Among flagships, Motorolaís X line has always been a bit hard to understand. The first one costs slightly less than competing flagships but it gave up some specs compared to them. Ditto for the second gen X.
Now, weíre on the 3rd generation and Motorola has mixed things up. The X lineup now bifurcates into the Moto X Pure and the Moto X Play. The Pure is a true flagship with the request flagship specs and price tag. However, the Play is the more interesting model. It trades some big specs for a more a palatable price tag.
Weíre now in the ďGood enoughĒ era of smartphones where flagship ownership is no longer mandatory to have a good experience.
It mixes some flagship-ish features which some midrange ones to bring the price tag down to $400. Throw a large 3630mAh battery into the pot and we have something very unique. Letís check it out.
vs 2014 Motorola Moto X:
I noticed last yearís unlocked Motorola Moto X in the Staples flyer today for $400 CAN.
Thatís what a locked Play goes for if you buy it from a carrier here in Canada.
But newer is better right? Not always; in the case of the Moto X Play, Motorola is attempting to bring the X franchise to a lower price point. To put it more bluntly, itís cheaper than previous Xís.
The 2014 X uses a Qualcomm 800 series SoC, the Snapdragon 801. The Play on the other hand uses Snapdragon 615 which is their upper midrange offering.
Even though the 615 is newer, In terms of performance, thereís quite a gap between it and the 801. Itís big enough that youíll notice that the 801 scrolls smoother in games and loads apps a bit faster.
The 2014 also has an AMOLED screen while the Play has an LCD. You can argue about which type of screen is better but Iím pretty sure that in general, AMOLED screens cost more than LCDís which is another change Moto made to bring the Playís price point down.
Both have 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. On the Play, this is fine because thereís a MicroSD slot built-into the Nano SIM card tray but on the 2014 the MicroSD is MIA. 16GB is a decent starting point but if thereís no expandable memory, itís not a good choice on a non-budget phone. Right here is one of the biggest differentiators between the Play and the 2014.
The camera is different too; The Playís sensor is noticeable more sensitive (better indoors) than the 2014ís and is much more usable.
The flashes are also different, the 2014 comes with a ring flash with 2 LEDís. When I tested it, I found that the ring flash is a gimmick and doesnít add any additional value to a phone. Maybe Motorola realized this too and stuck a more useful dual-tone flash on the Play.
The other big differentiator is the battery, the 2014 comes with a tiny 2300mAh battery while the Play has a formidable 3630mAh. To be honest, that plus the lack of a MicroSD and only 16GB of storage keeps me from recommending it.
However, if you can live with these 2 compromises then the 2014 is a very sleek phone with an awesome metal body.
Otherwise, the Play is a much more sensible choice.
vs Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3:
For around $100 less, you can pick up an Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. The Idol also has a 5.5Ē 1920x1080 display, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC.
So what do you get for $100 more? First off, the Playís screen is nicer to look at. Itís more neutral looking and itís noticeably brighter.
I took some sample pictures indoors and the Playís camera blows the Idol away.
The Idol comes with a more than adequate 2910mAh battery while the Play has an even beefier 3630mAh along with support for quick charging (the quick charger is not included in the box).
2910mAh will get everyone through the day, 3630mAh will get some users through 2 days - go out on Saturday morning, come back on Sunday night sort of thing.
Thereís also the software update issue, Alcatel is a little better in this department but they have a ways to go before they can match Motorolaís almost frantic pace of Android updates.
One area where the Idol a clear winner are its speakers. While the Playís sound decent, the Idolís sound even better plus theyíre much louder. Did I mention I love the Idolís speakers? I put some tunes on the Idol when I was writing this and am now a few songs into my play list - theyíre that good.
Here, I think itís a bit of a wash. $100 is a lot more to pay at this price point, plus the Idol is a competent phone. Still, if you can pony up the dough, the Play is slightly better in areas but more importantly you gain its epic battery life.
vs Asus ZenPhone 2 2.3Ghz:
The ZenPhone 2 is about $30 CAN less and itís sold unlocked.
It has a faster SoC, double the RAM, quadruple the storage (yes, 4x), dual SIMs (not THAT useful in North America). If the Play is an ala cart entree then the Asus is an all you can eat buffet.
Both have cameras which are very good for a non-flagship device.
So why wouldnít you get the ZenPhone? First off, if I may be blunt, the speaker on the ZenPhone sucks. Secondly, while Iíd say itís adequate, the Asusís screen is very dim compared to the Plays.
Both have plastic bodies but the Zenís feels much cheaper.
The lousy speaker and cheap-y plastic body are enough for me to recommend the Play over the Asus despite the smorgasbord of specs. However, Moto better watch over their shoulder because the Zen is dangerously close to really screwing things up for everyone else.
- 5.5Ē 1920x1080 LCD
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
- 8 64bit Cortex-A53 cores, 4 at 1.1Ghz, 4 at 1.7Ghz
- Adreno 405 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB Storage
- MicroSD slot
- 21 megapixel camera with autofocus, f/2.0 lens
- dual tone LED flash
- 5MP front camera
- 148 x 75 x 8.9-10.9mm
- 3630mAh battery
- TurboPower charger
- LTE band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/28
Unlike last yearís Moto X, the Play has a plastic body. You can tell itís plastic by looking carefully at the paint near the seams at the top.
Despite being made of plastic, the Play is a very solid phone. Itís probably due to the large battery but thereís no flex at all when you twist it. I guess a phone doesnít need to be metal unless itís super thin.
The battery cover is an interesting pattern on it.
The buttons have an above average click to them though i was disappointed that the volume rocker has a bit of play to it.
The back cover comes off so you can swap it.
Motorola has many different colours available for it along with ones with a built-in flap to cover the screen.
Like many other companies, the back cover is a tease - while you can kind of see the battery but you canít really change it yourself. Note how part of the piece that houses the camera goes over the battery.
Fortunately, unlike previous Xís, the Play can take a MicroSD card which is located on the other side of the NanoSIM card tray.
Anyone else think this is a cool spot for a MicroSD?
Despite the large 3630mAh battery, the Play still has a curved back like other recent phones. Youíd figure theyíd go all flat and RAZRish on the Play in order to fit such a large battery in. And even with the curve, the Play doesnít feel particularly thick thanks in part to the curve.
Despite the large battery, the Play isnít a heavy phone - it only weighs 15g more than itís little brother the Moto G 2015 and donít forget that the G has a smaller screen.
I do wish that the Play was water resistant like itís less expensive sibling the Moto G 2015. The Play does have a water resistant coating inside, but itís more to give it a fighting chance if you spill something on it. Itís not meant to let you use it in the shower.
The display is a 5.5Ē 1920 x 1080 LCD. At 400PPI, itís extremely sharp. What you canít tell is that itís also extremely bright. Itís more or less as bright as the display on my iPhone 6 Plus (which is also 5.5Ē/1920x1080).
There are 2 color temperature settings, regular and saturated. Both of them are pretty close to my 6 Plus so theyíve clearly done a lot of tuning. Black levels are good for a LCD as are viewing angles.
It also works well outdoors.
I have no complaints about the screen - itís excellent and as good as a screen youíd find on a flagship.
When I saw that the Play comes with a 21 megapixel camera, I was a bit dismayed. To me megapixels might as well be called misleading pixels. Too often it seems that more megapixels often means a worse camera.
Turns out I was wrong, the Play actually takes really good pictures and is one of the best non-flagship cameras Iíve tried.
The catch is that it sometimes misses focus so you have to be aware of that and sometimes snap a few extras.
Fortunately, it focuses quickly (like most phones these days). Shot to shot speeds arenít slow but theyíre slower than Iíd like to see. Ditto for the burst mode which should be a little faster.
Iím not fond of the Motorola camera software but itís not so bad that you canít get used to it. Motorola seems to have something against shutter buttons. Instead of tapping to focus and meter, you tap anywhere to capture. Instead, you have to drag a circle around if you want to focus and meter. The fact that the Play sometimes misses focus makes this problem more noticeable.
Anyways, Motorola has been using this setup for 3 years now so if youíre coming from another Motorola phone then youíll feel right at home.
Video quality is usually good. However, when youíre filming, tapping the screen takes a picture so you canít tap to refocus when youíre shooting. Since the Play sometimes misses focus, this can be very annoying. Nothing is worse that taking a video and then realizing afterwards itís too soft.
Out of the box, you get Android 5.1.1. Thatís the same version a Nexus phone is running right now (unless youíre running a developer preview) so thatís as good as it gets. Motorola is probably the best out of all Android OEMís when it comes to updates so no surprises here.
One reason why Motorola is able to do this is because they try not to mess with Android too much. That means they donít try to duplicate all the default apps that Android phones normally come with.
Their software consists of 4 apps. Moto Migrate which helps you move your data from your old phone to the Play.
They also include some software to extend Google Now so you can do more with it.
There is also a different way to receive notifications. When the screen is off, it will display your notifications if you move it. It also seems to randomly turn on to display them and then turn off.
The screen stays black with white text. Previous Moto Xís had AMOLED screens so doing this had very little penalty with the battery since AMOLED displays donít consume power when theyíre showing black.
However, the Play has a LCD display so I guess doing this uses more juice. Still, the amount is very minor since itís only on for a few seconds when this happens.
Anyways, the notifications are useful - my only complaint with it if you leave the screen brightness on max instead of auto, the screen can emit a bit too much light at night when it turns on to display notifications. This is a really minor problem though since you can tell the Play to leave you alone at night.
Lastly, the camera and gallery app have received some updates. There is now a built-in QR code feature plus it can OCR a business card so it can automatically populate fields in your phonebook when you add a new entry.
The gallery also has an offline slide-show function so it wonít consume any power like when you use Googleís version of this feature.
Powering the show is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC. It consists of eight 64bit Arm Cortex A53 cores. Four of them are running at 1.1Ghz while the other four at 1.7Ghz. The idea is that it uses the 4 slower, power sipping ones when solving simpler tasks while the faster power sucking ones only fire up when you need them.
If you pay close attention, youíll notice that Qualcommís Snapdragon 410 has the same cores but only 4 of them which usually run 1.2Ghz or 1.4Ghz.
The big differentiator is that the 615 also pairs Qualcommís Adreno 405 GPU while the 410 has a more modest 306 graphics processor.
Compared to the Idol 3, the Playís 615 cores run slightly faster, 1.7Ghz vs 1.5G - thatís why the Play is usually about 10% faster on non graphically intensive tasks. However, both their GPUís run at the same speed which is why they have similar gaming scores.
As for the 2014 Moto X, while itís Snapdragon 805 SoC is older and down 4 cores, itís still a lot faster, especially on the graphics side where itís substantially faster.
Ditto for the SoC in the Zenfone 2 which has performance roughly equal to a Snapdragon 805.
As a Phone:
Maximum earpiece and speakerphone volume is average.
RF performance is average.
As youíd expect, a 5.5Ē phone with a 3630mAh battery and Cortex A53 cores is going to have good battery life and indeed itís pretty epic. Unless you game non-stop, itís pretty much impossible to kill the battery in one day. Even power users will make it through the day and part of the next. More typically, most users probably wonít have to reach for a charger on the weekend now.
If you need to top off in a short amount of time, the Play supports quick charge which can charge a battery at 15 watts instead of 10 - 12 watts like most faster, regular chargers which makes it up to 50% faster.
Given that the Playís brothers, the Nexus 6 and Moto G 2014 and 2015 all have incredible stereo speakers I was really looking forward to the Playís.
The single built-in speaker is louder and average and sounds like itís been tuned. However, part of me was hoping for even more volume like you get with an Idol 3.
I already mentioned this but unlike previous Moto Xís, the Play comes with a MicroSD card slot. If you need more space just pop card in and youíre good to go.
Motorola picked a good price point to launch the Moto X Play. There just isnít a lot of competition at $400 CAN. Gauging if itís a good value is tricky.
For $100 less, you can get an Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. Are the Playís better screen, better camera and epic battery worth $100? Iíd say yes but you canít go wrong either way..
For $30 less, you can get an Asus ZenPhone 2 which is fully specíd out with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Indeed the specs are juicy but the Play counters with better speakers, better screen, much better built quality. Again, Iíd say you canít go wrong either way.
So overall, Iíd say the Play is well priced and presents decent value.
4 Howies out of 5.
- large battery
- nice camera
- MicroSD slot (previous Xís lacked this)
- nice screen
- Camera misses focus sometimes