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Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Lenovo’s modular phone makes a triumphant comeback

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Motorola Moto Z2 Play review – It’s no surprise last year’s Moto Z Play remains a top-tier smartphone. It cooked up almost everything to perfection, coupling top-notch looks with a long-lasting battery, a great camera and the ability to add capabilities via Mods. Crucially, though, cost was kept to a minimum and its successor, the Motorola Moto Z2 Play, seeks to bolster the original’s successes.

And right off the bat, it’s great to see those Moto Mods are returning. Some said these extras were gimmicky, but I was convinced of their potential. Too often there’s a drawback when picking up your new phone, be it disappointing battery life or a missing feature, but these mods allow you to flesh out your phone as you see fit.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: What you need to know

Motorola’s Moto Z2 Play is king where battery life is concerned. Like its mid-range forebear, it’ll cost you half the price of its flagship alternatives, and last a considerable amount longer on a single charge, too. There’s a 5.5in Full HD display and it has a Snapdragon 626 processor inside, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable via microSD.

It’s also complimented with these ‘Moto Mods’, that is: a set of modular attachments that stick to the back of the phone. There’s a wide range of extras on offer, including a Hasselblad optical zoom lens, battery pack for added longevity and even a JBL-branded speaker.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Price and competition

As with its predecessor, another key part of the Moto Z2 Play appeal is its wallet-pleasing price. The Z2 Play will set you back a cool £379, in line with mid-priced handsets such as the OnePlus 5 at £449. There’s also the Honor 9 at £370 and the original Moto Z Play is still kicking about at around £365.

Those Moto Mods I mentioned? Pricing is varied, starting at £60 for the Incipio battery pack, running up to £250 for the projector add-on. The new mods – the JBL Soundboost 2, gamepad, wireless charger and 3,750mAh Motorola battery pack – aren’t available yet, though, and pricing is still to be confirmed.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Design

When it comes to looks, the Moto Z2 Play doesn’t deviate too far from the rest of the Moto Z lineup, but there are a few subtle (and welcome) changes. The new phone’s aluminium unibody is just 6mm thin, a good 15% skinnier than last year’s, and it weighs a mere 145g, which is pretty impressive for a phone with a 5.5in display.

The glossy back has gone – thank heavens – and has been replaced with a fingerprint-friendly gunmetal grey matte finish instead. On the left edge, you’ll spot the volume rocker and power button, with a USB Type-C port for charging and 3.5mm headphone jack mounted on the bottom edge.

The rear camera protrusion is still there, bulging 2.7 millimetres from the rest of the device, and doesn’t play nicely with desks. The connector pins for the Moto Mods aren’t anywhere near as obtrusive, however, sitting flush with the rest of the phone’s rear panel.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Moto Mods

Up its metaphorical sleeve lies the Moto Z2 Play’s party trick: it’s moddable. As previously mentioned, a series of connector pins reside on the back of the phone and these enable connectivity with a variety of add-ons.

And there’s a good handful of mods to choose from at the moment with a few heading our way in the near future. Currently, there’s the Hasselblad TrueZoom, which adds a 10x optical zoom to the phone; the Incipio offGRID Power Pack mod which gives you an extra 2,220mAh battery; and the Moto Insta-Share projector which turns your phone into a mini projector.

Those due to launch later this year include Moto’s own Turbopower pack, which adds a supplementary 3,490mAh battery to your phone, the Moto Gamepad for controller support with all sorts of titles on the Play Store, a wireless charger plate, and the new JBL SoundBoost 2 speaker.

All of them are a doddle to connect and use. They snap magnetically with no mechanical latches to break or snap, and the stay solidly in place. Interestingly, Motorola has also released a Moto Mod dev kit, so expect to see many more third party Mods become available in the near future.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Performance and battery life

Internally, the Moto Z2 Play has seen a pretty generous bump in performance. With Qualcomm’s mid-sector octa-core Snapdragon 626 processor and 4GB of RAM, this was hardly going to be the snappiest of handsets, but we should see a jump from last year’s offering, which employed the older Snapdragon 625.

And, for the price, it’s a respectable enough performer. Here’s how it did in our Geekbench 4 benchmarks, which measure’s overall CPU performance:

The result, as you can see, is that the Moto Z2 Play performs better than its predecessor. In fact, the Moto Z2 Play has seen a 18% bump when it comes to multi-core processing, and a 12% increase in single-core. It doesn’t fare quite so well against its similarly priced competitors, mind, lagging behind both the OnePlus 5 and Xiaomi’s Mi 6, and just a hair’s breadth above Samsung’s cheaper Galaxy A5.

Graphics performance is less impressive, though, with no change in either the onscreen or offscreen GFXbench Manhattan 3.0 tests, at 10fps and 9.7fps respectively. Dodging incoming traffic in Crossy Road was easy enough but things did tend to slow down a little during enemy-heavy firefights in Sky Force: Reloaded.

Crucially, battery life is still impressive, although it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the Moto Z Play. That’s largely because the Moto Z2 Play has a smaller 3,000mAh battery than the Z’s 3,510mAh, but longevity remains very good and it achieved a time of 19hrs 33mins in our video playback test. At the time of writing that was good enough to place it fourth in our all-time smartphone battery charts, behind the Lenovo P2 at the top, the Moto Z Play and the OnePlus 5.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Display

On the surface, the Moto Z2 Play’s screen should be a beauty. Its 5.5in size is generous and the 1080p resolution sufficiently sharp that you can’t see the pixels in normal use. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as good as you might expect.

The phones gives you two display modes to choose from: Vibrant and Standard. You’d expect the former to generate colours that are drastically oversaturated and they are that, but even in the slightly less in-your-face Standard mode, colours were way off.

Our colour-accuracy measurements returned an average Delta E of 4.04 (0 would be perfect), a result that indicates a display that struggles to reproduce key colours accurately.

Elsewhere, given this is a Super AMOLED panel, the contrast ratio is perfect and max brightness has jumped from 354cd/m2 to a more sunlight-friendly 420cd/m2, so it ought to be comfortably readable outside in all but the sunniest of conditions.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Camera

Just like last year, the Moto Z2 Play doesn’t have optical image stabilisation, but the rest of the specifications are decent. The resolution is 12 megapixels, falling from the 16 megapixels of last year, you get both laser and phase detection autofocus, and the aperture is a bright f/1.7.

The aperture, in particular, is a considerable improvement over the Moto Z’s f/2.0 and, in low-light, the difference is stark. As our still-life shot shows, the camera is capable of reproducing heaps of detail without too much noise spoiling the image. Exposure levels could do with a slight tweak, mind, as images did tend to look a little overexposed.

Outdoor shots didn’t pose too much of a problem, either. In fact, the Moto Z2 Play picks up plenty of rich colours and crisp details in sunny conditions, particularly in hard-to-capture areas like foliage.

Enabling HDR did have a slight tendency to make shots look artificial, with hints of oversaturation, but on the flipside it also tended to reduce instances of over-exposure.

Motorola Moto Z2 Play review: Verdict

With last year’s Moto Z Play bucking the trend of the middling mid-ranger, I had high hopes its 2017 successor would be even better. And, when all’s said and done, Motorola has created a fantastic smartphone in the Moto Z2 Play.

Its all-day battery life alone is enough to have you reaching for your wallet, even if it isn’t quite so long-lasting as last year’s. The issue, aside from the slight performance bump and the design overhaul, is that the Moto Z2 Play doesn’t really offer anything new. It’s still a thoroughly impressive phone, though, and one I’m happy to recommend.

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