As far as the major manufacturers go, Motorola is one of the few trying to push the boundaries of what we should expect to get for our money. It wants to give us the best mobile Android experience possible for each price range. The Moto G is the king of the low-end phones and the Moto X has been a wonderful high-end phone. The Moto X Play sort of sits in between, and despite not being absolutely perfect, it’s a very good phone overall.
The overall design ethos takes as much inspiration from the more premium Moto X Style/Pure edition as it can, without breaking the bank. It’s a solid device with an ergonomic curved back that has a really tactile, almost grippy finish on the removable shell. I can’t overstate this: it feels wonderful in hand. Like it belongs there.
Despite having the appearance of metal, the frame is actually a chrome-finished plastic, although the slim, pill-shaped camera housing running down the middle is an anodised metal. The front is dominated by a large 5.5-inch display, with attractive, slim bezels. Both the single front-facing loudspeaker and earpiece are hidden behind two identical cutouts, giving a simple symmetrical aesthetic.
To give users flexibility and reduce clutter, the nano SIM and Micro SD card tray is one and the same. One card fits on one side, flip it over, and there’s a slot for the other. What’s more, customers buying the X Play can order one to their own spec, choosing the rear shell and metal accent colors, putting their own engraving on the back, welcome greeting on the screen and choose between 16GB and 32GB storage options. As if the ergonomics and durable design weren’t enough, Motorola’s also kitted it out with water-resistant qualities.
The screen on the front is 1080 x 1920, giving it a pixel density of just over 400ppi and — for the most part — it’s a great display. Images and text are crisp and sharp and it’s a really bright screen to boot. I rarely had brightness above 50% the entire time I used the phone. Colors are natural, and give just about enough life although — at times — it seemed a tiny bit on the faded side.
The only disappointing part of the screen was the contrast. And even that wasn’t terrible. Its blacks were more like dark greys, especially when viewing at them in low light conditions. Watching videos, gaming and browsing the web was a great all-round experience. Even viewing angles were good as there was no obvious color distortion when looking from a different angle. I wouldn’t complain much if this screen was in a flagship phone. But the fact that it isn’t makes it even better.
On the back is a 21mp camera, and as long as you have a little patience, it can (sometimes) take good shots. Using Motorola’s default camera app in automatic mode is more hit than miss. Touch the screen, and it takes a picture instantly. It’s so fast, you don’t even get to see if the shot was in focus, or if lighting and exposure levels were good. Chances are, they’re probably not. Switch to manual, and you can quickly and easily set the focus point and adjust the exposure. Still, I often found it over exposing. But more frustrating was that it didn’t really like focussing at all on anything close up. For pictures to share on social networks, it’s okay. But it really isn’t great. They come out fuzzy a lot of the time, especially in low light when the inevitable noise and distortion starts to creep in.
Snapdragon’s 615 mid-range octa-core processor divides opinion. I’ve used it in a few phones. Some have been amazing, others terrible. With the Moto X Play, the 1.7GHz chip does a great job dealing with everyday tasks alongside the 2GB RAM. I didn’t see too much stutter or lag when app-switching or web browsing. That’s mostly down to it having a virtually stock version of Android. Motorola has its own software features here and there, like the lock screen notifications and double-twist to launch camera, but it’s about as close you can get to vanilla Android on a non-Nexus smartphone. Like I mentioned earlier in the week though, at least once or twice a day, the phone stalled. I’d be launching an app, and it’d just get stuck loading while supposedly waiting for data to download. Except nothing happened, and the only way to fix was to clear the app from memory and launch it again.
Battery life though, that’s something else. On Geekbench’s battery life benchmark with screen brightness set to 50%, it achieved 5.5 hours of screen-on time. In daily use, it almost got to two days of use between charges, and that was with a smartwatch constantly connected. If the 3,630mAh battery in this can’t get you through a full day’s use, nothing can.
At £279 in the UK, the 16GB Moto X Play is pretty much the exact same price as the 64GB OnePlus 2. In build quality, specs and performance it’s not quite a match for the 2016 flagship killer, although it does have better battery life, is water resistant, has expandable storage and NFC. But there’s an even more vital difference between them: You can actually buy the Moto X, and you don’t need to wait for an invite. If you’re looking for a great all-round device without forking out flagship prices, this is the best you’ll get without standing in a virtual line behind thousands of other people. It’s available in the UK from Motorola now, and will allegedly be launching on Verizon in the States, albeit it in a rebranded form as a new DROID.