Tough Sell for the Price

Having used the Moto Z2 Play for a few weeks now and analyzed its strengths, it all comes down to this: I think the phone is pretty good in general, but it’s simply too expensive for me to recommend.

Motorola is selling this phone for $499 unlocked, or $408 if you opt to be locked to Verizon. For $479, you can buy an unlocked OnePlus 5, or for less than that, you can import a Xiaomi Mi 6. Both of these handsets offer significantly better hardware for less money than the Z2 Play’s unlocked price, and that makes the Play pretty hard to recommend.

The performance of the Snapdragon 626 inside the Z2 Play is fine, and generally quite good for basic tasks. However Motorola missed a big opportunity to provide a genuine SoC upgrade over the Snapdragon 625 found in the Z Play, instead leaving the Z2 Play with only a minor speed bump over its predecessor. Mid-range phones, especially at this price, should really be targeting Snapdragon 65x silicon or greater.

The other issue is the Moto Z2 Play gets obliterated by Snapdragon 835 phones, particularly in graphics workloads, despite Snapdragon 835 phones like the OnePlus 5 undercutting the Z2 Play’s price. And that’s without mentioning other hardware benefits from budget flagships, like faster NAND and better wireless connectivity support.

Now, I'm willing to forgive reduced performance compared to similarly-priced handsets if the phone in question provides some clear advantage. With the Z Play, this used to be outstanding battery life. But the Z2 Play features a reduced battery size, leading to merely okay results, often beaten by the Xiaomi Mi 6. I’m not sure why Motorola would dispose of this clear selling point in favor of a phone that’s merely slimmer than its predecessor (a mere 1mm difference).

The Z2 Play's design is very portable and built from premium materials however bezels around the display are enormous, though the AMOLED display itself is good if you aren’t concerned about accuracy. The Moto Mods ecosystem is genuinely useful. The Z2 Play supports the same collection of mods as the more expensive Z2 Force, and some mods – such as the battery mods, the 360-camera, and even the gamepad – can enhance the phone experience in meaningful ways. Motorola has nailed the modular smartphone design.

The camera is decent for a mid-range contender, particularly when the HDR mode gets to work. It’s not the best camera going around, but results are respectable and the low-light-friendly hardware is welcome. I’ve seen some very mediocre cameras in mid-range phones, so it’s great to see Motorola working hard to avoid this issue here.

I also really like the use of stock Android as the phone’s software, for the most part. Additions are minimal, and that leads to a fast, bloat-free experience. There is no need to spend time, money and effort developing a skin when Google’s implementation is just fine, and Motorola has proven this once again with the Z2 Play.

But at the end of the day, I don’t know why anyone would fork out $500 for the Moto Z2 Play when you can get the OnePlus 5 or the Xiaomi Mi 6 for less. Those two phones are on par with, or significantly better than the Z2 Play in a number of aspects, particularly when it comes to hardware. The only real advantage the Z2 Play has is the modular ecosystem, and I don’t think that’s enough to win over consumers.

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The Z2 Play needs to cut its price by at least $100, ideally $150, to make it an attractive option. At under $400, the handset would be a decent choice, but up against budget flagships for the same price, it just doesn’t provide good enough value.

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Pros: Super slim, well-constructed design. The Moto Mod ecosystem is maturing and can provide useful additions. Decent camera at this price point. Near-stock Android is always welcome.

Cons: At least $100 too expensive. Underwhelming performance compared to similarly-priced budget flagships. No longer a standout phone for battery life.