Motorola Moto Z2 Play – More than just a mid-ranger

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The Motorola Moto Z was one of our favourite handsets of 2016, a premium, speedy modular phone that worked. The Hasselblad camera attachment was one of our favourite gizmos and, happily, it works just fine on the Moto Z2 Play as well. Which is a relief, because we don’t really want to have to buy the Moto Mods a second time.

A fact which highlights the major failing of the Moto Z2 Play – if you don’t already have the Moto Mods released at the same time as the Moto Z then you’re going to have to buy them. Assuming you want their functionality, that is, and then you can expect to tack on the price of a shiny new Galaxy S8 onto the cost for the Z2 Play for (most of) the set. But if you get past this, the Moto Z2 Play is impressive.

Design: The Moto Z reborn

The Moto Z2 Play looks, for all intents and purposes, very much like its high-end predecessor (and the Moto Z Play, too). Which, when you think about it, isn’t that surprising. Moto’s mid-ranger has to fit the same series of Moto Mod accessories (and a few new ones) as the Moto Z so you can’t muck with the form factor too much.

This does mean that the Z2 Play looks anything but mid-range. It’s almost a carbon copy of the Moto Z with, we’d argue, a better colour scheme this time around. The 5.5in 1080p display dominates the front and the slightly increased thickness (up to 6mm from 5.2mm) is a welcome one. As sturdy as the Z was, that thickness was a mental stumbling block.

But, as with the Moto Z, not having a Mod in place gives the phone an unfinished look. The exposed contacts and camera bump look out of place when not attached to a peripheral device. Still, this is what was advertised: a working modular phone and there’s always the option to finish the look with a magnetic panel instead of a Mod. Speaking of Mods, though…

Mods: The first one’s free

There are a few Moto Mods out there but you only get one of the the box: A very chunky JBL speaker attachment, the Soundboost 2, that lets you actually keep a party in your pants. It unfortunately turns your phone into a bit of a brick, albeit a light one, when attached so expect to only attach the Mod when it’s needed.

There are other options: The Hasselblad camera (see below), a mini-projector, various battery pack options, a 360-degree camera, and even a gamepad, but not all of them are available in South Africa. But almost without exception, each turns your 6mm-thick smartphone into something that will really ruin the lines of your jacket. Plus, where do you keep the other Mods? In a bag in your car?

That said, each mod that we tested (two speakers, the camera, and the projector) worked like a charm. Such a shame that buying that collection of bits will cost you around the price of a Galaxy S8.

Performance: Really the mid-range?

If you discount the influence of the attachments for a while then you’ll find that the Moto Z2 Play is an impressive enough device for something that technically falls into the mid-range. The Snapdragon 625 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and Android 7.1.1 OS (out of the box, though an upgrade is now available) all combine to make the Z2 Play faster than expected. There’s also a 3GB/32GB option on the market but we didn’t test that one.

We whacked the phone with a battery of tests and came out with some results. The Geekbench 4 outing shows plodding results for the single-core test. The 888 score puts it in range of the Galaxy S5. The multi-core is another story, the score of 4385 sandwiches the phone between the Galaxy S6 and S7. AnTuTu gives up a score of 68762 — not enough to get it into the high-scores list but respectable enough.

It’s almost a shame that the Mods take the attention away from the phone’s actual performance here. It’ll be overlooked by most just because you can slap an extra camera on the back of the phone.

Camera: They could have tried harder here

And because you can upgrade the camera, Motorola haven’t put their best effort into the Moto Z2 Play. It’s not a train-wreck, there’s a 12MP f/1.7 sensor in place for all your day-to-day snaps. Unfortunately, that’s all the camera is good for: day-to-day.

Images are fine, as long as conditions are good but let the light levels drop and you’re looking at grain for days. It could have been worse but Motorola have gifted the handset with phase detection autofocus and a dual-LED flash, which give the Z2 Play some extra chops in this department. Optical image stabilisation would have been nice but then you probably wouldn’t want to spring for the RAW-shooting, 10x optical zoom-having, still-just-12MP Hasselblad True Zoom mod.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play Verdict

It has the looks, the build, and a whole bunch of extras, however pricey they may be. The Moto Z2 Play also has the performance it needs to live up to its high-end appearance. It’s not all for show, the phone actually does go. The only real hardships here are that the Moto Mods are so expensive — and hard to find in SA — and that the camera is a little lacklustre. We understand why that is but it still grates. If you have some Moto Mods from a previous Z-series Motorola at home, getting the Moto Z2 Play makes a lot of sense. If you’re still waiting to jump into the uncertain waters of modular smartphones, you want to watch the waters for a while longer.

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