The Moto X Force might technically be last year's phone, but at $599, it’s nonetheless a good deal. Especially for those a little too good at breaking their phones. If you're after bang-for-buck performance and peace of mind, the Moto X Force is a good pick.
Outright Cost: $599
What Is it?
The Moto X Force is a smartphone that's defined by its durability. Motorola says the device's "ShatteShield" display is the first smartphone screen that's guaranteed not to crack or shatter. And if you somehow do manage to damage it, there's a four-year warranty covering the screen.
The Moto X Force was originally released at the tail-end of 2015 as a more durable companion to the Moto X Play and the Moto X Style.
Motorola doesn't have the best track record with getting smartphones to Australia in a timely manner, and the Moto X Force is no exception; the phone was launched internationally almost a year ago. While it's frustrating that it took Motorola so long to bring the Moto X Force to Australia shores, the belated arrival has its own benefits. The phone has flagship grade internals (at least, it did when it was announced), but the late local release has seen it repositioned at more of a midrange price point: $599.
The Moto X Force isn't what I'd describe as a slimline or overly stylish smartphone, but the phone isn't as rugged as you'd expect. It's a touch bulkier than the average handset, but you wouldn't necessarily assume it was drop-proof; it just looks like a smartphone.
Drop-proof smartphones also typically offer some form of water-resistance, and the Moto X Force does. Well, it's water repellent, rather than water-resistant. In Motorola's words, the Moto X Force will survive "moderate exposure" to spills, splashes or light rain, but the phone isn't designed to be submerged, exposed to pressurised water, or other liquids. In other words, if you spill water on the Moto X Force, you won't have to go out and buy a new phone. If you drop it in the pool, you might not be so lucky.
In Australia, the Moto X Force is being sold with a ballistic nylon back (other markets had different options available to them, but we only get one). While it's an unusual choice for a phone, it's got a nice grip to it, making the Moto X Force comfortable to hold. Notably, the back isn't just textured plastic. If you look closely, you'll see the individual threads.
It's hard to break the Moto X Force. Really hard. The WhistleOut team was pretty intent on making the shatterproof display shatter, but the Moto X Force managed to survive our over-the-top torture test.
Our first punishment was a 6 metre drop onto carpeted floor. It survived. This was followed by a 4 metre drop onto bitumen. The body got scuffed, but the phone survived. I threw it over my shoulder. A bit more wear and tear, but the screen remained intact.
Finally, I threw it at a brick wall. A corner took a bit of a beating, and a small part of the screen's top layer warped, but the Moto X Force is still chugging along.
While the Moto X Force is definitely worse for wear, it runs like nothing happened. The screen is still responsive, the camera survived unscathed, all speakers still work, and the phone still charges. As much as we wanted to break the Moto X Force, we weren't able to.
It doesn't look pretty, but the Moto X Force is still working after 15 or so significant drops. That's kind of nuts. There's not even a single scratch on the display.
Even if you somehow managed to crack the screen, the Moto X Force has a four-year warranty for display. While this won't cover scratches or cosmetic damage, it's still nice to have.
The Moto X Force might be a year old and only cost $599, but for all intents and purposes, it's still a flagship smartphone. The internals might not be quite as new and shiny as you'll find in devices from this year, but in most cases, the speed difference between a top-tier 2015 device and top-tier 2016 device is negligible. That's not to say a newer phone isn't more powerful, you just won't necessarily notice when it comes to day-to-day tasks.
Motorola's clean take on Android certainly helps with performance; the phone is free from user interface modifications and superfluous apps. One of the few non-stock features available in the Moto X Force is a not-quite-always-on display that shows you new notifications and time on a black and white screen. This springs to life when you touch the screen or pick the phone up.
Battery life is another plus; if you're not pushing the Moto X Force to its limits, you should comfortably get two days in between chargers. If you're a heavier user (or spend all of your free time playing games on your phone), you'll find you're recharging on a daily basis. That being said, I still found myself with a comfortable buffer of around 30 or so percent on "big usage" days.
What's Not So Good?
There's no way around it; if you're buying the Moto X Force, you're buying last year's phone. This isn't necessarily a huge deal, but it's still worth keeping in mind. Motorola is planning to still give the phone an upgrade to Android Nougat later this year (it's currently running Marshmallow), but you might not see too many software updates after that point.
While you might be okay without getting anymore new features, a lack of security updates is a concern. Android devices are a popular target for hackers, in part due to how lax manufacturers are when it comes to providing updates to their smartphones. A University of Cambridge study published in April last year found that 87% of active Android devices are exposed to at least one critical vulnerability that could be exploited by a malicious app.
Unfortunately, the Moto X Force doesn't have a fingerprint reader. This might not bother everyone, but we're starting to see biometric authentication even available in phones priced under $300. While banging in a PIN to unlock your phone isn't terrible, it's a far cry from the convenience a fingerprint reader offers. First world problems, right?
The Moto X Force's shatterproof display will stop you from breaking your phone, but it does come with a few trade-offs. The most significant of these is that it hampers outdoor usability. If you're standing in sunlight, the Moto X Force is almost unusable. A smaller issue is colour balance; while the Moto X Force's display is vibrant, it's not very bright. This results in whites that look more like greys.
The Moto X Force's camera is good but not great. It doesn't quite compare to this year's top shooters - Samsung Galaxy S7, Apple iPhone 7, LG G5 - let alone the best of last year. While the camera is better than you'd expect for a $600 phone, it isn't always reliable. You'll get a solid photo most of the time, but the Moto X Force is also prone to motion blur. This is even more noticeable when shooting lowlight environments.
Notably, the Moto X Force is one of the few phones that includes a front-facing flash, for when you want a brighter selfie.
Who's It For?
The Moto X Force is a great buy for value-conscience shoppers after a hard-to-break smartphone. While the drop-proof device is a solid value - excuse the pun - there are a few caveats to consider. The display isn't great outdoors, especially in the Australia sun. There's no fingerprint reader, which is a minor inconvenience. And the Moto X Force is last year's phone, so it's nearing the end of its like from a software support perspective, which isn't great if you want the latest and greatest in terms of Android updates.
However, if you've got a habit of breaking smartphones, the Moto X Force is easy to recommend. It's looks good for a ruggedised smartphone, and its hard-to-shatter nature could easily save you far more than the phone's $599 asking price.
What Else Can I Buy?
If you're looking for a hard-to-break phone on a budget, take a look at the Alcatel Go Play. It boasts drop-proofing, IP67 water-resistance (although you need to ensure all the ports are covered before it gets dunked), and a surprisingly affordable asking price of $299. Performance isn't amazing due to very low-end hardware, but if you want to give the kids a phone they'll struggle to break, the Alcatel Go Play fits the bill.
The high-vis Telstra Tough Max is almost the stereotypical rugged smartphone; it looks and feels like it would take a beating. It's not what you'd call a good looking device, but that's not why the Tough Max exists. As with the Alcatel Go Play, high-end hardware isn't on the agenda. That being said, the Tough Max is a bit faster than the Go Play, but a bit pricier too.
If you care less about durability and more about price, OPPO's R9 is worth a gander. Also priced at $599, the R9 is the very definition of bang-for-buck. While the R9's camera isn't quite as good as what you'd find in an iPhone 7 or Galaxy S7, you're getting a whole lot of phone for almost half of what you'd pay for a flagship device.