Review: Updated: Motorola Moto X Force

Introduction and features

The Motorola Moto X Force arrives mere months after the Moto X Style and Moto X Play hit the shops. And while you might think Motorola’s flagship duo are tough acts to follow, they’re not half as tough as the Moto X Force.

If the Style is Motorola’s classy party trick, and the Play its accessible all-rounder, then the Moto X Force is its safe pair of hands.

Known in the US as Moto Droid Turbo 2, the Moto X Force is the most expensive phone in the range, with prices starting from £499 (around US$750, AU$1,050) for the 32GB model. The 64GB variant, meanwhile, will set you back £534 (around US$800, AU$1,150).

Motorola Moto X Force review

This places the Moto X Force in some serious company. It’s around the same price as the Samsung Galaxy S6, and it’s not far off iPhone 6S territory.

However, the Motorola Moto X Force isn’t that easy to pigeonhole. It might be priced like smartphone aristocracy, but it’s a phone that’s best suited to the daily grind – a willing workhorse that won’t scuff or crack under the strain of modern living.

Design

You can tell from the first glance that the Moto X Force belongs to the same family as the Moto X Style and Moto X Play. It has a familiar outline, with straight sides and a gently curved top and bottom.

It has a familiar metal frame, which surrounds a customisable rear cover. My test unit’s back is finished in a material Motorola calls ‘Ballistic Nylon’, which looks and feels a bit like a solid speaker grille. It feels a little cheap, and there are alternatives available, but it’s undeniably grippy.

Motorola Moto X Force review

The camera placement is identical to its siblings too: top and central, and embedded in a lozenge-shaped metallic plate above a fondle-worthy Motorola badge indentation.

Button and port placement is the same as well, with the volume rocker and pleasingly textured power/sleep button located two-thirds of the way up the right-hand edge, and the headphone jack and microUSB port situated on the top and bottom edge of the phone respectively.

At 149.8 x 78 x 9.2mm, the Moto X Force is a little shorter and slimmer than the Moto X Style, although chunky screen bezels make it a little wider. It’s a whole 10 grams lighter than that more fashion-focused handset too, at 169g.

Motorola Moto X Force review

The reason the Force is generally more compact than the other Motos is because its display is the smallest, at 5.4 inches. Despite this, it retains the 5.7-inch Style’s QHD resolution.

Packing 2560 x 1440 pixels into a smaller screen makes for the sharpest display Motorola has ever produced – we’re talking 540ppi here.

Unlike the Style and the Play, which sport LCD displays, Motorola has gone back to using AMOLED panel technology, as it did with some of its 2014 phones.

Generally speaking, AMOLED displays allow for more vibrant colours and deeper blacks. Motorola’s use of AMOLED tends to be a little behind that of rival Samsung though, and while the Moto X Force’s screen doesn’t suffer from the pronounced yellowy-red tint of last year’s Moto X, it still has a slightly warm tone that might be off-putting if you’re used to the chilly whites of Apple’s or Sony’s LCD displays.

Motorola Moto X Force review

In light of this, it’s a shame that Motorola continues to omit the facility to adjust the screen temperature, as Samsung does.

Still, with the brightness cranked up past half way, I found the Moto X Force’s screen to be perfectly pleasant to use. It doesn’t quite have the pop that the very best phones from Samsung and Apple tend to have, though – and that’s because of the Force’s key feature.

We’ll discuss the Moto X Force’s toughened display in more detail in the next section. Suffice to say for now that it utilises multiple layers, and this approach has a slightly adverse effect on picture quality.

It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but Force’s screen lacks that ‘painted-on’ quality of the Galaxy S6, which could almost convince you it was a static sticker rather than a live picture as you pass it in a phone shop display.

Motorola Moto X Force review

Motorola’s implementation of these extra layers is hardly seamless, either. The edge of the outermost layer is visible around the front speaker grilles, rather like one of those cheap after-market screen protectors some people apply to their new phones.

Talking of speaker grilles, Motorola has altered the symmetrical design of previous models, and not for the better. You still get the metal-bar ear speaker at the top of the phone, but for media playback you get a couple of cheap-looking speakers along the bottom of the device. And yes, that means no stereo sound.

Display

Undoubtedly the Motorola Moto X Force’s key feature, and the one that inspires its name, is its formidable strength – more specifically the strength of its display.

Thanks to Motorola’s Moto ShatterShield technology, the Moto X Force is virtually impervious to normal drop damage.

Motorola provides the example of a drop from five feet onto a tiled floor. In our own tests, the techradar team sent the Force X bouncing down a flight of (uncarpeted) stairs, with no resulting damage.

Motorola Moto X Force review

This Moto ShatterShield screen technology is comprised of five distinct layers. At its foundation there’s that rigid aluminium chassis. Then there’s the Moto X Force’s AMOLED display; AMOLED technology is flexible, which obviously means it’s far more resistant to breakage.

Next up is a dual touch layer, followed by an interior lens. This is topped off with an outer ShutterShield lens – essentially a rugged screen protector that can be manually replaced if it becomes worn down the line.

So confident is Motorola that you won’t be able to break the screen under ‘normal’ circumstances that it’s guaranteed for four years.

Still, Motorola is keen to stress that the Moto X Force isn’t a ‘ruggedised’ phone in the mould of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active – you shouldn’t take it rock climbing and expect it to come away unscathed.

Motorola Moto X Force review

But what we have here is arguably more valuable to the vast majority of people. It’s a phone that’s essentially life-proof, stubbornly resistant to the everyday knocks, drops, and spills that most phones experience several times a year.

I found that this granted me a peculiar sense of serenity in day to day use. I tend to treat my own phones, and those I receive for review, with kid gloves, being sure to lay them down carefully on soft surfaces, screen-up and away from edges.

With the Moto X Force I had no such qualms. I didn’t chuck it around, but nor did I give it undue care, because I was confident I couldn’t damage it easily. It felt oddly liberating.

Meanwhile, a water-repellent coating protects against spills of a different nature.

Motorola Moto X Force review

Another standout feature of the Moto X Force is common to the rest of the range, albeit to varying degrees – Motorola’s Moto Maker customisation facility.

Order your Moto X Force directly from Motorola and you can specify a couple of design elements. Don’t like that ‘Ballistic Nylon’ rear cover? You can opt for an alternative ‘Soft Grip’ or ‘Pebbled Leather’ (which includes an engraving option) material instead at no extra charge, and in a selection of colours to boot.

You can also customise the colour of the front section and metal rim, with a choice of white with light silver or black with dark grey. You can even change the ‘accents’ – the colour of the trim around the camera module and the earpiece bar.

Moto Maker isn’t a new feature by any stretch, but it continues to lend a degree of personalisation which no other manufacturer has managed to match – and it’s nice that Motorola hasn’t compromised in this area just because the Moto X Force is supposed to be tough.

Interface and performance

This is a high-end Motorola phone, which means it’s automatically one of nicest phones to use on the market.

In truth, I could have written such positive impressions of the Moto X Force’s interface before I even opened the box, because Motorola is one of precious few manufacturers to consistently offer us a pure Android experience.

Right now that means Android 5.1.1, so it’s not the very latest version, but the interface is still head and shoulders above any non-stock Android effort in my view. The lack of adornment also means that an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow will come to the Moto X Force much faster than to most of its customised rivals.

Starting up the Moto X Force for the first time is deeply refreshing, coming off a string of Android phones with customised UIs as I was. There’s none of the bloatware, the inessential and just plain confusing duplicated apps, or the garish bespoke menu layouts.

Android 5.1.1 is a crisp, fluid, modern OS, and it runs just peachy on the Moto X Force.

Google Now is a rightward swipe away, providing its contextually sensitive and personalised snippets of information in bite-size fashion, while the app drawer pushes recommended (typically frequently used) apps to the top of the pile.

Motorola Moto X Force review

That’s not to say Motorola has had no input with the Moto X Force’s software. As with the Moto X Style and Moto X Play, there are a couple of discrete Motorola apps tucked away in the aforementioned app tray in the shape of Connect and Moto.

Connect can be used if you’ve got a Motorola-branded peripheral to use with your Moto X Force, such as the attractive Moto 360 smartwatch. It’s pretty inessential, and probably won’t be touched by most people.

The Moto app is far more useful. Through it you can set up Motorola’s voice assistant, as well as manage gesture shortcuts and lockscreen notifications.

The voice component is nothing special in these days of Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, but it’s handy that it can work even when the screen is off. I did have some trouble setting it up and getting it to recognise my launch phrase, however, and I hardly have an unusual accent.

Motorola Moto X Force review

Marginally more useful, I found, were Motorola’s gesture commands. Twisting the phone twice reliably jumps to the camera from sleep, while a ‘double karate chop’ will initiate the torch – although it might also enable you to test out that unbreakable screen if you’re not careful.

While these gestures are neat, I still prefer the sureness of the Galaxy S6’s double home key press camera shortcut, or even the iPhone 6S’s control centre shortcut for torch control.

The gesture I liked the best by far, and used multiple times every day, was Moto Display. This is enabled by default, and simply shows you the time and reveals the unlock command when your hand is near the display.

Motorola Moto X Force review

It’s also another way in which the Moto X Force’s AMOLED display technology is put to good use, because it only lights up the necessary pixels for the task. This saves power, and ensures that your whole bedroom isn’t lit up when you check the time in the wee hours of the morning.

It also means the phone is always primed and ready for your swipe-to-unlock motion without you having to fumble for the power key or double-tap the display to wake it.

All of this runs extremely fluidly on the Moto X Force, and that’s not just down to the laudable lack of needless software tinkering on Motorola’s part.

Performance

This is the fastest phone in the 2015 Motorola fleet. Whereas the previous champ, the Moto X Style, ran on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 CPU, the Moto X Force is powered by the more capable Snapdragon 810.

There isn’t loads in it, and the two chips are closely related, but the Snapdragon 810 has two additional cores for low-intensity tasks, and it has the definite edge in performance terms.

Like the Style, the Force features 3GB of RAM, which is pretty much the standard for a high-end Android phone in 2015 (although it should be noted that some have started including 4GB).

Motorola Moto X Force review

Anecdotally, playing complex 3D games like Dead Trigger 2 and Need For Speed: No Limits didn’t hamper the Moto X Force’s performance at all. Admittedly that’s the case with almost any mid-range Android phone these days, but remember that the Force has a QHD display to drive – that’s a lot of pixels to push around.

More scientifically, the Moto X Force scored an impressive 4757 on techradar’s Geekbench 3 multi-core benchmark tests. That’s exactly 1200 more than the Moto X Style with its Snapdragon 808 managed, and is pretty much on a par with the Samsung Galaxy S6 and its impressive custom CPU.

Perhaps that ‘Force’ moniker is more than a reference to the phone’s toughness – it could well be a nod to its impressive power too.

Camera

Motorola has made massive strides with its smartphone cameras of late, and the Moto X Force continues that fine work.

It comes packing the same 21-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front camera that found their way into the Moto X Style.

As I’ve touched on elsewhere, Motorola has attempted to make taking a picture with the Moto X Force as easy and quick as possible, with mixed results.

Motorola Moto X Force review

For example, there’s the dual-twist gesture shortcut for jumping straight to the camera app from sleep. It’s a nice idea, and it’s reliable enough, but it simply doesn’t feel as instinctive or easy as some of its rivals’ button shortcuts.

Motorola also goes with a tap-to-shoot interface for taking pictures, which instantly focuses and takes a snap wherever you touch the screen. This can lead to you capturing moments very quickly, but it doesn’t make for the most consistent results.

I much prefer the standard practice of hitting a virtual shutter button to take the snap, tapping to focus if necessary. It’s simply more considered, and leads to you getting the precise shot you want more often, but there’s no such facility here.

Motorola Moto X Force review

Fortunately, there is an alternative option that I enjoyed using much more than the default, which sees you dragging a focus reticule around the screen and tapping outside it to shoot. This mode also enables you to quickly adjust exposure by adjusting a little sun dial around the focus point.

This alternative shooting mode is accessed through the Moto X Force’s camera app menu, which you access by dragging in from the side of the screen. It’s a pretty limited menu, with none of the fine manual control options of the Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4.

For your average user this won’t matter, of course, but for those who want to take time constructing their shot it might – and given how good the actual camera tech is now, Motorola is going to start attracting such people.

Motorola Moto X Force review

The Moto X Force comes with many of the key features we’ve come to expect from modern high-end smartphone cameras, but it also omits one. It’s got a fast f/2 aperture and Phase Detect Auto-Focus, for example, but it lacks the Style’s optical image stabilisation (OIS).

The latter omission is a shame, but overall the Moto X Force is capable of taking some fine shots. Photos taken in low light do exhibit noise, as is normal with such small cameras, but I was impressed with the general balance of the shots. Colours appeared accurate, and the auto HDR feature worked quietly and efficiently in trickier scenes where there was a big contrast between dark and light.

Like its flashier brother, the Force’s main camera also features a two-tone flash, which Motorola calls a ‘Colour Correlated Temperature’ (CCT) flash. This provides more natural-looking extreme low-light shots, detecting the ambient lighting temperature and outputting the appropriate flash tone.

Motorola Moto X Force review

I can’t say that it completely transformed my indoor shots – I’d still prefer not to use the flash at all – but the snaps I took didn’t exhibit any overly washed out or bizarre tones.

Arguably of more consequence these days is the presence of a flash for the 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Combined with a wide-angle lens, it means your selfies should be better lit and more inclusive than ever.

In general usage, then, the Moto X Force didn’t quite match up to the likes of the iPhone 6S for sheer dependability or ease of use. Nor did I feel it matched the Samsung Galaxy S6 of the LG G4 for fine-tuned shooting control. But it’s still a good camera that can bag you some great shots.

Camera samples

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Motorola Moto X Force review

Click here to see the full-resolution image

Battery life

Motorola has addressed one of the key issues with the Moto X Style by fitting out the Moto X Force with a hefty 3760mAh battery.

That’s a good 25% bigger than the power pack found in the Style. Given that both phones run pixel-packed QHD displays, such a sizeable battery is arguably necessary.

The Moto X Force also benefits from Motorola’s TurboPower charging technology, which means you can get 13 hours of battery life out of a 15-minute charge. It’s a great trick, and one we far prefer to wireless charging.

Motorola Moto X Force review

That’s not to say that the Moto X Force is lacking on that front, either. While Motorola doesn’t exactly shout about the fact, its tough new phone supports Qi wireless charging out of the box, although as usual you’ll need to purchase the necessary charging dock separately.

So how does the Moto X Force battery perform? Very well, as it turns out. I was routinely able to get through a full day of moderate usage – which might involve 15 minutes or so of 3D gaming, a few brief YouTube videos, a couple of calls, several web browsing sessions, and some texting and emailing – with 30% or more to spare.

On lighter-use days, that figure would stretch to 40% or even 50%, thus achieving Motorola’s claim of two-day battery life.

The Moto X Style, by comparison, would be in single digits by the time you climbed into bed at the end of a moderately taxing day.

Battery lifeMotorola has addressed one of the key issues with the Moto X Style by fitting out the Moto X Force with a hefty 3760mAh battery.That's a good 25% bigger than the power pack found in the Style. Given that both phones run pixel-packed QHD displays, such a sizeable battery is arguably necessary.The Moto X Force also benefits from Motorola's TurboPower charging technology, which means you can get 13 hours of battery life out of a 15-minute charge. It's a great trick, and one we far prefer to wireless charging.PIC: Battery 1–3That's not to say that the Moto X Force is lacking on that front, either. While Motorola doesn't exactly shout about the fact, its tough new phone supports Qi wireless charging out of the box, although as usual you'll need to purchase the necessary charging dock separately.So how does the Moto X Force battery perform? Very well, as it turns out. I was routinely able to get through a full day of moderate usage – which might involve 15 minutes or so of 3D gaming, a few brief YouTube videos, a couple of calls, several web browsing sessions, and some texting and emailing – with 30% or more to spare.On lighter-use days, that figure would stretch to 40 or even 50%, thus achieving Motorola's claim of two-day battery life.The Moto X Style, by comparison, would be in single digits by the time you climbed into bed at the end of a moderately taxing day.This improvement is confirmed when running the standard techradar battery test. This involves running a 90-minute 720p looping video with the display brightness cranked right up to max.PIC: NyanAt the end of these runs I found that the Moto X Force had lost just 11% of battery life on average. Compare that to the 30% loss of the Moto X Style in the same test, and you'll see the obvious strides Motorola has taken through the simple inclusion of a bigger battery.Motorola Moto X Force review

This improvement is confirmed when running the standard techradar battery test. This involves running a 90-minute 720p looping video with the display brightness cranked right up to max.

At the end of these runs I found that the Moto X Force had lost just 11% of battery life on average. Compare that to the 30% loss of the Moto X Style in the same test, and you’ll see the obvious strides Motorola has taken through the simple inclusion of a bigger battery.

Even the Moto X Play, with its less demanding 1080p display and only slightly smaller 3630mAh battery, couldn’t quite match the Moto X Force, losing 15% of its power over the same test.

Music, movies and gaming

You can get the Moto X Force with either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, and it also features a microSD card slot for up to 2TB of expanded storage.

As a side note, the microSD slot can be filled with a second micro SIM (the SIM slot and the microSD slot are one and the same), so you can run two mobile numbers from the one phone.

The reason we love our storage, of course, is because of all the lovely media there is to consume out there. And the Moto X Force makes for a very good way to watch movies, play games, and listen to music.

Music

As I mentioned earlier, one of the joys of Motorola’s phones is the lack of extraneous bloat, and that’s evident when considering its media offerings.

There’s just one music app here, and it’s a good one. Google Play Music has turned into a formidable music service, combining a Spotify-like subscription service (if you sign up) with a traditional MPS3 store and a free cloud-based repository and media player for your existing MP3 files.

Motorola Moto X Force review

Whatever the source of your music, the Moto X Force outputs it expertly. You don’t get the dual front-facing speakers of the Moto X Style, but that doesn’t actually have much of an effect on music playback.

After all, who plays their music out loud over their smartphone speakers? Jerks do. And you’re not a jerk, are you?

Hook up a decent set of headphones and the Moto X Force is as good a music player as any other phone.

Movies

Where those sub-optimal speakers aren’t so hot is when it comes to video playback. This is where decent speakers and stereo sound come in handy, so the Moto X Force’s mono setup is a bit of a downer.

Don’t get me wrong – they’re loud and clear enough –but they lack the balance of the Moto X Style with its stereo sound.

Still, stick a set of headphones in and the Moto X Force is as good as the Style for watching movies, and possibly better. Its display isn’t quite as large, but 5.4 inches is still plenty big enough for a decent experience.

Motorola Moto X Force review

The Force’s QHD resolution ensures that HD and 2K content looks fabulous, while its AMOLED screen ensures that blacks are deep, and that colours pop.

It could be argued that Motorola’s bare bones approach to Android leads it into trouble here, as there’s no dedicated video player. So if you transfer a bunch of videos you own to the Moto X Force’s storage you’ll have to access them through the Gallery app, which has a Video section tucked away in its menu.

It’s far from a glaring issue, but it’s also far from ideal.

Gaming

Where the Moto X Force really excels on the media front is when it comes to gaming. Put simply, it’s the best gaming phone Motorola makes.

Speakers aside, it has the ideal hardware to make games sing. There’s that powerful Snapdragon 810 CPU, which as we’ve discussed, runs advanced 3D games beautifully.

Motorola Moto X Force review

It also has that QHD AMOLED display. Colourful, sharp games of both 2D and 3D varieties like Horizon Chase, Beneath The Lighthouse and Monument Valley look stunning here.

That curiously sized 5.4-inch display seems nicely balanced for games too – plenty big enough to take in all the detail while remaining wieldy when stretching for virtual controls.

Competition

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active

Galaxy S6 Active

As noted, the Moto X Force isn’t a rugged smartphone. Still, its closest mainstream competitor with a similar mixture of high-end performance and physical robustness is the decidedly rugged Samsung Galaxy S6 Active.

The Samsung is at another level of toughness, though, with a reinforced plastic shell that has reportedly passed ‘military specification testing’.

But you pay a price for that ruggedness. The Galaxy S6 Active is ugly and bulky, and simply isn’t the everyday pleasure to use that the Moto X Force is.

LG G Flex 2

LG G Flex 2

Another high-end phone that’s tougher than it looks is the LG G Flex 2. Among this banana-shaped smartphone’s quirks is a self-healing skin that covers over nicks and scrapes.

The Flex 2’s flexible nature also makes it more resistant to drops than most phones.

However, its screen isn’t as downright unbreakable as the Moto X Force’s, and its display isn’t as pixel-packed. You also have to put up with LG’s overbearing UI, which is the polar opposite of what’s on offer with the Motorola.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium

Sony pays more attention than most to the robustness of its smartphones, but in a different way to the Moto X Force. The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium sports a waterproof and dust-tight design, earning it an impressive IP68 rating.

While you’d back the Sony over the Motorola if dropped into a pool, however, the Force would stand up way better away from the wet stuff – while Sony has reinforced the corners, it continues to go with a brittle dual-sided glass design.

The Sony out-specs the Moto X Force in a couple of ways though, with a full 4K display and a fingerprint sensor. However, that display is also the phone’s Achilles heel, routinely bringing the phone’s battery to its knees within a day.

Verdict

The Motorola Moto X Force is a true original, offering top-level specs and a fluid stock Android OS in an uncommonly tough body.

If you want a flagship phone that can stand up to the knocks and scrapes of everyday life without compromising too much on looks or performance, it’s a very strong choice.

We liked

We have to hand it to Motorola: its Moto X Force appears to be as tough a nut to crack as advertised. This is a phone that will resist pretty much all of those clumsy instances that lead to cracked screens.

Despite this, the Moto X Force is a reasonably attractive, easy to live with phone with strong performance and a fluid stock Android UI.

Just as the Moto X Force’s display can stand up to day to day life without flinching, so its battery will see you through better than many of its rivals. This phone has stamina in more than one way.

We disliked

The Moto X Force’s top-of-the range specs and unusually tough display come at a price – it’s the most expensive phone in the range.

Considering this, it can be tough to overlook the aesthetic compromises that have been made, such as the visible outer screen layer and the somewhat functional mono speaker.

Meanwhile Motorola’s use of AMOLED display technology, while decent, isn’t up to the standard of top rival Samsung’s best efforts.

Final verdict

The Motorola Moto X Force is a quietly impressive smartphone that handles its high-end business with restrained aplomb, before knocking you out with a single killer hook.

It’s a true flagship phone, but you won’t feel obliged to wrap it up in cotton wool (or a protective case) despite its considerable price tag. Motorola’s shatter-proof display is a truly impressive achievement, and one that seems to provide a viable solution to a long-standing smartphone problem.

This isn’t the prettiest flagship smartphone on the market, nor is it the nicest to use; but it’s fast, long lasting, and it even takes good pictures.

And the best thing is, you know that none of that is going to change when you accidentally drop it.

Related