“If you’re looking for a reliable smartphone that doesn’t run out of charge every now and then, the Moto X Play is made for you”
The Moto X (review | FAQs), launched two years ago marked the revival of iconic phone brand Motorola. While the device didn’t fare well in the spec race, it stole our hearts with useful features like the always-on voice commands. The brand followed up the phone with the second-gen Moto X (review | FAQs), which not only continued with brand’s impressive software functionality, but also packed beefy hardware. Sadly, the device wasn’t able to stand out in its segment due to its high pricing.
As the saying goes “third time’s a charm”, it seems that under its new parent Lenovo, Motorola might just have gotten it right with the third generation of the Moto X. Interestingly, instead of just one device, the manufacturer has offered two smartphones under the Moto X umbrella targeting different price bands. Both handsets differ in terms of hardware, but come with similar flagship-level software experience. We’ve been using the affordable half of the new Moto X duo, dubbed the Moto X Play, which priced at Rs 18,499 (Rs 19,999 for the 32-gig variant) will be up against stalwarts like the ASUS ZenFone 2 (review | FAQs), OnePlus One (review | cheatsheet), and Xiaomi Mi 4 (review | cheatsheet). On paper, the incumbents easily beat the smartphone in terms of specs, but Motorola has always given preference to user experience over hardware configuration. We believe that the brand has pulled that off successfully with the Moto X Play, and if you’re wondering how, then read on for our review (skip directly to the verdict).
Specs at a glance
- Measures 148 x 75 x 10.9mm
- Weighs 169g
- 5.5-inch display with a full HD resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB / 32GB storage on board, expandable up to 128GB
- 21MP primary camera with dual-LED flash
- 5MP front camera
- 3,630mAh battery
- Android 5.1 Lollipop
Design: ergonomic, but lacks a touch of class
Dimensions: 148 x 75 x 10.9 mm
Weight: 169 grams
Phablets have been growing prodigiously, and while Motorola managed to keep itself away from the mushrooming category with the previous two editions of the Moto X, it gave in to the trend this time. Both the versions of the latest Moto X, the Moto X Play and Moto X Style (first impressions) feature large screens.
The Moto X Play is slightly smaller than its bigger sibling as it’s built around a display panel measuring 5.5-inches. The smartphone features minimal design attributes up front, with the screen being the centrepiece and sandwiched between the two metallic grilles above and below (only the bottom one is a speaker vent). This uniformity is offset by a front-facing camera along with the speaker mesh above the display. Similar to all Motorola offerings, there are no hardware keys since those are available as part of the software interface.
The second iteration of the Moto X was a premium device with a metallic encasing, but sadly the Moto X Play only features a metallic rim running along its edges. That’s not to say that the device doesn’t look nice, but it lacks the classiness we were expecting from it. The edges curve towards the back and are met by a rubberised rear panel.
In terms of buttons and port placement, you’d find familiar implementation – both the power button and volume buttons are on the right spine, with the left edge completely bereft of any controls. One nice thing is that the power toggle has a textured pattern, making it easier to find it by feel and instantly differentiate it from the volume keys. The top hides the SIM tray and a 3.5mm audio socket, whereas the micro-USB port is available at the base.
Motorola has continued with its design philosophy of dual curves at the back, making the Moto X Play extremely ergonomic to hold even for long periods. The rubberised texture with tyre-like treads also adds to the handling factor as the phone doesn’t slip easily. In the middle of the rear panel, you’ll find a metallic vertical strip that sports the primary camera followed by a dual-tone LED flash and a dimpled Motorola logo.
The Moto X Play has a beefy battery unit that’s not removable, yet the back cover of the phone can be pried open. This is because the manufacturer has offered users the provision of changing the rear panels to colours of their choice. While our review unit flaunted a violet hue, you can also purchase it in a multitude of options such as green, blue, etc. apart from the default white or black colours.
Thanks to the curves, the Moto X Play doesn’t feel thick with its 10.9mm frame, and the ergonomics also offset its weight of 169g. The device also features a nano coating, making it splash-proof, though it can’t withstand a dunk in water unlike its sibling, the third-gen Moto G (review). However, it’s still better than most devices at this price point as you don’t have to worry about spilling liquid on it.
Display: plays a ‘large’ part
Size: 5.5 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: IPS LCD
Pixel Density: 401 ppi
Motorola has been upping the screen size with each model of the Moto X. While the first-gen offering was ideal for one-handed usage with a 4.7-inch display, its successor breached the phablet territory thanks to its 5.2-inch screen, and now, the new Moto X Play flaunts a large 5.5-inch display panel. The IPS screen offers brilliant colours and crisp visuals thanks to its resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. It’s worth mentioning that previously, the brand used AMOLED panels for the Moto X series, which are punchier when it comes to the colour reproduction. Brightness levels are also adequate as we found no problems in reading the display outdoors.
In case you don’t find the colours to your liking, then you can change the colour mode as the phone offers two options – Normal and Vivid. While the former displays true-to-life colours, the latter enhances colour and saturation levels.
For protection against scratches and minor knocks, the display has a layer of third-gen Gorilla Glass.
Software: plays along with the hardware
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 5.1.1, Lollipop
One of the best features of Motorola devices is their software, and same delightful experience continues with the Moto X Play. The device offers a pure version of Android Lollipop 5.0, though there are some value-added features from the brand.
There’s not much to write in terms of the basic software interface, but one interesting thing is that during the course of our review, Google updated its search app, which resulted in a slight change in the layout of the app launcher. Instead of horizontal listing of apps, they are now present as a vertical list with a search bar and four most recently-used apps on top.
The hallmark of the Moto X series is a dedicated chipset that’s always on listening mode and you’ll find the same capabilities on the Moto X Play. The voice features get triggered by a hotword even when the phone is on standby. Voice can be used for things like the ability to set up an alarm, call or message anyone, or shoot a picture among many more. The option which we like the most is the option to say ‘what’s new’ to know the latest notifications, something which would definitely appease the FOMO generation since they can get to know about the updates without even touching the phablet.
This feature can be configured via a dedicated app called Moto, which also offers other useful functionality like Assist and Display. In simple words, Assist is like an intelligent assistant which automatically changes the settings on the phone based on the situation. For example, you can specify your bed time, and the phone will automatically switch to silent mode during the defined period every day. Similarly, you can define how the phone should behave while you’re driving or in a meeting.
Moto Display is another signature feature of the Moto X Play, subtly showing you time and missed notifications at a glance, whenever you remove the mobile from your pocket or pick it up. It’s shown when the display is off, with only a select area of the screen lighting up. The notifications appear as icons of the respective app, and placing your finger on them lets you see more info. Swiping the icon upwards would take you directly to the app, or you can remove it by swiping left or right. We love this feature since you don’t need to unlock the device just to check if you have missed anything.
Camera: best shooting experience from the Lenovo-owned brand yet
Primary camera: 21 MP
Flash: Dual-color LED Flash
Secondary camera: 5 MP
If there’s one complaint we had with most Motorola offerings till about last year, it was the sub-par camera experience delivered by them. While the smartphones sported decent specs, the image quality left a lot to be desired. However, the brand seems to be improving on this aspect, as the third-gen Moto G comes across as a sharp shooter, and we also found the Moto X Play to be impressive on most aspects. This is possible due to a powerful 21-megapixel snapper with an aperture of f/2.0 mounted on the back of the phablet, which is accompanied by a CCT (Colour Correlated Temperature) flash unit comprising of two LEDs. For selfies, the device features a 5MP front-facing camera.
Ensuring that you can capture the moment in an instant, the camera app on the phone offers bare minimum features upfront and allow you to take the picture by clicking anywhere on the screen. The only thing you see when you open the app is the option to switch to video recording or use the front camera. If you swipe from the left, then you can see various options such as turning on the HDR mode, flash, focus ring, night mode, etc., along with the ability to change the size of the images or videos. Like previous Moto X’s, you can access the camera on the Moto X Play by flicking your wrist twice.
Here’s a look at the images captured by the Moto X Play.
As can be seen from the pics above, the Moto X Play’s camera scores high on details and is also able to reproduce lovely colours. For most scenes, be it landscape imagery or close-ups, it did a good job, though the same can’t be said for images captured in low light. The front snapper too, failed to impress us, especially considering that it has become an important criteria for choosing a handset these days. Overall, the Moto X Play’s camera performance is definitely a step up from the previous offerings from the brand, although it’s not the best in its segment considering solid handsets such as the OnePlus One and Xiaomi Mi 4. You can read our detailed review of the X Play’s camera performance for more info.
Unlike many phones these days that can capture videos at 4K resolution, the Moto X Play records video in the standard full HD mode. It also has a slow-mo mode, but it captures video at a lower 540p resolution. The front camera is also capable of taking videos at 1080p resolution.
Performance: the speed master
CPU: Octa core, 1.7 GHz, Snapdragon 615
GPU: Adreno 405
RAM: 2 GB
Memory: 16 GB + Up to 128 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Qualcomm hasn’t had a great run this year, with its flagship CPU, the Snapdragon 810 suffering from heating issues and its mid-range offering, the Snapdragon 615 also plagued with the same problem. Most devices powered by the Snapdragon 615 are notorious for heating up, but Motorola has implemented the SoC for the Moto X Play in such a way that it doesn’t show thermal inefficiency. With its four Cortex-A57 cores clocked at 1.5GHz and the other four running at 1.0GHz, the processor is able to handle everything quite smoothly. Combined with the stock Android on the smartphone, the phone never showed any traces of lag while navigating between screens or switching between multiple apps, which was also helped by 2GB of RAM. As with previous devices in the Moto X range, the X Play features Motorola’s MCS chipset, which along with Snapdragon 615 CPU also offers a processor for natural language and contextual computing.
Gaming on the Moto X Play is also a seamless experience thanks to the Adreno 405 graphics processor. We played titles like Leo’s Fortune and Six Guns for hours, and device didn’t break a sweat.
The Moto X Play can be purchased in 16GB or 32GB flavours, which can be further expanded by up to 128GB with the use of a microSD card. Our review unit with 32GB storage offers about 25.4GB of free space, which is reasonable for installation of apps and games, along with storing one’s personal content. You can also plug in flash drives as the phone supports USB On-the-Go capabilities.
Connectivity-wise, the Moto X Play supports all the standard options, including 4G support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC. The phone can accept two nano-SIMs, however it must be noted that the secondary SIM slot is of the hybrid variety, which means that you can use it for either inserting a SIM card or a microSD card.
Battery: a marathon runner among sprinters
The X Play seems to be a spritual successor of Motorola’s Moto Maxx, which was launched as the Droid Turbo in India. The new Moto X sips juice from a generous 3,630mAh battery, which is considerable since most mobiles offer just a ~2,500mAh unit. Not just in terms of the capacity, the phone also astonishes us in terms of its runtime as well. With moderate usage, it can easily last a day and a half and even with heavy tasks such as GPS, Wi-Fi hotspot and gaming, it managed to go on for an entire day. There’s also a battery saver mode to extend the battery life slightly, which can kick in automatically when the juice drops below a certain threshold.
For reference purposes, we ran our standard test on the handset, which involves playing a 720p video on loop while keeping both the brightness and volume at 50 percent levels and turning off everything except cellular networks. The device clocked a little below 11 hours and 30 minutes, which is pretty impressive and much more than the competition.
Thanks to the Turbo Charging technology, the handset can be charged from zero to 50 percent within 30 minutes. Sadly, you’ll need to buy the Turbo Power charger separately to make use of this facility, as Motorola bundles a regular charger in the retail pack of the Moto X Play.
With the Moto X Play, Motorola is filling a significant gap in its portfolio as it has entered the voluminous mid-budget segment . It’s ideal for those who want more than the affordable 5-inch Moto G (3rd-gen) and also wish to get a flagship experience, without spending big bucks. In case, you’re looking for more features and power under the hood, then the company has the Moto X Style for you, which has just been launched in India.
With the Moto X Play, you get decent hardware, powerful snappers, not to mention a beefy battery for your money. There’s no doubt that it’s up against some tough opponents, some of which we mentioned in the intro section as well. However, all of them have a chink in their armours – while the Xiaomi Mi 4 lacks support for next-gen 4G networks, the ZenFone 2 is notorious for heating issues and poor battery life.
So, where does that leave you? In our opinion, the Moto X Play is able to hold up against the competition in terms of a vanilla Android experience and a long battery life, although if you’re looking for sheer performance, then it does fall short on that aspect. Additionally, we feel that it’s lacking the ‘X-factor’ which made its predecessors worth a look. Having said that, if you’re looking for a reliable smartphone that doesn’t run out of charge every now and then, then the Moto X Play should prove to be a great choice.
Editor’s rating: 8 / 10
- Gorgeous display
- Pure Android
- Improved camera performance
- Powerful battery
- Expansion slot
- Unimpressive design
- Middling hardware
Photos by Raj Rout