Motorola Moto Z2 Play Review: The next generation impresses

Alex Kidman 29 June 2017

Quick Verdict
The Motorola Moto Z2 Play is a fine mid-range phone at an appealing price point, but the cost of mods to really bring it to life is still problematic.

Strengths

  • Thinner and better looking design
  • Moto Mod capable
  • Good battery performance
  • Good mid-range app performance
  • Good camera

Could be better

  • Mods can seriously increase the price
  • Huge camera bulge with no mod installed
  • Smaller battery than last year
  • Only hydrophobic, not water resistant


The second generation Moto Z Play is thin, pretty and powerful, although adding any mods to it can quickly bring it up into premium price territory.

2016 was the year when phone makers went modular, with LG first announcing the ill-fated LG G5, and Motorola following suit with the much better designed Moto Z phones with their Moto Mod attachments. It's been a while since the release of the Moto Z and Moto Z Play, but Motorola's been busy refining its designs for its lower cost Z series phone in the form of the Moto Z2 Play.

MotoZ2Play_front_738

Design

The Moto Z Play was a fine phone in design terms at its price point, but like so many mid-range phones it really didn't stand out all that much. For the Z2 Play, Motorola has clearly put its phone designers on a serious diet, with a phone that's markedly thinner and lighter than last year's model.

Motorola Moto Z2 from DWI (Digital World International)

Dual autofocus pixels plus laser autofocus for amazing photos in any light.

View details

Measuring in at 156.2x76.2x5.99mm with a carrying weight of 145 grams (with no moto mod installed), the Moto Z2 Play is light and pleasant to hold in the hand. Like any phone with a 5.5 inch screen it's moderately large, although the side bezels aren't terribly evident. The metal body design feels quite premium, even though this is a phone that's priced at a mid-range price point, but we're increasingly seeing more premium designs in this particular space.

If there's a factor of the Moto Z2 Play's design that stands out for the wrong reasons, it's the rear camera. One of the prices you pay for having Moto Mod design is that the embedded camera has to bulge out markedly, and against the Moto Z2 Play's thin body this couldn't be more evident. With a mod you lose that nice thin edge, but without one, the Z2 Play will always prop itself up on its camera module when laid down flat.

We're seeing more and more phones offer some degree of water resistance in the mid-range space, but the Moto Z2 Play isn't one of them. Like the Moto G5 and Moto G5 Plus, they're coated so that they repel small splashes, but that's all you get.

MotoZ2Play_rear_738

Camera

The rear camera on the Moto Z2 Play is a 12MP dual autofocus pixel camera with 1.4um sensor size and an aperture of f/ 1.7. Motorola's claim is that the included laser autofocus improves low light photography at up to 5 metres, and having put the Z2 Play through its paces, I'm inclined to agree.

It's not a phone camera that's going to overly trouble the true premium phones, but at this price point it's easily one of the best you can get, with fast focus and pleasant colour reproduction. As with its other phones, you can use a double twist action to quickly invoke the camera. I've never found this a particularly pleasant way to launch the camera, but it is quick.

Here's some sample shots from the Z2 Play:

MotoZ2_sample1_738 MotoZ2_sample2_738 MotoZ2_sample4_738 MotoZ2_sample5_738 MotoZ2_sample6_738

Performance

The Motorola Moto Z2 Play is a 5.5 inch phone with a Full HD Amoled display, which is decent in most lighting situations without being necessarily a standout feature. On the processing side it features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 SoC with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, plus the ability to expand via microSD up to 2TB. I seriously doubt too many Moto Z2 Plays will ever see a 2TB card, but then with 64GB onboard for many users that might be a moot point.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 isn't a high end CPU solution for a smartphone, but within its relative price bracket in the Moto Z2 Play, it performs snappily, no doubt helped by the onboard optimisations inherent in Android 7.1 and Motorola's generally light launcher touch. Here's how the Moto Z2 Play compared against competing handsets at similar price points in Geekbench 4's CPU test:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Huawei P1019225633
Motorola Moto Z2 Play8914485
Oppo R9s Plus14664415
Moto G5 Plus8424180
Apple iPhone SE24494171
ZTE Axon 717214089
Apple iPhone 6s24654052
Samsung Galaxy A77713998
Motorola Moto Z14773853
HTC U Ultra16483848
Sony Xperia XZ16363604
Motorola Moto Z Play7992648
Motorola Moto X Force13523581
Huawei GR5 20178143398
Oppo R9s8433119

It's not quite as strong in the 3D graphics space, where it barely outperformed last year's Motorola Moto Z Play in 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test:

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
Apple iPhone SE29276
Apple iPhone 6s28171
Sony Xperia XZ26279
Motorola Moto Z25629
Huawei P1025168
Google Nexus 6P24703
ZTE Axon 723955
Oppo R9s Plus17755
Motorola Moto Z2 Play14032
Motorola Moto Z Play13958
Moto G5 Plus13753
Samsung Galaxy A713629
Huawei GR5 201711859

Still, overall performance in real world situations is suitably snappy for its price range, and anyone buying the Moto Z2 Play is unlikely to be disappointed in how it handles itself day to day.

Motorola's approach for most of its phones has been to take it very light on launcher and additional features above and beyond Google's standard apps, but the Moto Z2 Play does have a few specific neat features, such as Motorola's onboard Moto Voice app, the simple gestures such as twist for unlocking the camera or a double chop motion for the flashlight.

They've also borrowed a trick from the Huawei P10 by making the fingerprint sensor capable of doing double duty as a home, apps and back button depending on the gesture. It's a touch more sensitive than the P10, and it's disabled by default, but once you get used to it you can really fly around the Z2 Play's interface.

MotoZ2Play_front2_738

Battery life

Smartphone manufacturers usually trend upwards when it comes to battery inclusions on smartphones, because a smartphone without power is just an expensive silicon brick. The thinner and lighter design of the Moto Z2 Play means that it's dropped a significant chunk of its battery storage, offering just 3,000mAh where the original Z Play had a hearty 3510mAh power pack. I was keen to see how the Moto Z2 Play would compare, because while anecdotally it didn't have too much trouble making it through a testing day, a smaller battery is still a smaller battery. Here's how it compared using Geekbench 3's older battery test:

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
LG X Power14:50:305714
Huawei Nova Plus13:21:208013
Samsung Galaxy A712:40:307603
BlackBerry KEYone12:05:00DNF
Motorola Moto Play Z211:50:507107
Huawei GR5 201711:33:506938
Motorola Moto G5 Plus11:15:406756
Motorola Moto X Force9:46:503914
Motorola Moto 4G Plus9:44:103977
Huawei P109:31:305523
Sony Xperia XZ8:24:205042
ZTE Axon 77:56:204763
Moto Z6:38:103981
Motorola Moto G56:32:503833

That's an impressive battery figure for a phone with that sized power pack, and a clear sign that it should be easily capable of single day battery life, or maybe even two if you're a very moderate user.

MotoZ2Play_front3_738

Verdict

At $699 outright, the Motorola Moto Z2 Play is an excellent option within its price range, thanks to the great camera and good battery life. There's a very small catch here, however, and it's one that's endemic to the whole Moto Mods/Z series concept.

To really make the most out of the Moto Mods support, you're going to have to buy some, and that can seriously increase the overall price you're paying for the Moto Z2 Play, whether you up the battery capacity, add wireless charging or opt for one of the more fun mods such as the projector or Hassleblad camera accessory. In many ways it's an ecosystem lock-in, because that's a fine investment if you're happy buying Moto Z series phones for the next couple of years. If you like swapping brands around however, they could be a pricey one-time upgrade.

The Motorola Moto Z2 Play is available in Australia from 30 June 2017 with an outright price of $699.MotoZ2Play_front4_738

Specifications

Motorola Moto Z2 Play
Operating SystemAndroid 7.1.1
Storage64GB with expandable microSD up to 2TB
Screen size5.5inch
Resolution1080 x 1920
Rear camera12MP
Front camera5MP
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 626
Display density401ppi
Battery3000mAh

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