Motorola Moto X Play review: a decent performer for a bit less

- - Technology | The Guardian

The Motorola Moto X Play aims to be the phone that gets the basics right and packs a few high-end features, and still costs under £300 – but does it succeed?
Curvy back, straight face Facebook Twitter Pinterest The metal frame and curved back feel great in the hand. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Moto X Play resembles every other smartphone Motorola has made in the last two years: a button-free front with speakers top and bottom, and a curve to its back.
Compared to the super-thin smartphones from Samsung and Apple, the Moto X Play seems rather chunky at 10.9mm thick. That’s 4mm thicker than the wafer that is the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+. It’s even bigger than similarly priced rivals: 2.4mm thicker and 12g heavier than the Huawei Honor 7 and 1mm thicker – though 6g lighter – than the 5.5in OnePlus 2.
The curved back and rubberised plastic cover make the Moto X Play comfortable in the hand. Other materials, including wood, are available for the replaceable back cover. The build quality of the phone is solid, apart from the buttons on the side which feel loose and have some play to them. The phone is splash resistant, but not waterproof, which means spills are fine, trips down the toilet are not.
Its 5.5in 1080p screen is decent with good viewing angles, colour reproduction and brightness. It is very similar to rivals, although slightly more vibrant than that of the OnePlus 2, for instance.
The display is not quite up to scratch with the top-spec flagships from Samsung and LG, with significantly lower pixel density - just 403 pixels per inch (ppi) compared to the LG G4’s 538ppi 5.5in screen. The difference is noticeable but most users will likely be satisfied with the sharpness of the 1080p screen for the money.
The two front-facing speakers are not a stereo pair. The top one is the handset’s earpiece, the bottom the loud speaker, which is a shame.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest The plastic back sits inlayed around a metal frame and camera module. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Specifications Screen: 5.5in 1080p LCD (403ppi)
Processor: octa-core Snapdragon 615
Storage: 16/32GB plus microSD card slot
Operating system: Android 5.1.1 “Lollipop”
Camera: 21MP rear camera (f/2.0), 5MP front-facing camera
Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS
Dimensions: 148 x 75 x 10.9 mm
Weight: 169g
Not-quite-two-day battery Facebook Twitter Pinterest The back is only removable so it can be customised. The battery is not removable and the microSD card sits within the sim-card tray in the top. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Moto X Play comes with Qualcomm’s new mid-range Snapdragon 615 processor, which does not suffer the heat problems of its top of the range 810. It is also not quite as powerful – and with only 2GB of RAM is a little short on memory compared to its competition.
I found the phone to be snappy. It wasn’t noticeably slower than the OnePlus 2, but was less immediate in navigating menus and other interface elements compared to the very fast Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.
The Moto X Play will be able to handle most things without issue: even a particularly frenetic game of Shooting Stars didn’t phase it. Only the most graphically demanding games are likely to cause issues for the Play.
Motorola claims the Moto X Play has an “up to two-day” battery life, thanks to a 3630 mAh battery, which is at least 20% larger than most others smartphones.
In my experience, the Moto X Play didn’t live up to that. Waking up at 7am I found it consistently dying by 6pm the next day, giving it a 35-hour battery. I used it as my primary device receiving hundreds of emails and push notifications, listening to an hour of music each day, browsing Twitter, Facebook and the internet for around an hour each day, and 20 minutes spent playing games.
The Moto X Play will therefore safely last a day, no matter how hard it is pushed, but will likely struggle to make two days unless your usage is significantly lighter than mine.
The battery charges in under two hours using a Quick Charge or “turbo” power adapter – one is included in the box that has two sockets – which is impressive given the large battery size.
Google’s Android plus helpful apps Facebook Twitter Pinterest The Moto app allows users to customise scheduled actions, voice control and the display. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Motorola uses Google’s standard Android 5 “Lollipop” experience on its smartphones, choosing not to modify it, which is the right choice.
The Moto X Play is bloat-free, unless you count Google’s apps, with just a few reasonably helpful Motorola apps.
Of note is the Moto actions app that allows users to set up automated tasks such as silencing their phone when they get home or while in meetings. Unfortunately, the Play is missing the karate chop gesture to light the flash as a torch, which works so well on the Moto G.
Motorola’s voice control system is also decent, once the activation word is configured correctly. I struggled to set it up in an open plan office – it needed a quieter space to learn my wake-up phrase correctly.
Moto Voice is an enhanced version of Google Now. Users can shout at their smartphone even when the screen is off to trigger actions, set timers, ask questions, place phone calls and send messages. It still makes me feel uncomfortable talking to an inanimate object in public, but it worked fine in the home.
Camera Facebook Twitter Pinterest The camera app is fast, but controlling the focus is a faff. Other camera apps are available for more control. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Moto X Play’s 21-megapixel camera is a significant improvement over Motorola’s previous camera efforts. It shoots decent photos with good colour and detail. It isn’t quite up to the standards of the Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4, but is close when shooting in good light.
The Play struggles, however, in low-light, even with its low-light setting, producing grainy photos that are often out of focus.
Part of the problem is the Motorola camera app. It can be launched with a double twist of the wrist gesture and is really fast to capture images, but Motorola has opted for touch-anywhere to shoot.
Most camera apps touch to focus before pressing a camera button to take the picture. With Motorola’s you’ve got to hope it knows where you want to focus. When taking landscapes or shots of things far away it has no issue, but I frequently missed the shot I was trying to take because of crummy focus.
A drag-to-focus option is available, but it is clunky and all too easy to shoot the wrong subject. Other camera apps are available, of course, including Google’s decent basic Camera app.
The front-facing five-megapixel selfie-cam is solid with a good wide-angle lens to get more than just your face in the picture.
Price The 16GB Moto X Play costs £250 in black or £270 in white. Other colours are available using Motorola’s customisation tool on its site, as is a 32GB version, which costs £319.
For comparison, the OnePlus 2 costs £239, but is not freely available, while Huawei Honor 7 costs £250 and the LG G4 costs £340.
Verdict The Moto X Play is another good smartphone for the money from Motorola. It, like the Moto G, ticks all the right boxes and has only cut corners on some of the small things.
The Play is not a “flagship killer” and doesn’t profess to be. It doesn’t have any real killer features, but instead provides a decent Android experience for at least £100 less than top-end rivals.
It’s close to being fantastic, only let down by a collection of small niggles with the camera, buttons and speakers, but is still excellent value for a name-brand, easy-to-buy smartphone.
Pros: decent battery life, solid camera, stock Android, helpful Moto apps, microSD card slot, good screen, splash proof
Cons: wobbly buttons, camera app too simple, camera struggles in low-light, chunky, no removable battery
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Motorola Moto X Play review - buttons Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Other reviews
• LG G4 review: one of the best phablets available, boasting an impressive camera
• OnePlus 2 review: a real ‘flagship killer’?
• Huawei Honor 7 review: solid mid-range with lightning-fast fingerprint scanner
• Motorola Moto G (3rd Gen) review: the best budget smartphone just got better