Hey, which phone should I buy in this price bracket?

This one.

But the hardware is far more superior on that one.

Then buy that!

But I also need it to stand out in the crowd

Can you please kill me?

That’s the sort of conundrum I face on a regular basis now. The specifications race has led to a wide selection of competent smartphones, however, at the same time, it has also led to a demise of phones that try to outsmart others with their unique characteristics. They have become “boring”, if I may say. Motorola set out to change that last year with its Z series and for the second generation, the OEM has paid more attention to the aspects they previously were criticized for.

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The Lenovo-owned phone maker extended the series recently with the launch of the new Moto Z2 Play. It’s pretty, powerful and is capable of extending its abilities with external accessories called “Moto Mods”. But is it enough to outsmart the competitors and worth your money? Let’s find out in this full review.

Decked Out

The Z2 Play inherits design traits from the Moto Z but still manages to carry an essence of its own. It features a lightweight and splash-repellent aluminum chassis with the antenna lines tucked away neatly on the sides. The circular camera ring, this time, sticks out even more due to the reduced thickness. Motorola says the enclosure is scratch resistant and in my own ten days with it, there were no scuffs whatsoever. The rear also consists of the signature Moto logo followed by the sixteen pogo pins beneath that. The chamfered edges provide enough room for a comfortable grip, although it is a slippery phone and I would suggest buying a case.

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The glass front does seem a tad overcrowded because of the added dual-LED flash, however, things aren’t so bad on the Lunar Gray variant. Following the company tradition, the Z2 Play comes with a textured power button as well. Speaking of buttons, the only peeve I had with the device is the size of the volume rockers and power switch. I did, though, got used to them in a couple of days. All in all, this is one of the best-designed phones you can get for any price.

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Up front, there’s a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED panel on the Moto Z2 Play which gets the job done well. It’s accurate for the most part and like every other 2017 smartphone, features apt viewing angles. The one thing I think could have been better is the brightness which becomes more apparent when we compare it to Z2 Play’s arch nemesis, OnePlus 3T. It’s just one of those areas where Motorola seems to have cut costs. In addition to that, I couldn’t enable the sRGB mode available in the settings for some reason. It’s fine, though, you probably won’t notice all of these as the screen looks stupendous with deep blacks and sharp contrasts.

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Underneath, the Z2 Play is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 626 octa-core chipset, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of onboard storage that is expandable through a dedicated MicroSD card slot, Adreno 506 GPU and a 3000 mAh non-removable battery with turbocharge support. Networking options include NFC, Dual SIM compatibility and a Type-C port on the bottom.

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The fingerprint reader is quick and located on the front which also doubles as a touch button capable of entirely replacing onscreen keys (just like we saw on the Moto G5 Plus). The speaker is housed under the earpiece and it sounds quite impressive with ample volumes and clear acoustics on higher levels.

Pure and Simple

Like any other Moto-branded smartphone, the Z2 Play as well comes with a near-stock Android software and runs on the 7.1.1 (Nougat) version out-of-the-box. The company has provided its traditional additions including a slew of intuitive gestures such as “chop for flashlight”, “twist for camera” and more. There’s an option for “one button nav” as well that essentially allows you control the entire phone through various swipes on the fingerprint scanner. Swipe left to go back, right for the multitasking menu and tap to go back to home.

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The Moto Voice has been slightly altered this time, though. Instead of integrating an entirely new system for invoking the phone and directing to Google, Motorola has provided a set of quick commands which users can use for brief glances over their information. For instance, you can straight away shout “show me my calendar” and it will pull up a view for your next agendas. You can say “show me the weather” or “show me my WhatsApp”, you get the idea. It’s fine, I didn’t find much use for it and was happy to invoke the more versatile Google Assistant instead.

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The Moto Display has gotten a design overhaul and it now displays incoming notifications along with the time, date, battery level whenever you pick it up or when there’s an alert. The Z2 Play also comes with a feature called “Night Display” that automatically adjusts the screen tones depending on the time of the day. The default launcher takes cues from the Pixel launcher and also supports app shortcuts.

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Unfortunately, Motorola still hasn’t realized the importance of regular security patches as the Z2 Play unit I was testing was running on the April build. That might be different when you buy it, however, I’ve been told before that the Moto G5 Plus they launched a few months ago, is running the May patch. Sad indeed.

Now, coming to the performance. The Moto Z2 Play has been consistently criticized for its mid-tier processor when compared to phones like the OnePlus 3T. But in reality, the handset manages to offer a flawless experience no matter what you’re doing – be it multitasking or high-end games. I even tried editing a Full HD video on the phone and encountered absolutely zero stutters. The processing times were a bit higher than other more powerful smartphones, though. Switching between a ton of apps or employing Android Nougat’s multi-window view, everything runs without any hiccups.

The 3000 mAh battery is capable of churning about five hours of screen-on-time which is definitely on-par with every other phone in this price bracket. For someone who is an avid user of smartphones, I was regularly left with roughly 10-15% of charge before going to bed. The Turbo Charger can juice up the phone to 100% in just under ninety minutes.

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High on Supplements

The ethos of the Moto Z series lies in their ability to extend themselves through external accessories that Motorola likes to call “Moto Mods”. The company added a bunch more to the lineup including the JBL Soundboost 2, the GamePad and another one which acts as a power bank. While the mods work perfectly as advertised, buying one can cost quite a lot. The most interesting accessories such as the Hasselblad True Zoom or the Projector are priced at Rs 20,000 which is almost the same as the device itself. The cheapest mod (at the time of writing this article) starts at Rs 6,999. I can say, without any doubts, that these products work great but unless Motorola brings down the price, I can’t recommend them except for the Soundboost 2.

Also, I feel like Motorola could be doing a lot better with the type of Mods they are coming up with. Instead of targeting a niche with projectors, telephoto add-ons, Mods will be, in my opinion, more appealing if they focus on products which everyone will be interested in such as the power bank and speaker. I would love to see an e-ink display mod, ala Yotaphone or perhaps a storage mod?.

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Lastly, there’s the massive camera arrangement on the back. It constitutes of a 12-megapixel f/1.7 lens with 1.4 µm pixel size, laser autofocus, dual tone flash and a front-facing 5-megapixel f/2.0 shooter which also comes with a 1.4 µm pixel size and dual-LED (dual tone) flash.

The Moto Z2 Play captures detailed pictures in most lighting scenarios. The images might seem less saturated to some but it’s mostly fine. Macros are quite commendable as well and the front camera can also produce some nice shots. Videos aren’t as stable as I’d prefer but they turn out above average. The lack of OIS is more apparent in the stills which brings me to its shortcomings.

There are two areas where the Moto Z2 Play falls shorts – exposure and focus under low light. More often than not, the Z2 Play clicked a photo with either overexposed or underexposed highlights. This can obviously be fixed if you manually tap on the subject or use the HDR mode that will slow things down a little. However, the biggest impediment for me was its disability to focus quickly while indoors or in artificial lighting. The 5MP front camera also could’ve been miles better as photos taken from it lack sharpness and are overexposed most of the times.

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While I can vouch for the camera overall as a decent option, it could have been a lot better considering the camera specs are pretty good on paper. Moto can still do some magic through software updates, but until then, one cannot recommend the Z2 Play for its camera prowess.

The Bottom Line

There’s very little to complain about the Z2 Play. The only flaws I found irritating include the slow auto-focus, tiny buttons, and that’s about it. However, it’s priced on similar lines as the OnePlus 3T which is a significantly more powerful handset in terms of specs (and still on sale in India at least). This brings me back to the discussion I mentioned earlier. Now, if someone asks me to suggest a smartphone which both stands out and is powerful enough to stand straight for at least two years, I would, without hesitations, suggest them the Moto Z2 Play.

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