Mid-range devices are becoming as feature-rich as flagship devices and Motorola is no different, updating its Moto X series with two new devices in a bid to offer everything for everyone. Ahead of our full review, I spent a couple of weeks with Motorola’s new handset to figure out whether it delivers the performance and standards that past generations have.
Does the Moto X Play deliver, and is it worthy of your money?
As you might expect, the Moto X Play looks just like any other Motorola device and although it does have a few cool new tweaks, it’s very much a Moto at its core.
One change that makes the handset so appealing to would-be customers is the ability to customise the handset colours using Moto Maker. From changing the colour of the front, back or the accent to engraving and ordering additional accessories, Moto Maker lets you make the Moto X Play truly personal to you.
The Moto X Play also comes with interchangeable back covers, which lets you personalise the experience even further. If you’re someone who likes to visually express your feelings, ordering different colour rear covers can let you do just this.
Changing covers is as easy as removing one and popping the other on, but before you get excited, you can change the back covers but you can’t access the battery. It’s also worth noting that if you do intend to change the back cover, you need to make sure it’s firmly pressed into place as otherwise, the handset will no longer be waterproof.
The front of the Moto X Play is dominated by the large 5.5-inch Full HD LCD display and if there’s something I found somewhat lacking in Moto’s new handset, it was the screen. Compared to other devices at the price point, the display seems to be lacking in overall brightness and is very reflective, but in spite of this, it’s more than manageable; just don’t expect the best viewing experience.
Moving to the back, this is where Motorola’s Moto Maker really shines; although we’ve got a black handset here, the options are great and, as we showed you in our Moto G 2015 review, you can have a really cool end result.
The Moto X Play measures 7.9mm thick and although it’s not the easiest smartphone to hold it the hand, a rear curved back makes the handset a lot friendlier. The build is sturdy and doesn’t show any visible signs of stress when you’re using it (or even if you try to bend it). The design doesn’t stand out from the crowd but it certainly gets the job done.
While design certainly isn’t Motorola’s strongest suit, the company can point to its software as a crowning example of how you should make a smartphone. As we’ve seen from Motorola in previous years, the Moto X Play adopts the mantra that “less is more”.
The handset has an almost stock-like interface with a few key additions that make the handset a Motorola. Like other devices in the range, it comes with the Moto App, which acts as a central home from which to control the various smart features that Motorola have built into the handset. As with the new Moto G, you can set particular shortcuts to quickly access the front or rear cameras using motion control but one (very welcome) change is the quick flick to launch the torch is nowhere to be seen.
From configuring gestures and motion controls to setting a hotword that lets you control the Moto X Play using your voice, the Moto App is the home to all things Motorola. In previous Moto X devices, we’ve seen the company put these options in the global settings menu, and while this change may confuse past Motorola users, it’s a much better way of implementing the controls.
Other than Motorola’s very few tweaks, the Moto X Play runs on stock Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and it’s likely to be one of the first handsets to get the new Android M update when it’s eventually released (probably next week at Google’s Nexus event).
Aside from the display, my biggest disappointment with the Moto X Play was the performance, and this is not something you could really say about Motorola smartphones in the past.
Indicative of the troubles that chip-maker Qualcomm currently finds itself in, the octa-core 64-bit Snapdragon 615 processor inside the Moto X Play seems to be underpowered for the job it’s tasked with. It’s either that, the 2GB RAM or the four (somewhat slowly-clocked) 1.7GHz Cortex A53 cores, but the end result is that the software doesn’t have the refined performance of past Motorola handsets.
It’s not all bad but there are glitches and lag that wouldn’t normally be present in a Motorola smartphone of old. When it’s lag-free, the Moto X Play is certainly no slouch but we do wonder whether an extra GB of RAM, a slightly better processor or higher clocked cores would have helped the overall experience.
From somewhat suspect performance to battery life, and this is where the Moto X Play really shines. As we touched on earlier, the handset has a non-removable battery clocked at 3630mAh (which is one of the highest at this price point) and as you might expect, it delivers excellent battery life.
Over the course of two weeks with Motorola’s new mid-range flagship, the battery life didn’t disappoint and unless you use the handset constantly and are streaming video with the screen on full brightness, it should easily last you a full day’s usage.
From testing, the average user can expect it to last 24 to 28 hours with social networking, camera usage, apps syncing and phone calls. Heavy gaming and streaming video can reduce this considerably – it’s possibly to completely drain it in 9 hours but this pretty much involves using it constantly at full brightness – and if you’re a medium to low user, you’ll probably get 36-48 hours on a single charge.
If a long lasting battery is a necessity to you, the Moto X Play definitely delivers and you won’t be disappointed.
While the design of the Moto X Play feels very much like past Motorola handsets, the company has aimed to improve one of the features that affected past devices; the camera. Past Motorola smartphones (and even the Motorola-made Google Nexus 6) never had stand-out cameras attached on the back, but the Moto X Play comes with a new 21MP Sony-made sensor.
Unlike other devices in the price point – such as the Huawei Honor 7 – the camera doesn’t come with Optical Image Stabilisation or Phase Detection Autofocus but these are small gripes with the camera. The other thing that is very frustrating is the inability to touch to focus on a subject, as touch-to-capture is enabled by default with no way to switch it off. As such, the end product can be out of focus or focused on the wrong subject.
In good conditions, the Moto X Play camera certainly delivers but as the light reduces, so does the quality of the camera and in low-light, you might as well not bother pulling the handset out. The lack of OIS or any form of phase detection also heavily affects the camera quality, and while the sensor has certainly been improved over past Moto X devices, Motorola still have a way to go in order to rival other cameras at the price point.
The Moto X range has never failed to deliver and the Moto X Play mostly continues this trend, but with a little less gusto than previous years. Unlike the Moto G and Moto X Style (aka the Moto X Pure Edition), the Moto X Play is only available in a handful of countries.
Motorola is offering the handset for £279 unlocked and free of contract in the UK and while this price tag would have been a smash-hit in previous years, the mid-range is a fiercely fought minefield and the Moto X Play gets a little lost in a sea of competitive devices.
If you’re looking for an unassuming mid-range smartphone that delivers excellent battery life and a solid experience, the Moto X Play certainly ticks the boxes. If you want something more than this however, there’s an entire range of handsets worth checking out (which you can see to the left now).
What do you think of the Moto X Play? Let us know your views in the comments below and be sure to stay tuned for our full Moto X Play review, which is coming soon.