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Motorola Moto X Force review: A smashing smartphone

Alphr logo Alphr 26-11-2015 Jonathan Bray

Motorola has a habit of doing this. Occasionally it comes up with a product everyone’s been gagging for, yet no other manufacturer has yet thought to produce. The last time it happened, the result was the Motorola Razr Maxx with its enormous battery. This time, it’s the Motorola Moto X Force.

What makes this phone so different? It’s sheer toughness, that’s what. The Motorola Moto X Force is so rugged, so resistant to drops and screen breakage that a Motorola representative was perfectly happy for me to throw the phone at the floor, stamp on it and smash as hard as I liked on the corner of the meeting-room table when he came in to demonstrate the phone to me.

And it isn’t just individual Motorola reps. Motorola is so confident in its new ShatterShield technology - which it says took three years to develop - it’s guaranteeing the screen for an unprecedented four years against all kinds of accidental breakage. Whether you crack the display by simply dropping it on the pavement from your pocket, or throw it inadvertently in the path of a rampaging elephant, Motorola is confident it will survive - assuming the underlying electronics are still functioning, of course. Read the small print and you’ll discover that the phone isn’t “shock resistant”.

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This is a BIG deal, because no matter who you are, how careful you are with your phone, whether you strap a case to the rear or not, you’ve likely broken or smashed it at one time or another. It’s a painful experience - all the more so if you don’t have some kind of insurance to cover you. It’s also nice to know that the Moto X Force is splashproof, and won’t necessarily go to its watery grave if you drop it in the toilet.

It might well pong for a bit afterwards, though. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Motorola Moto X Force review: Design and practicalities

And here’s another big surprise: the Motorola Moto X Force isn’t ugly. There’s no lumpen protective chassis or bright yellow, building-site colour scheme. If someone handed you a Motorola X Force to you in the shop, or a mate showed it off to you in the pub, you wouldn’t think it was any different from most other smartphones.

My review sample (kindly supplied by the lovely people at Mobile Fun), was clad in smart black “ballistic nylon” at the rear and surrounded by a gunmetal-grey aluminium frame. It isn’t the thinnest smartphone you’ll have ever come across (10.1mm), nor the lightest (it weighs 169g), but it looks smart and feels extremely well made.

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If black isn’t your thing, you can customise the look of the phone via the Moto Maker website, where you’ll find five different colour nylon backs to choose from, six “soft grip” rear panels and three different types of “pebbled” leather panel (dark brown, light brown and black), as well as engraving and several choices for various “accent” colours (the speaker grille on the front and the edging around the camera, flash and Motorola dimple on the rear).

In practical terms, there’s plenty else good about the X Force - it’s not all about ruggedness. It has a microSD card expansion slot to complement an already-generous 32GB or 64GB of onboard storage, and although the battery is sealed in and not user-replaceable, its capacity is a cavernous 3,760mAh.

Motorola Moto X Force review: Display

With so many protective layers covering the Moto X Force’s 5.4in 1,440 x 2,560 AMOLED LCD panel, there’s a very real danger that quality will suffer. The ShatterShield stack is five layers thick, and the last layer is a super-tough, plastic screen protector. That’s a LOT of material for the light to pass through, and it has an impact.

At some angles - outdoors in bright sunshine, for example - the screen appears slightly washed out and lacking in contrast, and readability isn’t helped by a limited maximum brightness of only 337cd/m2. That’s a good deal lower than the Apple’s IPS-based displays and Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels.

I’m not convinced the plastic topping will stay as spotless in the long term as a Gorilla Glass-fronted display, either. Sure, it may not crack, but the softer plastic surface was already beginning to pick up minor scuffs after a week, and that will affect its ability to shrug off grease and grime in the long term. Motorola tells me the front layer is easy and cheap to replace in-store, though, so at least if it gets really bad, there is a simple way to fix it.

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Finally, this isn’t the most colour accurate display, with most colours - particular mid-red tones - considerably off beam. The result is a punchy, brightly colourful display, but one that that looks a touch over the top.

Motorola Moto X Force review: Performance and battery life

If the screen offers a middling performance, the X Force’s all-round performance is anything but. Inside, is a Snapdragon 810, backed by 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 430 graphics chip.

In terms of raw speed this lineup can’t match the Apple iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus for raw speed, but it’s the equal of pretty much every other flagship device on the market right now, including the Samsung Galaxy S6. That won’t change until we begin to see new smartphones emerge based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chip in 2016.

Sure, it gets a little toasty if you spend 20 minutes or more playing Riptide GP2 at full detail settings, but the chassis has been designed that the heat isn’t concentrated in one place, and the nylon back helps insulate your fingers from the worst of it.

Motorola Moto X Force

Samsung Galaxy S6

Apple iPhone 6s

Geekbench 3, single-core

1,248

1,427

2,532

Geekbench 3, multi-core

4,102

4,501

4,417

GFXBench 3, Manhattan onscreen

16fps

15fps

55fps

GFXBench 3, Manhattan offscreen

25fps

23fps

40fps

More impressive than this, though, is battery life. Despite the high-power processor, the enormous 3,740mAh battery squeezed inside the Force delivers seriously impressive stamina. Even with comparatively heavy use - a bit of gaming on the way to and from work, plenty of camera testing, and my usual load of web browsing and messaging - the Force would always get me through a day of use and some way into the second.

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In the world of the modern smartphone, silly as it seems, that’s good going. Moreover, in testing, the Moto X Force put in a stellar performance, lasting a stunning 15hrs 12mins in our video rundown test. That places it only a hair’s breadth behind one of the longest stayers I’ve ever come across - the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 - and significantly ahead of my current favourite, the Nexus 6P, although the 6P remains excellent under heavy load.

It’s also lightning-quick to charge up. Using the Turbo Charger supplied in the box, I saw the phone hit 80% in a mere 50 minutes, 90% in an hour and 100% in 1hr 33mins, and when you leave the phone in standby overnight, it barely loses any juice at all. Typically, I was seeing a drop of below 5%.

Motorola Moto X Force

Google Nexus 6P

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Battery test result

15hrs 12mins

11hrs 58mins

15hrs 36mins

Moto X Force review: Camera

As for the camera, the Motorola X Force is equipped with identical hardware to the Moto X Style, although Motorola says that the processing has been tweaked a little here. This produces 21-megapixel images from optics that have an f/2.0 aperture and phase detect autofocus, but disappointingly no optical image stabilisation (OIS). On the front, there’s a 5-megapixel camera equipped with its own, single-LED flash.

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In short, the camera is capable of producing good quality snaps, but it’s one step behind the camera on the Nexus 6P, iPhone 6s, Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Sony Xperia Z5. The main problem for it is the lack of OIS, which leads to more shaky shots than I’d like to see. I’m also not keen on the amount of noise reduction applied to low-light shots. This lends photographs a rather soft, smeary look.

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Otherwise, video quality (you can shoot at resolutions up to 4K) is good, with especially effective digital image stabilisation and smooth exposure transitions when you pan from light to dark areas.

The camera app is simple, yet effective, and although there’s no manual mode, there are some nice touches. I’m a particular fan of the draggable exposure reticule, which allows quick and easy brightness adjustments, and Motorola’s camera launch gesture. The latter lets to fire up the camera with a double twist of the wrist, even when the Moto X Force is in standby.

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Motorola Moto X Force review: Software

The other thing that I’ve long liked about Motorola handsets is the company’s insistence on running all-but pure Android on its handsets. The Moto X Force is no different in this respect. Here, you get Android 5.1.1, with an upgrade to Marshmallow promised soon, and it’s embellished with the usual Motorola accoutrements.

I’ve already mentioned the seriously useful camera launch gesture, but there are other nice extras here as well. You can set up  a double “karate” chop gesture to activate the phone’s torch mode. Attentive display keeps the screen on while you’re looking at it. Moto Voice adds extensive voice control to the phone. Motorola Assist lets you set up automated, context-sensitive actions (such as putting the phone into do not disturb mode overnight at home. Finally, there’s the old staple, Moto display, which shows you recent notifications on your standby screen when you wave your hand over the screen.

Aside from these features - accessed via the preloaded Moto app - Motorola foists only one proprietary app upon its customers: its Gallery app, chief among whose talents is the creation of video-based highlight reels. It’s okay, but surplus to requirements. I think I’ll stick with Google Photos.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Motorola Moto X Force review: Verdict

The one gaping hole in the Motorola Moto X Force’s long list of features is a fingerprint reader. After using a series of reader-enabled handsets over the last few months, I’m firmly of the opinion that, when implemented well, this is a technology well worth having on your smartphone, and the lack of one here is a black mark against the Moto X Force.

Added to the middling display quality and slightly off-the-pace camera, and it’s clear you’re not getting the best of the best here. It’s quite an expensive phone as well, at £100 more than the Motorola X Style and £60 pricier than the superlative Nexus 6P.

Still, Motorola’s newest smartphone does get an awful lot right, not least the fact that it’s as tough as the proverbial old boot, and has great battery life as well. For serial phone smashers around the globe, it will be an absolute revelation.


Motorola Moto X Force review: A smashing smartphone© Alphr Motorola Moto X Force review: A smashing smartphone

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