Motorola’s Moto range for 2015 includes two variants on the standard Moto X. The Moto X Style is focussed on how it looks, and this phone the Moto X Play is aimed at providing a good entertainment experience.
To that end it has a large 5.5-inch 1080p screen, a standard version of Android and a 3,630mAh battery that promises plenty of use between charges. There’s a 1.7GHz octa-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of onboard storage (a 32GB version is available too), plus 21MP rear and 5MP front cameras. Naturally it’s 4G and has dual-band Wi-Fi.
It’s nicely weighted and the curved back has a textured rubbery finish, this means it’s thicker in the middle than at the edges but it feels really comfortable in your hand. The USB socket is on the bottom edge, headphone socket and SIM/SD card tray at the top, with power and volume buttons on the right-hand edge.
If you don’t like having to remove loads of bloatware when you get a new phone the Moto X Play should definitely be on your list. It has a Moto app to help you customise, set up the device, migrate data from your old phone and use voice control but otherwise it’s just standard Android 5.1.1 Lollipop delivered as Google intended with no special skins or unwanted apps.
The screen surround is thin, what Motorola calls ‘edge-to-edge’ which means the phone doesn’t feel unwieldy even with the large screen. The design is ‘water repellent’ which means it’ll be fine if you get caught in the rain but don’t go dropping it in water.
That textured back panel clips in so you could swap it for a different coloured one, it never feels firmly fitted though, there’s always a bit of give at the corners. Other than that the phone feels solidly built with none of the creaky panels you sometimes get in cheaper mobiles.
The Play doesn’t have the AMOLED screen of some other Moto models, but its LCD display is sharp and delivers smooth video playback. There are Normal and Vibrant modes to let you tailor the viewing experience. For most purposes Normal mode is fine, displaying realistic colours. Speakers are good too, there’s enough bass that you can feel the back panel vibrate slightly under your fingers.
Some thoughtful design touches enhance the Moto’s usability. It uses a motion sensor and when you pick it up the screen lights briefly showing the time and an unlock button so there’s no need to press the power button. You can also scroll through notifications without unlocking the screen. Also nice is that the volume switch has a smooth finish while the power button is grooved so you can distinguish them by touch. The Moto app has a useful Sleeping feature that puts the phone into silent mode between specified hours – like when you’re asleep – and will only interrupt for people on your priority contacts list.
Voice control is a bit tricky to set up, you have to speak your chosen wake up phrase three times for the phone to learn it and it’s a bit picky about you getting it exactly right each time. Once you have it working though it’s pretty effective and doesn’t get triggered by day to day conversation. Unlike the Huawei which we looked at recently the Moto is able to pick up your voice even if there’s a bit of background noise.
Motorola says that the battery will give you up to two days between charges but obviously how long you actually get depends on how you use it. The Play supports Motorola’s TurboPower fast charging system but, oddly, doesn’t come with a charger that can deliver it.
The 21MP rear camera is a leap for a phone in this price range, most of which are around 12 or 13MP so it really should be a star feature. You can access the camera quickly by swiping left from the lock screen or with a double wrist twist that works even from standby. There’s an automatic high dynamic range (HDR) mode which adapts the camera’s settings to the conditions so you don’t have to spend time messing with the controls. The camera app doesn’t have a shutter button, you just tap anywhere on the screen to take a shot.
Both cameras have a blue filter to cut down infra red light which gives images a more natural look. The rear has an LED flash, the front doesn’t but it deploys a clever trick if you’re taking a selfie in low light, using the screen to provide illumination.
In practice although daylight photos are good, with accurate colours and sharp definition even for close-up shots, it’s less impressive in low light because it lacks image stabilisation so you can get blurred shots if you’re not careful. Action shots can fool the sensor too and so it’s easy to get things out of focus. Video is 1080p and you get a slow motion feature, which is neat but does reduce the resolution to 540p.
The Moto X Play costs £279 for the 16GB version (£22 a month on contract) or £319 for the 32GB. Whilst there are some niggles, camera performance in low light and that slightly ill-fitting back panel being the most noticeable, it has a lot to recommend it.
On a day-to-day level it’s easy to use thanks to some clever design, it has a clean, simple version of Android, and daylight camera results are excellent. The screen although it’s ‘only’ 1080p is perfectly acceptable.
The icing on the cake is that big battery which could see you going a couple of days between charges. If the things it does well are the ones which matter to you then it should definitely be on your shopping list.