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Moto Z2 Play and New Moto Mods Review

One of Moto’s latest entries into their Z lineup of smartphones, known as the Z2 Play, offers really nice value for the money you pay. In case you’re wondering, that’s $400 if you buy from Verizon and $500 if you buy it unlocked. Clearly, this phone falls in the mid-range category with a price range like this so one may be encouraged to lower his/her expectations. But whether you lower or raise them, you’ll still be impressed by this handset.

Starting with its build, the Z2 Play has a really sturdy, high-quality feeling aluminum body. It feels surprisingly solid in your hand, and that crisp cold feeling after your phone’s been sitting on the night stand all night can’t be beaten and can only be accomplished by phones like this. Its overall form factor doesn’t feel too big in your hand even though its screen is on the larger end of the spectrum, but it definitely doesn’t feel as nice as the Galaxy S8 or LG G6.

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Chamfers add a touch of class to the Z2 Play, but I will admit they cause discomfort for your ear while on the phone. This phone is also really thin at just 5.9mm. That’s pretty insane, especially considering last year’s Z Play was significantly thicker. On the front of the device sits a 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED display that produces nice color vibrancy, decent sharpness, and a nice amount of brightness while in direct sunlight. The screen won’t win any competitions, but it gets the job done and then some.

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Also on the front is a fingerprint reader that is really fast and can act like a touchpad (more on that later), while on the top sits an earpiece, selfie camera, and LED flash. On the back, you’ll find the rear camera with a pretty large bulge, pins for connecting to Moto Mods, and a microphone. The bottom of the handset houses a USB-C port and headphone jack, while the left and top remain blank and the right consists of the volume and power buttons.

Sure, the Z2 Play isn’t gonna win any beauty contests, but for what it’s built to do, the design is fine. And what is it built to do, you may ask? Well, Moto Mods, of course.

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Dating back to last year, all Moto Mods on the market work with the new Z2 Play. Last year’s JBL speaker works with no problem, the Insta-Share Project connects seamlessly, and even last year’s Style Shells still operate correctly. Of course, with a new Moto phone comes new Moto Mods, and the company didn’t skimp out in this regard.

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With the Z2 Play, we got a refreshed JBL SoundBoost 2 speaker Mod, a new TurboPower battery pack Mod, and even new Style Mods that pack wireless charging. Starting with the speaker, it sounds excellent. Basses are low, highs are high, and mids and mids. The thing even gets stupid loud. So loud, in fact, I had to stand about ten feet away from it while at full blast just so I wouldn’t blow my eardrums out.

The JBL speaker is even tuneable via a new app that lets you adjust the EQ. It’s worth noting this app is exclusive to the new speaker and won’t work with last year’s model.

Moving on, the new TurboPower battery back provides an extra 3,490mAh to the Z2 Play that can let you charge your phone and Mod once and use them both continuously for three days. Now that’s some endurance. The Mod even adds an extra layer of grip so you don’t drop your phone or watch it slide out of your pocket.

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Finally, the Style Mod does exactly what its name says: it gives your phone style. Moto sent over this floral pattern, and every female I showed it to thought it was pretty. It also adds wireless charging compatibility which is really handy to have, especially if you’re sitting in a Starbucks.

But here’s the thing: none of these Mods matter if you aren’t willing to shell out for them. The JBL SoundBoost 2 speaker sells for $79.99 by itself, while the new TurboPower Pack also costs nearly $80. Not even the new Style Mods will go easy on your wallet as they each cost $39.99. And then you’ll have to balance out the cost of the phone which can range from $400 to $500. In the end, you’ll probably be paying a lot more than what you probably should for a mid-range phone. And if you’re even in the market for a mid-ranger, spending more than $500 is probably not up your ally.

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At least to an extent, the Z2 Play will be worth your time and money in the end. Regarding the specs, you’re getting a Snapdragon 626 processor with 3GB of Ram and 32GB of storage. You can bump this up to 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage which, by the way, is expandable. Considering this phone runs near-stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat, performance has been great. I never felt the need to have a Sanpdragon 835 chipset in the phone or anything faster, although things would slow down every now and then. In the same breath, what phone doesn’t?

Speaking of the software, I say near-stock because Moto is known for ever-so-slightly customizing Android to better suite their devices. They include a number of carrier bloatware since this phone is exclusive to Verizon and Verizon hates not putting their apps everywhere, but what’s built and delivered by Moto is actually pretty good.

For instance, there’s an ambient display mode called Moto Display that lights up when you receive notifications. You can take actions on them if you wish. There’s also fingerprint sensor gestures that let you turn off the software navigation keys and use swiping motions to navigate back, home, and recent apps which, while is nice and gives you more screen real estate, isn’t always reliable. That being said, I’m hearing many people like it so if it’s something you think you’ll like, it’s there. For me, I tend to just use the on-screen keys.

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Of course, you also get a double wrist twist to activate the camera, chop twice for the flashlight, swipe to shrink the screen, and flip for Do Not Disturb, but there’s also one more feature that’s pretty interesting: Moto Voice.

As if we need more AI bots, Moto Voice allows users to say “Show Me” followed by an app’s name to open things like Facebook or Instagram hands-free. The feature works fine, but it doesn’t do anything else but this. This leads me to believe Moto isn’t exactly committed to developing something like the Google Assistant or (even worse) Bixby, so I wouldn’t hold my breath out on that one. But hey, if opening apps with your voice is your thing, the function’s there.

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Moving on from software, Moto has also included a 12MP camera on the Z2 Play. It has an f/1.7 aperture and can shoot in up to 4K video at 30 frames per second, but that nearly means nothing. In other words, the camera isn’t all that great, and you should come to expect this since you’re paying less than $500 for the phone and it’s from Moto.

Of course, images do come out sharp and look decent enough to post to Instagram in well-lit conditions. But try taking a nighttime shot and you’ll be met by a mud pie. Of course, the wide aperture lets in more light than some flagship phones, but the Snapdragon 626 processor doesn’t know what to do with it all and just pushes it aside when processing the image for later viewing instead of trying to better the overall picture.

For selfies, a 5MP shooter is present that’s simply enough for Snapchat. It’s got an LED flash if that’s your thing, but overall photos aren’t all that noteworthy and nothing to drool over.

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As the last area of the phone we’ll discuss, the Moto Z2 Play has some great battery life. And it should, considering the phone’s predecessor had some of the best battery life ever in a smartphone.

But don’t go into the Z2 Play expecting to have the same experience. Because instead of including a cell larger than 3,500mAh, the Z2 Play packs a mere 3,000mAh battery. Luckily, the power sipping 626 processor and Android Nougat’s Doze features are enough to extend the relatively small cell’s lifespan during the day, it isn’t enough to stretch the phone comfortably into the second day. Sure, I can get two days of use out of the Z2 Play even with my mid-to-heavy use, but at certain points during the evening, I really need to be careful.

It’s worth noting I simply didn’t have this problem with the original Z Play. I could use the phone however I wanted and still get 2 days worth of juice out of it. This is something I miss with the new Z2 Play. But hey, I have that TurboPower pack to back me up, right?

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In the end, Moto’s Z2 Play is somewhat of a disappointment. I only say this because the last Z Play had such great battery life. This one, while it doesn’t exactly let me down since it still have great endurance, can’t stand up to its predecessor. But in terms of performance and the overall experience using the handset, I have no complaints. Just keep in mind to enjoy the phone to its fullest, you’re gonna have to spend more than you’re probably anticipating.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Max Buondonno is a technology enthusiast who has been working as a journalist in this industry for more than two years. He has grown up in the age where everyone has a smartphone which has influenced his decision to become a professional technology writer, his passion in life. He's dipped his toes in the development of websites, while you can ask him anything about Apple, Google, or Microsoft and he's bound to give you an answer. He's reachable on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and email.

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