Motorola has had a very rich and storied history in the smartphone world. The company was one of the few that could challenge Nokia when it was at the top of the game and is remembered for classics such as the Moto Razr. Ever since the advent of touch screen smartphones and the company’s adoption of Android, it has had a pretty rocky history.
Google’s ownership yielded the unique and critically acclaimed Moto X series of smartphones which were then eventually killed off by Lenovo when they bought over the company in 2014. Last year Lenovo introduced their own take on what a Motorola flagship Android phone should bring to the table with the striking modular Z series of smartphones. Now the first of the sequels has arrived in the form of the Moto Z2 Play and let’s see how well it stacks up against the competition.
A sleek, classy and refined design
Both the Moto Z and Z Play were met with critical acclaim and the Z Play in particular became a sleeper hit thanks to its excellent battery life, good performance and optimised software. However, the Z Play was met with criticism from a lot of quarters for its thick and bulky design and scratch-prone glass back. Lenovo seems to have taken cognisance of these criticisms and made the Z2 Play much slimmer and lighter than its predecessor (5.9mm vs 7mm). The company has also eschewed the glass back in favour of a sleeker and aluminium back panel, which is much less of a scratch magnet than before.
What makes the redesign even more exceptional is the fact that Motorola has managed to make the Z2 Play almost as slim as the original Moto Z without having to sacrifice the much-needed 3.5mm headphone jack. The design has also seen a few polishes here and there — the edges are more rounded which makes the device easier to hold in the hand and the fingerprint sensor is larger and much easier to use.
All in all, Lenovo has refined, tweaked and polished the design of the Moto Z2 Play to a point where the smartphone feels very classy, sleek and suave. What is great is that Lenovo has managed to infuse their own design principles without losing the Motorola design ethos which we all know and love. Yes, the dimpled back is gone and might never return but it is a sacrifice worth making.
The metal back panel houses the rear camera whose bulge has become even larger than before thanks to the slimmer design. Thankfully, the bulge can be hidden with a Moto Style shell which also adds much needed grip as the metal back is quite slippery. Underneath the camera lens is the iconic Motorola logo, under which are the contact points for the Moto Mods which are a controversial element of the smartphone’s design.
Some, like me, like the naked gold contact points and feel they add a certain industrial element to the design. While others feel that they make the smartphone look unfinished. Again, for them, a Style shell can solve that problem in a jiffy. Motorola has cleverly integrated the antenna lines in a dark coloured plastic band around the back panel which adds much needed design flair.
Truth to be told, the smartphone has no business being as fast as it is with the processor it is running. The Moto Z2 Play is the testament to how far the combination of a fairly capable and efficient processor and optimised software can get you in terms of performance
The front in an all glass affair with the earpiece, front camera, dual LED flash and various sensors housed above the display. The loudspeaker is integrated into the earpiece and is quite loud but gets shrill and tinny at high volumes. Underneath the display is the fingerprint sensor which is extremely accurate and snappy and ranks amongst the best fingering sensors out there in the market.
The right edge is barren while the left edge houses the buttons for volume up, volume down and power. The three buttons are quite small and recessed and are not that pleasant to use. While they are of the same size, Motorola has thankfully added a texture on the power button which helps distinguish it from the volume buttons in the dark.
Bright and vivid display
The smartphone comes with a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on top for protection against scratches. The display is bright and super vivid. Some might be turned off by the super-saturated colors but for them Moto has included a handy ‘Standard’ mode in the settings which makes things look much more realistic.
The viewing angles are on point, the display is sharp and the brightness levels, both minimum and maximum are adequate. One problem I had with the display was that the brightness slider is very erratic and not at all linear – brightness increases and decreases in bursts and is difficult to control.
Moto has also added a few nifty features under the Moto Display moniker. The first, called ‘Night Display’ acts as a blue light filter which when turned on, gets automatically activated based on user defined times. The second called ‘Moto Display’ allows notifications to fade in and out while the screen in off and is very handy to check what is new without having to open your smartphone.
The magic of hardware-software optimisation
On paper, the Z2 Play is not as powerful as smartphones like the OnePlus 3T. It is powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 626 processor clocked at 2.2GHz paired with 4GB of RAM, a 3,000mAh battery with Turbo Charge support and the Adreno 506 GPU. Additionally, it comes with 64GB of internal storage which can be expanded up to 2TB via a microSD card.
Truth to be told, the smartphone has no business being as fast as it is with the processor it is running. The smartphone is the testament to how far the combination of a fairly capable and efficient processor and optimised software can get you in terms of performance. The smartphone handles day to day tasks with aplomb and barely slows down. The extra gigabyte of RAM over the Moto Z Play really helps when it comes to multi-tasking and in situations when you have lots of tabs open in chrome.
Yes, pushing the device very hard does result in some slowdown and lags, but overall the performance is quite snappy. What contributes to the same is the absence of any resource sucking and laggy OEM skin as the Z2 Play runs on an almost stock build of Android Nougat. Except for a few first-party Moto branded applications, Motorola has left Android almost untouched.
When it comes to gaming, the smartphone is again quite capable. Casual games like Candy Crush Saga and Subway Surfers run flawlessly and even resource heavy games like Modern Combat 5 are extremely playable with only the very occasional judder or dropped frame.
Motorola’s suite of applications on board are genuinely very useful. The features related to the display we have already talked about above. In addition to those there are Motorola’s iconic gestures such as twist for opening the camera, double karate chop for turning on the torch and flip for do not disturb which are genuinely useful and are stellar additions to stock Android.
Just incredible battery life
Compared to the Moto Z Play, almost every aspect of the Moto Z2 Play has seen an upgrade. However, the battery of the Moto Z2 Play has seen a substantial 15 per cent decrease — from 3,510mAh in the Z Play to 3,000mAh in the Z2 Play. This means that, on paper at-least, the Moto Z2 Play’s battery life should be disappointing.
The real life results are as far away from that statement as possible. The battery life of the Moto Z2 Play is absolutely incredible — one of the best I have seen on an Android smartphones — bested only by its predecessor, the Moto Z Play. During the week I used the phone as my daily driver, the smartphone constantly delivered a screen on time of around 6-7 hours with around 40 per cent of the battery remaining at night.
One day I decided to keep using the smartphone till it eventually died. And that too fairly intensively I must add — hours of YouTube videos, tons of pictures, streaming Hotstar and Netflix and downloading songs on Google Play Music. The smartphone finally died on me after 19 hours of use with an impressive 9 hours 21 minutes of screen on time.
So yes, while the battery life might not be as good as the Moto Z Play, which has absolutely stellar endurance, the Z2 Play still has incredible battery life and is a great choice for road warriors. The smartphone, with fairly moderate use will easily last you two days on a single charge and is a great example of how a fairly small sized battery unit can be made to last for long thanks to an efficient processor and optimised software.
Good, if not spectacular cameras
The Moto Z2 Play’s optics have seen a major improvement as compared to its predecessor. The smartphone comes with a 12MP camera at the rear which comes with an aperture of f/1.7, dual pixel focusing and a new laser focusing system which the company claims results in better low-light photos.
The smartphone excels in macro photography, with the resultant images having a sharp and well defined focus. The camera’s auto-focus latches on to the subject very quickly and sweetly softens the background without any need of manual intervention. Shots taken outdoors and in situations with moderate to adequate light turn out extremely well, with natural colours, good contrast and minimal noise. In fact, in well lit situations, the camera can easily compete with smartphones above its pay grade. The images are a bit soft occasionally though.
Where the rear camera struggles is in low light situations. Shots taken indoor with less than adequate light are soft and have a lot of noise. They end up looking a bit like watercolour paintings — it seems that the ISP (Image sensing processor) struggles to put together detail in low light. The camera can record video in up to 4K Ultra HD at 30 frames per second. Video is above average but optical image stabilisation is sorely missed. Unlike many other smartphones, it does not overheat that much whilst shooting in 4K.
On the front, there is a 5MP camera which has an aperture of f/2.2. The fact that the front camera also comes with a dual-LED flash should make the Z2 Play an attractive proposition for selfie aficionados. While the 5MP camera might seem a bit inadequate on paper, it bring to mind the maxim that more megapixels do not make a camera great.
The camera is not spectacular but it is above average. It produces good shots that are well exposed and with adequate detail. But there are better front cameras out there. Better low light performance would have been preferred though but that is compensated by the presence of the Dual-LED front flash which is quite powerful. All in all, the front camera is more than adequate for social media use.
The Moto Z2 Play is an extremely solid smartphone from Motorola and does almost everything right. It is undoubtedly Lenovo-owned Motorola’s best smartphone yet and points towards great things from the company, at-least when it comes to their flagships. Only few things like the rear camera’s poor low-light performance, overpriced Moto Mods (they range from Rs 1,999 to a whopping Rs 19,999) and a tinny loudspeaker let it down.
The smartphone has absolutely incredible battery life, a slim, light and sleek design, expansion capabilities through Moto Mods, a bright and super vivid display, surprisingly good performance, a clean and snappy user interface and intelligent software. Moto Mods are the best implementation of the modular concept and work very well, even if they are a bit overpriced.
The Z2 Play may not be as powerful as the OnePlus 3T but it ticks almost all the right boxes and has all the basics knocked down to a T. After all, snappy performance, excellent battery life, decent cameras, optimised software and a good display. Isn’t that everything that one basically needs in a smartphone? Welcome back, Motorola.
Moto Z2 Play8.5/10
- Good stuff
- Incredible battery life
- Optimised hardware and software
- Slim, sleek design
- Expansion through Moto Mods
- Bad stuff
- Slightly average cameras
- Mods are overpriced
- Phone can be too wide for some