(Pocket-lint) - Butterfingers? The Moto Force might be the ideal flagship phone for those prone to dropping their smartphone on the regs, as its the first handset to offer a shatterproof screen. Well, if you discount the Droid Turbo 2, the name of the very same handset in the USA.
But is the Moto Force all it's, ahem, cracked up to be, or no more qualified than one of those "shatterproof" rulers from your schooldays' pencil case (the kind that snapped in half all the time)?
We've been living with one as our main handset for a couple of months to see whether its screen can withstand day-to-day abuse better than the competition, and not just those contrived drop tests.
Moto Force review: Not so smashing design
Motorola is well known for making budget handsets, an area in which it excels. The latest Moto G and even-more-budget Moto E are among the best handsets that you can buy on a shoestring. Problem is, the Force nudges well into flagship territory given its £499 starting price (for the 32GB model; it's £534 for the 64GB; a microSD slot means expansion by 2TB is possible in both models) - it's not the budget entry-level Moto we're typically used to (ignoring the chic but not standout Moto Style, of course).
Problem is, as flagship handsets go the Force really doesn't deliver a particularly convincing style. The OnePlus 2 is half the price and both looks and feels better than this Moto, which doesn't really make sense. The Force's textured rear panel feels budget, not class-leading, and it picks up all sorts of gunk and debris that's hard to dig out.
It's a chunky monkey too. The curved back extends from 7.6mm through to 9.2mm, making the Force as thick as some of the older Windows Phone handsets that, to us, look outdated already.
There's the obvious benefit to physical size, though, which is battery life: in the Force there's a 3760mAh cell that lasts out for a good chunk of time, easily into two-day territory even after extended use.
Moto Force review: A truly tough cookie?
For a phone entitled the Force, we were expecting big things when it came to robust build quality. Which, for our money, is too far from the truth. The front top speaker, which has a metallic bar - the kind we've never liked the look of in Moto G configuration - has a paint job that'll scratch off in a matter of days rather than weeks. Hardly tough.
The screen, too, isn't indestructible. It proclaims to be shatterproof, to which it seemingly succeeds: we've lobbed the phone from desk to floor and genuinely dropped it (d'oh) when out and about too. It's not shattered, so tick in that box. However the screen has certainly not remained unscathed: our review handset has scored a bunch of scratches from normal use and there's even a fairly significant nick in the panel too, so cross in that box.
Like our pencil case ruler analogy, the Force succeeds in what it needs to claim its shatterproof-ness, but treated with care as per any flagship phone and it's just as liable to have damage inflicted.
Short to there being some official Star Wars tie-in (sadly, the force is not with this one), we're not entirely convinced this particular Force represents £500 well spent. Other than the water-repellent coating, perhaps, but that's not full-on waterproofing like, say, the Sony Aqua line.
Moto Force review: Flagship features
Except, of course, that it does deliver a variety of flagship features that are hard to ignore. The 5.4-inch OLED screen with its Quad HD (2560 x 1440) resolution certainly delivers ample colour, brightness and resolution. That 540ppi density certainly shouts flagship more than the overall phone's design anyway.
But, and like all near-stock Android devices (it runs Android 6.0 at the time of writing, having updated mid-way through use) there's not any significant benefit to the resolution, as there's no split-screen app options, unlike those found in re-skin Android platforms, such as Samsung's TouchWiz or Huawei's EMUI (it's incoming, from version 4.0, in the Mate 8).
Then there's the power. With a 2.0Ghz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor on board, paired with 3GB LPDDR4 RAM and the Adreno 430 GPU (not the not-so-hot 330 version that we found faltered in the OnePlus X, for example) it's certainly a flagship configuration. Everything runs smoothly and swiftly as you'd expect from a £500 phone, although we don't find apps load as fast as we've seen in some competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6.
However, when the Snapdragon 810 setup made its debut in the Sony Z3+ it was a poor show due to overheating and battery life throttling, leaving a question mark over whether it was the processor or the phone design that cost the performance. In the Moto Force it's clear it comes down to design, with its battery life holding out for extended periods. Miss a charge with this flagship and you won't be desperate for a socket - and even if you do need one then TurboPower fast-charging means speedy top-ups (Qi compatibility means wireless charging is possible too, if you have the optional charger).
Moto Force review: Complementary software
Despite running Android 6.0, Google's native operating system, the Moto Force adds one additional umbrella Moto app to deliver its bespoke services. They're complementary rather than embedded into the device's core settings - and easy to switch on or off.
Load the Moto app and you'll be met by Actions, Voice and Display controls, which handle physical interaction, voice commands and read-out, and customisable at-a-glance notifications respectively. So whether you want to keep the screen dark for a given portion of the day, select which apps can or can't display notifications on the screen, or have the phone announce texts out loud (for when you're driving), it's up to you.
There's some clash with Android's own built-in services, so customising things to your preference makes best sense. But the light approach from Motorola is certainly welcome, it's not a heavily baked-in software addition, so whether you choose to use its benefits or happily live without has relatively small consequences to use.
Moto Force review: Cameras
The last major features on board are the cameras, here in 21-megapixel rear sensor with f/2.0 aperture lens, and 5-megapixel front sensor, again with f/2.0 aperture. Are they a force to be reckoned with?
Not especially. The results aren't bad, per se, but the Moto Force doesn't quite live up to its flagship standpoint here. Even though the shutter is swift to fire with the tap of a finger (thanks to phase-detection autofocus), difficulty in holding the device steady when shooting has meant many of our shots exhibit motion blur - further exacerbated by the device's typical insistence to use low sensitivities, a trait typical of many smartphones.
That's perhaps no surprise, though, as by ISO 800 - that's the furthest we could convince the camera to push itself in a variety of low-light situations - there's a lot of mottled colour noise (see the purple in skies, for example) and images are fairly soft.
Shoot in better light and the entry point ISO 50 is better but still lacks critical detail on closer inspection. The HDR (high dynamic range) option does work well, though, and the wide aperture option also helps to soften backgrounds when shooting closer to subject.
There's a lack of intelligent modes, with moving subjects seemingly not registered and, therefore, often exhibiting subject blur (again, a resistance to up the sensitivity partly the cause). Even entry-level cameras these days have intelligent auto scene selection.
Still, the camera performance earns some Brownie points for its click-and-drag focus and exposure compensation control, which operates admirably.
Movie mode functions up to 4K resolution (3480 x 2160) thanks to the serious processor under the hood, which is a definite positive, albeit an increasingly standard flagship feature these days.
The Motorola Moto Force has plenty of potential as the hard-nut flagship phone, but it lacks excitement, is chunkily built and, ultimately, fails to deliver a true flagship experience compared to the competition.
It doesn't look the part either (the OnePlus 2 is half the price and better looking, even if it's less powerful) and while that shatterproof screen may deliver on its promise of being just that, it's far from indestructible - exhibiting the same scratches and dinks as any other screen we've used.
There are obvious high points though, including solid battery life, decent complementary Moto software to aid the Android 6.0 operating system, and a flagship level of performance to boot.
But, and despite that shatterproof screen, the Moto Force just isn't all it's cracked up to be. This is a £500 phone after all.