(Pocket-lint) - Motorola has doubled-up its Moto X devices in 2015, offering two different models in this popular family. The Moto X Style is the larger model with more advanced specs, with the Moto X Play (reviewed here) the more natural replacement for the previous X model.
However, the Moto X Play also steps down from last year's Moto X in terms of design. This makes it arguably less premium, but with that comes a more affordable price, positioning it against the likes of the Honor 7 and OnePlus 2. So is the Play the Moto X to plump for in 2015?
The Moto X Play is a headset that appears to have one primary focus: long-lasting battery life. If you want an endurance champion, then the Moto X Play could well be the handset for you.
There are other positives too. The design can be personalised, the camera experience is improved over the last generation, and the minimal bloatware on board makes for a solid handset with slick performance as mid-range handsets go.
But there's the slight feeling that the Play drags the Moto X away from being a competitive flagship alternative into something that slots between the affordable Moto G and where you expect the X to sit. In that sense, it's something of a dilution of the Moto X brand, and fans might prefer the wider choice of quality finishes and increased power of the Moto X Style.
Ultimately, the Moto X Play is a handset looking to compete with the likes of the Honor 7 and OnePlus 2. It does a good job in most areas, and while it perhaps isn't as exciting as its cheaper rivals, it certainly nails one thing above and beyond its competition: battery life.
Motorola Moto X Play
- Battery life
- Moto Maker options
- Pretty much bloatware free
- Not hugely exciting
- Camera low light performance weak
- No fingerprint scanner
Moto X Play review: Design
At 169g there's some heft to this 5.5-inch device, which measures 148 x 75mm with the curved rear meaning a variable thickness from 8.9-10.9mm. Like the Nexus 6, the Moto X Play's curve feels like it adds some bulk in the hand compared to some of the flatter, slimmer devices out there.
But the real point of differentiation to the design is the removable back plate. This plastic Shell insert can be removed, meaning you can switch colour options. These Shells cost £20 each and there are eight options available from Motorola, making for quick and easy customisation.
That's in addition to the option to customise the entire phone at the point of ordering using the Moto Maker service, so rather than the standard blacks and greys, you can instead opt for orange, pink, blue or many other options - and there's no additional cost (even engraving is free). Moto Maker only adds £40 if you increase the internal storage from 16GB to 32GB.
The body of the Moto X Play is solid enough, with the Shell tactile and providing plenty of grip. But we found that the standby button rattles when you tap the phone, which lets the side down a little. There's still a fair amount of bezel around the display too, and the front-facing speakers mean the phone is potentially taller than it needs to be.
Overall there's not much of a sense of change from previous devices, however, but that might not matter for potential Moto X Play customers. Given the price point, it feels like a device that someone who loved the Moto G might want to step-up to. In the Moto X Play there's also a degree of water repellence thanks to nano-coating, designed to protect the phone from splashes.
Moto X Play review: Display
The Moto X Play tucks into a sub-premium bracket from a hardware position, as well as from a price position. Starting with the display the 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution display delivers a 401ppi density, which is middling in terms of specification but still means the display is reasonably sharp.
We've seen a number of displays at this size and resolution - such as the Huawei Mate S or the iPhone 6S Plus - and we've few complaints. Yes, in absolute terms it can't resolve detail as finely as some of the more expensive Quad HD rivals, but we can't say that's hugely detrimental to the overall experience.
The display on the Moto X Play offers two colour settings for playback - normal or vibrant - and we found it plenty bright enough. There's lots of colour and vibrancy, although it has something of a yellow hue compared to the best displays out there. However, the viewing angles are good, so there's little to complain about.
Moto X Play review: Hardware
One of the areas where the Moto X Play reveals its more affordable positioning is in the hardware. It is powered by an octo-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chipset with 2GB of RAM. That's a mid-range chipset, meaning that - although the Moto X Play will run your daily tasks with ease - it's not the most powerful handset around.
But you'll still be able to play the latest games and most things are slick and fast. The Play perhaps lacks the snap that some of the higher-powered devices offer, but we didn't find that to be a problem. We fired up Real Racing 3 and found that the handset warmed a little, but not as drastically as some phones we've used in 2015.
In addition to the 16GB of internal storage (as standard), there's a microSD slot for additional storage expansion, accepting cards up to 128GB. It's great to see microSD offered here, as Motorola has flip-flopped with microSD card slots over the past few years.
There are two front-facing speakers on the Moto X Play that give great volume, although compared to those found on the HTC One family the Motorola offering lacks depth. You do, however, get respectable separation when playing games or watching movies.
One of the Play's omissions - and something that we're seeing more of in mid-range handsets - is a fingerprint scanner. Motorola hasn't moved forward to implement the latest trend in smartphone hardware and for a new device, that makes it feel a little dated straight out of the box.
Moto X Play review: Battery life
Where the Moto X Play really wants to stake its claim is in battery life. We mentioned that this phone was a little chunky, but when you discover that it has a 3,630mAh battery inside, you might accept that thickness.
The Moto X Play isn't stuffed with additional smart functions to reduce battery consumption - as you'll find in Sony Xperia handsets for example - but it does have a huge battery capacity. It's more capacious than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, larger than the Sony Xperia Z5, and larger than Moto X Style bigger brother.
Not only does it have that big capacity battery, but as the Play isn't decked out with the most powerful hardware, there's less of a drain in that department too. The result is a handset that sails through the day. We've yet to drain this handset in half a day in the way that the Samsung Galaxy S6 or HTC One M9 will do. Instead, we're presented with a device that will get you through the weekend without too much bother. And things should only get better with the advent of Android 6.0 Marshmallow and its native Doze functions.
There's no wireless charging, though, and there's no fast charger in the box - which is a shame given the Moto X Play's compatibility. With a big battery like this you might want to buy a TurboPower Charger (£25 direct from Motorola) just to speed up recharging.
Overall, the Moto X Play is one of the best performing phones in terms of battery life that we've seen this year. It seems that's the real play of this Moto X model.
Moto X Play review: Cameras
The big weakness of the previous Motorola devices has been mediocre camera performance. Motorola is looking to put that right in the Moto X Play, with a 21-megapixel rear camera, offering f/2.0 aperture and phase-detection autofocus to keep things fast. There's a dual tone flash in support too.
On the software front Motorola opts for a quick capture system, designed to give you faster results by letting you tap anywhere to take the shot. We really don't like this approach as you're at the mercy of what the camera thinks should be in focus - and if it doesn't think anything should be in focus, you're at the mercy of that too.
That means the incidence of out-of-focus photos increases compared to most other camera apps that let you tap to focus, then tap to capture. There is a workaround with a manual control of focus and exposure option, but it's then a fiddle to have to switch to this setting to take photos.
In good light things work pretty well. The camera finds focus quickly and usually with some accuracy, but if you want your focal point to be something to the side or against a background that's more prominent, the camera will struggle. In lower-light conditions the camera shows its weakness with softening and image noise appearing, so it lacks bite - even in conditions that aren't especially dim.
There's an auto-HDR option that sometimes you might want to nudge on to balance out scenes with a wide difference between highlights and shadows, but the HDR mode is effective without being too over-dramatic and ethereal.
The 5-megapixel front-facing camera is pretty good, so you'll be able to snap a decent selfie. We like that you can apply HDR and the manual exposure control to this front camera too.
Ultimately, the camera performance is pretty good on the Moto X Play. You might want to switch to a different camera app if, like us, you don't like the capture mechanics of the default app, but we found the basic Google Camera app worked well enough.
Moto X Play review: Software
One of the appealing things of Moto's handsets is how close to stock Android they are. That means no excessive re-skins or numerous embedded apps above and beyond the standardised Google operating system.
In recent weeks we've heard Motorola say that things are going to get even closer, with the retirement of some of the apps it bundles in, including Moto Migrate and Moto Assist. As Android progresses into its Marshmallow format, Motorola will simply let the updated operating system's core functions cover such tasks.
At the time of writing the Moto X Play is on Android Lollipop, however, so some of those Motorola "enhancements" are still present on this review device. We don't find that to be much of a problem, however, as compared to Huawei, Sony, Samsung or LG models out there, the Moto X is as close to a Google Nexus experience as you'll get. There's very little that gets in the way.
For others there might be the sense that you miss out on some features or additions. There isn't a fancy media player offering DLNA support, or a range of hardware toggles, or homepage customisation - but those are things we feel we can live without. The Moto X Play gives you a clean platform on which to enjoy the best of Android and there's merit in that simple approach, ensuring smooth operation.
We found the Moto X Play to be slick and stable. As we mentioned, it's perhaps not as fast as some more powerful handsets, but we're happy with the performance at this price point.
There are some subtle changes from stock Android though. We've mentioned the Motorola camera already, which is joined by a gallery as an alternative to Google's Photos app. The gallery offers some nice features, such as being able to assemble highlight videos from your photos, ideal for sharing the highlights of your day with friends.
The Moto X Play slips into a space between the Moto G and what you expect the Moto X to be. The real star is battery life, as this is one of the best endurance devices we've seen, and Android fans will enjoy the bloatware free experience. But Moto X fans won't find this to be a terribly exciting handset.