When we went to the Motorola event early last month we were surprised to see them launch not one, but two Moto X’s this year. The Larger, more expensive and more high-end X Style is still the flagship of this generation, but the X Play still has some features that have it punching above its weight, namely it’s battery, camera and Motomaker. Thius, is my Motorola Moto X Play Review
Disclaimer: Motorola has provided us with this review unit, it is a 16gb Moto X Play in Black, Model Number XT1562. We are running Android 5.1.1 on build number LPD23.118-10. This Moto X Play has been our Daily driver for 2 weeks, and will continue to be until further notice.
We’ll start off with the unboxing experience, something I often gloss over in my written reviews (as I often do unboxing videos, such as this one for the X Play) And whilst you can still go watch that if you so wish, I mainly want to draw attention to the plug they provide. When you open up the box on top you’re greeted by the X Play itself. Removing that and the cardboard spacer you’re greeted by the MicroUSB charging cable, a NanoSIM/MicroSD ejector tool in a little cardboard envelope, some warranty and safety information and a USB wall charger. This wall charger is what has me interested. Unlike the Moto G they supply a USB wall charger in the box, which is great. I had assumed that this would be one of Motorola’s Turbo Chargers to quickly juice up the X Play’s monstrous battery. Though I was wrong, it could have been worse. Whilst it’s only a 1 amp charger, it does have dual USB port, so I can charge my watch and my phone off of one socket, albeit very slowly.
- 5.5” 1080p IPS touchscreen
- Snapdragon 615. 4xA53 1.1ghz, 4xA53 1.7ghz
- 2GB RAM
- Adreno 405 GPU
- 16/32GB internal storage
- Up to 128gb MicroSD card slot
- 169 grams
- 21mp Autofocus rear camera, 1080p, slow-mo at 720p
- 5mp front camera, 1080, 720p slow-mo
- 3630mAh sealed battery, support for Turbo Power quick charging.
- 11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz
- LTE Bands 1,3,5,7,8,19,20,28,38,40,41
The X Play follows Motorola’s recent design philosophy and that’s not a bad thing; the X Play is a really gorgeous device. The Front of the X Play is adorned by its expansive 5.5” 1080p IPS LCD (No more AMOLED here folks). It’s not a bad display, not by any means, but after Motorola had used AMOLED display on the last 2 generations of X, I for one was very upset to see them go for IPS LCD this time around. 1080p is more than acceptable as a resolution at 5.5”. A small thing I would change though is either the resolution or the GPU. The Adreno 405 in the Snapdragon 615 just doesn’t feel powerful enough most of the time pushing a 1080p display. In the settings Motorola gives you a basic toggle to go between a Normal colour profile, and a Vibrant colour profile. Vibrant is what comes set at default and I’d leave it there. One of the reasons I prefer AMOLED displays is their vastly superior colour reproduction, especially when it comes to the deepest blacks. For lack of a better wording they just look better to me, and whilst turning this display to vibrant mode doesn’t come close to replicating an AMOLED display, it does look better than the closer to colour accurate “normal” mode that photo re-touchers would like. It gets decently bright too. I often only had it on between 50% and 75% with auto brightness on as well. One problem for me was that auto brightness was a bit lacklustre. It was often quicker for me to manual adjust brightness to something that was easier for me to see, than it was to let the phone decide.
Underneath the screen is its single front facing speaker that is plenty loud and quite well tuned. It’s not up to BoomSound (or even the Quality that Alcatel OneTouch gives with its dual, JBL tuned speakers) but it’s not a poor showing by any stretch. On the opposing end of the phone we have the ear piece, modelled to look the same as the single front ported speaker. This gives a nice look of almost symmetry. To the right of the earpiece we have the 5mp front facing camera, and on the left side of the earpiece we have the ambient light and proximity sensors for dimming and shutting the screen off respectively.
On the right hand side of the phone we have the only physical buttons on the device; a rigid power button, and underneath that a volume rocker. Unlike our 2015 Moto G, the X Play has decent travel on the volume rocker but still feels as if the power button could be extended from the body a little further. However because it is rigidity, we never confused it with the volume rocker. Flipping over to the left side, as is normal with Motorola devices we have absolutely nothing, probably so you can gaze at the beauty of the hardware design, or something.
On the bottom of the X Play we have the MicroUSB charging port. Whilst in some ways I am disappointed that Motorola hasn’t opted to use a USB Type-C port, I fear that it would have come with significant compromises such as with the OnePlus 2 and the fact that its USB2 based port doesn’t feature any of the cool “Alt Modes” that make USB-C so fun (and whilst USB-C can have QuickCharging, OnePlus decided not to include it). At this early stage in USB-C’s lifecycle, it probably would have meant too many compromises and would have likely added cost if it was done “properly”. MicroUSB is tried and tested and everyone has a few dozen MicroUSB cables lying around their house don’t they? I’m not sure many can say that about USB-C cables.
The top of the X Play is probably the busiest portion. Centrally it houses the 3.5mm headphone/audio jack and next to that we have the dual purpose MicroSD and NanoSIM tray which functions differently from others that I have seen which are just double length. Motorola has opted to use both sides of the tray so it could still stay relatively short, incorporating the NanoSIM and the MicroSD card, the latter of which is capable of supporting 128gb cards that are forever falling in price.
Lastly we have the back. We’ll start with the two nearly hidden pieces; the microphones. One is up top, close to where the SIM tray is whilst the other is central on the bottom part of the back. In the middle but closer to the top we have what I can only really call an instrument cluster. The classic Motorola dimple is still here, though it’s been redesigned so it’s far shallower than before which is a shame. Above that we have the Dual-Tone LED flash. I don’t have much to say on this apart from the fact it’s an LED flash. The dual-tone flashes most certainly help to not make your subjects to look like Casper the friendly ghost, but it won’t eliminate the effect completely. The backplate is removable, but there isn’t really much point in it being removable unless you want to buy a load of different coloured backs for your X Play and then change them at will. I don’t recommend this as its secured incredibly well and I more often than not felt as if I was going to break something clipping the back on/off. Underneath the pseudo-silicone rubber back we can a few call outs to specs namely the 21mp camera up top and the 3630mAh power pack hunkered down beneath a few dozen screws.
Before I leave the back I do want to call attention to the pattern on the back of the X Play. Whilst it does look very nice, the pattern is incredibly shallow and I personally found it very hard to grip onto this back. I would have preferred that Motorola stick with the pattern that it has used on the 2015 Moto G and is planning to use on the X Style.
As with the last few generations of Motorola phones, the X Play is thankfully pretty spartan when it comes to OEM customisation. Motorola has let Android be Android and their 5.1.1 ROM comes almost completely free of Moto’s touch. There are a mere 8 applications on this device preloaded by Motorola:
- Motorola Camera
- Motorola Connect
- FM Radio
- Motorola Gallery
- Messaging (an SMS app)
- Moto Hub
That’s it. All of these applications are updatable through the Play Store as well, and this has some very useful effects such as being able to improve the camera on the fly, being able to push firmware fixes to make it focus faster and more accurately, or as with their last update, bring QR code scanning to older devices that had the capability to support it.
The Moto Hub is probably the most notable addition here and it encompasses things like Moto Actions for automatically putting your device in certain modes, like Do Not Disturb in a certain place or at a certain time and Moto Display which helps you quickly act on notifications without having to unlock and find them manually. Lastly we have something that was missing on the Moto G 2015, Moto Voice. Moto Voice was pretty revolutionary back in 2013 when it launched under the name “Touchless Control” but is less amazing now that Google can also do it on most phones via the Google App. Motorola’s ace up its sleeve is that as long as it’s a certain length, you can set your own wake phrase. It doesn’t have to be the very boring “Okay Google”. Sadly, my preferred phrase (“Hey J.A.R.V.I.S”) wasn’t long enough, so I settled on “Hey There Moto X” and have promptly used it all of 3 times. The problem with Moto Voice is that it wakes up, interprets what’s you’re trying to say, then turns it into text, then opens up Google now and pastes that text in there. This is another process that feels hampered by the Snapdragon 615.
As I had stated in my Moto G 2015 review, I am a Moto Display convert. I initially thought that Google’s “ambient Display” was pretty much the same thing just baked into Lollipop. It’s not. Not even close. Lift up your phone and don’t have notifications? You get a clock and a padlock. Swipe down on the padlock and you go to whatever was open on your device before you locked it. When you’re done, put the phone back in your pocket and the screen turns off again. No having to lock it or anything, it just knows. It gets better when you have notifications. You see a grayed out icon from the app in a bubble. Tapping on that icon bubble presents you with 3 choices; swipe up to open straight to that notification and act on it, swipe down to unlock the phone and do anything else, and lastly swipe to the edge of the display to pretend you didn’t even see it and it turns the screen back off. It’s actually a feature I use often. If that wasn’t cool enough, it gets even better with Media. Say you have Netflix open and are Chromecasting to your TV, on Moto Display you’ll see the Netflix “N” Icon and when you tap on that you’re presented with media controls. Once you’ve acted on them, the screen goes off again so you can get on with whatever it was you wanted to do. If for some reason you wish to use the inferior Google option, it’s still there in the Moto Display settings.
A slight negative of Moto Display on this phone actually has nothing to do with software at all. Instead it’s that Motorola has decided to equip the 2015 range of phones exclusively with LCD panels instead of AMOLED panels. On an AMOLED display the black background isn’t actually lit up. Black has no power running to it; black is off. So only the white pixels had to be turned on when using Moto Display, not only saving power because the entire display didn’t have to be turned on, it also looked cool especially in the dark. Now Motorola is obviously confident enough that it feels it has the power consumption down to an acceptable level for an LCD, but it can’t defy physics. The way an LCD works is it has to have a back light. You can’t selectively shut off the back light like you can on AMOLED devices. It’s either all on or all off, but at different brightness levels. Moto Display is still awesome even on an LCD. I just wish this display would have been an AMOLED one.
Next is Moto Actions. Motorola has strangely omitted the Double Chop gesture to turn on the Flash on the Moto X Play that was otherwise present on the Moto G 2015, Moto X Style, Moto X 2014 and DROID Turbo. I have no clue why this is and I got no responses from Motorola when I asked. They could probably add it in at a later update, either in the Firmware of the device with an OS upgrade, or in an app update on the play store. As it stands though the only option in Moto Actions is the Double Twist to launch the camera, and even that has its issues on the X Play.
Launching the Camera via the double twist on the Moto G 2015 initiates a short, sharp vibration and launches the camera a hair later. Completing the same action on the X Play feels… laboured, as if the vibrate motor has to ramp up. The Moto X Play feels like its vibrate motor forgets it is a vibrate motor and at the last minutes says “oh crap, vibrate and then launch camera”. It’s consistently slow. Slower than the Moto G. Not once has the camera opened faster than the Moto G has managed. Not only this, but the actual motion of recognising the gesture feels a bit harder work on the X Play. Whereas I have learnt to open the camera as I take the Moto G out of my pocket, and get it to launch every time, with the X Play it’s success rate is closer to 75%. It’s less sensitive and I can see no way to remedy this from a users’ perspective.
Lastly is Moto Assist which works exactly the same as it does on other Motorola devices and it’s brilliant. Although it’s more capable than what I use it for, it works valiantly. Another feature that Google seemed to have borrowed from other OEMs is the ability to set times where only certain priority notifications are allowed. That’s pretty much what I have Moto Assist doing. At 10pm Moto Assist puts my phone into Do Not Disturb mode, and only a small handful of people can reach me if they call me a few times in a certain amount of time. Otherwise all vibrations, noises etc are completely muted until that downtime ends at 8am. Moto Assist is far more capable however. If you actually use a calendar properly, and place your meetings in the calendar with start and end dates, Moto can do the same for that meeting so that your phone doesn’t automatically start ringing out loud when your significant other calls you (and trust me, having “Baby got back” might be funny to you, but it’s less so when your boss hears it!). Or maybe it’s a little more leisurely use case? If you are part of a cinema club and go to the same cinema often, you can tell Moto Assist that when you come within that certain geo-location you’ve created, to mute everything, because Goddamnit you paid for that film and you are not going to be distracted by somebody texting or calling you!
I wish I knew anything about updates for the X Play. If we go from recent history (since 2013) each Motorola device gets at least one OS upgrade, whether that be from 4.3 to 4.4, or from 4.4 to 5.1.1, so I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the X Play will get Android Marshmallow. The harder part of this conversation is saying when it’ll get an update. When the first Moto X and Moto G shipped, they got very rapid updates. They often got their 4.4 KitKat updates before some Nexus owners did, which was great for Motorola owners. Then last year happened, and Lollipop came around. Lollipop (5.0) was a very large update for Android as x.0 updates tend to be. The problem was not only did it take time to make the Moto changes compatible, getting them to work well was harder because of the many inherent bugs in 5.0, whether that be in the memory department, or otherwise. With Android Marshmallow being Android 6.0, I fear we are going through another big change, except this one won’t be quite as visual. We know very little about Marshmallow at this point though. For all we know, Marshmallow could have rewritten the things that Google rewrote in 5.0 to make them better (read:work!). Everything that Google did with ART for Lollipop could have been changed to make it slicker, to make it leaner. Or they could just be jumping the number up to get themselves away from what was, to put it nicely, a PR nightmare for them. At this point we just don’t know do we. It’s a consideration for sue.
Motorola made a big hoopla when they launched these 3 devices last month. They threw up all the right numbers and the right terms like PDAF (which is Phase Detect Auto Focus), 21mp, dual-tone LED flashes etc. Motorola also said that these would be class leading cameras, and whilst im not sure they are currently, I feel that they could be.
The problem with calling it “Class leading” is that you have to specify what the class is. Is it price class? Is it device class (e.g. mid-range or high-end)? This is a very capable camera, and Motorola should be happy, but it’s auto mode could use a bit of work.
Shots from the X Play are often a tad under exposed. Focus is usually on point, but on more than one occasion I’ve had to manually move the ring around so I can get it to focus on what I wanted it to, not what the device thought I wanted to. This is the same with exposure; whilst it was okay most of the time, I almost came to learn which scenarios I’d have to use the slider to adjust for.
When the X Play gets it right though you are treated to some wonderful images. It’s important to note that although this is a 21mp camera, the Motorola camera app automatically defaults to a 16mp 16:9 aspect ratio, something I happen to prefer but I know a lot of people would prefer to have the full 21mp 4:3 photo. In the swipe out menu on Motorola’s Camera app, you can choose for the full size 21mp 4:3, or the widescreen 16mp 16:9 resolution options.
Pictures have plenty of detail, focus is nice and sharp and colours are generally balanced. Its first focus point is blazingly fast…most of the time. For example, I was able to take the X Play out of my pocket whilst in a car (as a passenger, leave the phone in your pocket if you’re the driver!) and snap a photo of something along the seafront and 90% of the time, even if the colours weren’t perfect, I was able to get a relatively clear shot, which I haven’t been able to say about many phones up until now, especially ones that lack OIS (optical image stabilisation). Motorola’s weak point with the X Play camera comes down to it’s low light abilities. Again it’s not bad, but everything I said about it’s speed, throw that out of the window. Focus is slow, metering for exposure is slow, there is a tremendous amount of shutter lag and although you’ll still get usable images, they aren’t nearly of the same quality as they would be with greater light. Again some of this would have been offset by the inclusion of OIS, but at this price point, I am not aware of anything that has OIS that spits out as lovely images as this does.
The story is mostly the same on the front. The 5mp camera on the front seems to expose okay, and I do not believe it has automatic focus. It’s has a wide enough angle and putting the phone at arm’s length away my selfies where nearly always in focus. Lastly yes, the Moto X Play’s camera works fine with Snapchat. Unlike previous Motorola devices, the 2015 line up seems to have no issues with Snapchat performance, and although it isn’t of much use to me, I know a fair few people who this information is important to.
The rear 21mp camera is capable of taking 1080p video at 30fps, and Slow motion video at 540p 60fps and it produces okay video. No OIS certainly doesn’t help it here. It can be a bit jerky but it seems to react to exposure swings well. Although the focus is fast, it isn’t always perfect, however because of the speed it can react fast enough most of the time that it isn’t an issue. The issues for me are the fact that at 21mp it is only capable of 1080p video at 30fps. Yup, no 4K UHD here folks. It comes down to the choice of SoC again. The Snapdragon 615’s ISP can’t handle more resolution than that.
Slow motion video is also implemented here as it has been the last few generations, except on the Moto X Play it’s 540p. This is worse than the 2013 Moto G when it launched 2 years ago! Not only am I really upset that Motorola hasn’t progressed into the 120fps or even 240fps slow motion recording, they haven’t even been consistent with themselves. Another oddity? The front facing camera can shoot 1080p video at 30fps, but it can also shoot 720p slow motion video at 60fps. The front facing camera shoots higher resolution slow motion video than the rear camera. I would have rather they had not even implemented a slow motion video mode with this offering and stuck to shooting decent quality 1080p. Motorola, I just don’t know what happened in this department.
If you’ve read the rest of this review, you’ve probably got a rough idea of how this section is going to go. Before I say anything else, I will post images of some synthetic benchmarks, so the people who enjoy those numbers can feast on those
The Snapdragon 615 with 2gb of RAM is the setup that the X Play has to work with here, and honestly, I think it was a mistake. In the devices I’ve tested with the Snapdragon 615 SoC onboard they seem to have had the same things in common; 2gb of RAM and a 1080p display. All of them seem to suffer in the same areas, namely camera, web browsing and notification shade. Now I must give Motorola credit where credit is due. The X Play is by far and away the fastest and smoothest Snapdragon 615 powered device I have tested, but I still think it was the wrong chip to use for the X Play.
The Snapdragon 615 has 8 ARM Cortex A53 processing cores split into two clusters. One cluster is running at 1.1Ghz whilst the other at a runs faster at 1.7Ghz. That CPU paired with an Adreno 405 GPU, you’d think it’d be perfectly fine wouldn’t you? Qualcomm’s site says that the 615 can handle 21mp cameras and 1440p displays, so it should be fine right? Well not so much. The X Play seems to hang up and stutter more often than I’d like, and unfortunately, this happens in probably the worst places, the camera and the web browser. I don’t feel that the 615 is honestly powerful enough to push 1080p all the time. This would have probably been a stellar chip for the new Moto G with it’s 720p screen, but not on this device. I feel something like MediaTek’s Helio X10 would have been a better choice for the X Play.
As I stated earlier, Motorola has optimised the X Play into the fastest and smoothest SD615 device to my knowledge, but the fact that the issues I’m seeing in the X Play are almost identical to the ones I saw on the Idol 3 5.5 and the Smart Ultra 6, both SD615 wielding 1080p devices, it seems that this is more of an issue with the SD615 itself and nothing that Motorola could have completely remedied. I will wait for future OTAs and see if they noticeably increase the performance of the X Play although I fear that Moto has squeezed the most out of this SoC.
For most things, the 2015 Moto G feels faster. Whether it is or is not, perception is king and it feels like it does, and that’s a real problem.
Now this is where things get interesting. The 3630mAh Lithium Ion battery included in the Moto X Play is a beast. Most days I was able to hit between 5-6 hours of screen on time, and it handily lasted me through my day, going to bed with probably 20-25% left over. The problem with this is that Motorola bills this as a phone that you should be able to get 2 days of mixed usage out of. Now some people might be able to get that longevity out of it, but I could not. It’s certainly possible to kill the X Play in one day. I did late last month when I went to London for the Honor 7 launch, though this was compounded by the fact that for the over 2-hour journey there and back I pretty much had no signal at all.
My only real problem with the Moto X Play battery? It’s huge. The fact it’s huge isn’t a problem in itself. No, the fact it’s huge means that it takes forever to charge, and to combat this, Motorola sells their Turbo Power charger for quick power ups. The problem is they sell it separately. Unless you already have a QuickCharge 2.0 charger at home, you’re looking at over nightly charges for the X Play, which isn’t a problem on a normal day that I’m ending with 20% left, but if I’m out at a press event and the phone dies before I’m done and I go plug it in, the half hour I’m plugged in wont really do much of anything on a normal charger.
My complaint is that Motorola sell a phone that lasts forever and can charge fast, except make you buy the fast charger separately. It seems to me that anything over 3000mAh that can use QuickCharge should come with a QuickCharger.
Motorola has always had the X series in Motomaker. In fact until this year the X series were the only phones in Motomaker, but that’s because there has been only one X phone per year. We now have 3 X phones (the 2014 Moto X, the Moto X Play and the Moto X Style), a Moto G and now the Moto 360 (and forthcoming 360 2) as well.
Motomaker for the Moto X Play is just like the Motomaker experience on other devices. You can choose the front colour out of black and white, there are 14 coloured back plates for you to choose from, then you get 7 accent colours which change the metal strip down the back as well as the speaker grill and earpiece. You then get your engraving options, and as long as it isn’t profane and is 14 characters or under, you can engrave it on the back. Whenever I think about getting a phone from Motomaker, my engraving is instantly my Twitter handle (@Mobile_Dom for those wondering). The next option is the internal storage options of 16 or 32gb. I often suggest people go for the higher end storage options, and I still do here, but I am quite happy living with 16gb myself. Though if you do want to bump it, doubling up to 32gb is another £40. Just don’t forget there is a MicroSD card slot capable of accepting cards of up to 128gb. Lastly on Motomaker you can set a custom boot up message too. This message is limited to 18 characters, so be creative, and the same restrictions apply, no profanities or trademarks, and you should be fine.
The Bottom Line
Motorola in the past has had a pretty simple product structure. You get the Moto E if you have simple needs or a low budget. If you have a bit more to spend and want a bigger, better screen, a bigger, and better camera, you go for the Moto G for under £200. Then, if you wanted the best Motorola had to offer, you went for the Moto X, which often came in at a lower price point than its contemporaries, but didn’t offer a significantly reduced user experience.
With the Moto X Play, those waters are muddied a bit. You still have the Moto E and the Moto G, but now the Moto G has split into two SKUs (though only the higher end one should exist), and now the Moto X series has been split into two different devices. A higher end (the Moto X Style) and a lower end (the Moto X Play) with the lower end still (hypothetically) giving a better experience than even the highest-end Moto G. Still with me? The problem with this is that there isn’t enough of a separation between the 16/2gb Moto G and the 16gb Moto X Play.
You get a bigger, better screen and a better camera on the Moto X Play, but the performance isn’t much better generally and in some cases is worse. Plus you lose waterproofing. The Moto G already had great battery, you just bumped it up again with the Moto X Play. But is the Moto X Play £90 better than the higher-end Moto G? It depends on what your priorities are perhaps.
Another problem for Motorola is competition. Up until this year, Motorola pretty much had their price categories wrapped up. The £100~ price point was an instant Moto E recommendation, under £200 was also an instant Moto G recommendation etc. This year has gotten a bit more tough for Motorola. Alcatel OneTouch has come out with the Idol 3’s, a 4.7” model that has specs that are dangerously close to that of the Moto G 2015, except coming in at £150. Then their 5.5” model comes in at £200. Asus is also a competitor at this price point with the Zenfone 2 in its many varieties ranging from just under £200 to just over £300. Then we have Honor. Honor is a sub-brand of Huawei and their newest flagship, the Honor 7 is going to come in at £250 and it’s bringing things like a lightning fast fingerprint scanner, a more manageable 5.2” 1080p display, a full metal chassis and more. Huawei/Honor have considerably changed the UI, far beyond anything that could be considered stock Android, and Asus has done their fair amount of skinning on the Zenfone 2 so Motorola still have the the near-Stock Android market on their side. Motorola used to have the entire space to themselves at pretty much whatever price point they were at, and this year they don’t have that luxury. I’d take the Moto X Play over the Idol 3 and Zenfone 2, but the Honor 7 with its fingerprint scanner could tempt me (it’s that good) and this is a very real problem for Motorola are facing. They can’t rely on brand recognition alone, and the price isn’t as competitive as it once was, or indeed should be in my opinion.
So, should you buy the Moto X Play? Well yes, it’s certainly not a bad phone. It has its quirks, just as any phone does. As with almost all devices, it all depends on what you value most in a device. It has a top-notch camera in its price class, has phenomenal stamina and is built like a beautiful tank. It’s got a great screen and it has an unadulterated version of Android with some of the most useful tweaks a phone can have. It’s just priced a bit wrong and has some minor quibbles with performance. A Moto X Play at £250 or lower is pretty much an instant buy and Motorola are only just north of that currently. Those draw backs still exist, and for most people, my first one wont exist. I only see it because I have multiple 615 devices side by side. I also happen to have a 2015 Moto G here as well so I can test them side by side. If someone buys the Moto X Play they shouldn’t think they have wasted their money, in fact it’s probably the best phone you’ll get for sub £300, I’m just not sure how long that statement will last for.