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3
Aug

Moto 360 Camera review


Motorola is the latest company to jump on the 360-degree camera train, but the Moto 360 Camera is distinct from competing products such as Samsung’s Gear 360, the Giroptic IO, and the Insta360 Air. It’s neither a separate product, nor does it take up your phone’s charging port. The Moto 360 Camera is a Moto Mod, which means it magnetically snaps onto the back of a compatible Moto Z smartphone, and you’re good to go.

What are those compatible Moto Z phones? It’s a small selection, but it includes the Moto Z, Moto Z Force, Moto Z Play, Moto Z2 Play, and the new Moto Z2 Force. Motorola told Digital Trends the 360 camera will work on the Moto Z2 Force out of the box, but you will be required to install a software update if you want it to play nice with older Moto Z devices, “following in-market availability.”

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The 360 camera mod is thin, but when attached to the Moto Z2 Force, it does add some weight and bulkiness. The camera sticks out at the top, and there’s a cover that comes in the box so you can protect it when stowed away. When it was all connected together, it surprisingly still fit in our pocket.

Since it’s powered by the phone, the mod does not need to be charged. There is a button on it, though, specifically where the dimple of the Motorola logo sits. Tap it, and you can take a photograph while holding it in one hand. What’s neat is it still works as a shutter button if you swap to the phone’s camera, instead of the 360 camera.

You can upload 360-degree videos to YouTube, and 360-degree photos and videos to Facebook.

So what’s the experience like? We’ve been trying it out on the Moto Z2 Force, and we’re pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to use. Slap it onto the back of a Moto Z, and it connects magnetically via 16 pogo pins. When launching the camera, it will immediately identify the 360 camera and begin using it.

There are three modes you can use: Photo, Ultra-wide Angle, and Professional Mode. Photo is essentially like using your phone’s default camera mode — all the settings are automatic, and all you need to do is tap the shutter icon. Ultra-wide angle captures a 180-degree photo with just one of the two cameras; and Professional Mode lets you take a 360-degree photo while adjusting settings like the ISO, white balance, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. A timer lets you set off the shutter at 3 seconds or 10 seconds, which can be handy if you’re going to use a tripod.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There are also three different viewing modes. You can see the 360-view as a circle, and also pinch out to zoom in so you can fill up the screen. There’s another viewing mode that shows you what each camera is outputting in two different panes, as well as one that shows the full 360 panorama on the bottom and a larger subject on the top.

On Photo mode, photos are pretty much on par with what we’ve seen on other 360-degree cameras. Picture quality is decent, and colors look pretty accurate. It can be quite grainy in places with poor light. The phone gets cut off, making it look like you’re holding nothing, but otherwise the seams are fairly accurate. Photos can easily look overexposed here depending on the lighting, and that’s where the Professional Mode comes in handy. Click here to check out some 360-degree photos and videos via Google Photos.

We’re pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to use.

It does have faults, though. It seems as though the areas directly in front of each camera look the best, and everything in between is either extremely grainy or covered in a weird, blurry haze.

Regardless, the Moto 360 Camera mod’s images are pretty good. Mobile 360-degree camera accessories aren’t quite yet ready to offer us brilliant detail and amazing picture quality, and Moto’s solution is more or less on par with the competition.

So where will you be able to share your 360-degree content? You can upload 360-degree videos to YouTube, and 360-degree photos and videos to Facebook. You can live-stream via Facebook Live, but this will only be available after a software update when the product is available in a particular market — we have not been able to test it yet.

Of the aforementioned 360-degree cameras, Motorola’s product is the most expensive at $300. While it’s still a solid product, you have to keep in mind that it will only work on the Moto Z series smartphones. At least if you’re dropping money on the other 360-degree cameras, you can continue using it with any smartphone with the supported USB charging port. Check out our best 360-degree cameras  if you’re looking for other options.

The Moto Mod system makes it incredibly easy to use the Moto 360 Camera, and it’s a fun way to snap and share 360-degree content. Is it worth $300? We don’t think so, and you may want to pick up one that works with more than one smartphone brand.




3
Aug

Make the most of your iPhone with these awesome accessories


The sheer variety of iPhone accessories on the market is astounding. You can enhance your Apple smartphone and add all sorts of useful functionality with the right accessories. We’ve dealt with the best iPhone 7 cases and the best iPhone 7 Plus cases. We’ve even taken a close look at waterproof, wireless charging, and battery cases. If you want an iPhone dock, we have you covered, and there’s no shortage of great portable battery chargers out there.

Today we’re going to look further afield and suggest some iPhone accessories that you might not have considered. If you want to get a bit more out of your phone, or you’re looking for the perfect gift for the iPhone owner in your life, we have plenty of suggestions.

Nomad Rugged Cable ($30)

If you’re more adventurous and looking for an accessory to sustain all the elements, this Rugged Cable by Nomad is super durable. Not only is it dirt resistant, but its designed with sealed caps to keep all the dirt and filth out. Equipped with a Lightning connector and USB, the cable is compatible with the iPhone 5 through the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The custom designed liquid silicone rubber tie also wraps easily around the cable to keep it from becoming frayed after consistent use.

Buy one now from:

Nomad

Kenu Stance Tripod ($25)

This is an incredibly handy, compact tripod for your iPhone, one that allows you to prop up your device in either landscape or portrait view. It’s great for shooting video and photography, or for hands-free reading and video conferencing. The tripod is pocket-sized when folded, and you can easily adjust the three legs to find the perfect angle. Kenu recently tweaked the original design, too, resulting in a stronger Lightning port connector and an added keyring attachment. The latter component even doubles as a bottle opener.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Insta360 Nano Camera ($165)

If you’re jumping on the VR bandwagon and you want to be able to shoot your own 360-degree videos, then this handy iPhone accessory will let you do it. The Insta360 Nano slots into the Lightning port and features dual 210-degree fisheye lenses. You can shoot video at 3,040 x 1,520-pixel resolution and 30 frames per second, and the footage from the two lenses is stitched together to form a complete 360-degree video that you can watch using your iPhone and the cardboard VR headset that comes in the box. You can also share videos, or even stream live to Facebook.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

TuneBand Sports Armband ($22)

Working out or running with your iPhone can be problematic. You want your phone with you in case you get a call or text message, and so you can listen to tunes, but you don’t want it bouncing around in your pocket. There are a few armbands on the market, but we like the two-piece design of the TuneBand. The armband features a flexible, silicone case that your iPhone fits into, along with openings for easy access to your phone’s controls and ports. The case also comes with adjustable Velcro straps, allowing for a fit that’s as secure as it is comfortable.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Rokform Pro Series Bike Mount and Case ($100)

Cyclists will love this mount and case combo for the iPhone, which consists of a simple mount made of aluminum that attaches to the stem of your bike. It tilts up to 75 degrees, however, which is ideal if you’re using Maps for navigation, or an app like Strava. The protective iPhone case also has a special cut-out on the back that securely locks into place on the mount, and there’s even a lanyard strap for extra security. Rokform also offers car and motorcycle mounts that work with the same case.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Belkin Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar ($40)

If you’re an iPhone 7 and 7 Plus owner who’s pining for the 3.5-millimeter jack, this accessory could prove invaluable. It’s basically a Lightning port splitter that allows you to turn your single Lightning port into two, so you can charge your iPhone and listen to music at the same time. Sadly, it’s expensive and a bit chunky. There are cheaper alternatives on Amazon and eBay, but the Belkin splitter has Apple’s MFI certification, which is important if you want to be sure it’s going to work.

Buy one now from:

Apple

3
Aug

Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time


Everyone likes Apple apps, but sometimes the best ones are a bit expensive. Now and then, developers put paid apps on sale for free for a limited time, but you have to snatch them up while you have the chance. Here are the latest and greatest iOS app deals available from the iOS App Store.

These apps normally cost money and this sale lasts for a limited time only. If you go to the App Store and it says the app costs money, that means the deal has expired and you will be charged. 

Color Accent

This powerful image-processing engine lets you tap on a color to add accent effects, and you can select from an unlimited number of accent colors.

Available on:

iOS

Instant Voice Translator Pro

Multi Translate is a professional translator and interpreter app able to translate any language into three others at the same time.

Available on:

iOS

Docky

Docky is a fun new way to update and customize your phone even further. This tool lets you choose from a wide variety of beautiful designs that personalizes your device unlike any ordinary wallpaper can.

Available on:

iOS

Blockr

Ads are the most annoying things in our web browsing experience. They take up space, make web pages load slower, and cost us extra data. This app aims to change all this using Blockr.

Available on:

iOS

MLG Soundboard

This app features more than 95 sounds to keep you entertained. Whenever you’re in need of a soundtrack for your life, this is the app for you.

Available on:

iOS

Flowers

Flowers and Mandala is the new anti-stress coloring books for adults. Promising multicolor, vibrant, and pastel gradients, this could be the app for you.

Available on:

iOS




3
Aug

Light up your desktop PC with 16.8M colors using the $80 Razer Chroma HDK


Why it matters to you

Razer will soon provide desktop owners with a cool kit for adding RGB illumination to their PCs that will synchronize with the company’s Chroma-branded peripherals.

Razer said on Thursday that it will soon serve up a Chroma-branded hardware developer kit (HDK) for adding RGB LED illumination to desktops. It’s based on the company’s Chroma technology used in its peripherals, providing up to 16.8 million colors and a variety of different lighting effects to give your desk a personal light show. The kit will be powered by a beta version of Razer Synapse 3.0 that will launch alongside the Razer Chroma HDK in the third quarter of 2017.

The Razer Chroma HDK will consist of a module sporting four lighting channels (strip connections), and two strips containing 16 LEDs each. The kit can be installed inside a desktop or externally, and requires a USB connection for data and power. The kit includes a USB-to-DC power cable for additional power and brightness for external setups, and a Molex-to-DC power adapter if the kit is installed inside a PC.

“Users can shape and bend the LED strips to fit virtually any surface to light up an entire room, home or office for total game immersion,” the company says. “The individually controllable lights are integrated into Razer Synapse 3. The HDK supports 4-channel output with a total capacity of 64 RGB LEDs.”

Razer Synapse 3 will include a new tool called Chroma Studio. Not only can users configure the kit with customized colors and lighting effects, but synchronize all lighting effects across their Razer Chroma devices. According to Razer, this tool is even capable of providing specific effects across all Chroma-enhanced peripherals based on their physical location with each other. That could indicate a wave effect may start at the left side of a keyboard, flow across the keys to the right side, and end on a connected mouse physically located to the right of the keyboard..

If you’re not familiar with Razer’s Chroma-based peripherals, it’s an illumination technology used in more than 40 Razer products spanning mechanical keyboards, gaming mice, headsets, mouse mats, and more. Using the free Razer Synapse software, PC gamers can synchronize colors and lighting affects across all connected Chroma-based peripherals to create one desktop-sized theme. Compatible products have the Chroma label in their name, such as the BlackWidow Chroma V2 keyboard, the BlackWidow X Chroma keyboard, the Naga Epic Chroma mouse, and the Tartarus Chroma.

Here are the kit’s specifications:

Module size:
3.9 x 2.7 x 0.6 inches
LED strip length:
19.6 inches
Extender cable length:
11.1 inches
Micro USB data cable length:
39 inches
USB to DC power cable length:
59 inches
Kit contents:
1x HDK module
2x LED strips
2x extender cables
1x Micro USB data cable
1x USB to DC power cable
1x 4-pin Molex to DC cable
1x DC power adapter.

The Razer Chrome HDK will sell for $80 when it arrives in North America in the third quarter of 2017. The company also plans to sell a Razer Lightpack Extension Kit for the Razer Chroma HDK in the third quarter for $29.




3
Aug

OnePlus 5 is going to ‘soft launch’ in Australia later this month


Aussies no longer have to go through grey market imports to get their hands on OnePlus products.

Three years after launching its first smartphone, OnePlus is all set to enter the Australian market. OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei announced in the company’s forums that the OnePlus 5 will be making its way to Australia later this month through a “soft launch program” wherein the phone will go up for sale for a limited time.

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OnePlus will be using the soft launch window to test the product and supply chain, following which the company will be soliciting feedback from local customers via fan meetups in Melbourne and Sydney. From the OnePlus forums:

Since the early days of our company, we’ve seen your support on our forums, social media and even offline at our fan events around the world! Last month while having ice cream with some fans in New Delhi, one of you even flew over from Melbourne to join us. I was speechless.

First of all, I know that many of you have purchased our products via friends or family traveling abroad, or through parallel imports. This can’t compare to the user experience when dealing directly with OnePlus. Sorry that you had to endure this, and that it took us so long.

The good news is that we’re finally taking steps to enter Australia, and we’d like to enlist your help. Later this month, we’re bringing the OnePlus 5 to Australia through a soft launch program. The goal will be to test our product and supply chain, and we’ll be opening up a limited trial run for sales.

In September, our team will be visiting Melbourne and Sydney to talk to you about how this first step went and hear your suggestions on how we can improve. Most importantly, we’d like to meet face-to-face those of you we haven’t had a chance to meet yet!

If you’re interested in learning more about OnePlus’ plans for the Australian market, sign up for the company’s upcoming events from the link below.

Sign up for OnePlus fan events in Australia

3
Aug

OPPO is making a limited edition R11 for FC Barcelona fans


OPPO R11 in Barça colors is all set to launch next week.

OPPO became the official mobile partner for FC Barcelona back in 2015, and the company has rolled out a few limited edition phones sporting Barça livery. It looks like that tradition is set to continue with this year’s R11 as well, as an OPPO teaser on Weibo suggests the company will launch a limited edition R11 featuring FC Barcelona colors on August 8.

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There’s no details as to what the phone will look like, but if earlier designs are any indication, the R11 FC Barcelona edition will likely be offered in a blue-and-red color scheme with the Barcelona crest at the back along with custom themes.

We should know more about the FC Barcelona-themed R11 next week, so stay tuned.

3
Aug

Moto Z2 Force review: Stronger, not better


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The best of Motorola just isn’t good enough for the rest of us.

The quick take

Motorola decided to forgo a sequel to its mainline Moto Z flagship in favor of a neutered successor to the Moto Z Force. And while there are some reasons to be legitimately excited about the phone, it doesn’t do anything well enough on its own to recommend over the incredibly competitive field of $700+ Android phones.

The Good

  • Top of the line specs
  • Extremely hardy and well-built
  • Moto Mods support
  • Useful enhancements to Android

The Bad

  • Too expensive
  • Unimpressive and slow dual camera setup
  • Low speaker volume
  • Worse battery life than previous generation
  • No headphone jack
  • No waterproofing

Back in May, I got a chance to walk through Motorola’s phone testing lab, a marvel of elaborate equipment and lab coat-wearing engineers, to see how the sausage is made — and improved.

I learned that Motorola takes its legacy of impressive hardware very seriously, and that it spends hundreds of hours ensuring that the marketing it does for its products has a basis in fact. One such example was the Phone Dropper, robot hand-like machine that has one job: dropping phones from various heights. Motorola wanted us to see just how unbreakable its ShatterShield screen covering technology had become, and used the unceasing presence of gravity to impress upon us its effectiveness.

What it didn’t show us was the effect the repeated impact had on the visibility of the still-intact screen, a proprietary combination of hardened plastic and glass that Motorola has been using to differentiate itself from the competition since 2015’s Moto X Force (known in the U.S. as the Droid 2 Turbo). If I had picked up the phone from the ground, I may have noticed the myriad gauges and scratches that seem to be a side effect of the ShatterShield’s hardy properties. It also would have conveniently given me a real-life example of Motorola’s flagship gambit: compromise.

See at Motorola

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About this review

I, Daniel Bader, am writing this review after using an unlocked Verizon-branded Moto Z2 Force for just over one week on the Telus network in Canada. It was running Android 7.1.1 build NDX26.122-58 with the July 1, 2017 security update. It was not updated during the review period.

Rewatch the video

If you want to learn what the Moto Z2 Force is all about, check out the hands-on video Andrew did when he was in New York for the launch event.

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A mixed bag

Moto Z2 Force Hardware

7000 Series aluminum and a gorgeous Deep Black color make this the best-looking Moto Z phone yet.

Much of this review has already been written, given that Phil took a look at both the Moto Z and Z Force just over a year ago, and I reviewed the Moto Z2 Play at the beginning of June.

The Moto Z2 Force looks very similar to the Moto Z2 Play — 5.5-inch Super AMOLED display flanked by large bezels and an oblong fingerprint sensor, a single front speaker/earpiece combo, a front-facing camera, and a dual-tone LED flash. Power and volume buttons blend into one another on the right; a USB-C port on the bottom. Around back, sixteen magnetized pins for attaching Moto Mods, a growing ecosystem of Motorola-built or coaxed attachments below a rounded “Batwing” Moto logo and a camera protrusion that, until its thickness is matched by one of many Style Shell backs, looks a little garish.

Moto Z2 Force specs

There are a few minor differences to the Z2 Play, though: the USB-C port lacks a neighboring headphone jack, echoing the controversial decision to obviate the popular port a year ago. In its place, a flimsy dongle in the box, and the allure of an increasingly affordable ecosystem of Bluetooth headphones. The Z2 Force is encased in rigid 7000 Series aluminum, a step up from the anodized variety on the Z2 Play and other devices in Motorola’s lineup.

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That rigidity, coupled with the Deep Black matte finish, makes the Z2 Force easily the company’s best-looking Z-series product to date, but the differences are so minute as to be easily overlooked. Staying on the back, the most obvious visual change to the phone’s design is the inclusion of a second camera sensor, a strategy that, as we’ll see later, doesn’t pay off for Motorola.

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The Moto Z line was introduced prior to the industry’s shift to tall, narrow screens and a distaste for vertical bezels (though one could argue that they went out of style long before the release of the Galaxy S8 early this year). I don’t mind the extra room to grip the phone, nor do I begrudge Motorola for sticking to a design language that it promised to support for three years to ensure multi-generational compatibility with the proliferating Moto Mods ecosystem that has become, for better or worse, a burden that the Moto Z line has had to carry on its narrow shoulders. The fingerprint sensor is spacious and fast, and though I am agreeable to a rear-facing sensor, it doesn’t align with Motorola’s “put-it-on-a-table-for-Moto-Display” usage strategy.

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See, the Moto Z2 Force maintains the company’s four-year legacy of simple software buoyed by a series of thoughtful additions to Android, the cornerstone of which is Moto Display. Set the phone on a table, wave your hand over it, and interact with the notification bubbles as they appear, all without unlocking or even turning on the screen.

That Super AMOLED display is certainly an improvement over last year’s, but that’s not saying much: like practically every Motorola flagship phone released since the Moto X in 2013, the panel is nowhere near the top of the heap in terms of color reproduction, brightness and viewing angles. In reality, that doesn’t really matter since even a mid-range AMOLED panel with a Quad HD resolution, like this one, is very good, and mostly visible in direct sunlight.

Here’s the thing, though: despite purporting to have a water-repellent nano-coating, the Moto Z2 Force is yet another phone in Motorola’s lineup that isn’t water resistant — something that should be easier with such a robust display and no headphone jack.

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ShatterShield

What concerns me more than the Z2 Force’s display is the thing on top of it: the ShatterShield covering protecting against breaks to the screen. ShatterShield is the overarching brand name for a number of different elements — well, five — in Motorola’s quest to prevent glass in the fingers and expensive insurance claims. It starts from the bottom, with the phone’s shock-absorbent aluminum chassis; then the AMOLED panel is flexible to a point, and can withstand sudden impact; then the touch layer has a redundant backup in case the primary one is damaged upon impact; then there’s a polycarbonate (read: plastic) layer where a phone’s glass cover normally rests; and then there’s a secondary “lens” that acts as a redundant layer against impact while keeping the primary one free from scratches.

ShatterShield may prevent cracks, but it scratches WAY too easily.

This is a pretty great system, especially since you are insured against breakage for four years, but the layer you primarily interact with is, for all intents and purposes, a screen protector — one that can be peeled off and replaced if necessary. But because it’s plastic, not glass, it’s not great at conveying touch, making the Moto Z2 Force one of the least sensitive displays I’ve used in a long time; and it scratches much too easily.

Motorola recommends putting a tempered glass screen protector on top of this one to prevent scratches, but I would highly discourage that; the further away your finger gets from the touch layer, the less likely it is to pick up light taps and swipes. That additional layer may be the only option, though, since Motorola has decided not to sell a $29.99 “lens replacement kit” for the Z2 Force as it did for the previous two generations.

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Even before public availability, Motorola has already had to defend itself against allegations that the Moto Z2 Force is more scratch-prone than previous models, likely because in trying to minimize the distance between the finger and the display it’s thinned, and therefore weakened, the top lens.

The Z2 Force is a good deal thinner than its predecessor — 6.1 mm compared to the original’s 7 mm girth — and weighs 20 grams less, which is not insignificant. It’s a better-looking phone, too, especially in the matte Super Black version. But there’s a sense that, were Motorola to have kept the original’s thickness and battery size, it may not have had to compromise on its screen.

That thinness does come with some benefits. There is a sense of airiness to the Z2 Force that belies its density. To use this phone is to hold a perfectly weighed and properly-proportioned slab of metal and glass plastic, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know it.

I am not fond of the lack of a headphone jack, especially because the similarly-proportioned Moto Z2 Play does have one, but everything from the calibration of the power and volume buttons to the impossibly fast fingerprint sensor is worth noting. And I suppose that I should be thankful the Z2 Force has an unbreakable screen cover in spite of my fastidiousness with phones, since you always drop the thing you grasp the tightest — or something to that effect.

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Moto Mods

Of course, one of the benefits of owning a Moto Z product is the growing ecosystem of Mods, to which a 360-degree camera was recently added. From batteries (so. many. batteries) to speakers to the upcoming GamePad, Motorola’s so-called modular platform contains a surprisingly strong selection of add-ons for a series of phones that have only sold in the low millions.

That the Z2 Force is to be sold at all four major U.S. carriers is a boon to the snap-and-play nature of the Mods, since they give such a great first impression. Since their debut in mid-2016, I’ve found myself carrying a select few accessories, depending on the situation: the new JBL SoundBoost 2 is an astonishingly good speaker for the size and price, and it comes with me to every park outing; the Incipio 2220mAh wireless charging battery pack is a tremendous piece of tech, thin enough to leave on the phone at all times; and the Insta-Share Projector has impressed many a late-night summer party as I project YouTube onto the side of a wall.

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There are impracticalities to the Mods system, for sure, especially if you tend to maintain a Style Shell back on the phone, as I normally do. When the Mod comes out, the Style Shell needs a place to go, so you’re always accounting for at least one extra piece of equipment. And while Motorola encourages families to share Mods between members, the likelihood of a nuclear family having more than one Moto Z is fairly low.

I also think it’s important to address some stinging criticism being leveled against Motorola this time around — that the company knowingly hindered on-device battery life in both the Z2 Play and Z2 Force in order to push people towards buying battery mods. While on the surface this seems like a valid argument, I have to push back: Motorola wants to sell phones, because Mods don’t work on their own.

There is plenty of research to suggest that lighter phones sell better than heavier ones, mainly because, especially on phones with larger screens, it cuts down on arm fatigue and makes them easier to use one-handed. In order to make the phones lighter, Motorola had to lower battery size, which results in a thinner, more ergonomic phone.

Yes, Motorola wants to sell Mods, and batteries sell better than any other, but there is nothing to suggest that the company went out of its way to sabotage the phone (and its relationship to its core fans). Instead, it’s taking a calculated risk: alienate the few people who bought the Z Force for its battery prowess in order to appeal to a much wider audience.

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A class act

Moto Z2 Force Software

The Moto Z2 Force has identical software to the Moto Z2 Play, and practically any Motorola device running Android 7.1.1. It’s lightweight and clean and is recognizable as “stock” Android, even though at this point it has more in common with something like OnePlus’s version of Android than anything else.

The cornerstone of Motorola’s software strategy is its single Moto app, which opens access to so-called display settings, gesture settings, and voice settings, the core tenets of which haven’t changed in four years. Instead, features like Moto Display have evolved with the phones themselves, opening up some (but not too many) new features to appease the clamoring hoards. This year’s version of Motorola’s actionable notifications adds images, so a Tweet will display the account’s avatar in addition to the content. And if the Android notification has the option to, say, reply or archive, it’s also possible to do so from the lock screen.

This horse has been dead for a long time (because I’ve beaten it to death — why is this expression so gruesome?!) but I’ll say it again: Moto Display is the best form of notification on any phone, period. Given the heavy-handed nature of Lenovo’s hardware influence, I am both shocked and delighted that it has allowed Motorola to keep Moto Display intact.

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Similarly, Motorola’s popular gestures — “chop-chop” for turning on the flashlight, and two flicks of the wrist to quickly enter the camera — are still here after all these years, and they’re just as useful as ever. To me, they’re as inextricably linked to the Moto brand as the Batwing logo itself. Developed under Google’s brief tutelage (and under former head of Motorola, and current head of Google hardware, Rick Osterloh), these features have been mimicked by other manufacturers — even Google! — but have yet to be surpassed.

One new addition, One Touch Nav, does away with the phone’s on-screen buttons in favor of gestures conveyed to the fingerprint sensor. Maybe it’s just my poor hand-eye coordination, but I’ve never been able to get to a point where I feel comfortable swiping left and right when a simple tap will do.

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I’m so addicted to Chameleon Run right now that anything to make it open faster is a bonus.

I’ve also largely overlooked Moto’s new “Show Me” feature, which avoids the OK Google pitfalls for something a bit simpler. By saying “Show me the weather,” for instance, the phone, even from the lock screen, overlays a weather widget for a few brief seconds before returning to its idle state. “Show me my day” does the same for calendar.

But instead of acting out the limited number of commands (there are 11 in all), I’ve taken to just using it to launch apps. “Show me Slack” jumps right into my work conversations, while “Show me Chameleon Run” gets me right back to my current addiction.

The beauty is that because you have to train the voice model to accept your commands, you can use the “Show me” feature to securely bypass the lockscreen while quickly getting to your app of choice. It may only save a few precious beats in a day, but it’s a satisfying engagement with a simple voice assistant, and that’s usually all I need it for.

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Surprisingly good

Moto Z2 Force Performance & Battery life

Arriving with the latest Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM, the Moto Z2 Force is about as powerful as the Galaxy S8 or OnePlus 5. Being from Motorola phone, the phone is extremely fast, with nary a slowdown to be found. Motorola’s launcher, too, is built using the same code as the Pixel Launcher, so I didn’t even feel the need to install Nova Launcher, the first thing I usually set up on a new device.

I used the phone for over a week prior to writing this review, and came away impressed with its performance. While I had few complaints about the Moto Z2 Play’s Snapdragon 626 chip, there are clear demarcations between that mid-range chip and this high-end one, and the highlight is loading times. Apps open instantly, and animations rarely stutter.

This phone could probably stand to be thicker, if only to make it less awkward in the hand.

Much ado has been made about the 22% drop in battery capacity compared the Moto Z Force, but I can assure you, fine readers, this is a Shakespeare comedy, not a tragedy. Day after day, I rarely went to bed (and I go to bed late) with the phone below 10%. At 2730mAh, the absolute capacity is well below its predecessor’s 3500mAh cell, and nearly every flagship on the market, but Motorola has done a great job optimizing the system for Qualcomm’s new battery-efficient chip.

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At the same time, yes, there are myriad Moto Mods available to quickly boost the phone, including the not-yet-available-even-though-it’s-August Turbopower Pack, whose 3490mAh cell gets a dead phone back to 50% in just over 20 months. You probably won’t need a Moto Mods battery pack, but it’s nice to know the option is there.

On the other hand, the phone could stand to be slightly girthier, since without a Style Shell or some sort of Mod attached it’s difficult to grip and use. One could argue that, at 6.1 mm, it’s too thin. It’s also remarkable that Motorola didn’t manage to put a bigger battery in a phone slightly thicker, and without a headphone jack, than the Moto Z2 Play. Truly bizarre.

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From a cellular perspective, the Moto Z2 Force is akin to the Galaxy S8: it supports near-gigabit speeds on supported networks, and despite using an unlocked Verizon model (which I quickly shed of its bloatware) I was able to achieve speeds of over 150Mbps on Canada’s TELUS network using carrier aggregation. And while my particular model didn’t support VoLTE on my home network, phone calls over 3G sounded great over the front-facing earpiece.

That earpiece doubles as a speaker, and like many Moto devices before it, it’s… not good. Fidelity is fine for a phone speaker, but it just doesn’t get loud enough. For a forward-facing port, you’d think it would match downward-facing equivalents from Apple and Samsung, but that’s just not the case.

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One too many

Moto Z2 Force Cameras

Given that this is Motorola’s first foray into dual cameras, I will forgive it for not taking full advantage of their abilities. What I won’t forgive is that delta Motorola is opening up between itself and the rest of the industry when it comes to overall photo quality.

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Let’s start there: the phone has two 12MP rear sensors from Sony — model IMX386 with 1.25 micron pixels — one color (Bayer) and one monochrome (Clear). Essentially, the latter sensor has no ability to detect color, but in removing that color-sending layer the sensor is able to pick up three times the amount of light.
Together, the sensors are supposed to combine to deliver sharper photos during the day and better low-light photos at night.

Qualcomm, which designed this combination, even calls the technology Clear Sight.

moto-z2-force-camera-samples4.jpg?itok=W

Unfortunately, the results aren’t quite as impressive. Neither lens is optically stabilized, which means that Motorola’s camera doesn’t like to keep the shutter open for very long, causing dim photos. Worse, details are blotchy and unpleasant.

moto-z2-force-camera-samples8-2.jpg?itok

Daylight results are much better, and can produce some absolutely stunning images. Despite narrowing the aperture to f/2.0 from f/1.8 in last year’s Moto Z Force, it’s possible to get some beautiful depth of field — even without added effects.

So what about the other benefits of a second sensor and lens? As we’ve learned from countless other implementations, with two cameras comes real depth information, which allows you to play with depth of field and focus after the photo is taken. And because there’s a monochrome sensor, Motorola gives you a separate black-and-white mode, which can result in some fantastic photos.

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The issue here is that this is a $720 phone, and Motorola really had an opportunity to blow us away with some industry-leading imaging. Instead, it decided to forgo stabilization, which was present in last year’s Moto Z flagships, for a dual camera setup with dubious advantages.

moto-z2-force-camera-samples1-small.jpg?

Is it fun that I can remove or replace the backgrounds of images, or turn the background monochrome while leaving the fore subject in color? Sure, that’s nice enough, but nothing new. What I really wanted, though, was a Motorola camera that I could rely on to give me great photos every time. I didn’t get that.

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The image quality issues are compounded by the molasses-like speed of the camera. Given that this is Motorola’s fastest phone, I often felt like some silent background process was keeping the camera app from being its best self.

In a similar vein, the lack of stabilization affects the phone’s ability to take great video. Despite supporting 4K, I found little to be impressed by, from the robustness of the video itself to the shake-prone nature of the sensor.

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Not quite good enough

Moto Z2 Force Final thoughts

Earlier this year, when I reviewed the Moto Z2 Play, I said it was a great phone but not a great sequel. With the Moto Z2 Force, I don’t even know if I can say the former. There are certainly hints of greatness, but they’re buried underneath a burden of strange decisions. Why did Motorola decide to get rid of its mainline Moto Z in favor of an expensive, unbreakable but scratch-prone screen? Why wasn’t the company able to fit in a slightly larger battery, even just to match the Moto Z2 Play? Why did it opt for a dual camera setup without ensuring that the basic threshold for quality was met?

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I can’t really answer these questions, but I will say this: despite all the problems, I really like this phone. I love how responsive it is, and the speed of the fingerprint sensor. I enjoy Motorola’s take on Android, and that there are small things, like a front-facing flash, that aren’t common other devices. When the camera captures a great photo, it’s phenomenal — especially from the B&W sensor. Also uncommon is how easy it is to augment the Moto Z2 Force with additional features, like the very cool Moto 360 Camera or the upcoming GamePad.

None of these things overcome the fact that the Moto Z2 Force doesn’t feel competitive against products like the Galaxy S8 or HTC U11. At a minimum of $720 it’s a hard sell, even with a free $299 Insta-Share Projector mod. And while the phone is, for the first time in recent memory, available all four major U.S. carriers, I wish Motorola had a better representative to showcase its resurgence in mainstream culture.

See at Motorola

Additional photography by Andrew Martonik.

3
Aug

MrMobile’s Moto Z2 Force review


The Moto Z2 Force Edition should be the best smartphone Motorola has ever released – and with its unbreakable screen, powerful internals and excellent camera, it comes close. But elsewhere, the Z2 Force bears the unmistakable scars of cost-cutting: a smaller battery; an absent headphone jack; no StyleShell or 30W Turbo Charger in the box. And while those cut corners might be acceptable on a discount smartphone, they’re awful tough to swallow on a $720 “flagship.”

Join me for MrMobile’s Moto Z2 Force review to find out why I’d rather save some money and get the Z2 Play instead … then click on through to Android Central’s Moto Z2 Force review for the deeper dive!

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3
Aug

Motorola is the latest company to set up retail stores in India


Motorola is targeting the offline sector with Moto Hubs.

India is Motorola’s largest global market, and the company is now looking to expand its presence in the country by setting up retail stores. The Moto Hubs will offer potential customers the ability to experience Motorola’s entire portfolio of devices in an environment that’s “open, fun and very uniquely Motorola.”

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Motorola is kicking things off with six Moto Hubs located at Delhi-NCR and Mumbai:

  • Great India Place, Noida
  • Logix Mall, Noida
  • Shipra Mall, Indirapuram
  • Xperia Mall, Dombivali, Mumbai
  • Korum Mall, Thane, Mumbai
  • Viviana Mall, Thane, Mumbai

The company is looking to open 50 stores before the end of the year, and is targeting top tier cities and locations “with significant traffic.” Motorola will carry its entire portfolio of devices at its retail stores, including the recently-launched Moto E4 and E4 Plus, the Moto C series, the Moto G family, and the Moto Z2 Play along with all the Moto Mods currently up for sale in India. The stores will also carry the usual accessories — headphones, cases, removable back covers, and the like.

Motorola is incentivizing the launch of Moto Hubs by offering free accessories with the purchase of any device in the Moto E, C, and G families, and a 50% discount on Moto Mods for those picking up the Moto Z2 Play.

Motorola isn’t the first online brand to target the offline route — Xiaomi also set up its first Mi Home Store in India earlier this year — and with a majority of sales still taking place at brick-and-mortar stores, it isn’t hard to see why handset vendors are rushing to set up stores across the country.

3
Aug

Google Pixel 2: Is the smaller second-gen Pixel an afterthought?


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Google might have missed an opportunity to make a truly great, smaller flagship this year.

One of the best things about the current Google Pixel phones is the ability to pick whichever size suits you without compromising on specs or feature set. Aside from necessary changes like a smaller battery — there’s less room inside a smaller phone — the experience on the smaller 2016 Pixel perfectly mirrored that of its big brother, the Pixel XL.

However, with reports of Google looking to two different manufacturers — LG for the bigger Pixel, HTC for the smaller one — comes the suggestion that this year’s little Pixel might be a second-class citizen.

The video above, produced based on blueprints given to case manufacturers, comes from Steve Hemmerstoffer, A.K.A. @onleaks. Hemmerstoffer has a good but not perfect track record; nevertheless, the presence of chunky top bezels on the smaller Pixel aligns with at least one other report, from XDA.

So it would appear that if you want slim bezels and a curved OLED display, your options are limited to just the larger LG-made Pixel, with its 18:9 aspect ratio and svelte proportions.

Chunky bezels and a flat screen. But will other corners have been cut? And what will the price difference be?

The other question this raises is whether or not any other corners have been cut, and whether we’ll see wider price gap between the two 2017 Pixels compared to their forerunners. Possibilities include, as before, a lower screen resolution and smaller battery capacity. But the baby Pixel also runs the risk of appearing decidedly dated alongside its larger, more bezel-averse sibling. (In the next year, expect most phones with traditional top and bottom bezels to start looking old hat.) It would also be a highly unusual step for two phones in the same family, announced side by side, to sport two entirely different aspect ratios.

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If this is what we eventually get from Google in late September or early October, it’s going to be a weird release cycle. Two phones that are similar but not quite identical. In contrast to last year’s message that Pixel is a single phone in two sizes, we’d have (at best) more of a Galaxy S7/S7 edge situation, where the smaller model carries the same core experience but without the extra pizzaz of the premium model.

Unlike Samsung’s conscious choice, however, Google’s use of two different ODM partners likely forced its hand at least somewhat. And for fans of smaller phones, it’ll be hard to view this development as anything other than a disappointing step backwards from last year.

If these are the two Pixel designs we eventually get, Google might well have missed the opportunity to take advantage of the trend towards taller, slimmer phones — and deliver something with improved pocketability and extra display real estate.

And we probably won’t even get a headphone jack for our trouble.

Stick with us for more on Google’s next-gen Pixels as release season rolls around.

Google Pixel 2 — 2017

  • Google Pixel 2 + Pixel XL 2: Everything we know so far
  • All Pixel 2 news + rumors
  • Our 2016 Pixel reviews
  • Join our Pixel 2 forums

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