The Motorola Moto Z Force Droid ($720 for 32GB; $770 for 64GB) has everything. With a big battery, a nearly unbreakable screen, and a selection of useful removable backs, it's the phone to buy on Verizon Wireless right now. Its sibling, the Moto Z Droid, is slimmer and costs $100 less, but has a smaller battery and lacks the super-tough screen. They're both excellent, but as with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, we recommend the slightly larger model with the bigger battery. That makes the Moto Z Force Droid our Editors' Choice for smartphones on Verizon.
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The Moto Z Force Droid is a big slab of glass and metal, with a multilayer shatterproof plastic-and-glass front and a black stainless steel back. It measures 6.14 by 2.98 by 0.27 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.74 ounces. That makes it larger than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (5.95 by 2.83 by 0.30 inches, 5.54 ounces), and I find it just a bit too wide to use with one hand. Some of the phone's height goes into the perplexing placement of a fingerprint sensor under the screen, which works as a screen on/off button, but not as a home button.
The 21-megapixel main camera forms a large bump on the back, but you're unlikely to notice it because you'll have a magnetic back attached to the phone. The Moto Z platform allows for MotoMods, which are functional backs that clip onto the phone, adding features or just changing the look; a basic wooden back costs $14.99 and neutralizes the camera bump. I'll discuss these in greater detail below.
The phone's 5.5-inch, 2,560-by-1,440 screen is covered with a shatterproof plastic layer, and unless you scratch it, you can't tell. I kept looking at the Z Force's screen next to the Z's, even under a magnifying glass, and I couldn't spot the difference.
Oh, yeah, and there's no headphone jack. I'll get to that.
The Z Force Droid isn't a ruggedized phone, but it'll do. It has a multilayer ShatterShield display with a four-year warranty against cracks and breaks. It can scratch, though, and you'll have to live with scratches. The Z Force is also water-resistant, but not fully waterproof; you can spill things on it, but you can't dunk it.
To test ShatterShield, I dropped the phone twice from three feet onto rough concrete, and once onto tile. The magnetic back flew off, and the phone's metal bezel got a noticeable silvery gouge in it, but the screen remained intact. To test water resistance, I poured an eight-ounce glass of water onto the phone. You could see the phone's coating repelling the water, and no liquid got under the magnetic back. After drying it off, it was no worse for wear. But the USB-C port doesn't look protected, so I wouldn't use it while the phone is wet.
Call Quality, Networking, and Power
The Moto Z phones have a loud, harsh earpiece tone when making phone calls. It definitely punches through background noise, but I found that it rendered my voice rather nasal (and my voice certainly doesn't need help in that regard). But the volume is powerful, both on the earpiece and the speakerphone. I was more impressed with call transmission quality, because noise cancellation in the microphone is just terrific.
The Z phones use LTE bands 2/3/4/5/7/13. Technically, they're unlocked, but don't rush out to buy one for another carrier: Unlocked global models with no Verizon bloatware will arrive around the end of the summer, so if you aren't on Verizon, wait. The global models have better LTE roaming, and also have HSPA+ 1700 and LTE bands 12 and 17, which are needed for the best coverage on AT&T and T-Mobile.
I was quite happy with the dual-band Wi-Fi performance on the Z Force, moreso than on the plain Z. In various Wi-Fi tests, I got quite different results from the two phones. As usual with high-end devices, they performed similarly when close to a Wi-Fi router, but the Z dropped off much more sharply at the edge of the Wi-Fi cell, giving me 1-2Mbps down when the Z Force and a Galaxy S7 were able to find 7-12Mbps.
Battery life is fine, if not spectacular, at just about six hours of screen-on time while streaming video over LTE. The 3,500mAh battery is significantly larger than either the Moto Z's or the Galaxy S7's, though, so I'm thinking a software update may improve battery life in the future.
Because of their magnetic backs, there's no wireless charging for the Z series. (There may be a wireless charging mod, though.) The Force comes with a gigantic 5.7A USB-C power adapter. I tried to charge the phone with both its own adapter and with the plain Z's 3.6A charger. The super-fast 5.7A charger boosted the Force to 39 percent in the first 15 minutes, adding 25 percent each additional 15 minutes, charging the whole phone in under an hour. The smaller charger added just 19 percent in 15 minutes.
Android and Software
The Moto Z Force runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Motorola's typically low-key extensions. Motorola insists that it will get an Android 7.0 Nougat upgrade, but I think Verizon will hold that up for months.
Benchmark results are quite similar to other phones with a 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM, like the Galaxy S7. That's a good thing, as these are the most powerful phones available today. All of the Snapdragon 820 phones tend to score around 5400-5500 on Geekbench. I got 150,000 on the Antutu benchmark, which bests both the OnePlus 3 (at 141,000) and the Galaxy S7 (at 123,000.) The difference is largely in the UX tests; Samsung's skin slows its phones down, while Motorola's lighter touch pays off in speed.
Motorola's few software extensions have been around since the 2013 Moto X. Moto Display lights up the time and notifications when you put your hand near the screen, which I find very convenient; it's a good balance between battery life and always-on display functionality. The phone also has some gesture controls, such as flipping it over to mute the ringer. Otherwise, Motorola still, fortunately, doesn't mess with Google's launcher, and doesn't give you competing photo and music apps—it's Google Photos and Google Play Music all the way.
The OS build takes up 8.37GB of the phone's 32GB, largely thanks to Verizon's bloatware. There are a dozen preloaded Verizon apps on these Droids. A few egregious games are deletable, but you're stuck with NFL Mobile, Slacker, and VZ Navigator for life.
Fortunately, there's a microSD card slot as part of the SIM slot in the top. It supports all the card sizes currently available, and is compatible with Google's Adoptable Storage, which makes SD cards work like internal storage.
The Moto Z series are the first major smartphones to come without a 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, you get a headphone-to-USB-C dongle in the box. (The phone can output analog audio over the USB-C port.) This is annoying, especially because you can't charge your phone while listening to wired headphones, but it's also something we're likely to start seeing a lot more of in the future. You're not getting any special audio quality for your sacrifice—the Z Force doesn't have the richness you get on the HTC 10. It looks like this was done mostly to keep the phone thin.
There are no USB-C headphones on the market yet. In three days, I've already misplaced the small headphone dongle several times. The best idea is just to keep it attached to your favorite headphones. Honestly, I'd just go with Bluetooth headphones for the phone, which will help you get around any charging issues.
The Z Force packs a 21-megapixel main camera with 4K video recording, as well as 720p slow-motion video at up to 120 frames per second. It isn't better than the Samsung Galaxy S7's camera, but it's quite good. Motorola's software helps. You activate the camera by flicking your wrist, and you can take a picture by tapping anywhere on the screen. These have been Moto features since the original X, and they make it easier to take pictures one-handed than on other phones. Along with the usual modes, there's a manual mode and a very good macro mode.
Set aside the Force's megapixel count, as exposure and image processing typically matter more. Testing the 12-megapixel Galaxy S7 against both the 13-megapixel Moto Z and the 21-megapixel Z Force, the Galaxy S7 has the best exposure in both regular and low light. While the Z has a very good camera, photos tend to look a bit softened. The Z Force comes close to the S7's well-balanced images in daylight.
In low light, the S7 also turns out the best images. The Z was softer, while the Z Force was noisier. It becomes a question of which compromise you want to make. I prefer more detail, with noise if necessary.
The two Moto Z's 5-megapixel front cameras are exactly the same. In good light, they take sharper selfies than the Galaxy S7 does. In low light, the S7 manages to pull somewhat better highlights out of images.
I had no problem recording 30fps 4K video or 30fps 1080p front-facing video in any light.
The Z series' most exciting feature is Moto Mods. As mentioned earlier, these are magnetic accessories that add features to the phones. All Moto Mods are compatible with both the Z and the Z Force.
Initially, Motorola is launching with a half dozen. Basic back plates in soft-touch plastic, wood, and metallic materials will cost $14.99. TUMI and Kate Spade power backs cost $59.99 to 89.99. The $79.99 JBL SoundBoost is a large add-on speaker with a kickstand that lets the phone play room-filling sound, with far better bass than the internal speakers provide. And the Moto Insta-Share projector is a 50-lumen projector with an hour of battery life for $299.99. We'll review these in the upcoming weeks.
For geeks, the most exciting mod is the one that can be anything: the $129.99 Developers Kit. There are a few sample "personality cards" that go on top of the basic dev breadboard, but the one to pay the most attention to lets you attach any Raspberry Pi HAT module. Motorola tells me that Mod will come with all the software necessary to develop for the phone; it didn't specify whether that includes rooting or unlocking the bootloader.
Snap on a Moto Mod and a settings screen pops up. With the mods I've tested, the most important aspect of that screen is that it lets you monitor the battery in the Mod, as well as make minor settings changes, like telling the battery back when it can charge the phone, and setting auto-keystoning on the projector. It's a very smooth, streamlined experience. I think lots of people are going to buy battery backs.
Comparisons and Conclusions
I'm surprised to say this, but the Motorola Moto Z Force Droid is the most exciting phone I've seen this year. The tough screen, water resistance, expandable memory, and attachable backs combine the strengths of several of 2016's top phones, and top the LG G5's unfulfilled promises by actually delivering attachable backs that work.
There are only two downsides to the Z Force Droid: it's big and it lacks a headphone jack. But I think it's worth putting up with these issues. While I'd still pick the Galaxy S7 as my own device because I'm into smaller phones, the Z Force Droid combines lots of power, some great accessories, and much sleeker software than Samsung provides. It's the most promising new phone of the year, and our Editors' Choice for Verizon buyers.