Motorola have been making some very decent and innovative phones in recent times. After the success of the Moto Z and Moto Z Play last year Motorola will have a hard job topping that. With the release of the Moto Z2 Play yesterday Motorola are hoping to top their Z Play of last year and continue the success of the Moto Z line.
Last year, we did not review the Moto Z Play but instead received their flagship, the Moto Z along with various Moto Mods. This year we were sent the Moto Z2 Play by itself, without any Moto Mods. I loved the Moto Z last year, and if the Pixel had not been around would have purchased one. Read on to hear what I thought of the Moto Z2 Play this year.
Moto Z2 Play Design
The Moto Z2 Play looks extremely similar to last years Moto Z Play and there is a reason for that. For Moto Mods to be compatible from one generation to the next they need to fit so any change in design needs to take into account that the size should be very similar to the previous generation. The version we received for review is the white and gold version. The back of the phone is gold with the same camera bump, the same Motorola logo and the same connection pins as last year.
There is a slight difference in the front facing flash and the fingerprint sensor is also a longer rectangle as opposed to the square of last year. I don’t have an issue with either.
A quick word on the white: it’s said black is slimming and it is evident here. I thought this Moto Z2 Play looked massive and far too wide but when I put it directly up against the Pixel XL and the Huawei P10 Plus it was close enough to the exact same size. It is 156.2 x 76.2 x 6 mm and weighs in a 145gm which was a surprise to me as it looks bigger. The bezels are equal to that on the Pixel too but there is a reason for that — because the Moto Mods need to go on the back of the phone so you cannot put the fingerprint sensor on the back, leaving the front, hence the big bezels.
Unfortunately Motorola did not supply a style cover or any mods with the review unit and thus I walked around with what felt like half a phone in my hand. It is incredibly slim and does not feel complete without some form of style shell — these can be picked up in various colours from Harvey Norman and if I was to continue using this phone I would definitely purchase one — whether you should have to considering you are forking out a fair chunk of change for half a phone is another quetion altogether.
Moto Z2 Play Hardware and Performance
In the past year, for me, there have been two standout phones when it came to a smooth, reliable, enjoyable Android experience — the Pixel XL and the Moto Z. There are now three. Belying it’s mid-range specs the Moto Z2 Play is fast, snappy, smooth and reliable. It is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 with an Adreno 506 GPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage.
Aside from that mid-range CPU the RAM and storage are actually more than many flagships. Considering how well this phone runs, and I remember hearing from you guys last year in the comments on the Moto Z review how well last year’s Moto Z Play ran, I am starting to have second thoughts over the requirement of the latest and greatest processor in a phone. This processor is no Snapdragon 835, and possibly not even a Snapdragon 821 and yet you would not know if you weren’t told. The RAM is only 4GB — it does not have 6 or 6GB of RAM and nor does it need it.
Other manufacturers need to take note of what Motorola have done here, and with all of their phones in the last year or two to be honest. Minimal software “enhancements”, instead focusing on value added tweaks and optimising the software has led to a fantastic user experience.
It is unfortunate that I have to mention it, but yes, the Moto Z2 Play does in fact have a headphone jack — just as it did last year. Whether this means the Moto Z2 has one as well we don’t know but can only hope so (or are we hanging onto old technology unnecessarily?).
The fingerprint sensor on the front can be used as a capacitive home button and gestures on it for back and the recents screen. I found this surprisingly useful and easy to get used to, as well as the use of the sensor to long press to turn off the display. This gave some extra screen real estate but in the end I actually settled on using the onscreen buttons and the sensor long press for display off (I am a creature of habit). The fingerprint sensor itself was fast and incredibly accurate, no matter the angle I approached it on. I suspect that we are at a point where fingerprint sensor accuracy and speed does not need to be mentioned in a review unless it is unusually bad.
The only speaker in the phone is embedded in the earpiece and it is a bit disappointing. It can be heard ok but does not go as loud as many other phones. If you really want the phone to be loud there are JBL high quality Moto Mod speakers you can purchase.
Moto Z2 Play Display
The display is a disappointing 1080P 5.5in AMOLED display protected by only Gorilla Glass 3. I say disappointing as I prefer a 2K display in a phone myself but if you don’t mind a 1080P display then this will suit you. Being an AMOLED display the colours are vibrant and can be further enhanced using the “vibrant” setting for the display.
Motorola have once again included “Moto Display” which works just like Ambient Display on the Pixel and other devices where notifications show up quickly while the display is off as a notification on the black background (how it shows depends on the options you decide upon). There is also a sensor at the bottom of the front of the phone which allows you to turn this Moto Display. Wave your hand in the vicinity of this sensor and the “Moto Display” lights up showing the time, date, charge level and the notifications present. The only issue I have with this implementation is that from a distance you cannot see if your phone has received any notifications in your absence unless you wave your hand close to it. There is no notification light to signal you.
Moto Z2 Play Battery Life
Usually battery life is bundled into other sections but here I felt it deserved it’s own section. We normally use the phones a lot when we review them, testing out the various functions to find what we like and don’t like. For this reason, plus because the battery is brand new, our experience is often of a lower battery life than the average owner would experience. If this is the case here then the battery in the Moto Z2 Play is the magic pudding of phone batteries!
I charged the Moto Z2 Play on Wednesday night, unplugging at 6am on Thursday and have only just plugged it into the charger now, 12:42pm Sunday. My usage is heavy usage and the display is always set at 50% reference level. I stream Bluetooth music for a minimum of an hour a day, plus a lot of surfing. I have all notifications and apps running at full potential and I have an Android Wear watch connected from 9am until 5pm every day. I even watched a couple of hours of Netflix at times. During the day I do not use Wi-Fi — my work does not have Wi-Fi access. The only time I plugged it in was the 20 minute trip to work and home from work where I plugged the phone into my Pioneer Android Auto headunit which is a trickle charge usually.
The Moto Z2 Play not only sipped away at the battery at an extremely slow rate but seemed to charge extremely fast when connected to the Pioneer headunit. Usually it keeps the phone at a steady charge while using the phone to stream music, podcasts, maps etc — and I always use Google Maps when driving. In fact I had to deliberately leave the phone running Netflix for a couple of hours as well as YouTube Music for another hour to drain the battery enough so I could test the charging accurately. It charged incredibly fast using the supplied turbo charger that Motorola have supplied in the box — it charged from 10% to 75% in only 45 minutes.
The 3,000mAh battery, which could be described as small on paper, provided the best battery experience I have ever experienced in a phone. You can buy Moto Mod battery packs for the Moto Z2 Play but I have very little idea when you could possibly need one. The result is possibly due to a combination of software optimisation, a 1080P display and fast charging.
Moto Z2 Play Connectivity
The Moto Z2 Play has everything you expect from a mid-range device. It has Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS with A-GPS and GLONASS, NFC and an FM radio. In a nice surprise it has USB 3.1, Type-C connector. Not many mid-range devices will include this.
The signal from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and phone towers was as good as expected. There were no issues that need reporting on that’s for sure. The phone itself that we tested was dual SIM PLUS microSD card. Both SIM cards can be used for 4G connectivity if required.
Connectivity with Android Auto was flawless without any annoying popups, just as it should be.
Moto Z2 Play Camera
Cameras are like fingerprint sensors and connectivity these days — you rarely find a bad one. This one was no exception. It was good without being breathtakingly good. It took some decent shots with a very basic interface that is extremely similar to the Google Camera interface.
The interface is extremely basic although there is a pro mode for those more experienced photographers. The best thing about the interface is the shake to enter the camera app and then the shake once open to switch from rear camera to front and vice versa.
When HDR was on the images took quite a while to capture unlike the Pixels which is instantaneous. The resultant image was nice but make sure you have HDR off if trying to capture a picture of a child. Even with HDR off the images of a moving child were still not great but that could be alleviated slightly by using pro mode and lowering the shutter speed.
It struggled a little bit in low light inside but most cameras do. Outside low light such as dusk worked well as long as I focused the image in the right area.
Moto Z2 Play Software
It is well known that I prefer my phone software lean and mean with a few useful tweaks. I have been critical of manufacturers in the past who turn good software into buggy, slow software by implementing their own skin and adding their own tweaks/gimmicks. Motorola have been excellent in their Android implementation in recent years and this has resulted in high quality user experiences not matter the hardware it is running on. The Moto Z2 Play is no different.
The Moto Z2 Play runs very leanly on Android 7.1.1 with security patches up to April 1, 2017. There is very little change to Android the way it is in AOSP with Motorola preferring to include nearly all of their tweaks and additions to Android 7.1.1 in a single app. This not only results in a faster ROM but also it makes it easier for Motorola to provide updates in a timely fashion. If only everyone did it this way.
There is no skin either with the theme looking very much like an unadulterated AOSP ROM. This lack of useless tweaks in the system framework and no ridiculous cartoonish themes results in a smooth, seamless Android experience. At no time did I experience any lag at all and the experience is nearing that of the $1400 Pixel XL.
The Moto Z2 Play include all the Google apps for their stock apps and the Moto App Launcher looks suspiciously like the Google Now launcher, including the swipe to the far left to get to your Google Now screen. The launcher is entirely usable and does include an app drawer unlike some other manufacturers.
Motorola’s own app that includes all of their tweaks in their app called Moto. Instead of wasting time, effort and resources on gimmicks that in the end are rarely used like some manufacturers do, Motorola have instead focused on actually improving the smartphone experience. The modifications include “Actions” where you can use gestures for phone shortcuts, “Voice” which is basically just Google Assistant with a couple of different options to that, and “Display” where the user can turn on or off Moto Display which is effectively the Ambient Display seen on Nexus phones (Moto introduced this before Google did).
Using the “OK Google” hotword to wake up the display works with the phone, and works well. My favourite actions included are the “Approach for Moto Display”, the “Twist for Quick Capture” and “Chop Twice for Flashlight” and I used them all the time — more manufacturers should include these in my opinion.
It may seem I am waxing lyrical about the Motorola software but for me the software on the Moto Z2 Play is damn near perfect. It is pure Android with Motorola’s tweaks included into a single app that does not slow the phone down and does not hinder the ability of the manufacturer to easily provide updates to the software. I could very very easily live with a phone with software such as this for my daily driver. I wish that this was compulsory for all manufacturers and everyone could experience Android how it is meant to be — clean, lean and fast.
Moto Z2 Play TL;DR
What I loved
- The option of on-screen or fingerprint home button
- Moto Mods
- Software — stock plus Motorola tweaks (minimal and ALL useful)
- Gestures and their consistency — chop and shake especially
What I didn’t love
- No Moto Mod such as a style cover included — it’s half a phone
- 1080p display
- Front speaker not as loud as some
- Big bezels although maybe the white made them seem larger
Moto Z2 Play Conclusion
By now I suspect you may already know what my conclusion will say and you would be right.
The Moto Z2 Play is a mid-range device with a mid-range processor. The display is mid-range unfortunately but the rest of the hardware is not. There is 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage which can be expanded with a microSD card if required. If in dual SIM configuration, both SIM slots offer 4G. The microSD can be used at the same time as the second SIM card unlike most other dual SIM phones.
The camera is decent without blowing you away but the best thing about the camera is how quickly you can launch into it by just twisting the phone in your hand — never miss a shot. If you want a better camera for those special moments you can always add a Hasselblad Moto Mod camera to the phone for those times. This produces amazing images as shown in last year’s review of the Moto Z.
The phone is a decent size approximately the same size as the Pixel XL and the Huawei P10 Plus. The thickness depends on the Moto Mod you have attached to the back of it but do not let the thinness of the phone trick you into thinking it has a poor battery life. This is by far the best battery life I have ever experienced in a phone, and this from a 3,000mAh battery. Amazing what lean, unadulterated Android can do.
The software on this phone is as close to perfect as I have experienced. Pure Android with many very useful modifications included in a single, non-lagging app. Thank you Motorola.
The Moto Z2 Play is available in Lunar Gray, Fine Gold, and Nimbus Blue from Harvey Norman, The Good Guys Stores, Officeworks, and the Mototola website. The phone can be purchased outright from today for $699 and at that price I cannot recommend it highly enough.