Moto Z2 Play Review – Modular Functionality For Cheap

Ever since acquiring the brand Motorola, Lenovo has been trying hard to increase the market share of Moto smartphones here in Malaysia. The latest smartphone that Lenovo has brought in is the Moto Z2 Play, a more affordable option in Moto’s top line-up, the Z-series. Priced at RM1999, can the Z2 Play stand out in the huge sea of the mid-range smartphone market here in Malaysia? Let’s find out.

Unboxing

For starters, the Z2 Play comes in a unique packaging. The red packaging opens sideways, which immediately reveals the phone itself. Apart from a USB wall adapter, a USB-C cable, a pair of in-ear earphones and a SIM tray removal tool, it also comes with a thick stack of documentations, which is rare and rather wasteful considering that most manufacturers out there have their documentations available online and only comes with a quick start guide.

Design

Motorola always have their own unique design language to make their device stand out among its predecessors. That design language seemed to gone off track with the Moto M, but we’re glad to see it’s back with the new Z2 Play. Like its predecessor, the Moto Z, the Z2 play features the same slim and sleek design, even though it is still a unibody construction. But at least you can tell it is a Moto device even from a distance. Even though the Z2 Play is more of a mid-range offering, Moto do not feel the need to cut corners in the design department. With a thickness of only 6 mm, it is probably one of the slimmest device we’ve tested so far. Width can be a slight issue for those with smaller hands due to the large display, but it is a small niggle to deal with. We are also not so sure with the huge bump on the camera lens which is a consequence of the super slim body. It does get in the way at times and can be really annoying. This means that the device can’t sit flat on a surface.

Being a mid-range device, the choice of materials and build quality are solid too. The front glass feels premium, and the premium touch is further enhanced by its 2.5-D looking rounded corners. The rest of the device is a metal. It feels premium and although it can be slippery at times, but that’s what contributes the most to the premium and solid build quality feeling. The chamfered edges are a nice touch. Despite all that, the Z2 Play only weighs at around 145 grams.

A 5.5-inch display dominates the front panel, along with acceptable amount of bezels on both sides. There is a subtle moto branding right above the display, followed by an earpiece, which also acts as a mono loudspeaker. To go along with the 5-megapixel front-facing camera located on the right, a dual-tone LED flash can also be found towards the left. The rest of the front panel only consist of a finger-print reader that is located at the bottom. Like all Moto devices, it utilizes on-screen Android navigation controls.

The rest of the device is pretty clean. The tray is located at the top of the device, and it consist of two nanoSIM card slots and a dedicated microSD card slot for storage expansion. A nice move by Moto and we really wish all other manufacturers can do the same. The bottom only leaves space for a USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The volume and power buttons are on the right, and it is easily to differentiate the power buttons with its textured finish.

Our review model does come with a metal back, with what seems like antenna bands running on all 4 sides. The rear-facing 12-megapixel camera and its dual-tone LED flash sits in a housing that is budged up a few millimeters from the rest of the back. Even though it has chamfered edges for the budged section, it can be quite a nuisance. There is a subtle Moto logo below the camera housing. One thing that make the Moto stand out from all the others in the range is its modularity, which explains the connectors at the bottom of the device. Named “Moto Mods”, you can add or remove more additional features to make your experience better. Moto currently offers quite a lot of add-ons for the Z2 Play, from projectors, loud stereo speakers to battery banks. While some of the modular items can be bulky, Moto has tried to make it feel like it can still fit in your pocket, which explains the slim nature of the Z2 Play itself.

You can have your Z2 Play in 2 simple colours in Malaysia – Lunar Grey like our review unit, or Fine Gold. Unfortunately, the rather attractive Nimbus Blue colour is not available in our market.

Moto Z2 Play Exterior Photos

Specs and Performance

The specs on paper for the Z2 Play is also a slight step up from it’s other competitors. While most others feature Qualcomm’s rather infamous processor for mid-range devices – the Snapdragon 625, the Z2 Play gets Snapdragon 626 processor, which is a slight bump from the 625. While it still consists of 8 lower-powered cores, the Z2 Play does benefit from a higher clock speed at 2.2GHz. The idea is to get tasks carried out as efficiently as possible by spreading it out to all 8 cores. Our market does receive 4GB to RAM to go along with the processor.

As per usual, you can expect the Z2 Play to perform very well. In fact, even when compared to smartphones of similar specs, the Z2 Play performs better with its near-vanilla Android layout and slightly higher clock speed. Lighter tasks are not a problem for this processor, and feels very optimized. It deals with heavy tasks better than its competitions with similar specs. It does make you wonder at times – why would you pay more for better specs when this is already working well? It is rather rare for the Z2 Play to run into any lags, unless if a specific task demand more than what the Z2 Play could offer. Due to its slim profile, it is rather easy to feel the heat when all 8 cores are operating at its maximum speed. The 4GB RAM is also adequate to keep a fair amount of processes running in the background.

The scores that we got from our usual Geekbench benchmarking app pretty much speaks for itself. The Z2 Play achieved 909 on single-core score and 4643 for multi-core score. The slightly higher clock speed does make quite a difference, and both scores are the highest we’ve seen for this processor.

64GB of storage does come with the Moto Z2 Play, and while read speeds are over 200MB/s, the write speed is half of that, but it isn’t a problem for the Z2 Play. If you’re looking to expand the storage with a microSD card, the Z2 Play features a standalone slot for your microSD card, and you don’t have to give up on dual-SIM functionality like other recent phones we’ve seen lately. The Z2 Play will take microSD cards up to 256GB, and you can expand the internal storage by fusing both to create a large volume.

The Z2 Play comes with wide variety of connectivity options. A dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi can be expected, as well as Bluetooth 4.2. As usual, dual-SIM and dual-standby functionality are there for your convenience, and while both cards can be connected to 4G LTE, it can only run either 1 for data connection.

We are also very impressed with the fingerprint reader that is located at the bottom of the screen on the front panel. While it does not have a matte surface, it is still able to pick up well, and rarely fails on us even with a greasy finger. Sometimes there is a small delay, but that’s a small thing to deal with. It can be slightly sensitive, and you may feel vibration from the device when it failed to pick up fingerprints in your pocket.

Display

A 5.5-inch display can be found on the Z2 Play, and while it may not be the sharpest or with the most amount of pixels, it is right in line with its competitions. The resolution packed in the Z2 Play is the usual Full HD resolution (1080 X 1920), which leads us to the magic number for pixel density – 401 pixels-per-inch. It is sharp enough and crisp as well.

Another advantage that the Z2 Play have over most of its competitions is its display panel. While the Zenfone 3 Zoom that we’ve reviewed features a regular AMOLED panel, the Z2 Play a step higher, packing a Super AMOLED panel. Like all other Super AMOLED panels out there, the display is far more vivid than what IPS could offer. Thanks to the deep blacks nature of the AMOLED panel, colours are extremely vivid and bright, if not a little too artificial and overdone. It is bright as well, and have great viewing angle as they are literally no gap between the panel and the front glass. It has a rather high peak brightness, which makes it easy to use under sunlight.

Moto provides 2 options for the display, and while it is in vivid mode right out of the box, you can also switch to a more realistic and toned-down display setting.

Speaker

At a glance, you won’t find any speaker holes on the Z2 Play’s metal body, as it’s mono speaker is front-firing and located in the earpiece. Even though it is only a mono speaker setup, it sounds a lot clearer than most of its competitors. It can be slightly messy at max volume, but it sounds almost perfect when you slightly lower down the volume. It could use some more bass as well. The front-firing setup also contributes to better media consumption experience.

If you fancy more punch, you can connect to an external audio either via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm headphone jack. As for Moto Mods, there is a JBL Stereo speaker that you can pick up if you desire some on-the-go loud music.

Camera performance

Since the Z2 Play is more focused on its modularity rather than anything else, it does slightly fall behind in the camera department. Don’t get us wrong. It still boasts a 12-megapixel lens with f/1.7 aperture, and the hardware has been beefed up, so it is quicker and sharper than its predecessor. Along with that, dual-tone LED flash is also present, along with phase detection and laser autofocus.

With little effort, the Z2 Play is still able to take good photos. In lighting conditions which favour the sensor, it is able to capture photos with vivid, but not overly done colours, along with lots of light thanks to the larger pixel sizes. But the image can look a little soft, and was unable to match the level of details captured by its more expensive purpose-desinged competition – the Zenfone 3 Zoom. Nevertheless, most people will be satisfied with the overall picture quality. Looking at the bright side, it reacts rather quickly, so chances of missing a shot can be quite low.

The Z2 Play also performs “so-so” in low-light conditions. We applaud the Z2 Play for being able to keep the noise level rather low while still having lots of light. It increases its shutter time in order to achieve those results, but along with the lack of optical image stabilization, you do really need steady hands, as it will easily create blurriness. With that said, it will lose some details in low-lighting conditions, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is not great either.

Moto Z2 Play Sample Photos

The Z2 Play will also record videos up to 4K resolution at 30 frames-per-second, along with Full HD (1920 X 1080) at either 30 or 60 frames-per-seconds, all the way down to VGA resolution. In 4K resolution videos are rather smooth and there is no judder, and there are plenty of details with natural colours. You’ll definitely lose some details if you step down to 1080p, but the 60 frames-per-second makes for a better consumption experience.

The 5-megapixel front-facing camera isn’t the best in the business as well, especially considering that for the less, the purpose-build Vivo V5 Plus is a better choice, but it still gets the job done. It is easy to get your face and background objects in focus, and even though it won’t wow you in anyway, you can expect your selfies with adequate amount of light and good balance of colours, but still lacks in the details department. There is a software beautification included, which is a standard feature these days. As always, we recommend sticking to medium settings, as the higher you go, more details will be washed off.

The camera app that came with the Z2 Play is a rather simple one. There are a few quick controls towards the left of the viewfinder, and on the right is where you change your modes, switch between still image or video recording and a shutter button. Even though it may look lackluster when compared to other camera apps out there, it only contains what you really need. There isn’t much to play with, but at least it isn’t cluttered with features that you won’t need for most of the time.

Software

Like all other Moto devices, the Z2 Play comes with a near-vanilla version of Android. In fact, it comes pre-loaded with Android 7.1.1 Nougat from the factory. There are very few alterations made by Moto apart from some added functionality and apps. With less clutter to deal with, the entire operating system is a blast to use. The user interface is simple, easy to use and straightforward. You could expect Moto to provide future software updates for quite a long time.

Moto Z2 Play Software

Battery

Even though the Z2 Play is a very thin device, Moto is still able to put a 3000mAh battery in it. While it is a step down when compared to its predecessor which offered more, the Z2 Play is still able to hold its drink pretty well. We end our usual busy day of testing with around 30-35% left in the battery. It can easily go on a full day or more. It will go on for a few more hours before deciding to wave the white flag.

The Z2 Play also benefits from Motorola’s own TurboPower quick charging system. Even though it can only be achieved using the included USB wall adapter, it is still a rather quick charging system, where it will get a completely flat battery to 50% in 30 minutes, in which Moto claims enough for 7 hours of usage.

The Bottom Line

While the Moto brand may not be the most popular brand right here in Malaysia, the Z2 Play perfectly sums up the typical Moto experience that you’ll get with a Moto device. Even though the camera department can be a slight let-down, it isn’t a huge compromise either. There is not much device out there that offers vanilla Android experience and modular functionality while being able to keep the price fairly low, the Z2 Play does carry quite a lot of value. So if you’re in a market for a phone at this price range and wanted to try something new, the Z2 Play is a must in your list.

Recap:
5.5-inch Super AMOLED display, 1080 X 1920, 401 pixels-per-inch
Qualcomm Snapdragon 626, 8x 2.2GHz Octa-core processor
4GB RAM, 64GB internal storage, microSD card support up to 256GB
12-megapixel rear camera, f/1.7 aperture, up to 4K video recording
5-megapixel front camera
3000mAh battery

Pros Cons
Modularity with wide range of modular parts Camera performance is laughable
Super AMOLED display panel Camera hump sticks out quite far
Two-tone LED flash for both front and rear cameras Modular parts can be rather expensive and add bulk to the device
Good battery life, fast charging Speaker performance could be better
Vanilla Android experience, good performance Reduced battery capacity