Review: Updated: Moto X Play

Introduction and design

Motorola clearly wasn’t satisfied with one flagship smartphone this year. For 2015 we get three new versions of the Moto X: the Moto X Force, a flagship with a shatterproof screen, the Moto X Style, a high-end and stylish handset, and the Moto X Play, a slightly more affordable phone designed for people on the go but still packed with superior features.

As the name suggests, the Moto X Play is designed for adventurous types who need a battery that keeps going as long as they do, and a handset that won’t break at the slightest knock.

Moto X Play

The Moto X Play is available in the UK right now in two storage options: 16GB and 32GB.

The phone costs £279 for the 16GB option, and £319 for the 32GB version. For another £40, though, you could buy the Moto X Style – which is a minor hike to get a much better setup.

That means that although the Moto X Play boasts slightly better specs than you’d expect for the mid-range price, you’ll need to compare it to the Style before deciding if it’s good value. So let’s find out whether the Moto X Play is worth picking up.

Design

It’s difficult to see where the Moto X Play is meant to fit in Motorola’s range of smartphones – and the design only further muddies the waters.

Moto X Play

The Moto X Play certainly feels more premium than the Moto G, but this version isn’t as high-end as some of the phones it aspires to take on, such as the OnePlus 2.

Everything about it feels very slightly off, and this is a shame. With just a minor polish to the design, the Moto X Play could have offered a lot more for the money.

Moto X Play

The phone fits perfectly in the hand, which is an impressive achievement considering it has a 5.5-inch display slapped in the middle – that’s toward the higher end of the screen size range, and would have been considered a phablet two years ago.

Moto X Play

Along the top and bottom are two slim bezels, which both house speakers along with an earpiece at the top and microphone at the bottom. The front-facing camera is somewhat hidden away in the top-right corner, but by minimising the bezels the Moto X Play can offer a compact frame without compromising on screen size.

It’s the complete opposite of my gripe with the iPhone 6 Plus, which houses the same size screen but is much bigger, with large strips at the top and bottom of the phone.

The phone has an arched back – it’s 10.9mm thick in the middle but slimmer at the edges – and this enables the phone to sit in the hand more easily. It also enables the phone to appear thinner than it actually is, as well as housing a lot of extra battery power.

Moto X Play

The edges of the phone have a metal framework, making it feel and look quite premium. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits right in the middle of the top edge, which can feel like an odd placement with some headphone designs.

When the phone is in a pocket it can be irritating – I’d rather have it closer to one of the edges, or I’d have to use wireless headphones.

Alongside the jack sits the SIM and microSD card drawer, which you can pop out using a small tool. The left edge of the phone is clear of buttons, while the right side houses the power button a third of the way down, with the volume rocker below.

Moto X Play

The power button features subtle texturing, which makes it easier to find if you’re fumbling around and not looking at the phone.

Right in the middle on the bottom edge is the microUSB port – it’s a shame there’s no USB-C support here, because I can see myself scratching the bottom edge trying to slot the connector in.

The phone is water resistant, so it can survive the odd splash of water. The problem here is that it’s not fully waterproof, as we’ve come to expect from, say, the Sony Xperia line of flagship phones.

There’s no point in half measures here. If Motorola is suggesting the phone is durable enough for adventurous outdoor types then it doesn’t make sense to make the phone only partly resistant to water when it could be fully waterproof.

Customization

The name of the game with the Moto X Play is customization. You can customise the phone’s design via the Moto Maker website, where you can choose from 14 colour backs and seven accent colours along the camera module section on the back and the speaker grills on the front.

Moto X Play customise

There’s a good variety of colour choices here, but I didn’t get the chance to try them out – if I had, I’d have gone for a much more vibrant look than that of the phone you can see in the photos. The problem is you can’t do much else – there’s only a choice of white or black front colours.

It’s a nice touch being able to customise the look of your phone, but I don’t feel Motorola has gone far enough on the Moto X Play. If you head into the Moto Maker application for the Moto X Style you’ll find a choice of materials for the back as well as colours, including wood and leather.

Moto X Play

With the Moto X Play it feels like you’re restricted to paint-by-numbers customisation, rather than being able to ‘build’ your perfect phone.

Display and key features

People are shouting about the Moto X Style offering Quad-HD resolution on a cheaper smartphone, and it does look beautiful. The Moto X Play, meanwhile, is still restricted to 1080p resolution.

I’d argue that that’s not a bad thing, and I’d actually prefer to have this display on the Moto X Play. There’s no denying a QHD display is a big bonus when you’re watching video, but I really think Full HD is the best option for the Moto X Play.

Moto X Play

It’s a 5.5-inch TFT LCD display with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, meaning it has 403 pixels per inch. It won’t compete with the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 with their beautiful QHD displays, but if you’re just using it to watch the odd video, and when you take price into account, this is the exact screen quality you need.

Full HD means less of a drain on the battery. It’s bright when you need it to be and it offers good viewing angles in bright light, unlike some other phones in this price bracket. The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 3.

Key features

Motorola is aiming the Play at the outgoing person who wants a durable smartphone that isn’t going to let them down when they most need it.

That’s why the phone has a water-repellent coating, which I mentioned briefly earlier. It does mean your phone will be okay if you’re caught in a shower – but that’s about all.

When testing the Moto X Play’s water resistance I always felt nervous about pushing it too far, which left me wondering why didn’t Motorola go the whole hog.

The Moto X Play should have full-blown IP67 water and dust protection. You should be able to jump in a lake with it and happily use it in the rain.

I appreciate that incorporating such protection would impact on the design, but having covers on a few ports isn’t a great inconvenience if I know my phone will be capable of surviving anything I throw at it.

Moto X Play

Fast charging is another key feature on the Moto X Play, and it’s a big selling point if you’re running low on juice. The problem here is that the charger needed to take advantage of fast charging isn’t included in the box.

I assume this is to do with keeping costs down, but as it’s such a major selling point of the phone Motorola should really have stuck one in the box.

Interface and performance

The last bastion of the stock Android format, Motorola has managed to keep the OS clear from spam in a way that other manufacturers, such as Samsung and HTC, haven’t.

The Moto X Play comes with almost the latest version of Android in the form of the 5.1.1 Lollipop on board, meaning you’ve got many of the latest features in place and ready to go.

Moto X Play screenshots

Motorola is quite good at keeping its software up to date too, so Moto X Play users are likely to get the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update and beyond before users of phones from other manufacturers – unless you’re on a Nexus device of course.

Moto X Play screenshots

Stock is in my opinion the way forward – I much prefer it to any overlay or design from other Android phone manufacturers.

Moto X Play screenshots

What you do have, though, is Motorola’s range of apps. These include Connect to track all your devices, Migrate to help switch your devices, and Moto to enable hands-free control when driving.

Moto X Play screenshots

I never find any real use for these apps, and I generally don’t even open them on a Motorola phone. I’d rather they weren’t preinstalled, so you could just add them if you want them; fortunately you can uninstall them if you want to free up some space.

Performance

Motorola has made the controversial choice to include a smaller processor in the X Play than in the Moto X Style or Moto X Force. The Moto X Play has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor, which includes a quad-core 1.7GHz Cortex-A53 and a quad-core 1.0 GHz Cortex A53 alongside an Adreno 405 GPU.

It’s not the weakest setup we’ve seen on a smartphone in recent years, but it’s nowhere near as strong as that in the Moto X Style or Moto X Force – and the difference is noticeable.

There was a bit of a lag when I was scrolling through pages with multiple apps open. I found that the camera app in particular took quite a while to launch, but that could also be an issue with the sensor.

There’s also 2GB of RAM on this phone, which should be fine but feels like a bit of a letdown when you consider that the Force and Style each come with 3GB.

Gaming-wise the phone performed quite well, and even after 10 minutes of running Real Racing 3 it hadn’t crashed or heated up, as some phones in this price bracket tend to.

I ran the Geekbench 3 benchmarking software on the phone a few times, and recorded an average single-core score of 715 and a multi-core score of 2716.

We didn’t run the test on last year’s Moto X, so it’s difficult to tell how it compares, but another phone in the same price bracket is the OnePlus 2, which returned a multi-core score of 4795. That’s 2000 more than the Moto X Play, although that’s little surprise as the OnePlus 2 has an impressive processor inside.

The Moto X Play is quite close to the iPhone 6, which scored 2905 – but then Apple phones are quite different offerings.

Overall it’s a little disappointing to see what the Moto X Play is able to do with its processor, but it will be able to cope with most everyday tasks, and it seems to handle high-end gaming sufficiently as well.

Battery and essentials

The battery is the real standout feature of the Moto X Play. It comes with a big 3630mAh cell – to put that into perspective, the Moto X Style has to power a 2K display and has a 3000mAh cell inside. It does mean the X Play has to be a little thicker to accommodate the bigger battery, but it’s worth it.

I found myself getting a consistent day and a bit of use from a full charge, and that’s unheard of as I’m such a power-hungry user – generally I’ll just about make it to the end of the day, even after putting my phone on charge for a bit midway through.

Moto X Play

I ran the Nyan Gareth video test on the Moto X Play as well. I turned the display up to full brightness, with full connectivity enabled, and played a 90-minute clip from start to finish.

The X Play came out the other side with 85% of its battery left – that’s a pretty big deal, and it means you can watch quite a few films without having to worry about taking it back to the wall. I ran the test again at 60% screen brightness, and it came out with 87% of its battery intact.

The Moto X Play also supports TurboPower charging, which Motorola claims is the fastest technology of its kind in the world, with a 15-minute charge good for eight hours of battery life.

A TurboPower charger isn’t included, however, so you’ll have to buy one separately – it’s a real shame that you can’t take advantage of one of the Moto X Play’s major features right out of the box.

Another disappointment is Motorola’s decision not to include wireless charging in the Moto X Play. This is something that’s becoming more widely available, with charging on offer in places such as coffee shops and restaurants.

The Moto X Play sports a good pair of front-facing speakers. When I was watching video I was a little taken aback at how impressive they were considering it’s not a feature Motorola has made a big deal about. The interface within the video app is straightforward, and makes it easy to pause and rewind clips.

I was testing the 16GB version of the X Play, and after software is installed you’re left with 10.89GB to play with. That’s enough space if you’re planning to upload films or music, but my average Spotify offline collection is going to take up 4GB straight off, cutting down the available space for pictures.

Calls and Wi-Fi

Moto X Play

Phone calls were clear at my end, and everyone I spoke to reported that they could hear me well – even during a conference call to the US. That’s likely down to the noise cancellation technology employed in the Moto X Play, with a dedicated mic – it’s featured in all the Moto X phones, and works a treat to ensure that light background noise doesn’t accompany your voice over the airwaves.

The X Play supports all internet connectivity, including LTE 4G – why wouldn’t it, it’s 2015 – so you can get your super-fast internet without any concerns. If you’re not on 4G yet, you’ll be able to use your 3G network as well.

There’s Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, which basically means you’re able to connect to any Wi-Fi signal that’s available, and you can also turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot at will. I was able to do this without any problems – but hotspot use is going to rinse your internet, so watch out if you’re on a limited data contract.

Unlike the OnePlus 2 the Moto X Play comes with NFC support, so it’ll be compatible with the likes of Android Pay when that finally launches.

The phone doesn’t come with any specialist security features, so there’s no sign of a fingerprint sensor or eye scanner here, which are features some people may miss. The Moto X Style and Moto X Force don’t have these either, and it seems Motorola doesn’t have any interest in introducing them – it’ll be interesting to see how you can authenticate payments within Android Pay.

Camera

Cameras are a big deal when it comes to smartphone one-upmanship these days, and Motorola seems to have taken this on board, introducing some big changes for the rear shooter this time around.

The Moto X Play features a 21MP sensor that can take photos up to a resolution of 5248 x 3936 with its HDR feature on – it’s a big upgrade on the 13MP which still managed to impress on 2014’s Moto X.

Moto X Play

I have to admit I was really taken aback by the camera on the Moto X Play. I thought the large sensor was going to prove to be all about the numbers, but it actually delivered exactly what I wanted, whenever I needed it.

There’s an autofocus mode that works better than I’d expected – at one point I was trying to take photos of a parked van when it started to move, and the camera managed to keep it in focus until it disappeared out of sight. Here it is stood still…

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

And here it is moving – there’s barely any blur at all.

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

I found that all the pictures I shot were incredibly clear, with excellent detail. Image brightness wasn’t particularly great to start with, but after a while I found the control focus and exposure tool, which enables you to decide how light you want images to be.

Here’s a ‘standard’ shot…

Moto X Play shot

Click here for the high-res image.

And the same scene with the brightness turned up…

Moto X Play shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Images might not be as high quality as from the cameras on the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6S, but bear in mind that this isn’t a high-end device. Getting a 20MP sensor on a phone at this price would have been unthinkable two years ago, and it’s a big plus for the Moto X Play.

The front-facing camera is a 5MP affair, and that’s really all you need to know. All the same shooting features are available as for the rear camera, and the quality is good enough to enable your narcissistic tendencies.

Images aren’t anywhere near as clear as from the rear camera, but they’re fine for the odd Snapchat message or Facebook profile update.

The interface on the camera is irritating on the Moto X Play. It’s meant to be simplistic, and I can see what Motorola was trying to achieve here, but instead it feels unnatural and muscle memory meant I ended up taking a lot of photos in the process of trying to get the perfect shot.

Moto X Play

Just tapping on the display will get you to take a new photo. It sounds good – but it just feels unnatural when a lot of other smartphone cameras get you to do that to focus the image.

You can swipe left to get a new selection of features pop in which include low-light mode, flash, video and HDR. But it just took some getting used to using this menu rather than having the options already waiting on the screen.

Moto X Play

When you’ve figured it all out though, it’s quite simple to switch the different features on and off.

As for video, here you’ve got two choices. You can only really record normal video in 1080p at 30fps, which could be a bit of a problem if you’re pushed for storage space, and I can’t understand why Motorola hasn’t included a 720p option.

There’s also a slow-mo video mode that enables you to shoot footage at 540p. You’ll be presented with a simple interface that allows you to decide which part of the video you want in slow motion by moving two markers, and you can save the clip from there.

This does mean you’re not able to speed up the video in between and then slow it down again, or choose which speed you’d like for the whole clip, but that’s not something you’ll necessarily need.

Camera samples

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Moto X Play camera shot

Click here for the high-res image.

Moto X Play

Click here for the high-res image.

Hands on gallery

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

The competition

Here’s a quick look at the phones the Moto X Play is up against…

Moto X Style

Moto X Stle

It’s been mentioned already in this review, and the Moto X Style was briefly the true flagship of this generation of Motorola phones, though it’s already been one-upped by the pricier Moto X Force. It’s got a higher-resolution display and a better processor than the Moto X Play, and comes with more options for customising the look of your phone.

But there are quite a few similarities between the X Style and the X Play – they have the same camera sensor as well as a similar look, and they run the same software setup.

The big difference is in the price, with the Moto X Play costing considerably less, but even if price didn’t come into it the Moto X Style would be our choice of the two, thanks in large part to that incredible 2K display.

OnePlus 2

OnePlus 2

Last year’s underdog is back. The second release from OnePlus hasn’t got the blood pumping as rapidly as the OnePlus One, but it’s still offering some premium specs at a cutthroat price.

There’s a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, similar to the Moto X Play’s, but it’s also boasting a more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset, 3GB or 4GB of RAM, and a more premium design and feel than its rivals.

It’s going to cost about the same as the Moto X Play as well, but the issue is whether you can actually get one – the odd ‘invitation’ system that OnePlus employs makes it a pain trying to get your hands on one of its phones, so it depends on whether you want to wait, or just dive into the Moto Maker right now.

Nexus 6P

Nexus 6P

Want stock Android but don’t fancy a Motorola? Then you’re pretty much limited to a Nexus and the Nexus 6P is among the biggest and best Google offerings yet.

It’s shrunk a little since 2014’s Nexus 6, but with a massive 5.7-inch 1440 x 2560 display it’s still larger and higher resolution than the Moto X Play.

It also packs in higher-end specs, including an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM and a fingerprint scanner, though it only has a 13MP snapper.

The real reason you might still opt for Motorola’s phone is that it’s a whole lot cheaper, as the Nexus 6P starts at £449/$499. But if you’ve got the money in your wallet and big enough pockets for this beast it’s the better handset.

Nexus 5X

Nexus 5X

Google released not one but two Nexus handsets in 2015, with the Nexus 5X being a more affordable and smaller offering than the Nexus 6P. Its 5.2-inch screen also leaves it smaller than the Moto X Play, but it’s the same resolution and actually a little more expensive at £339/$379.

It arguably justifies that price with its faster hexa-core Snapdragon 808 processor and fingerprint scanner, but like the Moto X Play it only has 2GB of RAM and its battery life isn’t a match for Motorola’s phone.

If you want something more compact and powerful the Nexus 5X is a good choice, but if you want a phone that can keep on going all day you’re best off sticking with the Moto X Play.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

Xperia Z5 Compact

Other than Apple, Sony is the only company making remotely small flagship phones and the Xperia Z5 Compact is the pinnacle of its small-screen achievements, making it a great option if the Moto X Play is too big for your tastes.

Its 4.6-inch screen is comfortable to use one-handed and with a Snapdragon 810 processor it’s significantly more powerful than Motorola’s offering. It also has a top flight 23MP camera, a fingerprint scanner, a stylish design and a long-lasting battery.

The screen size makes it quite a different prospect to the Moto X Play, but it’s similarly appealing for anyone who hates reaching for a charger mid-way through the afternoon.

All the power it’s packing does make the Xperia Z5 Compact a lot more expensive though, at £429 (around $664), so it’s not as appealing if you’re on a tight budget. However for the budget conscious and small of pocket there’s always the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, which is still a great phone in its own right.

Verdict

We liked

The Moto X Play comes with a nice design and feel, and the option to customise the look of your phone is always welcome. It feels like a solid device, it’s substantial in the hand without being too fat.

The metal rim around the edge makes the phone look a little more premium than, say, the Moto G, and I quite like the look of the back of the handset.

Moto X Play

The display is very good too, although it would have been nice to see an upgrade to 2K resolution.

The battery is the standout feature, and it’s nice to see a company dedicating itself to maximising battery life, and to getting you up and running again quickly after you’ve run out of juice. Not having the TurboPower feature on other phones will be a big loss for me in the coming weeks – I’ve all but forgotten how slow some phones can be to charge.

Compared to other manufacturers, Motorola has nailed the software experience by keeping things as simple as possible, and if it stays on the ball when it comes to keeping the phone updated then the Moto X Play will be the perfect Android playground.

We disliked

Customisation on the Moto X Play isn’t all it could be, and not having alternative material options is a major letdown. I wasn’t expecting a leather option on an ‘active lifestyle’ phone, but it would have been nice to have different options for the back, even if they’re just different versions of the plastic.

I really feel that the Moto X Play should be a fully waterproof device. If water resistance is going to be a major selling point then there seems to be little point in not making it entirely waterproof.

It also bugs me that Motorola uses the TurboPower charging feature to help sell the Moto X Play, but doesn’t include the required charger in the box.

The lack of wireless charging may also be an issue for some in the months to come – it’s not all that widely available right now, but it’s set to become a much bigger deal fairly quickly.

It’s also a shame that Motorola hasn’t included a fingerprint sensor on the phone. I’d expected a fingerprint sensor to enable the Moto X Play to support Android Pay – but the company may have something else up its sleeve to ensure that payments can be authenticated.

Final verdict

Moto X Play

The Moto X Play is clearly an experiment for Motorola – and I’m not sure if it’s succeeded in the areas the company was targeting when they were originally looking at the drawing board.

It straddles a strange middle ground between Motorola’s successful budget Moto G and the impressive Moto X range we’ve seen before. The Moto X Style takes the high-spec and, well, stylish concept and runs with it, while the Moto X Play takes some elements and lags behind a little.

The idea is obviously to offer a slightly cheaper price point for the phone, but I’m not sure the slight drop in price is worthwhile when you can go out and spend a little bit more on a vastly better phone.

There’s a lot going for the Moto X Play, but not quite enough when you compare it to its more impressive stablemate. It’s still a very good smartphone, and it’s pretty good value given the spec list, but it feels a bit like a phone that doesn’t know quite what it wants to be.

Motorola should have gone the whole hog with this phone, and made it a durable masterpiece that offered high-end specs, plus a durable yet customisable design. And it should be waterproof, not ‘water resistant’ – and ideally blood, sweat and tear-proof too.

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