Moto Z2 Play review: Shrinking the battery hasn’t hurt too bad

The Moto Z2 Play is here, and it’s slimmer than before. But that’s not a problem. Lenovo has proved, despite reducing the size of the battery to achieve a thinner design, it’s primary unlocked phone for 2017 can still go the distance for most.

Lenovo started 2016 with the Moto Z family, marking the first new additions to the Moto family since acquiring Motorola a few years ago.

There were a few issues here and there, and the Verizon exclusivity didn’t help, but overall all of the Moto Z and its siblings were refreshing and offered an excellent platform for Moto Mods, Lenovo’s customizable accessories.

My favorite of the bunch, the Moto Z Play, was the mid-tier option with stellar battery life and compromises in all the right places. It wasn’t perfect, but it really showcased the best of what Android had to offer outside of the heavily advertised flagship category.

This year we’re getting the Moto Z2 Play, a follow-up device with similar hardware, the same price tag, and backwards compatibility with all previous Moto Mods. Is it a worthwhile upgrade from the original Moto Z Play? Let’s dig in and find out.

Design

If you’ve played with a Moto Z Play (or even the Moto Z or Moto Z Force) you’re going to be pretty familiar with the Moto Z2 Play. At a glance, the design is almost identical, and that’s very intentional in order to keep compatibility with all of the older Moto Mods.

The phone is slightly thinner, however, which is both good and bad. The original Moto Z Play wasn’t exactly chunky, but it did get a bit unwieldy if you had some of the thicker Moto Mods attached. Lenovo’s solution was to focus exclusively on the Moto Mods situations by trimming up the battery, but making it easier to hold when using, say, a portable battery mod or speaker mod.

There are other small changes, like the adoption of a metal back instead of a glossy glass back. It’s a small change, but one of the biggest gripes I had with the Moto Z Play was how much of a fingerprint magnet it was. The fingerprint scanner is more rounded, which looks much better than the square fingerprint reader on the original, and some of the LED lights and sensors on the face have morphed a bit.

On the bottom of the phone you’ll still find a USB-C port and a headphone jack, while the sides house the volume and power buttons. The SIM tray and microSD card slot are on top of the frame.

The back of the phone houses the smart connector for Moto Mods and the single lens camera that still has a pretty big camera bump.

Pretty much every change Lenovo made here was a good choice, making an all around sleek and svelte device. Whether or not that was worth cutting some battery is up to you.

Hardware

 Moto Z2 Play
AnnouncedJune 1, 2017
ReleaseSummer 2017
Display5.5-inch (1920x1080) Super AMOLED w/ Corning Gorilla Glass
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 626
RAM3GB / 4GB
Storage32GB / 64GB
Rear Camera12MP w/ laser autofocus, phase detection, dual-LED flash
Front Camera5MP
Battery3000mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C w/ TurboPower
SoundFront-facing speaker
SoftwareAndroid 7.1.1 Nougat
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, GPS
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, fingerprint
Measurements156.2 x 76.2 x 6mm
Weight145g
ColorsLunar Gray, Fine Gold, Nimbus Blue

Performance

The Moto Z2 Play uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 626, which is on the upper end of the mid-range spectrum. It may not be at the top of the heap, but it’s an impressive little chip nonetheless.

Daily usage for things like social media, email, and web browsing are a breeze, and there’s very little that can clog up 4GB of RAM or the processor. Gaming won’t make the phone break a sweat, either, unless you’re playing the most demanding games that the Play Store has to offer. It never gets incredibly warm, either, which is a testament to the fine balance between power and efficiency that Qualcomm has struck with their Snapdragon 600 series chips.

It also helps that the Moto Z2 Play only has a 1080p display. It’s not 2K or 4K, so it’s not going to be great for virtual reality, but for everyday usage and watching videos? It’s more than good enough, and it won’t guzzle battery.

The speaker on the phone is right in the earpiece instead of using a traditional bottom firing speaker, which is not great. It is nice to have sound blasted right at you instead of at your feet, but the speaker doesn’t really sound nice. For phone calls, it’s just fine, but when you start playing games or listening to loud music, it leaves a lot to be desired. There’s a lot of clarity, which is a plus, but the bottom is almost nonexistent and it just sounds small. There’s a Moto Mod for that, I guess.

I did get a chance to play with the JBL SoundBoost 2, and it’s a legitimately impressive speaker. It houses its own battery and has a useful kickstand, and the speaker itself sounds fantastic for its size. It won’t beat out a high-end JBL or Bose device, but it does sound better than some of my smaller Bluetooth speakers that I keep around. It’s full, has tons of bass, and it’s incredibly portable.

So while the speaker on the Moto Z2 Play itself may not be great, it does give you the option to craft your own dream device by slapping modules like the SoundBoost on the phone to get exactly what you want out of it.

Battery

The original Moto Z Play was lauded for its phenomenal battery life, partly due to the efficient Snapdragon 625 and partly due to the sheer size of the battery. The Moto Z2 Play kept at least one of those things, so the battery life is still really good, even if it’s slightly worse than last year’s model.

For most users, you can pretty easily get an entire day’s worth of usage out of the Moto Z2 Play, and probably a little bit more. That’s fantastic considering flagship devices usually need a charge by the end of the day, but considering the original Moto Z Play would last for two days pretty consistently, it’s disappointing.

It handles most casual tasks without making a dent in the battery, so if you just like to browse social media or watch YouTube, you’ll love the freedom from a wall plug with this phone. Heavy gaming will still chew it up, but that applies to pretty much all phones.

Standby life is also great, proving the effectiveness of Android’s Doze. And, if you like the Moto Mods, Lenovo sells a very large battery pack that should easily squeeze another day out of the phone’s battery life without adding too much heft.

Software

Lenovo tries not to alter Google’s software too much with their devices, and the Moto Z2 Play is no exception. The biggest change you’ll notice right away is the always-on display and the custom launcher, but other than that, this phone’s running almost completely stock Android 7.1..1 Nougat.

Even on the bloatware side of things, Lenovo only includes a couple non-stock apps. There’s an FM radio app, an app for wallpapers, and the Moto assistant app. Everything else is something you’d get on any other Android device, and Lenovo doesn’t really skin their services.

There are a few small tweaks compared to last year’s model (the colorful animation when tapping the home button looks great and does a fantastic job of hinting at Google Assistant) but overall, it’s pretty similar to the Moto Z Play.

Verizon, on the other hand, loves to include their stuff. There’s a full suite of Verizon services, Yahoo weather, finance, and news, NFL Mobile, and Slacker radio. Nothing in particular that I want, and I doubt many of you will want it, either. It’s not the most egregious set of apps Verizon has ever included in a device, but you’ll still probably want to uninstall most of it and move on.

There’s really just very little to talk about here because Lenovo didn’t add much of anything. If you’re looking for a non-Pixel phone for barebones Android, this should definitely be on your list.

Camera

In many aspects, the Moto Z2 Play feels like a flagship phone. The camera department is really the only area where it falls below the flagship line.

It’s not a bad camera at all, but next to other devices that this phone will inevitably be compared to, it’s just okay. Outdoor shots are bright and crisp, although not quite as rich as other flagship devices are capable of.

Indoor and low light shots turn out decently; you won’t be winning any competitions with the Moto Z2 Play, but you won’t be ashamed to share photos on social media, either.

It’s an overall serviceable camera that’s about what you’d expect from a $400 smartphone in 2017, but with how many other things exceed expectations, it would’ve been nice if Lenovo could’ve pulled that one off too.

Closing

The Moto Z2 Play is an absolutely fantastic phone. It’s well-built, offers fantastic performance and battery life, and aside from the camera, only cut corners in places where other phones are overkill anyway. At just $400 it undercuts devices like the OnePlus 5, too.

But as good of a phone as it is, it’s still worrisome that Lenovo didn’t really upgrade the device in any meaningful way, but cut the battery noticeably shorter than its predecessor. Is that a byproduct of manufacturers feeling the need to make incredibly slim phones, or Lenovo simply wanting to sell more Moto Mods? Maybe both, maybe neither, but either way, at the end of the day you’re buying a newer phone that’s partially worse than the phone that came out last year and there’s very little to show for it.

The design of the Moto Z2 Play is better, including the rounded home button and the back that’s not such a fingerprint magnet, but for anyone currently using the original Moto Z Play, you’re not going to find anything that’s worth upgrading for. If you’re upgrading from something else, there’s plenty to love here, but you might want to see what the older model is selling for before you make a commitment to anything.

Buy it now: Motorola, Verizon


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid and an unhealthy obsession with fixing things that aren't broken. This accidentally led to being the go-to guy for anything more complicated than a toaster, which he considers more of a curse than a blessing. Jared is enrolled in online classes at the University of Phoenix, and spends his spare time on video games and listening to music.


  • gasbubble

    Good review! One remaining question – how is the screen brightness compared to the 1st version? That’s my biggest gripe with that phone – it is very weak in bright light and doesn’t dim dark enough either. Thanks!

    • David Martrano

      For 408.00 if your on Verizon It’s not a bad phone. Even with a 3000mamp battery it should go all day & into the night with the 626 processer. Then add the battery mod and you might get 2 days worth. It’s priced decent much better than the z2force 799.00, Yikes. It’s worth the money plus the mods! This is probably the best deal your gonna find with Lenovo this year. Bonus, you get a free projector mod, not bad!

      • gasbubble

        It’s not worth it if the screen is as dim as the play version 1. I’d trade battery for a brighter screen in the heartbeat.