Motorola has defined itself in recent years by sticking to cheap-but-awesome phones that focus on customisable designs and dependable performance rather than envelope-pushing features. The Moto X Play is no exception.
This 5.5-inch phone handset rocks a full HD display, a great 21-megapixel camera, a meaty processor and a version of the Android Lollipop operating system that's free of the painful bloatware most companies insist on installing. Add a splash-proof body that protects the internals from all kinds of spilled drinks, and the option to wildly customise the colours of the phone to suit your exacting tastes and you've got yourself one hell of a smartphone.
The cherry on the top of this already delicious dessert is the affordable price. In the UK, you can pick up the Play directly from Motorola (building it yourself using the Moto Maker tool) for £280, with 16GB of storage. The Play launched in August in 55 countries, although the US was not one of them just yet -- there, Motorola is instead pushing the larger Moto X Pure Edition (called the Moto X Style outside of the US). For reference, its £280 price converts to about $435.
In Australia, the X Play is a Vodafone exclusive, but is only available in black. You'll pay AU$5 per month on the AU$40 plan over two years (minimum cost is AU$1,080). Motorola has mooted the idea of a version coming direct to retail at a later stage, possibly for AU$569, but says this is "to be confirmed."
The Moto X Play sits in the middle of Moto's new lineup of handsets, which includes the cheap and cheerful Moto G at the bottom, and the more premium Moto X Pure/Style at the top. The latter is slightly bigger at 5.7 inches, but packs a higher-resolution display and a more powerful processor, and you can have it wrapped in luxurious leather or various types of wood.
- 148 by 75 by 10mm (5.8 by 2.9 by 0.4 inches)
- 169 grams (6 ounces)
- Customisable colours
The name Play suits this Moto X model as it looks like the more rough-and-ready sibling of its higher-end X Style. Instead of that phone's leather and wood panelling, the Play's back skin is made from rubberised plastic, with a tyre-tread style pattern. Together with the waterproofing, which I'll come to in a moment, it feels like a phone that's built for a tougher life than simply sitting inside a jacket pocket.
Not that it doesn't look good. My review model of the Play came in the most plain colours available: black and grey, which looks arguably more professional than fun. Using Motorola's Moto Maker online tool, however, it's hugely customisable. There are 14 different colours available for the back panel, with seven colours to choose from for the metal accents. Mix in the choice of a black or white front and the option to add laser engraving to the back for free, and it's possible to tweak your own phone very much to your own tastes.
The resistance to water is a welcome new feature for the Moto X series. The Play isn't designed to be fully submersible, so it's not the phone to take with you on a scuba diving trip -- for that, check out the new Sony Xperia Z5 . What the Play's waterproofing is for is to protect it from spilled drinks in the pub, rain showers or an accidental fall in the toilet. I knocked several cups of water over the phone and it's still working perfectly. It certainly adds a little peace of mind to know that your phone can shake off spills.
It's not the most compact of phones around, measuring 148mm long and 75mm wide, but it's not so chunky as to be cumbersome to use. It slides neatly into your pocket and its 169 gram weight shouldn't drag your jeans down. You'll find the power and volume buttons, the 3.5mm headphone jack and the Micro-USB port around the edges of the phone, with the SIM card and microSD card slots underneath the back cover. You won't find features like a fingerprint scanner or heart rate monitor, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, you'll need to expand your budget and look toward the Galaxy S6.
The phone is available with either 16 or 32GB of storage space. It's worth opting for the higher-capacity model if you download a lot of big apps -- particularly as it's not a huge amount of extra storage. You can fill up 16GB pretty quickly, and will soon have to rely on popping in external storage cards to store your files.
- 5.5 inches
- 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution
The 5.5-inch display has a full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 400 pixels per inch. Sure, that's fewer pixels than you'll find on phones like the Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, but it's more than sufficient to make icons and text look crisp and high-resolution photos look good too. It's not a quad-HD display, but for this price, you can't really expect anything more. If you want extra pixels, the 5.7-inch Moto X Style is the phone for you.
It's a bright display, making it easy to read under the cloudy skies of an average London summer. I wish I could report on how easy it is to use in bright Tuscan sunshine, but all I can say is that it's off to a good start. Colours are vibrant as well, without being too overpowering, making it a great screen for basically anything you'll want to put on it.
Android software and processor performance
- Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
- Near-stock Android with minimal Motorola additions
- 1.7GHz octa-core processor
- 2GB RAM
The Moto X Play runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, and Motorola is one of the few companies that doesn't apply its own skin over the top. What you're left with then is pure vanilla Android that's free of all the manufacturer-made nonsense that plagues Sony and Samsung's phones.
Vanilla Android is simple to use and swift to navigate around. What helps is the 1.7GHz octa-core processor stuffed inside the Play's rubbery shell, which is more than capable of handling all your everyday essentials. Apps load quickly, as does the camera, and gaming works well. Angry Birds 2 plays perfectly smoothly, and more demanding titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas play without any issue as well.
In performance the phone is certainly no slouch. It achieved a multi-score score of 2,143 on the Geekbench 3 test, putting it above the new Moto G (1,600), although predictably falls short of top-end phones like the Galaxy S6 (4,608). It scored 8,070 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, again putting it above the Moto G (4,473) and below the Moto X Style (19,725).
Motorola has thrown in some of its own bits and bobs too. Beyond the Migrate tool, which will help you transfer all your data from your old phone to the new one, you'll find the same voice control features found on the previous Moto X. You can teach the phone to wake up when you say a chosen phrase (mine was "Oi, phone geezer, listen up"). You then can perform searches, open apps or even send messages, without needing to touch the phone at all. I haven't really felt the need to use it, but I can see it being handy if you're baking, for example, and don't want to prod at a phone with sticky cake fingers. When I used it, I was impressed at how easily it recognised my commands.
- 21-megapixel rear camera
- Dual-tone LED flash
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
Around the back of the phone is a 21-megapixel camera, which is a huge number of megapixels to find on a phone of this price. It's also a big step up from the 13-megapixel camera seen on the previous Moto X. It's not just about the resolution either, as the Play is capable of taking some great shots.
This park scene is very well exposed, with a great balance between the bright sky and shadowy areas in the trees.
The exposure is again spot-on in this scene, with rich, vibrant colours too. The high resolution of the sensor also means there's a ton of detail on the leaves when viewed at full screen.
Colours are extremely rich in this brightly lit shot of a flower.
In low light, the camera still does a fair job of getting the shot. This scene has come out bright enough to be seen properly and there's not too much noise in the shot either. The colours are rather more muted than I'd like to see though.
With the flash on, colours once again pop, and it's achieved an extremely crisp focus on the scene. The flash is not so powerful as to wash everything out.
The 5-megapixel camera on the front also is well-equipped to capture great shots. Even if the person in the shots would perhaps rather be behind the camera than in front of it.
The camera app itself is simple and clean, hiding the settings on a wheel that you swipe in on the screen to view. It's quick and easy to switch between shooting modes or to select video, so you won't miss capturing the adorable moment when you balance a tiny cowboy hat on your dog. You'll also find features like a burst mode, panorama mode, HDR mode and a slow-motion video function too.
- 3,630mAh non-removable battery
Motorola reckons you can get up to two days of use from its generous battery, which is an impressive boast, and one that I'd say is about accurate. During our battery tests for continuous video playback, it lasted an impressive 15 hours and 45 minutes on average. As such, if you spend all day gaming or streaming video with the screen brightness set to maximum then you shouldn't expect to have power left in the evening, but if you're even reasonably careful, you'll easily get a whole day of use from it.
Keeping the brightness down will be the biggest help to extending battery life, and keeping Wi-Fi and GPS off will help too. If you're cautious with use then you'll be able to whizz past the first day and get through much of the second day too. As with all smartphones though, I'd always recommend giving it a full charge overnight. The battery isn't removable, so you can't swap it out for a fresh one when it finally does conk out.
With its bright, bold display, powerful processor, great camera and water-resistant design, the Motorola Moto X Play isn't just a great phone for the price, it's a great phone, full stop. It's got everything you should expect from a high-end device, and the ability to customise its look is just the icing on the cake.
If you want a splash more luxury, you might want to opt for the Moto X Style (or Pure), with its customisable leather or wood back. But at £399 or $399, you're shelling out a lot more cash than those extra features justify. That's why, if you're after an affordable high-performing phone to tackle all your everyday tasks, the Moto X Play is a brilliant choice. It's a better value for your money, which is why it snags a slightly higher rating than we gave the X Pure Edition.
There's really very little that even comes close to the Play's value. The HTC One M8s has a full HD display, similar power and a slick-feeling metal chassis, but it mimics the look of last year's flagship phone and costs more at £350 SIM-free ($545 or AU$755 converted, but it still isn't on sale in the US or Australia). The Huawei Honor 6 also has a good screen, its camera performs well and it's similarly priced, but its heavily customised software is far less pleasant to use. The Moto X Play is undoubtedly the phone to go for at this price.