Lenovo-owned Motorola made a significant mark on the smartphone industry last year when it brought its take on modular smartphones to the world. Very different from the concept-like ways of Project Ara but definitely better implemented than LG’s half-baked attempts with the G5, the Moto Mods that worked with the Moto Z and Moto Z Play were everything you expect a modular design in 2016 to be; simple, fun and easy to use. It was as simple as slapping on a device to the back of the phone, and the whole thing just worked, which is what made the idea so appealing.
Jump forward to 2017, and Motorola is back with its latest modular-friendly device, the Moto Z2 Play. Priced at Rs 27,999, it’s a bit more expensive than the Moto Z Play. While it appears that improvements in the device are merely incremental, we’ve put the device through a full review to find out everything you need to know about it. We’ve also played around with the Moto Mods, to give you a taste of what the future of smartphones will be like. Check out our review.
Moto Z2 Play Look and Feel
Although there’s very little to tell, there are a few significant differences in the way the Moto Z2 Play looks as compared to its predecessor. The first of these is the thickness of the phone; the Z2 Play is a whole millimeter thinner at 6mm, although this doesn’t take into consideration the significant camera bump, which has been maintained in order to retain design universality for the Moto Mods since even older Mods are meant to be used with the Z2 Play. The edges are sharp and chamfered, while the back of the phone is flat and uniform in shape to both the Moto Z and Moto Z Play.
This also means that the phone is practically the same size as its predecessors, and the only differences in aesthetics are the thickness and the lighter weight of the phone itself. The phone does feel a bit awkward and drastic at the back, but this is only when you aren’t using the Mods. Even a simple Moto Mod such as the Style Shell will round out the back of the phone and make it a bit more even and comfortable to hold. It of course feels excellent, thanks to the all-metal unibody design of the phone.
While the Moto Z ditched the 3.5mm jack in pursuit of its 5.2mm thickness, the Moto Z Play didn’t. And although the Moto Z2 Play is significantly slimmer than the Moto Z Play, it does return the audio jack, which is at the bottom of the phone alongside the USB Type-C port. The right has the power and volume buttons, while the top has the SIM tray. Fortunately it isn’t a hybrid tray, and you can use two SIM cards and an expandable storage card simultaneously if you choose.
The front has the only other significant difference, with the fingerprint sensor gaining the oval shape of recent Motorola phones, unlike the square sensor of the Moto Z Play. Also worth mentioning is the dual-tone front flash, which sits just above the screen, and the module connector pins at the back which establish the connection to the Mods when they are magnetically clamped on.
The phone’s screen is a super AMOLED one, and this means better black levels at the cost of lower peak brightness. It also allows for a power-friendly always-on mode, letting you peek at notifications and information without completely activating the screen. The display does have a warm tinge to it, but this can be tweaked slightly to give a more vibrant edge to the color, as is preferred by some people. The screen is of course sharp and bright enough for comfortable day-to-day use.
Moto Z2 Play Specifications and Software
With minor improvements in the specification sheet, the Moto Z2 Play is realistically just a beefed-up and up-to-date version of the Moto Z Play. It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 SoC, which is of course just a slightly improved version of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC that was on the Moto Z Play. Notably, the Snapdragon 625 can be found on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, a phone that retails at Rs 9,999, making the SoC a strange choice at this price.
There’s also 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, a 5.5-inch full-HD AMOLED screen and a 3000mAh battery. Motorola’s signature Turbo Power fast charging system also finds its place on the phone, and indeed with the charger bundled, you can top up your battery in a little over an hour. The phone itself will last a whole day comfortably, thanks to the energy-efficient Snapdragon 626 which is fabricated on the 14nm process, along with the super AMOLED screen. The phone’s fingerprint sensor is quick and accurate, and is capable of unlocking the phone even from standby without the need to first wake the device.
The Moto Z2 Play runs on Android 7.1.1 with Moto’s near-stock Android user interface on top. While the appearance is similar to the standard Nougat launcher and the phone uses Google apps for most system functions including apps such as Chrome, Messages and Photos, there are a couple of Motorola apps in place, including Moto, which lets you control the gesture shortcuts, always-on display and voice controls. Controls for Moto Mods are built into the system itself and automatically trigger and operate when you attach a Mod.
I tried out a handful of Mods with the phone, including the projector attachment, Hasselblad camera Mod, Moto battery pack and JBL Sound Boost 2. As was the case before, attaching the Mod simply diverts that system function to the Mod. For example, the JBL Sound Boost 2 deactivates the phone’s speaker and sends audio to the Mod’s speaker, while the Hasselblad Mod takes over the camera function and the hardware buttons on the Mod seamlessly control the camera software on the phone. It’s extremely easy to use, and the Mods are a fantastic addition to the phone. We’d recommend you budget yourself with this in mind, as you will want to buy two or three Mods with the Moto Z2 Play to make the most of the package.
Moto Z2 Play Performance
Keeping in mind the advantage that the Mods offer, it might be reasonable to forgive the performance of the phone as a function of its price. As mentioned earlier, performance hinges on the Snapdragon 626 SoC, and similarly capable devices can be found at less than half the asking price of the Moto Z2 Play. Indeed, if you put aside the modular aspect of the phone, the Moto Z2 Play very strongly compares with the Moto G5 Plus, a phone that is priced at Rs 16,999 for the variant with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. If you aren’t interested in the Mods, you’re truly better off buying the G5 Plus.
Having said that, performance is not poor by any measure. What you will get is reliable performance, frugal battery consumption and an experience that won’t let you down, even if it doesn’t quite wow you. Keep in mind that for a slightly higher price, it’s possible to get the soon-to-be-outdated OnePlus 3T, which has not only a better SoC in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, but also more RAM. Therefore, if performance is your priority, you can do better than the Moto Z2 Play for the price.
Moto Z2 Play Camera
The Moto Z2 Play has a 12-megapixel primary camera at the rear and a 5-megapixel front camera. The rear camera is capable of recording 4K video at 30fps, 60fps at 1080p or 120fps at 720p, while the front camera can record at up to 1080p. The rear camera also features dual autofocus using laser and phase detection technologies, and both cameras feature dual-tone LED flash. This will be particularly useful for selfie enthusiasts.
The Moto Camera app remains easy to use and uncomplicated as always, with the notable option of a ‘Go Live’ mode which takes you to YouTube where you can directly record a live video. The camera itself is decent and on-par with the one on the Moto G5 Plus, thanks to the use of the same 12-megapixel sensor and SoC.
Pictures are clean and well-composed for the most part, if only with slightly warm tones. Focusing is quick as well, and colors are more or less acceptable if you’re okay with the tinge of warmth. While a bit of oversaturation is visible in the whites, the lack of noise and ability to focus properly on the subject more than make up for these shortcomings. Pictures with the front camera are acceptable at best, although the presence of front flash helps in this regard. Additionally, low-light shots were a bit below-par, with a lot of noise and disturbance visible, as well as oversaturation in the brightest zones.
The Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod is also worth mentioning here, and if you do pick up this Rs 19,999 optional extra, you’ll have significantly better camera capabilities with the Moto Z2 Play. The biggest advantage of the Mod is its 10X optical zoom, which lets you take better zoomed in pictures. The results are spectacular, letting you see up close what often your own eyes are unable to sense. The sensor and lens are also better, so pictures taken with the Mod are better than those with the regular camera straight off.
The modular concept in smartphones is not new, and is now in its second year by Motorola. And while the importance of universality in modules has been maintained, the problem remains that modules are still expensive and offer inadequate returns for the price. The Moto Z2 Play is indeed an expensive phone when viewed on its own, with pricing only justified by the uniqueness of the modular concept itself.
While the Moto Z Play was priced a bit less when it was launched last year at Rs 24,999, the Moto Z2 Play bumps the price up to Rs 27,999 with no significant improvement to justify the extra Rs 3,000. This is of course to offset the increased distribution costs of the traditional retail format, and the Moto Z2 Play will indeed be available to purchase in retail stores, increasing reach and accessibility for the Moto brand to what is still the most popular way to buy a smartphone in India. The phone is also available online exclusively through Flipkart.
With all of this in mind, we conclude that the Moto Z2 Play is a great phone that gets most things right from design to camera to the modular concept. However, our recommendation to buy the phone depends entirely on whether the modular concept appeals to you. If you intend to buy a couple of Mods with the phone then by all means, treat yourself to the most futuristic and unique concept in the smartphone industry today. However, if you’re looking for a reliable daily driver, this level of competence can be purchased for much less. Alternatively, this amount of money will get you much more. The Moto Z2 Play is a fun smartphone that I’ve enjoyed my time with, but it perhaps is still too far ahead of its time to make a real impact.