Moto Z2 Play Review

The Budget Mod Phone Refreshed

Motorola had a surprise hit in the Moto Z Play of last year. The Z Play was a solid smartphone with incredible battery life that people really enjoyed and it grew somewhat of a cult following as the year went along. I am personally one of that group. The Z Play is my daily driver and one of my favorite phones from last year. Moto recently announced the successor Z2 Play and we were fortunate enough for them to allow us a few weeks with a demo unit. Is it a worthy upgrade from the 1st generation? Let’s find out!


Hardware

The basic specs are a 5.5″ 1080p AMOLED display. It’s not super high-end, but get’s the job done without trashing the battery life. Around the back, you’ll find a 12MP shooter and the unique Mod pins. The volume rockers and power buttons are located on their usual home to the right of the display and at the top of the phone, you’ll find a dual microSD/SIM tray slot.

Internal storage and RAM are offered in two SKUs: there’s 3GB RAM with 32GB of storage or a combination of 4GB and 64GB of space. Our model for this review is the latter. You will also be using the latest 620 series Qualcomm chipset with the Z2 Play being one the first smartphones launching with a Snapdragon 626 variant. It’s the successor to the Z Play’s 625 series offering a few improvements in Bluetooth performance and clock speed.



Design

The design of the Moto Z2 Play is very inline with last year’s model, as well as the current generation of Moto devices. The phone is almost identical in width and height as the original but shaves off a full millimeter in thickness. You wouldn’t think this would translate to much, but it’s noticeably different in the hand. The slimmer body also downsizes the battery to a 3,000mAh capacity (more on that later).

Overall the feel in the hand is lighter and a little easier to get one hand completely around the device. I prefer a “tank” feel to my smartphones and took some getting used to but it doesn’t detract from the quality of the phone. Some people, however, may not like it compared to last year.

Software

I’m not going to do quite the deep dive I normally do here. If you’ve read my Moto G5 Plus review, or any other recent Moto review, then you won’t find much different. And that’s not a bad thing. Moto’s relatively “stock” Nougat 7.1.1 Android experience is one of the best you can find on the market. Save the few UI tweaks, and Mod additions, it’s not far from what you’d find on the Nexus or Pixel series direct from Google.

One worth mentioning is the One Button Nav feature that is bundled with the new larger fingerprint scanner. This was also found on the G5 Plus and allows for you to replace your software navigation buttons for swipes on the sensor. A swipe left takes you back and swipe right launches the multitasking view. A tap of the sensor takes you home, while a long press will launch Google Assistant.

Camera

The camera is slightly better than last year’s Z Play, but still not going to be good enough for those accustomed to a Galaxy or LG. Personally, I don’t need super high-quality performance here and the Z2 Play hits my standard. You can take some pretty good shots in good lighting with still objects. However, less than stellar lighting and motion still tend to throw off the sensors at times. Overall it’s still acceptable for the price point and most of us just looking to take the occasional social media pics will be just fine.

Battery Life

This is the hard question everyone wants to know on this phone. The short answer is it’s not as good as last year’s Z Play. The long answer is that isn’t terrible. I still get more than a full day of normal use. Do I still get two full days away from the charger? No…but the Z2 Play is still on par with other Moto phones with similar battery size and silicon.

If you have used the Moto G5 Plus and the original Z Play, then think of if they had a baby. The Z2 Play is somewhere in a comfortable middle ground. I still saw a consistent 5-6 hour of screen on time despite the lower capacity. It should be fine for most users, but it’s certainly a disappointment compared to the original.

Moto Mods

I have to confess I was skeptical of the Mod system last year, but have been a convert ever since. Moto has done this the right way and offers some really good usages for the Mods they have in the stable. Let’s be honest, this is the main attraction for the Z line and Moto has some new Mods to magnetically change your smartphone experience. Moto included 4 new mods at launch alongside the Z2 Play: the JBL SoundBoost 2, Style Shell with wireless charging, TurboPower Pack, and GamePad.

One of the more popular Mods of the last generation was the JBL SoundBoost. The SoundBoost 2 is an iterative release with many similarities. It offers great sound in a slightly smaller body. They also have replaced the all plastic speaker grill with a nylon, which while it may feel better, causes some concern on durability. You might notice they have spiced up the paint job as well offering a bright red model. And don’t forget it has its own battery bank rated at 1,000mAh. For $79 it’s a worthy addition to the mods if you are fans of portable Bluetooth speakers.

Next up is the TurboPower Pack. This guy is a 3,490mAh battery pack in Moto Mod formed fashion. That more than doubles your battery life on the go. And as you may have guessed the Turbo is for Turbo charging at full 15 watts. Motorola claims the TurbPower will score you 50% battery bumps in 20 minutes and I’m happy to report this is fairly accurate. While it’s not shareable or able to be used with other devices, the TurboPower could be a great travel companion for those that have invested in the Moto Mod ecosystem. Best Buy will be the exclusive launch partner on July 30th for $79 with Verizon and other retailers launching on August 10th, right along side the Moto Z2 Force.

If you haven’t been following my online adventures over the years, I’m a huge fan of wireless charging. I was quite disappointed that the original Mods lineup didn’t include a Qi shell, but Moto has fixed the problem with a new variant of their Style Shells with Qi and Powermat charging built inside. The function is as you may expect. You slap on the Mod, throw it on a compatible charging platform, and you have wire free charging through inductive magic! One complaint I do have is that Moto couldn’t achieve this in the same dimensions as the normal Style Shells. The wireless charging adds another 1.25mm to the thickness of the Shells. It’s not a huge difference but is enough to make bumpers and cases incompatible versus the previous Style Shells.

Lastly, we have to give the Moto GamePad an honorable mention. While it currently doesn’t have an official launch date other than sometime this summer it will be priced at $79. Press images show decent potential for gaming with a D-pad on the left and typical array of buttons on the left with joysticks flanking the top of both sides. A dedicated battery of 1,040mAh is included much like the ones in the speaker and projector Mods. If you game a lot on your phone, this one is worth keeping an eye on.

 

Conclusion

I really like where Moto is going with the new Z2 Play and the next generation of Mods. I’m relieved that they have stayed true to their word that Mods would support multiple generations. All of the new Mods work flawlessly between both Z Play and Z2 Play. The Z2 Play is a great phone with a few compromises from last year. Is it worth $499 unlocked later this summer if you already own the original? Maybe not. But it should be on your short list if you’re in the market for a sub-$500 phone with some truly unique accessories. The Moto Z2 Play is currently only available through Verizon for $17 per month or $408 off contract.

Moto Z2 Play at Motorola Moto Z2 Play at Verizon
  • GMAD

    I’m sticking to my OG Z Play. 😎

    • Same here. But it’s definitely worth a look for those that don’t own the original.