Motorola Moto X Force Review

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Up until 2014, Motorola had a maximum of 3 or 4 devices on their portfolio at any given point of time. Last year, Moto basically expanded their lineup by introducing not one, but two smartphones in the X lineup. The X Style and X Play were touted as being affordable flagships. While they did offer quite a good package and performance at a relatively low price point, they still did cut corners here and there. Early on in March 2015, Moto introduced the Moto Turbo in India which was a proper flagship by most rights. The only issue was that the smartphone was released in international markets by end of 2014 and as a result, most of the specifications seemed outdated by the time it hit our shores. In 2016, we get the update to the Moto Turbo in the form of the Moto X Force which was announced late last year as well but made its way to Indian territory much sooner. It also seems to hold its own weight against the newer flagships from LG and Samsung. So let’s dive into the review to take a look at how well it performs.

Unboxing

We have already done the unboxing of the Moto X Force. Check out the video below.

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  • Motorola Moto X Force smartphone with 64GB storage in Black color with Ballistic Nylon finish
  • 2-pin Motorola Turbo charger (9V / 1.67A or 12V / 1.2A (15W))
  • Headset with microphone
  • SIM ejector tool
  • Quick start guide and other booklets

Design, Materials and Build Quality

Motorola have been slowly updating and refining its smartphone designs over the past few years but one look at the Moto X Force and most people would still be able to recognize that it is indeed a Moto phone. Especially if you look at the back, the silver coloured strip at the back is something that you would see on most Moto phones. The Moto X Force is definitely the flagship product in the Moto lineup at the moment. However, it has the smallest screen amongst Moto X phones at 5.4″. The Moto X Play and X Style have 5.5″ and 5.7″ screens respectively. However, even with the smaller screen, the X Force has quite a large footprint. It has a wider stance which reminds us of the Nexus 6 days. The phone measures 78mm in terms of width which is more than the 76.2mm width of the Moto X Style that packs a 0.2″ larger screen as well. In terms of height too, the X Force sits in between the X Style and X Play. The only saving grace in terms of dimensions is the thickness which is the least of the three at 9.2mm but is still thick for modern day standards.

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The phone has curved edges at the back and that does help the handling to a certain extent but the width of the phone does take some getting used to. We are glad that Motorola decided to restrict the screen size to 5.4 inches as any bigger screen would’ve made it very difficult to handle. The weight of the smartphone is very well distributed and it is indeed light for a phablet at 169 grams and one that packs a big battery under the hood. The ballistic nylon at the back provides good grip and also is perfect for those who have sweaty hands or who hate fingerprints. The nylon pattern too is more intricate on the X Force compared to the Droid Turbo which had larger weaves and as a result, dirt did get accumulated in between now and then.

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The front is largely dominated by the display but you have the earpiece, front facing 5 MP camera with LED flash as well as the usual set of ambient light and proximity sensors above the display. Below the display, you have two grilles. The one on the right is the loudspeaker while the one on the left is for the primary microphone.

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At the right side, you have the volume rocker button and power key. These keys are slightly depressed into a groove in the bezel but are quite easy to locate and use. The feedback from them is quite good too and the power key has a groove that helps to identify it even without looking. At the top, you have the 3.5mm audio jack and Hybrid DualSIM slot while at the bottom, you have the microUSB port.

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The metal bezels at the sides extend all the way to the back as well and we are glad that the bezel at the back has decreased in terms of thickness compared to the X Play which looked a bit ugly due to the thick bezels at the back. You have the silver coloured oval island which houses the primary 21 MP camera, dual-tone LED flash as well as the Motorola dimple which can be used to rest your index finger and support the phone. No fingerprint magic here even though the dimple may look like one. The secondary microphone is located at the top of the oval and the third microphone is located at the back as well closer to the bottom of the phone.

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The phone is available in the Ballistic Nylon finish in Black and Grey. There will be a White variant as well which comes with a soft touch finish with a textured back but we personally prefer the Nylon finish as it is more unique and less prone to fingerprints as well as colour bleeding. The white variant could easily get stains from jeans and other materials which becomes a pain to clean often. The back panel is non-removable and neither is the battery.

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Display

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The display on the Moto X Force is a 5.4″ AMOLED display with a resolution of 1440p. The screen is quite good in terms of the contrast ratio and brightness but the screen size is a bit weird since it’s 5.4″. It doesn’t really affect the real life performance but seems weird at least on paper. The blacks are true blacks as you would expect from an AMOLED display and the sharpness is great too thanks to the high pixel density of 540 ppi. The viewing angles are quite good too but the screen is a real fingerprint magnet. It is also quite prone to dirt and that affects the look of the smartphone. Sunlight legibility is decent but the screen is quite reflective and ditr gets easily stuck onto the screen which makes it look quite ugly. We found that we needed a wet cloth to wipe it clean every now and then.

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The smartphone doesn’t have any LEDs for notifications but it does come with a Moto Display feature that senses when you hover your hand over the display and gives you the time and notifications. The phone can also be set to display only certain notifications and can block certain apps from showing up. You can also set the phone to not use the display feature for a specific period for example when you are sleeping. What is missing is the ability to control the colour saturation or white balance of the display.

Ruggedness

The Moto X Force may look like your typical Moto smartphone but it comes with added ruggedness. For starters, you get a water repellent coating that makes sure the phone can take the occasional accidental dip in water or use in light rain without rendering the phone useless. It isn’t waterproof but at least, you know that the phone won’t have to be written off in case it comes in contact with water.

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However, the main USP of the Moto X Force is its “shatterproof” display. Moto claims that the display won’t get shattered in most instances where your regular smartphone display would’ve caved in. The Moto X Force comes with a 4 year shatterproof guarantee against shattering and cracks as well. In our experience, the phone is definitely rugged and we did our own drop tests too on different surfaces which the phone was able to withstand. The side bezels of the smartphone too are raised higher than the display which means that the bezels take the force of the impact if it falls flat on its face as well. While the display is quite rugged, there are still chances of breaking it depending on the height and nature of fall and impact. However, in most cases, the phone’s display will live to tell the tale. The other parts of the phone are quite durable too but not as much as the screen. We’ve a few scuff marks at the bottom and corners of the phone as a result but nothing that affects the functionality of the phone and nothing that really stands out. While the display is quite resistant to cracks and breaks, it is quite prone to scratches. As a result, we would definitely recommend keeping the protector that comes with the phone or installing a 3rd party one of your choice.

Software and UI

The Moto X Force released with Android Lollipop 5.1.1 out of the box. Since then, the smartphone has been updated to Android Marshmallow 6.0 and the update was released quite fast as with the case of most Moto smartphones. The UI is pretty much like Vanilla Android with few customization and that is the main reason for the fast and frequent updates. The entire UI is quite fluid and does show any signs of lag.

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At the time of writing the review, the latest version available for the smartphone has Android Security Patch from 1st December 2015. Since the phone is running on Marshmallow, users get access to app permissions, the new memory and storage monitoring apps and file manager as well as the improved battery life thanks to Doze functionality. Overall, the user experience has been improved and is a lot better than what it was on Lollipop.

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Ever since Marshmallow came along, all the Moto specific features have been relocated exclusively to within the Moto app. You can control the Moto Display, Moto Actions and Moto Voice from there. Moto Actions in particular is something that is really useful and allows you to access phone features on the fly. A double karate chop will toggle the torch and a quick twist of your wrist twice allows to launch the camera quickly.

Calls and Messaging

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Call quality is pretty good on the Moto X Force for both the person making the call as well as the party at the other end receiving the call. Your voice is relayed to the other party clearly thanks to the secondary noise cancelling microphone. It is also loud enough for most environments as well. The loudspeaker too is pretty loud and clear even if you are in a noisy surrounding. The Dialer has large keys that make it easy to dial the number or search for contacts. When using dualSIMs, you also have a quick access option to use either sim to make the call or send messages.

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Speaking of messages, texting on the large screen is a breeze especially coupled with Google keyboard. We are a fan of the Google Keyboard layout but the lack of emojis might be a bummer for a few users. For such users, there are tons of 3rd party options that are available for download through the Play Store.

Storage, Connectivity and Performance

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The Moto X Force comes in both 32GB and 64GB capacities. We tested the 64GB variant which comes with 53.18GB of free space out of the box. The phone supports 4G LTE and comes with a Hybrid DualSIM slot which is a step backward since the Moto X Play and Moto X Style came with innovative DualSIM slots that also housed a dedicated microSD slot on the other side. Being a higher end device, you would expect the same sort of card slot on the X Force as well but you have to make a choice between microSD or a SIM. The phone can take either two nanoSIMs or a nanoSIM and microSD card. MicroSD cards upto 200GB in capacity are supported by the smartphone.

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The smartphone is powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor with Adreno 430 GPU and 3GB of RAM. The processor is fine for the timeline of launch but the RAM does seem to be sub-par on paper at least compared to other flagship smartphones. 4GB of RAM would’ve definitely been appreciated but luckily the smartphone does well in real life performance. Doesn’t really hang up or lag as such. In terms of benchmarks, the smartphone is usually near the top and in some instances, manages to beat out other Snapdragon 810 powered devices such as the OnePlus 2 or even the powerful Galaxy Note5. For the full list of benchmarks, visit this link.

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Moto X Force 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited

Music Player and Audio Quality

The stock music player on the smartphone is Google Play Music. Nothing much to speak about the UI since it is the same as on any other phone. You get to access content both online as well as offline. Tracks can be grouped in several different ways. You have quick controls of the track being played while you are browsing the library. In the now playing screen, you have the track information, album art as well as track controls such as seek/skip and play/pause. The equalizer works for both the speaker output as well as output using headphones or earphones. In general, the output is a bit heavy but that can be reduced in the settings. There is no FM radio feature or app on the Moto X Force so users will have to make do with 3rd party digital or internet radios.

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Although it seems like there are two front facing speaker, the smartphone only has one speaker which is housed under the right grille below the display up front. The left grille is where the primary microphone is house and the grille is more of a stylistic element to provide balance to the design. The speaker is quite loud and offers good quality. It isn’t the loudest we’ve seen on a smartphone but is pretty good nonetheless. A set of stereo speakers would’ve definitely gone a long way in improving the acoustic experience. Since the speaker is located at the front, you no longer have to worry about the audio getting muffled when you place the phone on a surface. It also is quite good for entertainment since the audio is directed towards the user. The sound quality through earphones are also quite good and comes with more than sufficient volume. The dynamic range is good and the crosstalk is minimal but there is a bit of noise if you bump up the volume to the max. However, in most instances, you wouldn’t need to and you would be damaging your ears if you listen to it at such high volumes for a long period.

Camera

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In terms of Megapixels, the Moto X Force matches the Moto X Style and Moto X Play with 21 of them along with an f2.0 lens. However, the pixel size is now much bigger at 1.4 microns compared to the 1.1 micro pixel size of the older two. This does help to improve the low light performance a bit. Bad low light performance and noise was one thing that plagued the X Style and X Play. While the X Force doesn’t perform miracles, it is a much better shooter in low light while still retaining the positive aspects of the camera during daylight as well. Images offer plenty of detail thanks to the 21 Megapixel resolution. The dynamic range is pretty good too. What is really good though is the autofocus and shutter speeds which were really fast. Couple that with the ability to launch the camera app simply by twisting your wrist twice regardless of whether the phone is awake or in sleep means you can capture quick shots without missing the moment. The phone also vibrates when the camera is launched using this method to make sure that the user is aware that the camera is being turned on. The depth of field is also really shallow and you can get nice bokeh in the background when you focus on an object really close. The camera can capture 21 Megapixel images in 4:3 ratio and 16.1 Megapixel images in 16:9 ratio. Click any of the images below to view the full resolution samples.

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The photos on the left are with HDR turned on and the ones on the right are the regular photos.

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If things get too dark, you could try out the night mode as well that improves the quality a bit by applying a luminance mask over it, but there is a reduction in sharpness. So we would suggest not applying the night mode unless you absolutely need to do so. You could also resort to using the dual-tone LED flash which is pretty powerful and does a decent job with objects and people.

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The front 5 Megapixel camera too is quite good especially in well-lit conditions where it has good detailing, sharpness and colours. At night, the noise does creep in, but the photos are still pretty good and should be more than enough for your social media channels and in case it is too dark, there is a front LED flash that can brighten up the frame.

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Video quality is perhaps the best thing about the Moto X Force. There is no OIS but there is a really brilliant software stabilizer that does wonders. It’s similar to what the Moto X play and X Style offered but does an even better job. The FoV (Field of View) becomes narrower as a result since the phone crops in to compensate for any shakes or movements but you get a video that seems butter smooth and as stable as it it was shot with a gimball. And what’s more, you can have the same stabilization at 4K resolution which most smartphones with OIS don’t support. The detailing and exposure are top notch as well.

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The camera app has a very simple UI that relies a lot on gestures. It autofocuses itself and has a circular meter that you can use to adjust the exposure as well as the focus. Touching the screen takes the photo and there are shortcuts for video recording and camera switching. In portrait or landscape mode, swiping from the left edge of the screen to the right brings the options out where you can adjust the resolution for photos and videos, enable/disable HDR, flash, night mode, touch to capture etc. HDR mode comes in auto, on or off settings and users can also enable/disable geo-tagging. Swiping from the right to the left opens up the gallery. Swiping up or down on the viewfinder zooms in and out of the frame. The camera interface is nice and simple to use but we would’ve liked to have more manual control to get the best out of the camera but that is something a 3rd party app can easily allow.

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Battery Life

The Moto X Style had a larger display which also had a higher pixel density. However, the battery life was pretty poor since it had a smaller 3000 mAH battery than the X Play which had a smaller less denser display but a higher battery capacity of 3630 mAH. Luckily, the Moto X Force has a large battery capacity of 3760 mAH and that provides good battery life as well. For most users, the smartphone will be able to get them through the day with moderate to heavy use. The smartphone got a one charge rating of 14 hours and 22 minutes in our battery tests. For the full fledged results, visit this link.

Motorola Moto X Force FA One Charge Rating

When the smartphone does run out of juice, you could either charge it wirelessly or use the conventional wired method. It supports Qi and PMA wireless chargers. However, if you are in a hurry, you might want to use the bundled Turbo charger to make use of the fast charging feature of the phone. The charger supports 12V at 1.2A or 9V at 1.67A.

Conclusion

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The Moto X Force is quite a unique smartphone. Not many smartphones in the market offer the kind of ruggedness and durability that it does while offer high end features as well. However, it lacks a certain level of refinement or finish that most of the smartphones in this price range have. While you could argue that it is a by product of the ruggedness, many people may actually think of going for something more elegant. yes, the display is quite well protected and having a 4 year guarantee is great. However, a case could solve protection for you in most cases and most smartphone users have a 2 year product cycle with their phones if not less. At Rs 49,999 for the 32GB and Rs 53,999 for the 64GB, the Moto X Force is quite costly for what it offers apart from the shatterproof screen. I would rather have a smartphone such as the Note5 for a cheaper price and get a better experience overall. The Note5 will give you a larger and better display, a stylus, a better camera, 4GB of RAM and a fingerprint sensor among many other things. If you are a relatively careful person then the shatterproof display doesn’t really make sense. However, if your job or activities involve a lot of physical labour and stressful environments where your phone could take a beating, then perhaps you could consider it. Otherwise, I don’t see why I would recommend this over the flagship offerings from other brands.

Pros

  • Durable Design
  • Shatterproof Display
  • Ballistic Nylon Back Provides Good Grip and isn’t Fingerprint Prone
  • Good Audio Quality
  • Good Battery Life and Turbo Charging as well as Wireless Charging
  • Processor is a Bit Dates (For a 2016 Smartphone)
  • Brilliant Video Quality

Cons

  • No fingerprint sensor
  • Screen is prone to scratches
  • Only 3GB of RAM
  • No Dedicated microSD Card Slot (Since the X Style and X Play Had It)

Author: Sandeep Sarma

Sandeep Sarma is a blogger and a freelance photographer. Apart from gadgets and phones, he also has a passion for movies and cars. He currently uses the S7 Edge as his main phone. Catch him on twitter at @sandeep9sarma