Mid-range smartphones are becoming more and more appealing to consumers around the world. Especially now that numerous smartphone manufacturers are choosing to forgo the carrier partnerships and sell their flagship devices off-contract, users aren’t as willing to pay +$600 on a new phone anymore. One of the most popular phone makers leading the charge on this front is Motorola, specifically with the company’s recently-announced 2015 Moto X line.
Alongside the flagship Moto X Style (or Pure Edition if you live in the U.S.), the now Lenovo-owned company unveiled a slightly less expensive device that still brings some killer specs, design and software features to the table. Dubbed the Moto X Play, this device couples premium features with a cheap price point – but does it fall short in any key areas? We aim to find that out, and more, in our full review of the Motorola Moto X Play!
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Taking a look at the Moto X Play’s design, it’s instantly clear that this is a Motorola device through and through. The speaker grills and inconspicuous front-facing camera sensor are the only two features adorning the phone’s front, aside from the big 5.5-inch display. A 5.5-inch screen may seem too big for some users, but the device actually seems quite small thanks to the thin bezels on the left and right sides.
The right side houses a textured power/standby key and volume rocker. Unlike the Motorola-made Nexus 6, these two buttons unfortunately feel cheap and plasticky. Up top sits the 3.5mm headphone jack and Nano SIM card tray – which doubles as a microSD card slot – that sits slightly to the left.
The back of the phone houses the signature Motorola dimple that sits in a metal strip beneath the camera module. This is a nice and simple design touch, though there’s no real use for the metal strip.
Overall, the phone feels really great in the hand, and it’s pretty difficult to notice that it’s slightly thicker than the average smartphone. This is thanks in part to the phone’s curved back, which is removable should you feel the need to try out other back plate colors through Moto Maker. Moto Maker is by far one of the biggest draws to purchasing a Motorola device. Not only can you choose between 14 different back plate colors, 7 accent colors and 2 front colors, you can also get an engraving on your Moto X Play, and even a custom greeting when you turn on your phone. This provides a sense of personalization that you just can’t get with other smartphones.
one of the best 1080p panels we've ever seen on a smartphone
The Moto X Play features a 5.5-inch TFT LCD display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 403 ppi. Even though it doesn’t feature the highest resolution display on the market, we don’t really think that matters much in this case. This is one of the best 1080p panels we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.
With that said, though, Motorola’s decision to include an LCD panel instead of an AMOLED display is certainly an odd one. One of Motorola’s most innovative and interesting features is Moto Display, which definitely doesn’t look as good on an LCD panel. Other that this gripe, though, the display is quite good.
Performance and hardware
Under the hood, the Moto X Play features an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor clocked at 1.7GHz, backed by 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 405 GPU. Even though the device only sports 2GB of RAM, that hasn’t really been a problem for us on the performance front. It’s perfectly capable of performing everyday tasks without a hitch, so you shouldn’t run into many issues when gaming or multitasking. With that said, it’s not the most powerful processor on the market, so if you’re a power user, you may run into a few more issues than we did.
On the storage front, the Moto X Play comes in 16 and 32GB variants with microSD card expansion up to an additional 128GB. As always, we’d prefer to see the base model of storage bumped up to 32GB, but a base of 16GB is par for the course when it comes to mid-range devices.
When it comes to sound quality, listening to music or podcasts with headphones through the Moto X Play is quite nice. We tested out multiple pairs of headphones with this device, and overall, we really liked what we heard.
With that said, externally speaking, the phone could use some work. Although there looks to be two front-facing speakers, only the bottom one works, which means listening to music or watching videos in landscape mode makes for an oddly unbalanced audio experience. Coming from the Nexus 6, which features some of the best speakers we’ve used on a smartphone, the Moto X Play just doesn’t stack up.
One of the biggest selling points of the Moto X Play is the battery, which is gigantic. It’s a non-removable 3630mAh cell, which is much bigger than what you’d normally get on a mid-range device. In our experience, it’s been really easy to achieve upwards of four to five hours of screen-on time. We had no problems getting through an entire day on a single charge.
With that said, not all is great in the battery section. The device features quick charging functionality, which Motorola says can get you up to 8 hours of usage in just a 15 minute charge. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately Motorola doesn’t include a Turbo Charger in the box for some reason, so you won’t be able to quickly charge the phone unless you purchase one separately.
Motorola says the camera on the Moto X Play is the best the company has ever made, and they’re right. The rear-facing camera comes in at 21MP and sports a dual-LED flash. In great lighting conditions, the rear camera can really shine. It consistently produces a ton of detail in each shot. Color reproduction is on point with just the right amount vibrancy and saturation, and it does a great job at bringing out details in shadowy areas. Camera quality quickly degrades when moving into poorly-lit areas, though. Low light performance isn’t terrible by any means, but it still could use some work.
Oh, and there’s also a 5MP front-facing camera for all of your selfie-taking needs.
Motorola’s camera interface is very easy to use, but it might be a bit too simple. You won’t find any manual controls here, and it’s not the most efficient when you’re quickly looking for a particular setting. With that said, taking a quick photo is pretty easy. Simply tap anywhere on the viewfinder to take the photo, and swipe left to review any photos that you’ve taken. You can also swipe right to make adjustments to the camera settings. There aren’t a lot of settings, but you can choose from a few standard modes like HDR, Night mode, panorama, 4K video recording, and a few others.
One of the most appealing features found in Motorola devices in recent years is the near-vanilla Android experience, and this time it’s no different. The Moto X Play runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and very minimal customization from Motorola, meaning the device will likely get quicker updates than most other phones on the market. Plus, it’s being sold completely free of carrier intervention, so there’s no additional bloatware to get in the way. This is the closest phone to a Nexus device in terms of software, save for a few of Motorola’s own additions.
Moto Display is an innovative and convenient way to get quick access to notifications when the phone is asleep. Plus, Motorola now gives you the ability to control music from Moto Display, making this feature even more handy.
Moto Voice has also made its return this time around. This feature lets you dictate voice commands to the device even when it’s asleep, which is really convenient if the phone is sitting on the other side of the room. You can even customize the experience a bit by creating your own key phrase to wake the device. We found this feature most handy when using it for navigation, as you won’t need to wake the phone by touching it while you’re driving to tell it navigation instructions.
The Moto X Play also offers Moto Assist, which lets the phone read text messages out loud if it senses that you’re driving, and it can even keep your phone quiet if you’re in a meeting or simply need to get some sleep.
Moto Actions are also available with the Moto X Play, which is one of our favorite software features. With Moto Actions, you can do a double twist with the phone to activate the camera in an instant, or even chop twice to start up the phone’s LED flashlight.
Related: The best Moto X Play cases
All in all, these software features provide a ton of extra functionality without being intrusive in any particular way, which is just the way it should be.
|Motorola Moto X Play|
|Display||5.5-inch display with 1920 x 1080 resolution|
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
|Processor||1.7GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor|
Adreno 405 GPU
expandable via microSD up to 128GB
|Camera||21 MP front-facing camera with dual LED flash|
5 MP front-facing camera
|Software||Android 5.1.1 Lollipop|
|Colors||Customizable via Moto Maker - 14 back plate colors, 7 accent colors|
Pricing and final thoughts
So, should you buy the Moto X Play? Yes! This is a great phone at a great price. The camera is solid, the screen is crisp, and Motorola’s added software features provide just the right amount of functionality without getting in the way. If you can get past the poor speaker quality and lack of included Turbo Charger, you might want to consider picking up a Moto X Play for yourself.
What are your thoughts? Are you a fan of Motorola’s latest mid-range offering, or do you have your eye on something else? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below.