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Moto Z2 Play Review


The Moto Z2 Play is the mid-range smartphone you’ve been waiting for: it’s sleek, sexy and offers a range of Moto Mods that extend the functionality of the smartphone. But is it enough to tempt users away from the likes of the flagship-killing OnePlus 5? We’ve spent some time with the Moto Z2 Play, and here’s what we think.  

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PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The Moto Z2 Play is now available to buy in the UK, and can be found from a number of retailers like Clove alongside Motorola’s own store for £379. That makes it more expensive than the Moto G5 Plus, and a cheaper alternative to the 5.5in OnePlus 5 which costs £70 more at £449.

DESIGN AND BUILD
The Moto Z2 Play is a stunning mid-range smartphone – there’s no argument there. Crafted from brushed aluminium, the Moto Z2 Play looks more like a high-end smartphone rather than a mid-ranger, and feels great in the hand too. From the chamfers around the edge of the display to the slight curvature at the edges to make it more comfortable to hold, every design element has been carefully considered.

It boasts an impressively sleek form factor, measuring in at a rather impressive 156.2 x 76.2 x 6mm and weighing a lightweight 145g. It’s even more impressive when you consider it houses a 5.5in display. Take the 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus for example: while it’s almost double the price of the Moto Z2 Play, the phone is both thicker at 7.3mm and heavier at 188g.

However, the sleek form factor comes at a price, as the battery is smaller than that included in 2016’s Moto Z Play. While a slim smartphone is great, we’d prefer an extra few hours of battery life instead of a saving of a few millimetres.

On the left side of the smartphone, you’ll find two pill-shaped volume buttons alongside the power button. The main issue with this is that it becomes easy to mistake the power button for the volume button and vice versa – as we have done on several occasions while using the smartphone. Lenovo tries to alleviate the issue by texturizing the power button, making it easier to feel the difference between it and the volume button, but we don’t feel like it’s enough.

Admittedly, the rear-facing camera isn’t flush with the rest of the body – in fact, without the removable back plate attached the camera sticks out pretty far. It’s not a huge issue as many of the Moto Mods available (which we come to below) will fully engulf that camera bump, but it’s worth pointing out to potential users.

The Moto Z2 Play features a solid-state touch-sensitive Home button similar to that used on Huawei’s flagship, the Huawei P10, with a built-in fingerprint scanner.

While the idea of using the Home button for multiple functions (Home, Back, Multi-tasking menu and Power) seems like a good idea, we couldn’t get used to the functionality – we’d accidentally access the multi-tasking menu instead of going back, and we’d end up locking the smartphone when trying to go back to the Home screen. It can become frustrating, but Lenovo offers the ability to switch to the standard Android on-screen controls for those that can’t get used to it.

The Moto Z2 Play features a USB-C port at the bottom of the smartphone, alongside a 3.5mm headphone jack – another design benefit compared to the iPhone 7 Plus. In terms of colour options, it’s available in three shades: Lunar Gray, Fine Gold and Nimbus Blue.

The Z2 Play, like the Z Play from 2016, is splash- and dust resistant, but Lenovo doesn’t provide anything in the way of an IP rating so we’re not sure how resistant the smartphone is.

If you remove the magnetic back plate of the Moto Z2 Play, you’ll notice a connection strip that runs along the lower-rear of the smartphone. This strip allows Moto Mods to be used with the Z2 Play, extending the functionality of the smartphone depending on what you want to use it for.

MOTO MODS
Moto Mods extend the functionality of the Moto Z2 Play depending on what you use the smartphone for. It’s a smart idea on Lenovo’s behalf: make the smartphone mid-range and save on the base cost, then offer bespoke upgrades for the camera, battery, speaker and more, depending on what is required by the user.

The Moto Mods are incredibly easy to install and use too – thanks to embedded magnets within the Z2 Play, you simply remove the default back plate and replace it with one of the Moto Mods. It should snap into place and be automatically recognised by the phone with no need to pair. Some may require you to download an additional app to get the most out of the Mod, but beyond the first time setup, it’s a breeze.

The complete range of Moto Mods available for the Moto Z2 Play includes:
  • Moto Insta-Share Projector
  • Moto Style Shell with Wireless Charging
  • Moto TurboPower Pack
  • JBL SoundBoost 2
  • Hasselblad True Zoom
  • Moto 360 Camera
  • Moto Gamepad
  • Incipio Vehicle Dock
  • Mophie Juice Pack
While we didn’t get to use the entire range of Moto Mods with the Moto Z2 Play, we have had a chance to use the JBL SoundBoost 2 and the Moto style shell with wireless charging.

JBL’s SoundBoost 2 Moto Mod adds a speaker to the rear of the device. We all know that built-in smartphone speakers are never great in terms of quality and overall volume, and many opt to use Bluetooth speakers when necessary. The SoundBoost 2 negates the need for a separate Bluetooth speaker, as it does a very good job of amplifying whatever is playing on the smartphone.

While we’ve found the speaker to be loud enough to be used outdoors at the park or at the beach, we’re not blown away by the sound quality. Vocals are clear and it provides a decent mid-range for the price but there isn’t much in terms of bass – playing around with the EQ in the accompanying app improves the quality somewhat, but it’s not perfect.

We found that it performs much better when using it to watch TV shows and movies on the smartphone, especially with the built-in kickstand.

The Moto Style Shell with Wireless Charging does what it says on the tin – provides the Moto Z2 Play with wireless charging without adding any bulk to the smartphone. It’s a no-thrills charging experience and it’s worth noting that the Mod doesn’t include a wireless charger, so you’ll still have to invest in one if you’re thinking about getting the wireless charger mod.

Carry on reading to find out about the features and spec, camera and software. 
FEATURES AND SPEC
Now we’ve discussed the design of the Moto Z2 Play and the Moto Mods available, it’s time to delve a little deeper into what else the mid-range smartphone offers.

Display
Let’s start with the display; the Moto Z2 Play features a crisp 5.5in Super AMOLED display with a Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution. That equates to roughly 401ppi – not bad for a mid-range smartphone – and a 70.1 percent screen-to-body ratio. The use of Super AMOLED rather than IPS LCD provides a brighter, more vivid image and is the same display tech used by flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Moving beyond the specification, it’s a decent display. It’s bright enough to be used outside in sunlight and displays colours beautifully without the over-saturation seen on other smartphones. It’s also protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 and while it isn’t shatterproof like the Moto Z2 Force, it should protect against scratches and low-level impacts.

Specs
It’s when it comes to the internals of the Moto Z2 Play that the mid-range pricetag becomes apparent, as it’s not the fastest smartphone we’ve ever benchmarked – but we’ll come to that in more detail below. First’ let’s discuss the specs.

Inside the Moto Z2 Play you’ll find an octa-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 626. The amount of RAM that is included depends on the storage capacity you opt for; you’ll get 3GB of RAM with the 32GB variant, while the 64GB variant will get 4GB of RAM. For reference, we’ve been using (and have benchmarked) the higher tier Moto Z2 Play with 4GB of RAM. The storage is also expandable by up to 256GB thanks to the microSD card slot.

Alongside the Snapdragon 626, you’ll find an Adreno 506 GPU. It’s a decent mid-range GPU designed to work with the Snapdragon 626, and is found on similarly priced smartphones including the Moto G5 Plus and Redmi Note 4. It won’t compete with flagship smartphones, but it should provide decent performance for the price.  

Benchmark results
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss the benchmark results. While benchmark results don’t always reflect real-world usage, it gives us a much easier way to quantify and compare performance amongst smartphones. We’re comparing it to the first-gen Moto Z Play alongside the similarly priced Moto G5 Plus and the OnePlus 5 to show what you can get if you want to pay a little more.

Let’s start with Geekbench 4. Geekbench is used to test the CPU of the smartphone, and is a good indicator of general performance. As with all tests we performed, a higher number is better. The Moto Z2 Play scored 911 and 4585 in single- and multi-core respectively, beating both the Moto Z Play (790 and 2569) and the Moto G5 Plus (843 and 4225), although it couldn’t quite compete with the ‘flagship killing’ OnePlus 5 (1967 and 6760).

Next up is GFXBench which, as you might’ve guessed by the name, tests the graphical power of the smartphone and helps determine what kind of quality you’ll get when mobile gaming.

We ran multiple tests of varying levels of quality to determine where the Moto Z2 Play performs best and worst, but we’ll only mention two here: T-Rex (lowest quality) and Car Chase (highest quality). Those who want more information can look at the infographic below.

In GFXBench T-Rex, the Moto Z2 Play managed a stable 23fps. That puts it in line with the Moto G5 Plus (23fps) and last year’s Moto Z Play (23fps), suggesting that there isn’t much in terms of a graphical upgrade compared to last year’s model. In fact, it performs slightly worse than the Moto Z Play and Moto G5 Plus in Car Chase, managing only 3.5fps compared to 3.7- and 3.8fps respectively.

As with Geekbench, the OnePlus 5 outperformed the Moto Z2 Play by a long-shot. In T-Rex the OnePlus 5 scored a perfect 60fps and even managed a whopping 25fps in Car Chase. Considering you can pick up a OnePlus 5 for £449 (the Moto Z2 Play is £379), it might be worth saving a little more money and investing in something a little more powerful, especially if you’re into mobile gaming.

The last benchmark we ran was JetStream, a browser-based benchmark that tests the speed of the built-in browser. In the case of the Moto Z2 Play, it’s Google Chrome. While it’ll never be able to compete with the blistering speeds provided by Safari on iOS, the Moto Z2 Play scored 27.1, in line with both the Moto G5 Plus (30.2) and Moto Z Play (30.2) but way behind the OnePlus 5 (73).  

Despite the above results, it’s worth mentioning that in real-world usage we experienced nothing in the way of lag when gaming or using the phone. It should be able to power many of the games available on Google Play. Sure, it might fall over slightly when playing AAA-rated mobile games, but what more do you want from a mid-range smartphone?  


Battery
In terms of battery life, the Moto Z2 Play features a 3,000mAh battery. While that is a decent-sized battery for a 5.5in smartphone, it is worth pointing out that battery life was sacrificed for the slimline design with the Z2 Play as the original Z Play featured a larger 3,510mAh battery.

The Moto Z2 Play also features fast charging technology that provides around 50 percent of the total battery capacity in only 30 minutes, somewhat negating the issue of a smaller battery. Besides, if you find the battery life isn’t enough for you, there’s a Moto Mod that’ll provide the smartphone with extra battery life.

Besides, the battery life isn’t bad on the Moto Z2 Play – while it won’t last days on a single charge, we’ve found it can comfortably last a day with average usage. You might be able to squeeze more out of it if you’re careful with brightness, location services and other battery-draining features, but we didn’t feel we really needed to.

Connectivity
The Moto Z2 Play features the usual range of connectivity options including Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/b/n, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC (which also means it supports Android Pay) and even FM Radio for those that still use the functionality.
As mentioned in the design section of the review, the Moto Z2 Play also offers a USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack for music fans.

Camera
The Moto Z2 Play features a 12Mp rear-facing camera capable of decent low-light photography (f/1.7, 1.4um pixel size) with facial detection, phase detection and laser autofocus and a dual-LED flash to brighten the photo up.

Generally speaking, the Moto Z2 Play produces decent images with great exposure and colour representation, although, as with many mid-range smartphones, details are a little softer than we’d like.

Take the below image of St. Pancras Hotel; while the image looks impressive on the whole, as you start to zoom in you’ll notice the aggressive noise reduction come into play, making smaller details like the individual bricks and paving stones much less noticeable.

The aggressive noise reduction is more apparent when taking low-light photos like the one below, but overall, it captures enough light to make out details of the photo. You can easily read the writing on the glass bottle and iPhone case, although the Dark Knight starts to disappear into the darkness in places.

In terms of video quality, you’ve got a handful of options to choose from: 4K@30fps, 1080p@60fps, 1080p@30fps and 720p@120fps for slow-mo capabilities.

While we initially had reservations about the quality of 4K video on a mid-range smartphone, we were surprised by just how detailed and vibrant the 4K videos we captured were. It’s worth mentioning the lack of optical- or digital image stabilisation here though, as videos taken were fairly shaky even with sturdy hands.

In terms of the front facing camera, you’ll find a 5Mp snapper capable of recording 1080p video. While the quality is standard for a selfie camera in 2017 and more than enough for the likes of Skyping and Snapchatting, the addition of a dual-LED flash should help to capture those selfies in darkened environments.
                                                    
SOFTWARE
The Moto Z2 Play features Android 7.1.1 Nougat, Google’s latest iteration of Android. It comes with all the benefits of Android Nougat including split-screen viewing and the ability to quickly switch apps, and there isn’t much in the way of pre-installed bloatware either. You’ll find a Moto app for customising software features specific to Moto phones, but not much else.

Speaking of the Moto app, let’s discuss a few of those software features. The Moto app gives you access to a range of Moto Actions, a range of shortcuts and actions that Lenovo think will make your smartphone life a little easier.

It includes options like twisting your phone twice to activate the camera and a nifty feature that turns your display on when it thinks you’re reaching for it, along with tweaks like Moto Display and Moto Voice.
While it’s not for everyone, we found ourselves using more and more of these Moto-specific shortcuts the longer we used the smartphone.

SPECS
  • 5.5in (1920x1080, 401ppi) Super AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 7.1.1 (Nougat)
  • Qualcomm MSM8953-Pro Snapdragon 626 (Octa-core 2.2GHz Cortex-A53) CPU
  • Adreno 506 GPU
  • 3/4GB RAM
  • 32/64GB storage, microSD support up to 256GB
  • Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • NFC
  • USB-C
  • 12Mp f/1.7 phase detection and laser focus
  • 5Mp f/2.2 selfie camera
  • Front fingerprint scanner
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Stereo speakers
  • 3,000mAh non-removable lithium-ion battery
  • 156.2x76.2x6mm
  • 145g

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