The Moto Z Force is Lenovo's brand new, top-of-the-line smartphone. Currently exclusive to the Verizon network in the US as the Moto Z Force Droid Edition, we expect an international launch of the device in the near future. 

The device packs a 21MP image sensor with a 1.12 ┬Ám pixel size, an F1.8 aperture, on-sensor phase detection, laser-assisted AF and an optical image stabilization system into its camera module. The camera app offers full manual control and the Moto Z Force can save DNG Raw files with third party apps, such as Manual Camera.

The metal and glass body is just under 7mm thin and comes with a shatterproof 5.5" Quad-HD AMOLED display and a beefy 3,500 mAh battery. The Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow OS is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset and 4GB of RAM. Mobile photographers will also appreciate the microSD-slot for easy storage expansion. 

In addition, Moto Z Force users can select from several Moto Mods accessory modules which connect to the back of the device magnetically and via 16 connection points. So far there are the InstaShare projector, a JBL Soundboost 6 Watt speaker and a 2220 mAh battery pack. The Moto team has promised more Moto Mods for the future and according to rumors, one of them could be a camera grip. For now we'll have to make do without the latter, but that hasn't stopped us from shooting with the brand new Moto device. Read on for our first impressions. 


Image Quality

In bright light conditions the Moto's 21MP sensor resolves a good deal of detail. Under close inspection some smearing of fine detail and textures is noticeable, but on the other hand luminance noise is very well controlled. During our brief testing, exposure was reliable but in very bright scenes, such as the one below, the image processing's strong contrast can results in some clipped highlights. That said, overall the Moto Z Force does well in these conditions.

 ISO 50, 1/760 sec

Color tends to be quite saturated, but neutral and without any notable casts. This includes bright red tones which many smartphone cameras struggle with, especially under strong illumination.

 ISO 50, 1/452 sec

At higher ISOs the camera finds a good compromise between noise reduction and detail retention. The ISO 320 shot below was captured in a fairly well-lit interior space and shows very good edge detail. 

 ISO 320, 1/33 sec

The ISO 500 shot below shows some more luminance noise in the mid-tone areas of the frame but the noise pattern has a fairly fine grain and is not too intrusive. Chroma noise is well under control and the image still shows a very good amount of fine textures and detail.

 ISO 500, 1/25 sec

The Moto Z Force maintains good exposure and color down to very low light levels. The challenging lighting conditions in the shot below lead to some channel clipping in the illuminated stage area, but overall the scene is captured very nicely. The slow shutter speed of 1/10sec results in some blur on moving subjects but the optical image stabilization does a very good job at counteracting camera shake. 

 ISO 1250, 1/10 sec

Special modes

The Moto Z Force comes with Motorola's usual HDR mode which does an efficient job of protecting the highlights in high-contrast scenes, such as the one below. Using the standard auto exposure mode, some clipping occurs on the light colored elements in the frame. Using HDR mode, image clipping is noticeably reduced. Shadows are lifted very slightly but overall the image still looks pleasantly natural.

 ISO 50, 1/1468 sec, standard exposure
 HDR exposure

Night mode is not a new feature for Moto devices but the latest incarnation works in a slightly different way than before. In low light scenes the camera automatically triggers multi-frame capture which produces clean images but struggles with moving subjects, which often show pronounced motion blur. On the new device, night mode now saves a standard exposure in addition to the night mode image, allowing the user to pick the version which best suits their purposes.

The sample images below both report ISO 1000 and a shutter speed of 1/10sec in the EXIF data. However, as you can see at close-up view they look very different. The multi-frame night mode image on the left is cleaner but shows motion blur, even on slow-moving subjects. The accompanying standard exposure shows better edge definition on moving subjects but noticeably higher levels of luminance noise. 

Night mode Standard exposure
100% crop 100% crop

In video mode the Moto Z Force is capable of recording both 1080p Full HD and 4K footage. The combination of digital and optical stabilization keeps things steady and allows for smooth panning. The 1080p video below shows similar tonal characteristics to the still images and decent detail but very occasionally we found the lens refocusing for no obvious reason.

The 4K video mode offers noticeably better detail for those who need it. It also allows users to grab 8MP video stills for those occasions when the full 21MP still resolution is not needed.

First impressions 

With its solid build, large high-resolution screen and metal frame the Moto Z Force looks and feels like a premium device. The Snapdragon 820 chipset under the hood ensures the performance of the Android operating system matches the device's high-end exterior and the 3,500 mAh battery lets you shoot, edit and share images for a long time away from a power outlet.

The camera module's 21MP captures a good level of detail and offers plenty of scope for cropping. There are the usual signs of smearing of fine textures at base ISO, but in low light the camera finds a good balance between noise reduction and detail retention. In addition, night mode lets you pick between a clean multi-frame image that works best for static scenes, and a standard exposure that shows more noise but is capable of freezing at least some motion. 

Colors are mostly quite saturated and contrast is strong which can lead to some highlight-clipping in high-contrast scenes. However, HDR mode does a very efficient job of protecting highlight detail, and in addition the Moto Z Force allows for the capture of DNG Raw files with third party camera apps, such as Manual Camera. This allows you to apply your very own mix of contrast, saturation, noise reduction and other image parameters in post processing. Add the camera app's full manual control into the mix, plus the potential of a camera-grip add-on module in the nearer future, and the Moto Z Force is one of the year's most interesting mobile photography products thus far.