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Moto Z2 Play review: A step ahead of the competition

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The Moto Z Play was launched in 2016 as a more affordable alternative to the Moto Z, aimed at those looking for long-lasting battery modules. The Moto Z2 Play arrived to the market while maintaining some of the same features, although it has a lower battery capacity compared to the predecessor. In this review I’ll walk you through the time I spent with the device.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play


  • Stylish appearance
  • Display
  • Software with intelligent voice commands


  • Camera isn't outstanding
  • Reduced battery life
  • New interface icons
Motorola Moto Z2 Play
Motorola Moto Z2 Play
Motorola Moto Z2 Play: All deals

Motorola Moto Z2 Play release date and price

Motorola held an exclusive event in São Paulo on June 1, 2017 and presented the new Moto Z2 Play. The smartphone was released in the US later in the summer and costs $499.99 unlocked. It is available in the Lunar Gray and Fine Gold.

moto z2 play box snaps
An assortment of the Moto Z2 Play accessories, including the power pack and style shell. / © NextPit

Motorola Moto Z2 Play design and build quality

The Moto Z2 Play underwent some changes that made a difference in the usability of the device. The thickness has been reduced by 1 mm in comparison to last year’s version, and its glass was replaced by aluminum. This change in the structure has both pros and cons.

The good thing is that fingerprints are considerably less noticeable on aluminum than they are on glass. The Z2 Play feels nice to hold, although it’s very thin. For me, this was the model’s greatest shortcoming. This may have disappointed me because I knew its predecessor so well.

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All the Moto Z smartphones look somewhat alike. / © NextPit

Anyone who has ever used the Moto Z won’t be surprised about this. Fans of the series who are thinking of purchasing the Moto Z2 Play also shouldn’t be disappointed with the ultra-thin body, since it’s just something you have to get used to. The truth is that it’s always better to have a thinner and more consistent model than carrying around a heavy smartphone.

The antennas' signal output markers form a contour line at the rear and end of the device. These are made of plastic and give the Moto Z2 Play a smooth construction. As you can see in the image below, they were integrated into the smartphone quite discreetly.

The prominent camera module is always a feature of the Z line smartphones and serves to provide stability. In the case of Moto Z2 Play, there’s an even further protruding frame, which may be an inconvenience, depending on how you use it. In combination with one of the mods, such as the style shell or power back, the camera frame isn’t bothersome at all.

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The connectors are located at the bottom of the Moto Z2 Play. / © NextPit by Irina Efremova

For use on flat surfaces, however, the device doesn’t stand still, since the camera frame causes the apparatus to easily swing sideways. Personally, I didn’t have many problems, because I used Z2 Play with the two different mods I just mentioned.

At the bottom you’ll find conventional input for headphones and the Type C USB port. The headphones that come with the Moto Z2 Play are different than in the past, not the ones with the nice small format that Motorola launched with Moto X in 2014. Instead, there’s a quality in-ear headset with a flat, siliconized cable that comes with three different-sized rubber earbuds for audio output.

The front side has seen few changes, especially if you’ve already had the opportunity to experience the Moto G5 or Moto G5 Plus. There’s a start button that serves to navigate the system through gestures, which, in my opinion, is not very functional.

I must admit I still don't understand this touch button. I think navigation with the virtual buttons is more intuitive and precise. The one good thing about the button is the useful space it saves on the screen, which can be better used for displaying various content.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play display

The display of the Moto Z2 Play has been left virtually unchanged and still has 5.5-inch Full HD resolution. The panel technology is thankfully also the same, with Super AMOLED. The colors as well as the contrast are both excellent. Any user will be able to enjoy this screen and its 401ppi without the slightest problem.

Under sunlight the screen remained quite readable, since its brightness is high. This may not have to do with the panel’s low light level, but more likely its low reflectivity. So you'll have no problems with glare when using it outdoors.

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The Moto Z2 Play offers a Full HD display. / © NextPit by Irina Efremova

Moto Z2 Play has an ideal screen for use with virtual reality glasses. The hardware also meets the minimum requirements required by Google for compatibility with Daydream, the company's VR platform. The model, however, still doesn't support VR technology.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play software

Moto Z2 Play utilizes the Android 7.1.1 Nougat operating system, with a user experience that is very close to the system’s pure version. I would also like to emphasize the issue of changes in the interface, which has a few subtle differences.

For some reason, Motorola is using a launcher that according to the manufacturer is provided by Google itself through AOSP (Android Open Source Project). This is a transparent app drawer, different from what’s available from the Pixel Launcher or other devices from manufacturers using Android Nougat in a slightly modified way, such as Quantum.

The biggest change the company made, however, was in the application icons, following a pattern that Google started with Google Pixel. This is not necessarily a problem, except for the fact that the company was not content making circular icons and instead decided to reshape them by adding a 3D-looking background. The icons don’t look great and don’t match the other icons displayed in the app drawer. They disrupt the look and make the interface seem heavier.

Of course this is all a matter of taste, but it did not seem like a good change this time around. I hope that the changes in the interface don’t start to resemble the icons, since everything would then start to look like the old Motoblur.

With an experience close to the stock software, few features stand out in the Moto Z2 Play system, except those that are inside the central Moto. I am referring to the feature that brings together all the smart features of the brand's devices, which involve gestures, voice commands and movement. Motorola has delivered some novelties in this regard, and I’ll table those next.

Moto Voice

Moto Voice came out with the first Moto X, and it was a voice system integrated with Google Now. However, the device now responds to differentiated commands, and can be used as a kind of personal assistant. You need to do some trial and error so that the assistant gets accustomed to your voice, which by the way, should be done in a quiet setting.

Beginning with the expression show me it is possible to trigger the calendar, consult the weather forecast and open other applications. In this case, it isn’t possible to set up a customizable voice command by simply picking up the device and saying, "Show me my schedule". It is worth mentioning that Moto Voice only recognizes commands that begin exactly with this term.

All information is displayed in a custom interface, meaning that when you ask about the weather, the default Android news and weather application won’t open. This Motorola interface is very interesting and is a bit different than standard Google services.

Moto Voice can also open applications as well as other queries. You can say "show me Chrome," for example, and a banner will appear at the top of the screen so that the user can drag it to open the browser.

The list of commands supported by Moto Voice is not long, and the voice recognition is inconsistent. I had to restart the voice test at least six times, even though I was at home in silence and there was no noise nearby. Queries appear quickly, but as I mentioned above, the user needs to say the phrase "show me" very clearly, which I personally found annoying at times.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play performance

In comparison to its predecessor, the technical specifications of Moto Z2 Play have improved. There is now 4 GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 626 processor and 64 GB of storage. These are numbers worthy of a top-range flagship, but of course we’re talking about a mid-range phone here. After all, Qualcomm's 600 series processors are very efficient in terms of system operation and battery performance. There's also a Verizon-exclusive lower spec variant with 3 GB RAM and 32 GB of storage, but we carried out this review on the standard version. 

The Moto Z2 Play has specifications worthy of a top of the line smartphone.

In fact, with respect to the Z2 Play’s performance, there’s hardware capable of performing everyday tasks without any problems, including games that are demanding for your phone such as Implosion, N.O.V.A. Legacy and Wild Blood. All of these games ran without any lags or screen crashes, even with many other applications open.

The Moto Voice commands for Google App queries start up quickly, and it doesn’t take long to load social network applications. Everything happens without any delays. Below, you can check the results of the Z2 Play benchmarks in comparison to the Asus Zenfone 3 and the original Moto Z Play.

Moto Z2 Play: Benchmarks

  AnTuTu Geekbench 4: multi-core
Moto Z2 Play 66.642 points 3.191 points
Asus Zenfone 3 57.762 points 4.058 points
Moto Z Play 62.674 points 2.418 points 

Motorola Moto Z2 Play audio

The Moto Z2 Play has mono audio output that is located on the top front of the device. The speaker is also located there and offers balanced sound with sharp accents and weighted bass. The location of the output isn’t inconvenient, since I hardly covered the audio when I used the device in landscape mode.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the Moto Z2 Play comes with well-built in-ear headphones. The sound of this accessory is relatively good, with balanced treble and bass, but it isn’t very powerful. I had no problem using the microphones and the speaker during calls. The volume is excellent.

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The new headphones that accompany the Moto Z2 Play / © NextPit

Motorola Moto Z2 Play camera

The camera was not one of strong points of the original Moto Z Play, but let's face it, the device delivered acceptable photos when in good lighting conditions. With the Moto Z2 Play, Motorola has changed the amount of megapixels from 16MP with f/2.0 aperture to 12MP with f/1.7 aperture. Other points have remained unchanged, such as the presence of Dual Pixel technology and the laser flash.

As far as the front camera is concerned, it has 5MP and an 85 degree lens aperture, which helps capture more information in a single photo, such as in group selfies. The front dual-tone LED flash is also still the same. The lens is what makes the difference.

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The camera has fewer mexapixels, but is of a higher quality. / © NextPit

I can say that the camera has improved, especially in controlling exposure and in eliminating a greater amount of noise compared to its predecessor. This difference can be noticed when using Z2 Play in low-light environments. This is due to the smaller lens aperture, which is able to work better under these conditions.

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The Moto Z2 Play's 12MP camera. / © NextPit

It shoots quickly and you can view the picture taken quickly after shooting. The camera software with full manual mode has been the same on Motorola models since the Moto G4 Plus. There is software for slow-motion as well as for "live stream", which is a plug-in for YouTube that allows the user to broadcast in real time.

Despite the presence of the laser flash, I had difficulty focusing in a few moments, especially in the automatic mode. Although the automatic mode is a viable option for a few people, the manual mode was more agile at times, since I could better control the scene adjustments. Often the automatic option would suggest a scene that didn’t fit what I needed, even the night mode in a sunny environment.

You can activate both the front and the main camera with a gesture as well as save all the contents on the memory card. Videos can be recorded in 4K at 30fps. There is still, oddly, the option to record in the VGA standard, from 480p to 30fps.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play battery

Now we’ve reached the controversial point of the Moto Z2 Play: the 3,000 mAh battery, which means a reduction of 3,510 mAh from the Moto Z Play. The reason for this change, according to Motorola, was the slimmer design. Motorola has also said that in a company survey users voiced the preference for this reduction.

With this move, the new model has left the autonomy of its predecessor in the past, and now achieves only a day and a half of weighted use. If you use many social networks, the camera application several times a day, or play games periodically, you’ll reach the end of the day with about 20% of battery life. With more intense use, with location and synchronization activated, brightness at 60% and making use of video and music streams, the phone will only last 7 hours before it needs to be charged again.

The Moto Z2 Play reaches the end of the day with 20% battery life in conventional use.

Overall, and also according to the tests I did, Moto Z2 Play loses on average 11% of charge per hour from conventional continuous use, while the average for Z Play is 9% per hour. The turbo charger has declined in size, but kept the power of 15W, and is able to fully charge the device in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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Too thin for a thick battery - the Moto Z2 Play. / © NextPit by Irina Efremova

Finally, I can say that the Moto Z2 Play is a device with average battery life among current models, and has therefore lost the ‘plus’ that the previous model had, which could function for far longer without needing a power outlet. Of course this is not a problem for those who intend to use it with the Motorola Power Pack, which has 2,220 mAh and adds 40% charge to the Z2 Play battery.

I can even understand that Motorola reduced the battery to stimulate the sales of Moto Mods, especially the power pack. But it doesn’t make much sense to regress on a point that has always been the difference for the Play series, mainly to make the model thinner. Motorola has really changed its values in this respect.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play technical specifications

Final verdict

I didn’t approve of some features of Moto Z2 Play, such as the software icons, ultrathin frame, the battery reduction and even the touch navigation button. This doesn’t mean, however that the device is an abomination. Quite to the contrary, this was a personal evaluation and these points were somewhat subjective.

Any user who is willing to invest up to $500 for a smartphone will certainly find the Z2 Play to be a great choice. The new aluminum frame couldn’t be better, since the phone has a more premium and consistent aesthetic. The hardware has remained exceptional for a mid-range phone, and as opposed to what happened with battery capacity, has clearly advanced.

The Moto Z2 Play is overall of a higher caliber than the Galaxy A7, Zenfone 3 and Quantum Fly. The battery life is also average compared to these models, even with its discounted hardware and software differences. The camera evolved timidly, but it is already a breakthrough, as the previous model was very restricted in terms of photography.

The Moto Z2 Play is overall of a higher caliber than the Galaxy A7, Zenfone 3 and the Quantum Fly.

The Moto Voice commands aren’t fantastic, but they are extras that add a certain practicality in everyday use. Of course this is a new mechanism, so it's possible that updates will further optimize them. But anyway, it's nice to be able to review that kind of development in Motorola’s software, which is something that was somewhat overshadowed in the brand's previous models.

Finally, if you are looking for a good set of specifications to use for a few more years with a sleek look, quality screen and software with a pleasant use experience, you can invest in Moto Z2 Play without fear. If the camera doesn’t meet your requirements, you should still consider the model. The battery is equivalent to its competitors, but isn’t excellent if you’re looking for more battery life. In short, it won't surprise you, but it won't disappoint you either.

So that wraps up my thoughts! Now let's hear from you. What do you think of the Moto Z2 Play?

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Bruno Salutes

Bruno Salutes

Degree in Web Design and Relationship Marketing, is in love with Android devices and a good cup of coffee! Currently living in São Paulo is always tuned in all the trends, innovations and launches the mobile market. Love watching videos and reviews whenever possible are involved in any discussion about technology.

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  • 1
    Satish Tamsoy Jan 29, 2018 Link to comment

    battery backup isn't that bad.. you get almost 6 hr screen on time with heavy usage multitasking

  • David Martrano 29
    David Martrano Jun 10, 2017 Link to comment

    So they gave up on the the battery for thinness. Sounds like a bad joke to me. I don't think it will sell as well as the Z play! Just saying!!

  • David Martrano 29
    David Martrano Jun 3, 2017 Link to comment

    I know for a fact the reason it will be sporting a 3000mamp battery is simply because they want you to purchase the battery mod. Priced at 499.00 & the mod for 79.00 isn't this flagship territory? Every year they state much improved camera & winds up being average. I guess thin is in but I would rather have a little thicker and larger battery capacity. So you took away your best feature and costs more. I predict slumping sales with this offering!

    • David Martrano 29
      David Martrano Feb 4, 2018 Link to comment

      My personal opinion of the Lenovo takeover of Motorola just plain sucks. They ruined the force & play with tiny batteries. I don't wonder why they are having slumping sales with both phones! Yikes!

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