Lenovo and Motorola brought their modular functionality concept to the mid-range with the Moto Z Play last year. This device was one of our favorite value smartphones of 2016, and now its successor, the Moto Z2 Play, features some key improvements and even more Moto Mod accessories. However, Motorola seems to have made a few compromises this time around. The Z2 Play has a much smaller battery than before, and also went up in price. Will this be another home run like the original Z Play, or did the company make too many compromises? Find out, in my full Moto Z2 Play review!
Just before I get to the review however, let me send out a huge thanks to my awesome friends over at Verizon Wireless for sending this device over to me and allowing me to review it. I am super grateful to them because they are constantly keeping me supplied with new devices to review such as the Moto Z2 Play as well as the upcoming reviews of the Moto Z2 Force and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
You can also watch our good friend Tony Simons at Android Unfiltered do a quick unboxing video of his Moto Z2 Play and all of the Moto Mods. I unfortunately didn’t get Moto Mods sent to me but we’ve been assured that we will get them when we get the Moto Z2 Force device here in a couple of weeks at the most.
The modular feature discussed above means this phone has a unique design when compared to the iPhone 7, HTC U11 or the Samsung Galaxy S8 and indeed most current phones.
It’s thinner than all of those devices, with the body of the phone coming in at only 6mm, but the large camera bump is thicker, which may annoy some people. You should also bear in mind that adding on various modules will mean the phone gets much thicker.
Without the modules, this is an extremely lightweight phone, and is comfortable to have in your pocket. Like the other Moto Mod-compatible phones, a row of visible pins can be found on the rear, lower portion of the phone, and while they’re obviously a necessity for Mod functionality, they’re hardly good-looking. In fact, the overall design choices appear to have been made to accommodate the Mods, with numerous oddities as a result.
The Z2 Play features a fully metal design with brushed edges and a mostly flat back, which feels strange in the palm of your hand. It’s not glass like the original Moto Z Play, and some may find this phone a tricky to handle, as it can prove a bit slippery.
In addition, Moto has chosen to use three very tiny buttons for volume up/down along with the standby controls. The latter might be slightly bevelled, but I often found myself hitting the volume keys when I actually wanted to turn the phone off.
Flip the phone over and what you see is far more attractive. The 5.5-inch display is surrounded by a fairly slim bezel and has a fingerprint sensor on its bottom. Like the Moto G5, this sensor can act as a gesture pad for replacing the on-screen buttons, but it doesn’t function simply as a home button.
My review unit is mostly gold, with a white front, but the Motorola Z2 Play is available in a gray color with bits of black around the edges. Motorola claims the Z2 Play is ‘splashproof’, which means it will survive; allegedly; a water spill, but don’t go dunking it in the bath.
A 5.5-inch, 1080p display with 401 pixels per inch is common at this price and the display included on the Moto Z2 Play is perfectly fine. It’s sharp; unless you get super-close – and since it’s an AMOLED panel, blacks are deep and colours bright. There are two screen modes to choose from, Standard and Vibrant, and I’d suggest sticking with the default Vibrant. Switching to Standard renders everything slightly washed out and dull.
Viewing angles are fine, although colour banding can be an issue, plus peak brightness could do with an extra few nits. While outside however, the display can be a quite difficult to see, especially if you’re in the sunlight at all. One of Moto’s best ever software features, Moto Display, is present and makes use of that AMOLED panel. It lights up only the pixels it needs to display notifications when they come in, and you can reply directly without unlocking the phone.
To fit in with its mid-range price, the Moto Z2 Play has a mid-range SoC running the show. The Snapdragon 626 is a new chip, and one that focuses on efficiency while still being able to handle the most common day to day tasks with ease.
The Moto Z2 Play is a fast phone, and unless you push it really hard you won’t notice much slowdown. Games run well, although graphically intensive titles such as Injustice 2 do take longer to load and run at a lower frame rate than phones with an 835 processor. But, realistically, this phone feels fast. The phones comes with 4GB of RAM and an impressive 64GB of storage, with the option of adding more through a microSD card. That’s generous storage for the price.
However, the real advantage of the 626 is efficiency and how it works to get as much battery life as possible out of the cell without sacrificing performance. Considering the impressive battery life stats, which you’ll discover in the Battery Life section, it’s clear that it delivers on the promise.
The mono speaker sits on the front of the device and it isn’t capable of getting very loud. Since it’s on the front, it pushes the sound towards you, rather than down into your palm – but it’s a better speaker than the one included in the Samsung Galaxy S8. Normally I would run a suite of benchmark tools to gather some synthetic information, but neither Geekbench 4 or Antutu worked on the Moto Z2 Play.
Sub-$500 phones have seen improvements in many areas, but they still sit comfortably below their pricier counterparts when it comes to camera tech. The Moto Z2 Play is no different. It promises plenty with its impressive camera specs, but it fails to consistently deliver decent pictures in varying conditions.
The 12-megapixel sensor and f/1.7 lens capture detail well, especially in macro shots where the subject is close. That wide aperture gives a lovely, natural bokeh effect and portraits are especially sharp. As you can see in the camera samples below, focusing on a plant accurately blurs the background and leaves the foreground in focus. You can capture some excellent shots in this manner, and it’s the one area where this camera really shines.
However, it struggles when the light isn’t perfect. Even daylight shots produced very dark images, without there being an obvious reason why. This was particularly noticeable in landscape photos, where the sun isn’t directly in view, leaving an image that’s lacking both colour and dynamic range.
Even though the camera has a wide aperture that should let greater light into the sensor, night-time shots were generally terrible. Noise becomes an issue, exposure is way off and the focus slows right down. If you’re looking for better night shots at a similar price, I’d suggest the Honor 9. The lack of OIS, something still rarely seen at this price, also becomes noticeable in lower light and when trying to capture 4K video.
Despite the fact Motorola has swapped the original Z’s 3510mAh battery for a smaller A 3000mAh cell to accommodate the new, thinner body. Despite the mAh drop, battery life remains fantastic.
I’ve averaged between seven and eight hours of screen-on time, with the phone consistently lasting a full day. There were days when I could easily go from a morning to after work the following day without having to reach for the charger. That’s impressive, and much better than what’s offered by flagships such as the HTC U11 and the Samsung Galaxy S8. It charges up quickly too, thanks to the included Turbo Charger.
I was once a die hard Motorola fan, back with their first three Moto X devices. Then Lenovo bought them and for a while things slipped big time. I went with the Moto G4 Plus and updates were promised and promised that never happened and that turned me off, big time. I decided at that point to go with the iPhone 7 Plus and the Pixel XL and I was happy to admit that. I had totally written off Motorola at the time but that has changed with the Motorola Moto Z2 Play. Overall it’s a decent device. The camera isn’t great by no means and that’s probably the most important feature on a phone for me. Not because I’m some professional photographer, but I do like to take a lot of pictures with my devices.
Motorola has sworn that stock Android UI is their thing going forward and my hopes are that more regular, frequent updates will happen along the way. Staying up to date is important for a lot of reasons. We can only see what the future holds.
For now, with the Moto Z2 Play, we’ve got what we’ve got and for a device that costs $500 – $600 it’s definitely doable and recommended. Don’t expect a Pixel type device, but you can expect a really decent device for the price you’re paying.
Again, thanks to our partners in crime over at Verizon Wireless for allowing us to do this review. We look forward to being able to provide a review of the Motorola Z2 Force very soon and then hopefully have a Note 8 here at the TeD HQ to do a review of.
Motorola Z2 Play$394.98
Design And Form Factor10/10
- Metal Build Quality
- Smooth Performance
- Water Repellent
- SD Card Slot
- Great Battery Life
- Fingerprint Sensor Is Quick
- Moto Mods Compatible
- Moto Mods Are A Bit Expensive
- Camera Is Sub-par
- Screen Difficult To See Outdoors