Home Mobile devices Motorola Z2 Play – more is less (review)

Motorola Z2 Play – more is less (review)

The Moto Z2 Play, Gen 2, 2017, packs way more into its next iteration as the entry-level flagship of the Z series. Add Moto Mods compatibility and it can take sales from its more expensive big brothers, the Z2 and Z2 Force.

The Z2 Play is the “sleeper” of the year – a very well specified, very well made, very well performing phone that accepts Moto Mods and instead of an expensive specification and price race to the top, Motorola has made it for what constitutes a mass-market price of $699.

After using the phone for a couple of weeks I can say it is a complete package – there is nothing you could want for, and any compromises to reach the low price point are immaterial. For example, it uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 with heaps of power, a 5.5”, HD AMOLED screen (not a battery draining UHD or 4K), the rear camera is great with huge 1.4 µm pixels, 4/64GB RAM/Storage and much more.

Add to that the flexibility of Moto Mods (magnetic snap on’s that seriously extend the functionality of a smartphone) and it is a winner.

Out of the box – Motorola Moto Z2 Play Mode XT1710-09

Motorola is owned by Lenovo and this is one of the first new phones to come with the new branding and style. The bright red box is meant to convey the impression of fun and playfulness and stands out from the crowd.

The box includes

  • The phone
  • Quality headphones/mic (buds)
  • USB-C 5V/9V/12V Turbo fast charger
  • USB- to USB-A cable

First impressions are light and thin – it has a bit of a stark metal back with pogo pins and a camera bump unless you buy a Moto Mod cover.

Moto Z2P box

Specifications

 Model

Motorola Moto Z2 Play XT1710-09

Screen

5.5”, HD 1080p (1920 × 1080), 16:9 ratio
Super AMOLED, 401 PPI, Gorilla Glass 3

Screen to body

70.1%

Processor

GPU

Qualcomm MSM8953-Pro Snapdragon 626
Eight-core, ARM Cortex A53 2.2GHz
Dual image processors
Hexagon Digital signal processor and All-Ways aware tech
Adreno 506 for graphics and as a natural language and contextual computing co-processor

RAM/Storage
microSD

4GB LPDDR3-933 /64GB eMMC
UHS-1 support up to 2TB (OTG support)

Camera rear

12MP, 1.4um, f1.7
laser Autofocus, Phase Detection, dual pixel Auto Focus (PDAF)
Colour Correlated Temperature (CCT) dual LED flash
EIS for video (no OIS)
Up to 4K @30fps

Camera Front

5MP, 1.4 um, f/2.2 Wide-Angle Lens
Colour Correlated Temperature (CCT) dual LED flash
Auto Night mode, Beautification software
Up to 1080 @30fps

IP rating

Motorola nano-coating for splash resistance

Fingerprint

Yes – solid state on front home key with navigation

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi N, dual band, 1x1 MIMO – theoretical peak 433Mbps
Wi-Di cast, Hotspot

Bluetooth

4.2

Audio

Front ported single speaker (earpiece)
3 mics and Qualcomm Fluence noise cancellation
3.5mm combo audio port

SIM
microSD

Dual Sim
second doubles for microSD

LTE

1,3, 5, 7, 8,19, 20, 28, 40,41
LTE 13/7 (300/150Mbps), VoLTE, VoWifi, HD and Ultra Voice

Other

NFC
FM radio
GPS
Moto Mods pogo pins on rear – compatible with all mods

Software

Moto Display, Moto Voice, Moto Actions

Battery

USB

3000mAh

Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 and Moto Turbo

7 hrs use in 15 minutes, 50% in 30 minutes, 100% in under 2 hours

USB-C port with USB 3.1 support

Android

7.1.1 Pure Android

Dimensions

Weight

76.2 × 156.2 × 5.99 mm
145g

Colours

Luna Grey (Ash colour), Fine Gold, or Nimbus Blue
Full aluminium body and back and very solid build

Price

A$699

URL

https://store.motorola.com.au/product/moto-z-play-2/

What is has not got

Wireless charging – Moto Style wireless 15W charge shell extra
Wi-Fi AC
No stereo speakers

The design is in many ways fixed by the need to remain compatible with the Mods – so expect 16:9 screens, larger top and bottom bezels etc. It looks “traditional”, not svelte like the Samsung S8 or LG G6 but I kind of like the older style.

Moto Z2P back

Despite the big bezels Moto insists on having soft home/back/recent app keys and these occupy the bottom 10mm of the screen. But the Home key, Nav Control can remove the need for these.

Screen – AMOLED of any type is better than IPS of any type

True black, perfect contrast, truer colours and Google Daydream VR compatible. Has standard mode for sRGB and enhanced for punchier colours.

But the screen’s surface was a little more reflective than it needed to be so daylight viewing was more impaired than I am used to with AMOLED.

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint performance is good and you can enrol 5 prints.

The front mounted scanner offers Moto's One-button Nav control. This mode removes the usual trio of Android soft keys - home, back and recent apps - from the screen, instead offering them as finger-input gestures on the scanner itself. Swipe left to go back; swipe right to open current apps; press to return home (or the lock screen), or press-and-hold to activate Google Assistant.

Battery

Everything about this is battery sipping – HD AMOLED screen, Qualcomm 626 processor, LP RAM etc. My only annoyance is that the battery percentage does not show in the top notification bar.

Over a two-week test, I found I could safely leave it up to 36 hours between charges – a full 24-hour day and charge it next morning.

But the quick charge 15W Turbo pump fast charge is great, going from 0 to 100% in 100 minutes, and the Moto Mod Style 15W wireless charge cover works a treat going from 0 to 100% in around two hours.

Audio

The single ear piece speaker is loud enough for GPS instructions and hands-free. but it is a disappointment as a music speaker.

Bluetooth and 3.5mm audio output were excellent and covered the 20Hz-20kHz spectrum.

Camera

The 12MP rear camera has a bright f1.7 aperture, 1.4um pixels and dual pixel, phase detection, laser autofocus. The camera also has two-tone dual LED flash and can do 4K video.

It is the same Sony IMX362 camera sensor as the Moto G5 Plus, so it is a good camera in most conditions. It also uses the same sensor as the class leading HTC U11 camera that scored a DxOMark of 90 and holds the current crown. HTC’s camera is brilliant and I suspect that is to do with its app, lenses and extra processing power of its Qualcomm 835.

  • Outdoors, daylight: Good, accurate colour, contrast and detail. Fast autofocus.
  • Outdoors, evening: Night mode and a f/1.7 lens produces better results. Dual flash is good but limited to less than 3m.
  • Indoors, good light (Office 500 lumens): Auto HDR helps bring out the details but make sure you have a well-lit scene.
  • Indoors, low light: Lots of post processing to clean up and produce acceptable to good shots.
  • 4K video is good but EIS/HDR only works on 1080 @30fps.
  • Front selfie camera is good and has a dual LED flash.

Summary: Produces good all-around shots for the price, but you can get much more out of it if you learn some of the manual settings.

Performance

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 is the 2017 version of the 625 and it has some top-drawer specifications like an X9, Cat 13/9, 300/150Mbps LTE modem, dual camera image signal processors, the Adreno GPU/coprocessor (handles lower idle tasks), Bluetooth 4.2 and more.

It is being used in the Samsung Galaxy C5/C7 Pro, ASUS ZenFone 4, Alcatel Idol 5, and many other mid-range Chinese handsets. But it is not a powerhouse like last year’s Z using a Snapdragon 820 or the yet to be released Z2/Force using an 835. Let’s just say it is about 10% better than the 2016 Z Play and that is fine.

It runs Android 7.x flawlessly, it will multitask, and has more than enough power to meet its specified uses.

Stock Android

Perhaps this phone's greatest asset is the Android 7 and the very light skin Moto use. I would not be surprised to see it upgraded to 8.0 in its life.

It comes with Moto Actions (chop twice for a flashlight, twist for camera etc.) and the fingerprint sensor has basic motion sensitivity.

Moto Display lights the screen when you have notifications – no LED light.

Pros

  • Great build – like the Lunar Grey (Ash) colour
  • Good all-around camera but best in good light
  • AMOLED HD screen
  • Plenty of power – fit for use
  • Light and impressively thin at 145g/5.99mm but need to add a Moto Mod cover (Charge cover 42g)
  • Two-day battery
  • Fits all Moto Mods
  • Moto support in Australia is par excellence
  • Pure Android and Moto’s optimisation

Cons

  • No notification LED but there is a show me screen action
  • Soft keys on screen should be capacitive keys on bezel but Nav Control will remove them
  • Single speaker is loud but has limited hi-fidelity.
  • No OIS for camera – hold still
  • Wi-Fi N
  • No Battery % indicator
  • Lower screen to body ratio and 16:9 screen makes it look wider

Summary

You must remember that this is a $699 phone – and as that falls in the $500-799 mid-range price bracket you must ask is there any better for the price? It is not my place to make that value judgment, but you will no doubt consider Moto’s G5 Plus, the ZTE Axon 7, the OPPO R9s Plus and new R11.

But on uniqueness, this phone wins as it uses Moto Mods and one hopes Motorola’s commitment to this concept matches the potential so far. Remember it needs Mods to make it different – if you are not going to embrace them, buy a different phone.

Moto Z2P modes

I like the phone – it did everything I asked, it was a pleasure to use, it worked with my mods (Yes, I have purchased a car dock/wireless charger, a Moto Style charge shell, and a Hasselblad 10X zoom camera to work with my Moto Z – great. I covet a JBL sound boost for travel).

This is a classic example of the best of the 2016 flagship features coming down to the 2017 mid-range and it’s a phone with which everyone could be very happy.

As a mid-market phone and with Mods compatibility it’s a 10 out of 10. If you don’t want to enter the Moto family then there is some other straight smartphone competition to consider including Moto’s G5 Plus.

Moto different 

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!