Motorola Moto X Play review: Going high-end, staying affordable

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When the Lenovo-owned company took to the stage in three cities on July 18, Motorola announced that it wanted to establish a new breed of smartphones. It then went on to unveil three new devices – the Moto X Style (also known as the Moto X Pure Edition), the Moto X Play and the Moto G. All of which share similar design characteristics but feature totally different internal components.

Now we’ve got our eyes pinned on the Moto X Play which is essentially a hybrid of the Moto X Style and Moto G. The Moto X Play is only available in Europe and Asia, targeted at consumers looking for a phone with a great camera and an above-average battery life, but no need for the processing power that many flagship devices on the market have to offer, thereby appealing to those on a stricter budget.

Design

Overall, the design of the Moto X Play is fairly minimalistic and isn’t dissimilar to most modern-day smartphones. The handset itself sizes in at 148 x 75 x 10.9mm and weighs a rather hefty 169 grams, which is pretty heavy, especially when you consider that the Galaxy S6 Edge weighs about 130 grams, and the Nexus 5X weighs 136 grams. However, the added weight does give the Moto X Play a much more premium feel.

From the minute you unbox the handset, you can tell instantly that it’s a well-built device, designed to survive the knocks, bumps and scuffs of everyday life – and believe me, it does. On my second day of using the Moto X Play, to my horror, I accidentally sent it into a nosedive off my desk from about five feet, It survived the descent without a single blemish, much to my amazement.

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On the front of the unit is a gigantic 5.5-inch Full HD display, which has a screen-to-body ratio of 74%. The size of the panel alone contributes to the device’s solid form factor as it gives a slightly chunkier feel to the handset when its being held in one hand. Positioned at the top of the unit above the display is a 5MP camera, which does a good job of capturing selfies.

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Flip over to the rear of the device and you’ll be presented with a rubberized removable back plate surrounded by faux metal. Although the battery cover can be removed, the battery itself cannot. The reason behind this is customization. Moto Maker offers you a choice of 14 different covers, which all have distinct textures and can be applied to the handset at any time.

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Positioned bang in the center on the back is a metal island, which houses Motorola’s standard ‘M’ dimple that ships on board all of its post-2013 smartphones along with 21MP shooter and dual-LED flash.

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The volume rocker and textured lock button are on the right-hand side of the handset, while the microUSB charging port can be found on the bottom of the unit. On the top of the device, you’ll find a headphone jack, and a removable SIM and microSD slot.

Hardware

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The Moto X Play features a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor, Adreno 405, 2GB of RAM, 16 or 32GB of internal storage, a microSDcard slot for up to an additional 32GB of storage, a 21MP rear camera, a 5MP front camera, front-facing speakers, 3630mAh battery (non-removable), Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, A-GPS and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.

Bands:

LTE (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 27, 20)
HSPA (850, 900, 1800, 1900)
GSM (850, 900, 1800, 1900)

Performance

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The Moto X Play certainly doesn’t feel like a mid-range device. Coming from an LG G4 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, I was expecting to be overwhelmed by slow opening times, multitasking lag and endless app crashes. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The handset runs incredibly smoothly and rarely has to slow down to take a breath. During my extensive testing, the only time the processor failed to keep up was when I opened two demanding games and switched between them. Apart from that it breezed through every task I threw at it.

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Circling back to the display, I was pleased to discover that Motorola had adopted an LCD panel for its latest lineup. Previous devices in the Moto X series featured AMOLED displays, which produced a yellow tinge making everything look somewhat distorted, but this was nowhere to be seen on the Play.

The screen also works a treat in low-light conditions, but is a tad more reflective than I’d like in bright environments. Viewing angles are impressive and colors remain crisp at all times, irrespective of the brightness setting selected.

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There are dual front-facing speakers on the fore of the unit. The quality of the audio isn’t great, though. It’s almost as though the development team at Motorola have done little-to-no tuning of the drivers, every sound that emerges from the front of this device is tinny and has a high-pitch glare. That being said, the loudspeaker mode during calls is very clear, and the proprietary software works brilliantly at cancelling out background noise.

If your main use of a smartphone is to respond to messages, place phone calls, scroll through social networking feeds and play games, one at a time, you’ll love the Moto X Play. No matter how hard I try, I can’t find a fault in its performance. It genuinely feels like you’re using a flagship device.

Battery

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As previously mentioned, the Moto X Play’s 3630mAh battery cannot be removed, despite having a removable backplate. But this isn’t an issue. Motorola has done a fantastic job of developing incredible power management software for this handset, which easily sees it through a full day of heavy use.

After monitoring my battery statistics for 24-hours, I noticed that the biggest drain comes from 4G LTE connectivity. However, taking this into account, you’re still looking at about 26-hours of life.

During the testing process, I was unhooking the handset from its charger at 6 a.m. and using it to stream music, respond to emails, place phone calls, watch YouTube videos and browse the Web up until 11 p.m., at which time it had just over 30% of battery remaining. That’s pretty good going, seeing as I have to plug in my G4 after about 6-hours.

Software

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Ever since its acquisition by Google back in 2012, Motorola has adopted a stock Android policy for all its smartphones. The only alterations it makes to the software is by way of a handful of new applications and features, which are designed to make a user’s life significantly easier. A prime example of this is the Moto App.

The Moto App is home to all the additional features installed on the Moto X Play. It’s used to set up and configure a hot word for controlling the handset with your voice, and for creating gestures, such as flicking your wrist to open up the camera or saying “Hello Moto” to wake the device, then if you say “What’s new?” it will relay all of your recent notifications by reading them out to you.

Thankfully, there isn’t any bloatware on the unlocked variant of the handset. The only third-party applications you’ll find are the aforementioned Moto App and one called Migrate, which enables you to effortlessly transfer data from your old smartphone to the Moto X Play through Wi-Fi.

The device runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop on arrival, but is expected to receive the long-awaited Android 6.0 Marshmallow upgrade by the end of 2015, seeing as the Moto X Play is mostly stock, it should take delivery of the update shortly after it’s finished rolling out to compatible Nexus-branded products.

Camera

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The 21-megapixel Sony sensor found under the hood of the Moto X Play produces beautiful, clear and crisp photographs that certainly don’t look like they were taken on a mid-range device. What surprised me most, though, is the camera’s performance in low-light conditions, which is second-to-none for its price point.

The camera application provides you with extensive control of the rear camera’s shooting modes. By swiping in from the left-hand side, you can adjust the ISO, exposure levels, enable HDR and tap-to-focus.

The quality of the camera speaks for itself, so be sure to take a look through the images below to get a clear understanding of what this device is capable of.

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Closing

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So should you buy the Moto X Play? Well, if you’re looking for an impressive mid-range smartphone that won’t break the bank, I’d urge you to look no further. Not only does the handset provide an unruffled user experience, but it also takes fantastic photographs and doesn’t slack when it comes to functionality. The device’s durable design and build quality will see you through a couple of years usage, providing, of course, you don’t go throwing it off any cliffs. The Moto X Play is fully customizable through Moto Maker — so you can really put your own stamp on it by using personal colors and engravings for an additional £279 ($420).

[Motorola]


About the Author: Josh Levenson

Josh is an avid Android enthusiast who writes news, reviews and the occasional how-to articles. He lives in the UK and is fascinated by anything technical. He enjoys stripping and rebuilding vintage Macs and is a keen amateur photographer. Currently, his smartphone of choice is the HTC One (M8), but he has a sneaky suspicion that’s going to change when the Galaxy Note 4 finally hits the shelves.