Even if you don't have any interest in Moto Mods, the Moto Z2 Play is a compelling midrange smartphone thanks to a slim design, great battery life, and zippy Android experience.
What we love
- Slim, light design
- Vibrant display
- Fantastic battery life
- Clean take on Android
What could be improved
- Huge camera bump
- Moto Mods aren't necessarily useful
- Screen could be brighter
- Average low light camera performance
What is it?
The Moto Z2 Play is the first second-generation smartphone in Motorola's modular experiment. Compatible with the entire existing range of Moto Mods - clip on accessories that can give your phone new functionality - Motorola hasn't really rocked the boat with its latest midrange device. The way the Moto Mod system is designed means the Moto Z2 Play is almost identical to last year's Moto Z and Moto Z Play in terms of aesthetics. Of course, there's new hardware under the hood and a slimmer, lighter design.
The Moto Z2 Play is thin and light, but not aggressively thin like last year's Moto Z, where it felt like you needed a cover or case for comfort. There's a little too much bezel on the forehead and chin of the phone, but the thin lightweight form factor helps in keeping the Z2 Play comfortable for one-handed use.
The thin design does however come with some trade-offs: the volume rocker is a little too high, and the camera bump is more of what I'd describe as an unchecked growth. At the very least, the camera is centred on the back of the Moto Z2 Play, so the phone's still mostly balanced when you pop it down.
Despite the slender build, the Moto Z2 Play doesn't compromise on battery life. Heavier usage will see you get through about a day and a half, but two days is definitely achievable if you're a little gentler on the phone.
The Moto Z2 Play's 5.5-inch screen is lovely, and checks most of the boxes: it's sharp, vibrant, and has great viewing angles. Maximum brightness is a little underwhelming though, which can make the phone hard to screen in harsh light.
Motorola's been shipping smartphones with a mostly unfettered Android experience for quite some time, and the Moto Z2 Play continues the trend. It looks and feels like stock Android - although there are a few custom app icons - and even features the modern Pixel-style launcher where you swipe up to access your app drawer, rather than having a dedicated icon.
That being said, Motorola's take on Android isn't without customisation. This mostly comes in the form of gestures, such as the karate chop motion you can make to turn on the flashlight, or the twist that will launch the camera app.
Since the Moto Z2 Play doesn't waste processing power on bloatware, the clean take on Android also helps with performance. I didn't encounter any hitches or slowdown, whether I was scrolling through social media or playing games.
Notably, the Moto Z2 Play is a dual SIM device. While most dual SIM smartphones force you to pick between a second SIM and a microSD card, the Z2 Play's SIM tray had three slots, allowing you to use two SIMs while bolstering the phone's brain. You do get 64GB of storage out of the box, which is a great starting point considering the $699 price-point.
The Moto Z2 Play's camera is about what you'd expect from a midrange smartphone these days. A wide aperture means you can get great depth of field, and you'll get bright (occasionally blown out), detailed photos when shooting in good light. At night, performance is a little hit and miss. Images are prone to motion blur thanks to longer exposure times, colours are dull, and noise and grain are quite noticeable.
What's not so good?
As I noted in our review of the Moto Z - Motorola's first Moto Mod enabled smartphone - while the execution of Motorola's Mods is brilliant, I'm conflicted about the utility.
Mods literally clip onto the back of the Z2 Play with magnets. When you're done, you just take it off. There's no need to restart the phone, the Mods don't fall off. It just works. This is the kind of implementation that modular smartphones need to go mainstream, but the actual Mods just don’t quite deliver yet.
The most practical mods are the external battery packs, available from both Incipio and Motorola itself. Neither are overly thick, and they feel like an elegant middle ground between a battery case and an external battery pack. You can still fit the Moto Z in your pocket with a battery mod attached, the battery mods aren't ugly as sin, and you don't need any extra cables to connect the phone to the mod. That being said, given the strength of the Z2 Play's battery, an extra battery mod almost seems like overkill.
Other Mods, such as the Instashare Projector and The Hasselblad True Zoom Camera sound cool in theory, but don't quite deliver. The projector lets you beam the Z2 Play's screen as an image up to 70-inches in size, but is only rated 50 lumens, which makes it tricky to use in all but the darkest environments. The Hasselblad True Zoom adds a 10x optical zoom camera to your phone, but it's hard to focus, is slow to shoot, and makes the Z2 Play almost impossible to pocket.
When factoring in the cost of the Mods, the Z2 Play's $699 asking price is a touch pricey if you want to get a Mod on top. Even one of the cheaper ones, like a battery pack or style cap, will set you back another $100, which starts getting you into dangerously close to flagship pricing. It would have been nice to see the Z2 Play launch at $599 or be bundled with a voucher for even just $50 off a Moto Mod, given how integral Motorola would say they are.
While the Z2 Play runs an almost unmodified version of Android, software and security update availability is still determined by Motorola, rather than by Google. Motorola has confirmed that the Z2 Play will get an update to Android O later this year, but security updates are only delivered every three months. Google releases security update to manufacturers every month.
Out of the box, the Z2 Play's fingerprint reader isn't a home button, which is a bit weird. Tapping it will unlock the phone or put it back to sleep, but it won't take you to the home screen. Instead, there's another layer of on-screen buttons above it.
If you'd prefer a physical home button, there's a setting that lets you make the fingerprint reader do just that, but it also removes the software buttons. Since the Moto Z2 Play doesn't have any other capacitive buttons, you need to swipe across the fingerprint reader to bring up the multitasking menu or go back to your previous app. It works well enough, it just doesn't feel natural to me.
The Moto Z2 Play isn't water-resistant, which isn't too surprising for a phone in its price bracket.
Who's it for?
Even if you’re not interested in the Moto Mods ecosystem - which is a pretty fair call - it's still worth considering the Moto Z2 Play if you're shopping for smartphones under a grand. The camera could be better - especially in low light - but there's very little to else to dislike about Motorola's latest midranger. Overall, the Moto Z2 Play is a zippy, slim, long-lasting smartphone that represents great value for money.
What else can I buy?
The OPPO R11 is ostensibly the Moto Z2 Play's direct competitor when it comes to hardware, size, and price. It's $50 less, and has two rear-facing cameras, but it runs heavily customised version of Android which may be off putting.
The iPhone SE is the cheapest way to buy a new iPhone, and starts a similar price to the Moto Z2 Play. The catch is, the iPhone SE starts at 32GB storage, whereas the Moto Z2 Play starts with 64GB. If you're after a larger capacity iPhone SE, get ready to fork out a bit more.
Samsung Galaxy A5
Samsung's $650 Galaxy A5 (2017) is $50 cheaper than the Moto Z2 Play but has a slightly different feature set. Instead of Moto Mod support and an aluminium body, you'll get a mostly glass build and IP68 water-resistance.