-sale Galaxy S8.

Correction: The front layer on this year’s Moto Z2 Force cannot be user-replaced.