​Moto X Force review: Leading features from a mid-range phone

But Moto’s brand new wonder phone is almost a year old already

Motorola X Force
  • Motorola X Force
  • Motorola X Force
  • Motorola X Force
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Guaranteed shatter-proof screen
  • Two-day, fast-charging battery
  • Decent rear camera

Cons

  • No fingerprint reader
  • Last-gen Android software
  • A year old already

Bottom Line

If you can put the fact that this phone launched overseas a year ago out of your head, this is still one of the best mid-range phones on the market and one that beats the best on the market in many key areas.

Would you buy this?

This phone has appeared in our Top Rated Android Phones in 2016 list and Best budget smartphones 2016 list.

You’d be forgiven for being confused about which phone to buy these days. The choice can be bewildering at certain price points – especially in the $500 to $800 region. But when the Moto X Force throws its hat into the ring it backs things up with some head-turning characteristics. For one thing it’s ruggedized, but it doesn’t look it. It actually looks really good.

But there’s an issue. We’ve had late launches in Australia before but the Moto X Force launched as the “Droid Turbo 2” in America a full year ago. So how does it sit in the current market? Are we being fobbed off with the US’ unsold stock?

Key specs

5.4-inch, 2560 x 1440, 540ppi AMOLED, Shatter-proof display, 3/32GB RAM, Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with 2GHz octa-core CPUs, Adreno 430 GPU, 21/5MP cameras, Android 5.1.1, 3760mAh battery with fast and wireless charging, microSD slot, NFC, 78 x 150 x 9mm, 169g. Full specs here.

Handling

The rigid aluminium chassis feels very solid and while it might not look like much from the front, the textured back looks good, feels good and provides some much needed grip in an increasingly-slippery world. The 2560 x 1440 AMOLED is sharp, bright and vibrant and one of the best we’ve seen. It’s also shatter-proof thanks to Moto’s unique five-layer system and this is backed up with an impressive four-year screen warranty. That could sell this phone on its own. You can watch a video on it, here.

The Snapdragon 810 processor might be getting a little long in the tooth, but it’s no slouch and all apps open without lag and we saw no slowdowns at any time.

What we really missed was a fingerprint reader. Having to draw a screen unlock pattern every time feels like the olden days now (even the $348 Oppo F1s has one). But then, we mustn’t forget, that’s pretty much where this phone is from.

[Related: Google Pixel XL full, in-depth smartphone review: The new best Android phone]

In terms of software, Moto has a (sometimes) noticeable layer on top of last-generation’s Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop). We struggled to configure the central voice recognition (it said our very quiet office was too noisy) and it’s hard to think of any feature which wouldn’t be better replaced with the latest version of Android. It’s no deal breaker for most people and general usage is fine, though. But power users will be disappointed.

Battery

The 3760mAh is one of the largest on the market and we found it did indeed last the stated two days. On top of that, it’s compatible with both the major PMA and Qi wireless charging standards. Just to add a cherry on top, it also offers “TurboPower” fast charging which provides ‘eight hours of power in just 15 minutes.’ This is one of the best battery performances we’ve seen for years. It too could sell the phone on its own.

Camera

We’ve been impressed with elements of Moto’s camera’s before – particularly the fast, accurate focusing which (almost) works very well all the time. We found the 21-megapixel rear camera to be impressively sharp and generally very accurate with exposure. You’re supposed to tap the screen to take the picture, focus and also slide your fingers along the screen to zoom and (in the centre of the screen) move a slider to change exposure. Not surprisingly you end up performing a function that you don’t want quite regularly. You can use the volume button to shoot but this moves the screen as you take the picture. A simple shutter button wouldn’t go amiss.

Sharp, detailed and well exposed. But some highlights can blow out.
Sharp, detailed and well exposed. But some highlights can blow out.
The 21-megapixel rear camera means there's plenty of potential for zooming and cropping.
The 21-megapixel rear camera means there's plenty of potential for zooming and cropping.

The sharpness and fast focusing translate well into video which supports 4K. While not perfect (it never is on phones), the Force captured some of the best video we’ve seen from a phone. The image is sharp, accurate and even the digital stabilization meant that walking shots were useable. The focusing could take it’s time on occasion but it’s better than most. It’s also impressive in low light environments with the screen enhancing and bringing out detail in real-life, dimly-lit areas, which only the best cameras manage.

A close crop in low light shows off an usable image.
A close crop in low light shows off an usable image.
The Selfie camera is passable but the image is soft and highlights blow out a bit easily.
The Selfie camera is passable but the image is soft and highlights blow out a bit easily.

The selfie camera isn’t quite such a winner. The picture is noticeably much softer and we’re starting to miss the Beauty-mode options seen elsewhere! Some highlights blow out a bit easily but generally it’s very usable.

Conclusion

There’s a great deal to like here: the build quality and ruggedisation is arguably the best around, the screen is excellent, the battery is excellent, the rear camera is very good indeed.

But if you buy this at a high price you’ll just know that it’s a year old already and splashing out on a new phone shouldn’t come with a let-down like that. That said the $599 price point compares favourably to the US$624 last year, so the price has dropped in real terms.

Of course, it’s not like the competition is flawless here. Our favourite Huawei Mate 8 also launched late here and is looking long in the tooth. It launched at $900 and can currently be had for similar to this. Also there’s the Huawei P9 with it’s fantastic camera, but it’s fragile compared to the force.

Our main worry is that this phone’s successor will appear overseas as soon as someone buys this. But if you can put all of that out of your head, this is certainly one of the very best mid-range phones on the market and one that beats the best on the market in many key areas.

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