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Featured Review: Moto X Play

September 8, 2015 - Written By John Anon

Thanks to the popularity of its predecessors, the 3rd generation Moto X was one of the more highly awaited devices of the year. That said, when Motorola unveiled the Moto X, they did not just unveil the 3rd generation device, but showcased three different variants. These were the Moto X Style, Moto X Pure and Moto X Play. Essentially, the Moto X Style and Moto X Pure are the same device with the only notable difference being that one is designed for the U.S. market and the other for International waters. In contrast, the Moto X Play was designed to offer those who want a Moto X experience but at a much more affordable price-point. An even more mid-range, mid-range device, if you like. However, like the Moto X Style & Pure, the Moto X Play is also not intended for the U.S. market (at least not in its current form) and again, is only currently available overseas. That said, if you are in one of the intended markets, with a price tag of roughly £250-270, unlocked, this is a seriously good price for a new device and it is likely to be a big seller. But is it any good?

Specs Overview

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In terms of the numbers, Motorola’s Moto X Play comes equipped with a 5.5-inch display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Inside, the Moto X Play comes loaded with 2GB RAM and powered by a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor. In terms of storage, the Moto X Play comes in either a 16GB or 32GB variant and both come with the option to expand thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot. In terms of cameras, the Moto X Play comes equipped with a 21-megapixel camera on its back, which is coupled with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera Additional features include a big 3,630 mAh battery, while the device comes running on Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop).

Hardware & Design

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When it comes to the design, the Moto X Play is purpose built-to be on the more affordable side. As a result, it is purposely built to be less premium when it comes to the design and hardware and that is exactly the case. While the latest Moto X comes sporting a metal build, the Moto X Play is largely a plastic affair.

The back of the device consists of a removable textured plastic back (at least on the default version) which although feels great in the hand and is certainly grippy, it does feel a little ‘on the cheap’. How much this will bother you will depend on what device you are coming from. If moving from a flagship device to the Moto X Play, you will instantly notice the difference (and drop) in quality with how it feels.

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Moving to the sides of the device and the same issue persists. On initial inspection, the device does seem to make use of a metal frame, although, this is not the case. The frame surrounding the device is once again plastic, albeit with a polished chrome finish over the top which does do a good job of masking the plastic nature, but make no mistake, it is plastic.

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Moving to the front of the device and not much has changed here. If you are coming from last year’s Moto X, the display on offer is the same 1920 x 1080 display. Although, the screen size has jumped up from last year’s 5.2-inches to this year’s 5.5-inches which inevitable does result in a slightly lower 400 ppi. That said, there was little wrong with last year’s Moto X display and the same is true here. In fact, with the transition to LCD on this year’s model, the screen is sharp enough and does prove to be of a good level when gaming and video watching. Although in truth, it is very much in line with many of the devices that we are seeing which are now falling into this upper mid-range division.

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In terms of the connections, for the most part things are relatively standardized on the Moto X Play. The right hand side of the device houses the volume rocker and power button, while the left hand side is unused. The bottom of the devices is where you find your micro USB charge port.

The top of the device is where there is a notable difference to what you might encounter elsewhere. As to be expected, the 3.5 mm jack input is positioned here as normal, although, the SIM card tray is also top positioned. Not to mention, this is one of the multi-use SIM trays which offers a SIM slot on one side and the microSD card slot on the other. Neat and tidy but not great if you are planning on removing your microSD card often.

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Last up and worth mentioning is the speaker on the Moto X Play. Due to the removable back and plastic frame, Motorola have opted for a front facing speaker. That is, a front facing single speaker which is located at the bottom of the display and in a virtually symmetrical position to the earpiece. As this is a single speaker, the sound is certainly not as round as you would hope for, but it is loud enough and does get the job done fairly nicely. In fact, it is not a bad speaker at all when you consider this is a single offering. Not forgetting that being front facing means you don’t have to worry about the sound being muffled from the positioning of your hand when holding or the surface it is laid on.

Software & UI Experience

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When it comes to Motorola, the software is a hit and with good reason. Motorola offer one of the closest skins of Android to stock. It is at that ground zero level and is one of the reasons as to why they (on the whole) can offer much faster updates than other manufacturers. With little change to the original software, there is less of a change needed to Google’s initial updates. As such, the Moto X line have become known for their extremely lightweight and well-liked version of Android. That said, it does not leave much to talk about when a new Motorola device comes out and the Moto X Play is no exception. This is Motorola’s take on Android and barring the fact that it is running on Lollipop (which was not out when last year’s Moto X was released), this is pretty much the same flavored software as you will find on a 2014 Moto X running Lollipop.

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As a result, you can expect all the goodness that comes with a Motorola device. The Software is Lollipop with very mild and minimal Motorola add-ons. In fact, the minimalist tweaks the company have included only go to making the stock experience better.

Settings screen

The main difference that Motorola includes on their software (compared to stock) is the well-known Moto app and this is back again this year, with again very little change. The app has been updated and does look a lot cleaner, but not much different to what you are probably using right now on the Moto X. Moto Assist, Voice, Action and Display are all in attendance and all pretty much as you would expect.

If you have never used a Motorola device then a lot of these Moto features will be new to you. To briefly overview them, they all add to the stock experience in a good way and are surprisingly quite self-explanatory. Moto Assist works as sort of assistance which does things like automatically puts your device into no interruption mode when in a meeting or activates a night feature during the night hours. Moto Actions basically allows you to twist your hand and open the camera (not the most responsive on the Moto X Play, but there nonetheless). Moto Voice is Motorola’s take on Google Now but with slightly better integration and Moto Display, which is my personal favorite, is an advanced heads up notification type of feature which allows you to review messages, emails and so on, while the display is off and the device is locked.

Moto screens

For those wondering, Motorola Connect and Migrate are both back in town as well and again, with little change to note from last year. That is with the exception of the updated Lollipop look and feel. Some other micro changes are in play too like with the gallery which is different to stock, but overall, there is nothing too new here for those coming from a recent Motorola device.

Camera

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Anyone coming from a Motorola device, will know that while the devices do remain popular favorites among the Android masses, camera features and abilities were never their strongest suit. In fact, compared to other flagships, cameras on the Moto X range always seemed to be slightly behind the curve. As such, it was a welcomed relief to many when Motorola confirmed this year’s Moto X range of devices were coming with a bump in the camera department from last year’s 13-megapixel offering to this year’s whopping 21-megapixel camera. Not to mention, the Sony sensor that’s thrown in with an f/2.0 aperture.

That said, even with the bump in MP, it is not the most effective camera. To cut to the chase, it performs well enough and will certainly get the job done. However, if you compare to any flagship device (and even most mid-range devices), the camera is still significantly lacking. One area which is certainly an issue is the close range focus. Close up shots can be difficult to get right in manual mode and more often than not appear blurry when focusing on anything nearby.

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The software does come with the ability to set to manual focus and this does provide a significantly better level of focus, but one which still leaves to be desired when compared to other models in this price range.

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Although, the ability to adjust the brightness quickly on focused points is nice.

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Speaking of the software, this is another element which is still too simplified on the Moto X Play. Like last year, you can swipe in from the left to bring up the setting and swipe in from the right for the gallery, but overall the level of adjustment and tweaking on offer is just far too limiting for anyone who wants to get deep into their images. That said, if you are coming from a Motorola device, much of this will be familiar and not too much of a surprise.

X Play Camera Soft Screen

You can check out a sample of the images taken with the Moto X Play in the gallery below.

Battery Life

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When it comes to battery life, this is where the Moto X Play cannot be praised enough. In fact, this is the one element which does clearly stand out against all the competition. Last year’s Moto X came with a tiny (by current standards) 2,300 mAh battery, this year’s flagship Moto X comes with a 3,000 mAh battery and both pale in insignificance against the 3,630 mAh battery on the Moto X Play. And they’re not just numbers either. During testing, the device did routinely pass the five-hour screen on time and more often than not edged closer to the six-hour marker (and sometimes even 7-hour marker). As a result, there were no major issues noted with the battery life on a day to day basis.

XPlay battery Screen

In fact, this is pretty much the case for the longevity of the battery as well. More often than not, the battery was easily hitting two days usage before needing to be charged. In fact, with more conservative use, it would not be surprising if the Moto X Play started to edge closer to a three-day marker in between charges. That said there is a need for a disclaimer here. The Moto X Play is intended for European use and during testing was being used in the U.S. on T-Mobile. As a result 4G real life usage was never noted, with the signal constantly bouncing between 3G and WiFi. So, you could expect usage to vary a little from what we expected, but not drastically. The battery is a winner.

Performance

Performance on the other hand is a slightly different story. Running the show on the Moto X play is the Snapdragon 615 processor. Although, this is not reported to suffer in the same respect as the 810, it is a processor which had been reported on being a little problematic. In fact, this seems to be quite the hit or miss processor, with some devices using the 615 processor running fine and others not so well. In terms of the Moto X Play and our testing, it was more of the latter than the former. There is nothing wrong with the performance and thanks to the lightweight nature of the software it is fast. But it is a little jittery at times. Lag is not massive, but was noted and sometimes the device just ran slightly slower than would be liked. This was not a massive issue, but it is one to take note of. The performance is just not fantastic on the Moto X Play which will be a little disappointing for Motorola owners.

Likewise, this was much the same experienced when testing the Moto X Play on various benchmarks. Using AnTuTu, the results did highlight that the Moto X Play is not the best performing device. In fact, it lacked considerably even against last year’s flagship models including the Samsung Galaxy S5, OnePlus One, LG G3 and even against Google’s Nexus 5 coming in with a total 32,900. Of course, although the devices mentioned are previous flagship devices, when you consider that you can pick them up for the same sort of price now (if not cheaper), then it does put the performance based on the cost of the Moto X Play into perspective. On GeekBench, much was the same with the single-core stats coming in at 514 and the multi-core at 1525.

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Summing Up

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In reality, judging the Moto X Play is a little hard to do. Being a Motorola, there are certain expectations in place and lots of them hold true. The Moto experience is there, it is lightweight and a nice clean device to use. That said, it does lack the premium aspects many devices are starting to come with and even in this price range. The processor at times can be worrying although the battery life is superb. So it is a mixed bag overall. You are getting your money’s worth, you are getting a Motorola, but you are also getting a device which has seen cuts to make it viable. Of course, Motorola have made no argument that this is a cheaper version of the Moto X Style/Pure, so with that in mind, the trimmings throughout are ones which you can make do with. Could you do better for the money, yes. Will it be as close to stock and offer such great battery life, no. Depending on which of these two answers matter to you the most is the key to determining whether this would be a good buy for you.