Moto Z2 Play Review

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Now that Sean P is back from vacation and has spent some time with the Z2 Play, we are ready to give you our thoughts on this mid tier offering from Lenovo & Motorola.  The most recent episode of the Silicon Theory podcast will also be our review, so if you’d rather hear our thoughts than read them, check that out instead.  And we want to take the time to thank Motorola and their marketing affiliates for getting us the device and the Moto Mods to review.  Our review of the mods will follow soon, but without further ado, let’s dive into the phone review.

Hardware

  • Shawn (4/5)

Build quality is good overall. Solid, no creaks – its razor thin, with a large camera hump, which isn’t great. But it feels like a sturdy, well built phone. Display is nice and bright, FHD Super AMOLED, and at half power, indoor viewing is not an issue. Colors appear to be nice and vibrant, and its does have a more accurate sRGB mode for those that are not into the punchy colors of an AMOLED display. It’s the less modern 16:9 form factor, and is in fact almost virtually identical in front screen real estate as the Pixel XL. It greatly resembles the Pixel XL in overall footprint as well. Headphone jack is present and on the bottom where it belongs. It uses USB Type-C to charge. Front facing fingerprint scanner is fast and accurate. Would I prefer it on the rear of the device? Yes, but I’m biased, due to Pixel madness.

  • Sean P (3.5/5)

Light and thin. When I first got it in hand it almost felt like a toy. Compared to the GS8+ I normally use it is refreshingly light and comfortable. The design itself is nothing remarkable and looks fairly generic. The camera hump is huge and the bezels are large due to the 16:9 screen aspect ratio, but neither proved to be an issue during use. The screen is an above average 5.5” 1080p pentile-matrix OLED. Colors are punchy, blacks are black and viewing angles are excellent. The screen is plenty bright in most situations, but doesn’t seem to have an auto boost function in direct sunlight and can be difficult to see on a sunny day. The front facing fingerprint scanner works well enough but is a little slower than others I’ve used and misses slightly more often as a result. The hardware is fine for the price point but lacks wow factor.

Performance

  • Shawn (4/5)

Really snappy. No issues loading apps or scrolling through recents. Camera loads and launches fast, and unlocking is a cinch. If you are looking for a stock Android experience, this is about as good as it gets. The look and feel of stock Android is preserved in almost every way, but with a few other goodies thrown in for good measure. There are the Moto Actions, which can help you to quickly perform routine tasks (the chop to enable flashlight is my fave) as well as Moto Display. Our Verizon review unit was a bit buggy with the active display feature, frequently lighting up even when there was nothing to show. It was a bit of an issue, so I ended up disabling it. Other than this, I found the performance to be slightly better than what I’d expect from a phone in this pricing tier; good, but not Pixel or Galaxy S8 levels.

The Verizon 3GB/32GB storage review unit we received is the lower spec’d variant, as there is a 4GB/64GB version which I would probably recommend if you had the free cash and were looking to buy this phone. While the extra RAM probably isn’t a huge deal breaker, double the storage probably is.

  • Sean P (4/5)

In a word, solid. The Z2 Play is essentially running stock Android and the Snapdragon 626 (14nm, Octa-core A53 running at up to 2.2ghz) is up to the task. During normal use I didn’t have any issues launching apps, using the app switcher or playing games. I like what Motorola has done with the software, stock Android with additional useful features. I wish my GS8+ software was as nimble.

It isn’t as quick as the Pixel, GS8+, OnePlus 5 or other flagships but I doubt most users would notice a difference. The performance is more than enough.

Camera

  • Shawn (3/5)

Detail appears to be good. Colors are a touch too dark. The camera is capable enough in good light, but struggles a bit more indoors and in low light. The lack of OIS doesn’t help make low light shots any better without a flash. The auto focus sometimes struggled with getting the focus right, especially with portrait shots indoors and low light shots outdoors. I was able to capture a few really stunning pics outdoors, and a few macro shots that had very good detail and focus. Other times the pictures near or just after sundown showed the same lack of focus and were a bit noisier than you’d hope for. Some samples of both the good and not so good images are below.

The app launches fast enough and you have the double twist to launch even when the display is off, which is nice. I’d say the camera is about average for a phone in this price range and leave it at that.

  • Sean P (3.5/5)

Camera quality is one of the main differentiators between mid-tier phones like the Z2 Play and flagships. This is why OnePlus made such a huge deal out of the dual cameras when they introduced the OnePlus 5. Unfortunately, the Z2 Play doesn’t buck the trend of mid-tier phones being a step behind flagships in camera quality.

In good lighting the phone is plenty fast and takes very passable pictures. Detail and color were good and I didn’t run into any focus issues. In lower light the camera struggles a bit with focus and noise, but still produced what I would consider to be usable photos. The f/1.7 aperture helps make up for the lack of OIS by letting in lots lots of light to the sensor, but the processing doesn’t always seem to be on point. As Motorola updates things I’m sure this will continue to improve.

The average user will be happy with this camera. The quality of the photos are more than good enough for Facebook/Instagram.

Battery Life

  • Shawn (5/5)

There was a lot of concern over the reduction in battery capacity from the Z Play to the Z2 Play devices. It looks like those concerns were mostly unfounded, at least in my experience. I’ve been getting what I’d consider very good to excellent battery life on Verizon here in Southern California. With light to moderate use, I think getting 2 days of use off of a single charge would be a cinch. Many of the other reviews I’ve read are disappointed with the battery life mostly in comparison to the previous model device.

While that is perhaps fair, taken in a vacuum, I think most users would find the Z2 Play’s battery life more than acceptable. The 3000mah battery mated with the S626 and 1080p display produced more than 5 hours of screen on time in every day I used it. Compared to other phones with 1440p displays and more power hungry processors, it’s better (and it should be) – but to get that kind of life and SOT in a phone that’s under $500 is still an accomplishment Moto should be proud of.

  • Sean P (5/5)

Despite the reduction in battery capacity of the Z2 Play compared to the original Z Play (3000mah vs 3510mah), battery life is fantastic. The first day of use I got 7 hours and 12 minutes of screen on time (SOT) and still had 12% battery left. This was an atypically high use day for me, as I usually average closer to 3 hours of SOT. The rest of the week I never ended the day with less than 50% battery left.

The combination of the 14nm Snapdragon 626 and a 5.5” 1080p OLED screen is a winner. Most users should be able to get 2 days out of charge and even heavy users should make it through a day with room to spare. All smartphones should aspire to have battery life as good as the Z2 Play.

Value

  • Shawn (3.5-4.5/5)

As with a few other things, when taken in a vacuum, the Moto Z2 Play is a solid performing device that is well built and has a fine display, performs very well, has very good battery life, and a “what you’d expect at this price” camera. The problem with the phone has nothing to do with it per se; it’s just that nothing exists in a vacuum in the world of mobile tech. It seems hard to justify both the price increase from last year as well as the overall price when OnePlus for example has a phone that boasts better specs and the same or similar camera experience at a base price that is $20 less than an unlocked Z2 Play. The Moto Mods might make a difference for some, but if you aren’t interested in any of those, I don’t know what the Z2 Play might offer you in terms of the experience that the OnePlus 5 couldn’t equal, or even better.

If you are on Verizon, and are in the $400 price range, the Moto Z2 Play is a solid choice. (4.5/5) – those not on Verizon have a few other options that they should consider before pulling the trigger however (3.5/5)

  • Sean P (3.5/5)

The Z2 Play is a well rounded device. The screen, performance and camera are all average to above average, and the battery life is straight up excellent. The main issue is the price. Simply put, the $499 asking price for the unlocked version is too high unless you really love MotoMods. The base OnePlus 5 can be purchased for $479 and provides more bang for the buck. The same goes for the Huawei Mate 9 for $499. Hell, even the LG G6 can be found new for under $500 with relative ease and is superior in most ways.

Having said that, the asking price at Verizon of $408 is much more palatable. At that price I wouldn’t have a hard time recommending this phone, especially if excellent battery life is your main priority. This weekend (7/29 & 7/30) Verizon is selling the Z2 Play for $120 after 24 months of bill credits which is a straight up steal.

Hopefully Motorola drops the price of the unlocked variant to $399 because this really is a very solid phone, but at $499 I fear it won’t get the attention it deserves.

 

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One thought on “Moto Z2 Play Review

  1. Pingback: Weekend recap | Silicon Theory

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