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Motorola Moto X Play Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Gorgeous screen
  • Capable camera
  • Smooth performance
  • Clean interface

The Bad

  • Average everyday battery life
  • Camera needs manual control
4.5

Motorola Moto X Play review: We test out Motorola’s latest no-frills flagship phone, the Moto X Play, which offers a happy medium between the budget Moto G mobile and Motorola’s super-charged Moto X Style.

Motorola surprised us all last month by announcing two new flagship devices. In 2014 we had just one Moto X mobile, which was a solid and enjoyable handset – although battery life and the 13-megapixel camera lagged a little compared with rivals. So in 2015 Motorola has gone for a different approach, launching two flavours of Moto X.

The more premium device, dubbed the Moto X Style, boasts top-end specs for a justifiably big price. Meanwhile, a more affordable version known as the Moto X Play bumps down the specs as well as the cost.

So, is the Moto X Play a worthy mid-range mobile, or should you hold out for that more expensive sibling?

Design

Stick the Moto X Play side-by-side with the Moto G and you might struggle to tell which is which. The only obvious difference is the boosted screen size, with the 5.5-inch Moto X Play sitting slightly taller than the 5-inch Moto G.

While the Moto G was easy enough to use one-handed, the Moto X Play is a bit more of a stretch, literally. It’s much more comfortable to use with both mitts, to avoid awkward gripping and hand cramps. Thankfully the bevelled back does help to keep the phone stuck to your palm, if you try and go solo-handed.

It’s a surprisingly chunky mobile at 10.9mm, although it doesn’t really feel like it thanks to the curved design. And at 169g the Moto X Play feels satisfyingly weighty, without aching your arm.

Just some of the eye-piercing designs on offer

The Moto G had a removable back plate, so you could quickly and easily swap to a different colour if desired. You can also swap out the Moto X Play’s back plate – although it’s a more awkward affair – and personalise the design using Motorola’s online Moto Maker tool. With a decent range of vibrant (and more subdued) finishes, you should easily find a palette that matches your personal tastes.

Sadly the Moto G’s water resistance didn’t translate over to the new Moto X phones. So while the flagships sport a ‘water-repellant design’ for surviving rainstorms and beer spills, they certainly can’t be dunked in the tub.

Screen and media

While the Moto X Style boasts a 5.7-inch Quad HD display and the Moto G packs a basic 5-inch 720p panel, the Moto X Play sits firmly in the middle with a 5.5-inch 1080p screen.

But who needs Quad HD? Media fans will be pleased to hear that the Moto X Play’s panel isn’t just perfectly crisp, matching other mid-range flagships like the OnePlus 2 for image clarity; it’s also incredibly bright and pleasingly vibrant, boosting colours to just the right level so they really stand out and look super attractive. If you want colour accuracy, you’re better off with the Moto G’s more subdued panel. If you want eye candy, this is your Huckleberry.

The crux of it is, HD movies look glorious on the Moto X Play and that screen is spacious enough to comfortably watch movies over extended periods. And if you’re enjoying music or video in a private space, the built-in front-facing speaker is seriously powerful. It’s just a shame that you don’t get stereo sound like with HTC’s flagships.

If you’ve got a huge media collection, the microSD memory card slot (which is built into the SIM tray) is a quick and easy way to expand the 16GB of storage and carry around all of your files. That’s something that was sadly missing in the OnePlus 2, and a feature we’re always loathe to be without. Or, if you’d rather stream your music and movies using online services, the Moto X Play’s 4G support means buffer-free entertainment (in supported areas).

Interface and features

Motorola has once again left Android well alone, so you get a nicely streamlined mobile experience with no unnecessary overlays. Essentially it’s the exact same interface as the Moto G, with the same handful of helpful Motorola apps. So for instance, you have the Moto assistant to help keep you organised and block out any disturbances, and Migrate to transfer all of your old media, messages and so on from your previous phone.

Check out this tips n’ tricks guide to the Moto G for more info.

The Moto X Play doesn’t aim to excite with any spangly in-your-face features, and this approach is quite refreshing compared with many modern flagship phones. After all, Android on its own is packed with enough great functionality and its look can be fully customised.

Check out our full Android Lollipop review for more info on Google’s OS features.

Performance and battery life

Like the Moto G, the Moto X Play performs perfectly at all times. The octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor backed by 2GB of RAM might not be particularly powerful, but the phone’s overall efficiency means you’ll nary see a stutter.

We had no trouble playing the latest games, with pleasingly smooth frame rates. And at no point did the Moto X feel toasty, even with plenty of camera use and HD movie streaming.

Motorola has packed a mighty 3630mAh battery inside the Moto X Play, but this phone can’t quite match the LG G4 and Sony’s Xperia Z3 for longevity. During everyday use we saw just over 24 hours of use per charge on average, with standard operating procedure – messaging, web browsing, the odd quick call and a bit of camera and app play. And just to confirm, we used this phone as our full-time phone over the review period of several days.

Still, in our non-stop media streaming test the Moto X Play performed more admirably, surviving for almost seven straight hours. That’s above average for a modern handset.

Cameras

Motorola phones boast a clean and simple-to-use interface that’s a million miles better than the feature-rammed efforts on many phones. It’s literally aim and tap, with not even a shutter button to clog up the screen. You can use volume up or down to snap a shot too, if you’d rather have a physical button. And of course, you can quick-load the camera with a double-wrist-twist.

Trust in the 21-megapixel camera and you’ll generally be rewarded with sharp, attractive shots. In decent lighting conditions we ended up with gorgeous landscape photos and densely detailed close-up macro snaps, while everything in-between worked just as well.

The only time the camera’s auto mode struggled was when shooting in bright sunlight, or scenes with serious contrast – for instance, snapping a church against a sunny sky. Sadly the HDR mode doesn’t seem to help much, even when permanently turned on. However, we found that these issues could be quickly overcome by using the manual focus wheel, which also allows you to fiddle with exposure.

You can’t shoot 4k video, but the 1080p clips we shot looked good enough to view back on a telly. And there’s a solid 5-megapixel selfie camera that’s easily capable enough for high-res Facebook snaps.

Verdict

The Moto X Play isn’t the Motorola flagship that we’re excited to see, but it’s a very good handset for the price and a solid rival to the OnePlus 2. The spacious, vibrant screen and expandable storage make it a media monster, while amateur photographers and gamers will appreciate the capable camera and smooth performance.

Specification

Screen size5.5-inches
Screen resolution1080p
Weight169g
OSAndroid Lollipop
Rear Camera21MP
Front camera5MP
ProcessorSnapdragon 615
Memory2GB
Storage16GB + microSD
4G LTEYes

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