Moto Z2 Play Review: Great Specs, Killer Battery & Moto Mods

July 6, 2017 - Written By Alexander Maxham

The Moto Z2 Play comes with a smaller battery, but still has long battery life with great specs for under $500. 

In 2016, Lenovo unveiled the Moto Z series of flagships smartphones from the company it had purchased in 2014. The biggest differentiator that the Moto Z lineup had compared to other smartphones was Moto Mods. The ability to extend the functionality of your smartphone by slapping a mod onto the back of it. It was simple to do, and it meant you didn’t need to power off your phone to do it. Now we’re moving into the second-generation of these Moto Mods, and the Moto Z2 Play is here. This is the replacement for the Moto Z Play launched last fall, which was very popular for its great battery life. Now can the Moto Z2 Play replicate that battery life and performance, despite a smaller battery? Let’s find out.

Specs

The Moto Z2 Play’s specs are mostly the same as its predecessor. It still sports a 5.5-inch display, and that will likely be the case for a while due to the Moto Mods compatibility. That display is a 1920 x 1080 resolution Super AMOLED panel, which nets around 401 pixels per inch. It is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 processor which is an octa-core Cortex-A53 chipset clocked at 2.2GHz. It is paired with the Adreno 506 GPU. There are two models available, one with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage and another with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Both have micro SD card slots that support up to 256GB of storage, and have support for Adoptable Storage.

When it comes to the camera, there is a 12-megapixel f/1.7 aperture sensor on the back. It has phase-detection and laser autofocus as well as a dual-LED flash for taking great pictures at night and in the dark. The front-facing sensor is a 5-megapixel camera with a f/2.0 aperture and it also has dual-LED flash, something that isn’t that common.

For connectivity, there is a fingerprint sensor on the front of the device, which doubles as a home button. We also have a USB-C connector at the bottom with the 3.5mm headphone jack. WiFi 802.11 b/g/n is on-board with Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity. There is a built-in FM Radio, which works when a pair of headphones are plugged in, and finally NFC is included for Android Pay support.

In the Box

The box we got here is not the retail box. Our box came with sections for the different Moto Mods that Motorola launched with the Moto Z2 Play. That includes the new JBL SoundBoost 2 and the new Moto TurboPower Pack. But inside that box is the regular retail box, which brings all of the usual goodies. That includes a TurboPower wall charger, USB-A to USB-C cable and of course the usual SIM ejection tool and paperwork. Unlike some others out there, this does not come with a case. But you can purchase the Moto Style Shell’s for the Moto Z2 Play, which brings in wireless charging, which is a nice feature to have.

Hardware

The build of the Moto Z2 Play is like a hybrid of the Moto G5 Plus released earlier this year and the Moto Z Play from last year. So the back of the device is not metal, and it looks nicer than last year’s Moto Z Play, but it also doesn’t attract fingerprints as easily. The back is gray, with the edges being black, and it looks like the antenna lines run all along the edge of the backplate, which is an interesting design. It makes the antenna lines stand out a bit less, and make some people think that it is just part of the design. Now since this is a Moto Z smartphone, there are pins at the bottom for Moto Mods, along with the huge camera bump at the top which is said to help hold these Moto Mods in place. And in the center is a Motorola logo, but no dimple this time around.

The sides of the Moto Z2 Play are a bit slanted, and this is likely to help the device feel better in the hand. Which, to be honest, it feels a bit odd in the hand without a Moto Style Shell on the back. Luckily, Motorola does include one for free with your purchase, so that won’t be an issue for most people. On the right side, there are the volume and power buttons. The volume buttons are actual buttons and not just a rocker. Which gives it a more high-end look. Up top is where you’ll find the SIM card and micro SD card slot, with the bottom housing the USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack (yes, it has made a return!). There’s no speaker, other than the earpiece on the front. Which while it’s nice to have a front-facing speaker, having just one is a bit of a bummer.

The Moto Z2 Play’s front looks like the rest of its smartphones from 2017. It’s a glass front with a round fingerprint sensor/home button below the display and then the camera is up at the top with dual LED flash on the opposite side of the earpiece. A bit interesting to see a dual LED flash on the front-facing camera, but there it is.

Motorola has always been well known for its industrial and rugged design, and that’s no different with the Moto Z2 Play. While it may not look as rugged as some of the phones from Kyocera, it can take a beating. Although we still wouldn’t recommend doing drop tests with it. The Moto Z2 Play is not only rugged, but it looks pretty good. It’s definitely a step up from the hardware build on the Moto Z Play from last year, which wasn’t the best looking around. Now it’s not going to win any design awards with the likes of the Galaxy S8, LG G6 and other smartphones out there, but the design is functional, and that’s really what matters.

Display

The Moto Z2 Play is known for having spectacular battery life. And part of the reason for that – other than the huge battery – is the 1080p display. Since it’s 1080p and not 1440p or QHD, it requires less power to keep it running, which turns into better battery life. Now Motorola isn’t the only one using a 1080p display in 2017, Huawei, OnePlus and others are also using a 1080p display at this size and larger. And that’s because it works well. The panel here is of the Super AMOLED variety, so as you’d expect, the blacks get nice and dark and the screen is a tad saturated, but it’s not as saturated as you might think.

Motorola does allow users to adjust the color mode on the Moto Z2 Play, but it’s a tad limited. Users are able to switch between vibrant and standard color modes. The vibrant mode makes the colors pop a lot more and it looks better (at least in our opinion), and the standard mode is a bit warmer than the vibrant mode. Unfortunately, users are stuck with the current color temperature. There’s no way to adjust the temperature of the display, and that’s something that a lot of other smartphone makers have added into their smartphones in recent years, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see that missing here.

Adaptive Brightness here works as expected. It keeps the screen bright enough to use, without the user needing to really change anything there. It does get pretty dim in a dark room, which is good for those that use their smartphones in the dark or at night. Now the Moto Z2 Play’s display does get plenty bright in direct sunlight, but it can still be a bit tough to see. Unlike the OnePlus 5, you are able to use it with sunglasses on, which is something you’d expect, but always nice to see that actually available.

Performance

Performance is probably where the Moto Z2 Play saw the smallest upgrade compared to its predecessor. The Moto Z Play sported the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 with 3GB of RAM while the Moto Z2 Play comes with the Snapdragon 626 and either 3GB or 4GB of RAM (our model has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage). That’s a pretty small upgrade for the Moto Z2 Play, especially since the Snapdragon 626 is really just an overclocked Snapdragon 625 processor. Now that’s not to say that the performance here is bad or anything, we just expected it to be a bit more of an upgrade compared to the Moto Z Play. It would have been nice for Motorola to stick in either the Snapdragon 630 or 660 processor, which Qualcomm just announced, and also get rid of the 3GB model and stick with just 4GB of RAM.

The Snapdragon 626 processor is a pretty familiar processor for us. It’s been found in a number of other devices, and plenty have used the Snapdragon 625 like the BlackBerry KEYone. The Snapdragon 626 is known for offering about mid-range performance, with incredible battery life. This is due to its slower clock speed (it’s a 2.2GHz octa-core Cortex-A53 chipset) and low-powered cores, which allows it to offer more power with less power, so to speak. And that’s what we got out of the Snapdragon 626 here. During our usage of the device, we never felt that the phone was slow, or sluggish, and it performed all of the tasks quite quickly and without any hiccups. All while giving some incredible battery life at the same time.

When it comes to RAM, 3GB of RAM is still fine. Especially when it’s on a device like the Moto Z2 Play, which has a pretty lightweight skin and is mostly stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat. However, 4GB of RAM as standard would have been a better choice for Motorola here, making it a bit more future-proof. But then again, Motorola does need to give users a reason to upgrade their phone in two years or less. 3GB of RAM is fine for now, but it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up once Android O comes later this year, and even Android P next year.

Speaker

The Moto Z2 Play has just one speaker, it’s a mono front-facing speaker and it’s inside the earpiece above the screen. This is something that Motorola has been doing with its speakers on smartphones for a few years now. It means that Motorola can use more space inside the phone for other things like battery or other sensors, since there isn’t a separate speaker at the bottom of the phone. But usually a mono speaker isn’t that great. It’s usually pretty quiet and sometimes tinny. But that’s not the case here. The Moto Z2 Play’s speaker sounds quite good, and it does get pretty loud. Now, a smartphone with two front-facing speakers will definitely sound better and louder, but for a smartphone with just one, it is pretty good. And of course, if you need more, there’s the JBL SoundBoost 2 which gives you plenty of sound.

Fingerprint Sensor

Motorola has kept the fingerprint sensor on the front of the Moto Z2 Play, and it will likely stay there due to Moto Mods. Instead of being a square on the front of the device, it’s now a bit more rounded, and looks a bit like the fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S7, but a bit fatter. The fingerprint sensor is still fast and accurate, as you’d expect in 2017. But something that Motorola changed in 2017 is what the fingerprint sensor can do. It can now act as all three software buttons – back, home and recents – thanks to gestures. Which is great because it doesn’t eat up screen real estate which is pretty precious in this day and age.

This feature allows you to touch the fingerprint sensor to go home (pressing it will turn off the display like the power button), swipe left for back or right for recents and those two can be swapped in the Moto app, if you wish to do so. It does take a bit of time to get used too, but it works really well. Motorola didn’t add the typical fingerprint sensor gestures of bringing down the notification shade and swiping through photo galleries, although that would be a bit weird and difficult with it on the front anyways. But the sensor is still very functional, especially if you want the full 5.5-inches of that display panel for apps and media.

Moto Mods

Motorola has already announced two Moto Mods with the Moto Z2 Play, and there are likely more coming later this year. There’s the Moto Turbo Power Pack which adds an extra 3490mAh of battery to your Moto Z2 Play (or another Moto Z device), and then the JBL SoundBoost 2, which is thinner than last year’s model, it has a larger internal battery and it looks even better. These are not included and do cost about $79.99 each, on top of the $499 for the Moto Z2 Play.

The Moto Turbo Power Pack works just as you’d expect. It has a 3490mAh battery inside, which will begin charging your Moto Z2 Play when it is attached. Unfortunately, it just charges and cannot be turned off. It would have been nice to have the ability to turn it off and then turn it on when you hit 20% or so. That way you have it with you in case you need it. Now it does do TurboPower, so it outputs at up to 3A, just about the same speed as Quick Charge 3.0 (which the Moto Z2 Play does support), which is the biggest upgrade from last year’s model. What this means is that it quickly charges your smartphone without any wires, which is really nice to have available to you. It does get a bit warm, especially when you are using it while it’s charging, but not too hot. There are four LED lights on the back to show you how much juice is left.

Then there is the JBL SoundBoost 2, and it works just as you’d expect. It attaches to the back of the Moto Z2 Play and automatically starts playing whatever was already playing on the phone. It’s like a Bluetooth speaker attached to your phone, without the Bluetooth. The speaker adds a ton of sound to the Moto Z2 Play, and since it is a JBL speaker, it does add some great sound to it, as you’d expect. There is a built-in battery here so it’s not using your phone’s battery for streaming music or audio. Despite it being quite thick, it doesn’t get in the way of taking pictures, thanks to the design. There is also a kickstand included which makes the media consumption experience even better. Finally, both of these Moto Mods have USB-C ports for charging, like the Moto Z2 Play.

Finally, we have the Moto Style Shells. Ours is a black nylon color, which looks really nice actually, and I think it feels better than the wood ones that Motorola sent out with the Moto Z Play review units last year. It adds some grip to the back of the Moto Z2 Play, and keeps it looking pretty nice. Now, there is some functionality to the Moto Style Shells this year, instead of just adding a different style. Motorola has added wireless charging into the Moto Style Shell, so that your metal smartphone now has wireless charging, which is really nice to have. Obviously, Quick Charge 3.0 is still a better option for charging quickly, but wireless charging is nice to have. Unfortunately the Moto TurboPower Pack does not support wireless charging, only Quick Charge 3.0.

Phone Calls & Networks

The Moto Z2 Play is currently exclusive to Verizon, but it will be sold unlocked “later this summer” – many believe that will be around the beginning of August, but nothing official just yet. So that means that we’ve been testing this smartphone on the Verizon network, and it works just as you’d expect. The Moto Z2 Play had great call quality, and it also supports Verizon’s Advanced Calling features. We did not experience any dropped calls at all with the Moto Z2 Play, which is definitely important – even though fewer and fewer people are making phone calls these days.

When it came to data speeds, they were pretty much in-line with other devices on the same network. There were a few times where the speeds were slightly slower, but that may not have been the Moto Z2 Play’s fault. When it comes to network speeds, there are a lot of variables at play here that make these speeds change pretty drastically, pretty quickly. But there’s no problems when it comes to the network, and it should be the same when it comes to the unlocked model.

Benchmarks

For benchmarking, the Moto Z2 Play we used 3D Mark and AnTuTu. We attempted to run Geekbench 4, but it repeatedly force closed after it hit 70%. It’s unclear why, but we were not able to complete the benchmark there. With 3D Mark, the Moto Z2 Play scored a 465, which is decent and about on par for devices with these same specs. Over on AnTuTu, it hit a score of 66,886, which again is on par with other Snapdragon 626 smartphones. But when it came to the rankings, it was in last place – of course, that’s behind all of the flagship devices with Snapdragon 820, 821, 835 and such inside. So that’s understandable.

Battery Life

This is where many people believed that the Moto Z2 Play would fall short compared to its predecessor. Since the Moto Z Play came with a large 3510mAh battery inside and the Moto Z2 Play has slimmed that down to just 3000mAh. But our battery life numbers are almost the same compared to our Moto Z Play review last year. We were able to get over 4 hours on screen time with around 50% left on the battery. Which means we could squeak out around 8 hours on screen time. That’s very similar to the Moto Z Play. Additionally, it’s worth noting that it was nearly impossible to kill the battery on this smartphone in just one day. Which is rather impressive when you think about it. There are very few smartphones that can do that right now.

Mix that in with the Moto TurboPower Pack, and you could likely go at least 3 days without needing to be tied down to a wall outlet for charging the Moto Z2 Play. Making this a great smartphone for those heavy users, those that travel often and those that just don’t like being tied to a wall outlet. Of course, there is Quick Charge 3.0 included here, and in our testing, we found that the Moto Z2 Play could go from 0 to 100% in just about 90-100 minutes. That’s on par with other smartphones that have Quick Charge 3.0, and with the same battery capacity. So not much to complain about here.

Software

At the time of writing this review, the Moto Z2 Play unit in our hands is running on Android 7.1.1 Nougat, with the May 1st, 2017 security patch. It’s build number NDS26.74-36 for those interested. When it comes to updates, we did not receive an update during the review period (which was just under 2 weeks), but we do know that Motorola is quite good at pushing out updates. However, when it comes to security patches, it does not push out an update every month. Motorola combines the security updates into one update and pushes it out every few months. Which is actually similar to what other manufacturers do, Motorola is just transparent about it.

Motorola has long been praised for its software. And that’s because Motorola has stuck with a rather stock look and feel on its smartphones. Adding in a few extra features on top of AOSP to make the experience even better. Motorola is in the mindset that a lighterweight software experience works better for both performance and battery life, which is also true. All of the features are found in the Moto app which is always the case for Motorola. Otherwise, the only real change is the launcher, which is very close to the Pixel Launcher. Swipe up to see your apps, although the background is transparent versus white on a Pixel or Pixel XL. The only major difference is that swiping in from the left opens a new panel that showcases the weather, your frequent apps, news and more. It’s like Google Now, but it’s not Google Now. It’s something that Verizon has added here, and we’re definitely not a fan. However, and this is the good news, you can opt to change this to Google Now in the settings. Which is definitely a good thing. This is called AppFlash, and if you press the gear icon in the corner, you can disable it.

The features in the Moto App hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, but some things have disappeared after Google opted to add some of those features to stock Android. Under Moto Actions you’ll find the new one button nav option that debuted in the Moto G5 Plus and the Moto E4 earlier this year. This allows you to use the fingerprint sensor for the home button and then swipe for recents or going back. Of course the chop twice for flashlight is here, twisting for the camera and such. And one of the features that a lot of people think is overrated, approach is still here. Meaning that you can wave your hand over the display to see the Moto Display and see your notifications.

Speaking of Moto Display, that’s still here and it has changed a little bit. You can still see your notifications, and swipe right into them when the phone unlocks. But now there is an option to automatically adjust the display to warmer tones so that it doesn’t kill your eyes when you are using the phone in the dark. Finally we have Moto Voice. Probably a feature that won’t be used that much now since the Google Assistant is included in the Moto Z2 Play here. But it allows you to do the usual stuff, like asking for the weather and more. It is always listening and only reacts to your voice.

The software on the Moto Z2 Play works just as you’d expect. It’s lightweight, and optimized for the hardware on the Moto Z2 Play. It doesn’t slow down at all, and it’s running the latest version of Android, which is definitely expected, when it comes to Motorola. So the software side of this phone is definitely good for the Moto Z2 Play, very little to complain about here.

 

Camera

Motorola is using a 12-megapixel sensor on the back of the Moto Z2 Play. It’s a large sensor, 1.4um, which is all the rage these days with smartphone cameras. Manufacturers are using larger sensors because they allow more light to come in and get better pictures in low light. It also has a f/1.7 aperture with phase detection and laser autofocus. Which, on paper, makes the camera seem like it’s pretty impressive. It is a good camera, perhaps even a great camera, but it’s not the best. That title still sits with HTC and its U11.

The quality of the pictures is actually really good, even inside in somewhat difficult lighting. Thanks to the phase detection and laser autofocus, it does focus really quickly, so you can definitely grab that shot of a kid running around. The pictures aren’t saturated at all, like you’d see with some of the pictures from a Samsung smartphone camera, the colors look true to the actual colors in the room, which is also good to see. Now when outside, the HDR settings work very well. They don’t seem to be ultra aggressive or anything like that. You can get some great pictures of flowers with this camera, or really anything macro. But the one thing that is missing here is a really good Bokeh effect, and since this is just a single camera, that’s to be expected.

Now talking about the camera UI, there’s really no surprises here from Motorola. It has kept basically the same UI for about 5 years now, and that’s not really a bad thing. Because the UI is easy-to-use and a bit minimal. So looking at the camera, you’ll see some toggles on the left side with the shutter and video buttons on the right side. There are very few modes here, Auto, camera, panorama, slow-motion and manual. With manual mode, users are able to adjust the shutter, ISO, exposure, white balance and much more. Making it really great for those that are professional photographers.

As always, you can see pictures that we took with this camera in the gallery below. Some pictures were taken outside, some taken inside with great lighting and some with not-so great lighting. You can see just how good the camera is. Now is it the best camera available? Definitely not, but it is close, and perhaps one of the best that Motorola has put out in recent years.

The Good

Camera

Battery Life

Display

Moto Mods Support

Wireless Charging – via Moto Style Shell

The Bad

No Bluetooth 5.0 support

Verizon Exclusive – at launch, will be available unlocked “later this summer”

No Dual Camera setup

Wrap Up

The Moto Z2 Play is an interesting position. It is basically the successor to both the Moto Z and Moto Z Play, which were released last year. So the Moto Z2 Play is coming out around 9 months after its predecessor was launched. And it has some pretty minimal upgrades, in terms of hardware. Now that was expected, but it’s going to make it a tough sell for those that have the Moto Z Play already.

Should you buy the Moto Z2 Play?

If you need/want something that has incredible battery life – and don’t want a physical keyboard that the BlackBerry KEYone provides – then this is probably your best option. The Moto Z2 Play does check a lot of the boxes on a list for a smartphone, which includes great battery, great camera, and a great display. The 1080p display on the Moto Z2 Play still looks quite good, and that’s likely due to the fact that it is a Super AMOLED display. So if you’re in the market for a new smartphone, it’s hard to go wrong with the Moto Z2 Play, especially at $499.