Hands on: Moto Z2 Play review

Motorola's battery life king returns

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Moto Z2 Play is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, but is still an Android phone that focuses heavily on if battery life. It may not last nearly as long as the top-battery-life-rated original, but it strikes an acceptable balance between style and longevity. Plus, the specs boost should suit power-hungry phone buyers nicely.

For

  • Two-day battery life with MotoMod
  • MotoMods enhance and futureproof the phone
  • Premium build quality

Against

  • Locked to Verizon for now
  • Camera doesn't seem improved
  • Lots of mid-range competition

The Moto Z2 Play is Motorola's new battery life-focused smartphone for 2017, one that can last all day on a single charge, or for two days if you snap on a battery pack accessory via its MotoMod connector pins.

Like its predecessor, the Moto Z Play, it does this without sacrificing must-have features, compromising design or dialing back on performance compared to other mid-tier Android phones with one-day battery life.

That means you're getting a slick, full-featured phone with 5.5-inch Full HD screen and double the battery life, which essentially halves the number of times you need to charge your phone in a week. 

Without the MotoMod, the battery capacity isn't quite as robust, but it still promises more than 30 hours. Motorola seems to have properly balanced out size and battery size in this 2017 phone.

If you have the cash, you're also able to attach other fun MotoMods accessories to this phone. While they don't seem to magnetically clip on the back of this device quite as well as they did in the previous generation, all of them work with the Moto Z2 Play. Strapping a pico projector or JBL speaker to the back of this phone transforms your device into a whole new gadget.

But given the price, it's not the fastest or flashiest smartphone if that's what you're looking for. We're still waiting to hear about the rumored Moto Z2 for new design flair.

It's also exclusively tied to Verizon in the US, with Motorola promising that an unlocked Moto Z2 Play will launch later this summer at $499.

We're still testing the Moto Z2 Play for our full review, but in short, we found that it provides more battery life for far less money than the iPhone 7 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel – and it's nearly as satisfying from a features perspective if you plan to use the MotoMods.

Moto Z2 Play price and release date

If you're in the US you can order the Moto Z2 Play right now online and it's also in Verizon stores now. An unlocked version will launch later this summer.

Moto Z2 Play will cost $17 per month over the course of 24 months in the US, and it'll retail for $499 when the unlocked version comes out in a few weeks.

For those in the UK, you can pre-order the Moto Z2 Play right now and it's set to cost £379.99. That's cheaper than both the OnePlus 5 and the Honor 9.

Moto Z2 Play design

The Moto Z2 Play is a significant improvement over last year's Moto Z Play thanks to its refined design that makes it slimmer and lighter in the hand.

Even so, the extra battery capacity within its frame makes it chunkier than an other competitors. The new measurements read at 156 mm x 76 x 5.99mm with a weight of 145g, putting the new Z2 Play much closer to the ultra-slim Moto Z.

You won't feel weighed down with the Moto Z2 Play and if fingerprint smudges are an issue, you'll appreciate the matte aluminum back compared the original's shiny glass back.

The trusty 3.5mm headphone jack is still here and the front-mounted fingerprint sensor continues Motorola's unique trick of being able to unlock a phone from a sleep state and also turn it off with another press. It pulls double duty.

The home button is still an on-screen button right above it by default, which is confusing at first. But the fingerprint sensor below it has some enhancements this year if you dig into the Moto app settings.

Enabling "one button nav" eliminates the on-screen button and makes the sensor the home button. Swiping left on the sensor pad acts as a back button, while swiping right shows recent apps and multi-tasking.

We still have a problem with the power volume button being mounted on the right side and so closely spaced together and the phone only being splashproof. 

The camera bump, for not being the best phone camera in the world, is unnecessarily large, too. Moto Z2 Play has gone on a diet, but apparently the camera bump is the hardest weight to lose.

Specs and MotoMods

Moto Z2 Play is a mid-range phone with the specs to prove it. It's fast enough for intensive tasks thanks to the Snapdragon 626 chipset and up to 4GB of RAM.

We haven't had enough time to tell you if there's any slowdown during use, but know this is shy of flagship-level Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chipset and we'll update this Moto Z2 Play review when we know for sure.

The performance sounds fair for the cheaper Moto Z2 Play price, but the real selling point besides the battery life are the MotoMods. Motorola has been good about keeping its promise to reveal new, snap-on-the-back accessories.

New MotoMod accessories include a JBL Soundboost 2 speaker with kickstand, a Turbopower battery pack and a set of fresh snap-on covers or Style Shells with the perk of adding wireless charging. They join existing battery speakers, pico projectors and 10x camera accessories.

Motorola has more MotoMods in the pipeline, including a gaming controller and Amazon Alexa accessory so you can take your Amazon Echo powers on the go. No official release date has been announced, but we'll test them out right here when they do launch.

Moto Z2 Play camera and battery life

The 12MP camera isn't really a downgrade from last year's average 16MP sensor if you look more closely at the specs. It takes all-around better photos.

Photos appear sharper thanks to the larger larger f/1.7 aperture that captures 25% more light and and slightly bigger 1.4um Dual Autofocus Pixel size. There's also Phase Detection Auto Focus and Laser Autofocus.

The rear-facing camera sensor isn't going to be able to compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus or the Google Pixel – we can already tell, but it takes a very good shot in most conditions – enough for people interested in a $500 phone. So far, in our testing, the same can be said about the 5MP front-facing camera.

Battery life is where the Moto Z2 Play isn't outshined by competitors. It has a 3,000mAh that exceeds our full-day battery life needs, and the various battery packs lengthen the battery life to two days. Things also charge back up quickly. We'll dive into details for the full review.

Early verdict

Moto Z2 Play is going to be one of the more intensive phone reviews we do because it requires multiple battery life cycle tests, and that's a really good thing if you want up to two-day battery life.

It promises to do both, even if on paper its 3,000mAh battery capacity seems underwhelming compared to the monstrous original Moto Z Play battery size of  3,510mAh for two days of use. Motorola is basically giving you all-day battery life and making two-day length optional.

The Moto Z2 Play is also giving you a higher spec mid-range phone than it did a year ago with a faster chipset and better camera without requiring a MotoMod for those things. 

We'll continue to test the Moto Z2 Play and eagerly await that rumored Moto Z2 for a comparison. But this appears to be another solid offering from the Lenovo-owned company – if you're interested in a Verizon-exclusive or willing to wait for the soon-to-be-launched unlocked version.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.