It’s really difficult to make money selling expensive phones when your name isn’t Apple or Samsung.
This, more than anything else, is what I was reminded of while testing the Moto Z2 Force Edition.
The latest high-end smartphone from Motorola has all the usual attributes you’d expect from such a device: It’s very fast, its screen looks good, its cameras are capable of taking nice photos, and it has a razor-thin frame. Better yet, unlike many of its premium rivals, the Z2 Force’s display is particularly resistant to cracks.
But nailing the essentials simply isn’t enough to guarantee sales in today’s saturated, top-heavy smartphone market. Motorola knows that. So how do you get the highest return from your $720 device?
Motorola’s answer is to sell accessories alongside the phone itself. The Lenovo-owned company last year introduced Moto Mods, a line of add-ons that snap onto the back of its Moto Z phones. They worked well with last year’s Moto Z, and they continue to work well on the Z2 Force.
But just because they work well doesn’t mean they are worthwhile. Motorola has thrown all its eggs in the Moto Mods basket this year, but in doing so, the company is chasing a fantasy that’s both expensive and impractical. Combine that with a few unfortunate design choices, and you have one of the most baffling flagship phones of the year.
Let’s take a closer look:
The Moto Z2 Force’s design is kind of a mess.
It’s sturdily put together, but the large borders above and below the display immediately look dated compared to the wide screens of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, LG’s G6 and other expensive phones.
The bottom bezel is home to a fingerprint scanner and the Moto logo. But the scanner doesn’t act as a home button by default, which means you’ll have a big bezel and onscreen buttons chewing up space until you mess around with Moto’s software settings.
On top of that, the Z2 Force isn’t fully water-resistant. Motorola says the phone can survive a slight splash or two, but anything more and it’ll be at risk. Rivals like the Galaxy S8 and G6 offer better protection.
The back of the device looks uneven.
The back is made of a nice brushed aluminum, which feels suitably high-end. But it’s tarnished by a protruding camera bump, an odd gray-on-gray border around the phone’s edges that houses its antennas, and an unsightly set of Moto Mod connector pins. And the fact that the phone is too wide and large to be comfortable to use with one hand doesn’t help.
The worst part is that Moto gave itself no choice with the design. The phone looks a lot like last year’s Moto Z because it has to work with every Mod. Those accessories are built to fit that specific shape and use those particular connector pins.
And because the Mods connect on the back, Moto has to keep the fingerprint scanner on the front, which leaves at least one big bezel. If Motorola tried to change the design, it would risk alienating everyone who bought Mods in the past. It’s basically boxed itself in.
The one striking thing about the Z2 Force is how thin it is.
The phone is just 0.24 inches thick. By comparison, the iPhone 7 Plus is 0.29 inches, while the Samsung Galaxy S8 is 0.31 inches. Last year’s Moto Z was similarly slim, but the Z2 Force still feels like an impressive feat of engineering.