The Moto Z2 Force is a powerhouse that plays it safe

Motorola tried to mash up the best bits of its two most recent flagships.

Motorola's press conference is over, and we're now gearing up to put the Moto Z2 Force through the review wringer. (For those wondering, yes, I'm going to run this thing over with a car again.) I've been playing with Motorola's new flagship for a few hours now and it seems like the company tried to combine the best things about last year's Z and Z Force into a single phone. It's a great idea in theory, but we'll have to see how well the plan works in practice. We're not ready to render a verdict yet, but for now, you can read on for our first impressions.

First off, while it's not as crazy-slim as the first Z, the Moto Z Force comes awfully close. That's pretty damned impressive when you consider all the extra physical layers that form Motorola's ShatterShield display technology. It's also so light it's barely there — I've been carrying it in my jacket pocket all day and I've already forgotten where it was three or four times. It'll look awfully familiar if you've spent any time with the Moto Z2 Play as well, but you probably could've guessed that based on their names.

Motorola deserves credit for piecing together such a sleek little device — with 7000-series aluminum, no less — but I still long for full-on water resistance. The Z2 Force is treated with a nano-coating to keep things from getting fouled up in a light rain, but really — who among us hasn't gotten our phones right to the edge of "dangerously wet"?

I haven't loaded up our usual slew of benchmark tests and games, but the Z2 Force felt incredibly snappy as I zipped through running apps and long web pages. The Snapdragon 835 strikes again, and Motorola's still-restrained take on Android certainly helps. (It doesn't hurt the Motorola launcher looks and feels a lot like Google's own Pixel Launcher.) Then again, I really never worried about pure speed.

No, the real concern here is still battery life: the Z2 Force has one of the smallest batteries of any device running a Snapdragon 835. This doubly hurts when you consider that earlier Z models — including the first Z Play and the original Z Force — had tremendous longevity. I get wanting to balance style and performance in a flagship phone, but last year's Force felt like a no-compromise machine — this one doesn't, at least at first. Here's hoping for a pleasant surprise when it comes to our full battery test.

The only truly new addition to the Moto Z formula is the dual camera, and it's doing well so far. It's a dreary day here, so colors across the city feel more muted than usual, and the Z2 Force has been doing a fine job accurately rendering these scenes. It has a little trouble locking down the correct exposure sometimes, though — we'll have to see how it handles brighter conditions. On the flip side, today has been pretty good for using just the monochrome sensor, and a lot of the quick test shots I've snapped are loaded with noir-y drama. Here's one of our videographer Brian pausing mid-sandwich.

And now, some miscellaneous observations:

  • I'm almost completely over it at this point, but the Z2 Force doesn't have a headphone jack.

  • Speaking of things the Z2 Force doesn't come with, there's no StyleShell in the box — the other Z phones usually had a woodgrain one. It's not a huge loss, but it does mean you're stuck with the camera hump rubbing up against flat surfaces.

  • The pill-shaped home button/fingerprint sensor combo is inset into the glass a bit, and the edge that encircles it is a little sharper than it probably should be.

  • This T-Mobile model comes with five carrier-loaded apps, and people who hate bloat can disable all but one.

  • Of the 64GB of storage the phone ships with, close to 20GB are taken up by Android and pre-loaded apps.

  • I'm still not in love with the compromise Motorola made with the battery, but a marketing exec offered a little insight into how the decision was made. Apparently, Motorola asked people in focus groups to divvy up stacks of poker chips to figure out how highly they valued certain features. In other words, we have our fellow consumers to thank for the (arguably misguided) balance of battery life and thickness on display here.

All told, I get the impression that this is the flagship phone Motorola wanted to make all along. No wonder, then, that the Z2 Force feels so much like the two flagships made immediately before it. None of the changes here feel particularly groundbreaking, but stay tuned for our full review to see if the Z2 Force forces me to rethink that notion.