Moto X Play: Software
Android was once the ugly rival to Apple’s iOS. It lacked the sheen, polish and visual flourishes that made iOS a joy to use and even just to look at. That all changed with Android 5.0 Lollipop and the introduction of Material Design.
Now, Google’s operating system in my opinion looks and works much better than iOS. From the notification panel and its straightforward organisation to the swathes of customisability and well designed stock apps, Google just got it right with Lollipop. And even though the likes of Samsung, Sony and to an extent HTC have all scaled back their horrendous skins, the changes they make to Android are still detrimental. That’s why I really appreciate Motorola’s approach to software on the Moto X Play.
Instead of covering Android with a skin, the Moto X Play runs a near stock build of Lollipop 5.1.1, with just a few tweaks and extra apps that actually improve on Google’s offering.
The best addition is Moto Display – an updated lock screen that lights up with incoming messages and lets you quickly scan through multiple notifications without unlocking the device. It has been one of Motorola’s standout features in recent years and while the lack of an AMOLED panel does reduce the battery saver benefits of the feature, I’m glad it’s been kept around.
Another feature making its return is Moto Voice, though it’s nowhere near as highly billed as it was on previous versions. It works in the same way though; you teach the phone your voice by saying a number of phrases and then it should respond only to you when you call out, for instance, ‘Hey Moto X’.
I had real trouble getting the phone to recognise my voice, having to retry the set-up process on numerous occasions before it finally let me in. It works now though and I can finally ask it to send a messages or answer simple questions without having to repeat myself multiple times. As it works without the screen being on, it’s great to ask it to set an alarm for the morning when the phone is charging and you’ve already gotten into bed. Lazy yes, but handy.
Motorola’s suite of services, all bundled under in the single Moto app, is rounded off with a handy Migrate tool to transfer data from your old phone and Assist, a sort of powered-up profile switcher. Stock Android’s current lack of a decent ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode makes this all the more necessary. You can set the phone to automatically alter settings depending on the time or what you have in your calendar. This lets you do things like turn off all sounds and notifications off between midnight and 6am or when you’ve labelled something in your Google Calendar as a meeting.
Aside from these additions, everything else is pretty much what you’d get on one of Google’s own Nexus devices. There’s, thankfully, a complete lack of bloatware, very few remodelled applications – just the camera and a separate gallery app – and just the usual array of preinstalled Google applications.
Another bonus of having a Nexus-like experience is that you’ll be one of the first in line to get Android 6.0 Marshmallow when it lands later in the year.
Moto X Play: Call quality and speaker performance
You’d be forgiven for thinking, as I did, that the two speaker grills on the front of the device were in fact dual front-facing stereo speakers. However, they’re not. Instead, the bottom one acts as the speaker and the top one takes is the microphone for phone calls. That minor disappointment aside, the speaker is actually much better than most other phones in this price-range.
First off, it’s front facing so the sound is directed straight at you and doesn’t get blocked by stray hands when you’re watching a movie or YouTube video. So many phones, like the iPhone and lots of Samsung devices, still use down or back facing speakers and you have to manoeuvre your hands around them to ensure the noise fully comes through. Well done Motorola for not falling into this trap.
Even though it’s a single speaker, it has plenty of oomph and gets quite loud, though I found that distortion become quite common when you jacked it up to full volume. Keeping it down to a mid-way point gave it plenty of clarity and while I wouldn’t recommend ditching your Bluetooth speaker, it’s certainly good enough for the odd internet clip. There isn’t a phone out there, even HTC’s well regarded BoomSound, with speakers that are good enough to listen to music through.
Call quality, a feature that is still wildly important yet often underrated, is stellar on the Moto X Play. I’ve been using the device on Three’s UK network and found call quality to be excellent, with plenty of volume and voices were easily heard.
Moto X Play: Everything else – storage, connectivity
Unlike the recently announced OnePlus 2, a device that sits in the same price bracket as the Moto X Play, Motorola has decided against replacing the ubiquitous microUSB port with a USB-C version here. While it might be quite so forward thinking, for me it’s a plus. USB-C is the future, but there aren’t enough devices that use it yet for it to be a valid feature on a smartphone. All your microUSB cables become redundant and it lacks basic features like Quick Charging.
With the base model, you’ll get 16GB of storage. Though only 11GB of that is available for your use. I’d recommend laying down an extra £30 and going with the 32GB model, even just for that bit more breathing space. I installed my regular slew of apps, a couple of games and some Spotify playlists and now i’m left with a mere 1GB free.
There is a microSD slot too, so even if you pick up the 16GB option you can supplement it with anything up to a 128GB card. I’ve been using the review unit with a speedy SanDisk Extreme 64GB card and I haven’t had any problems, even playing games from the card doesn’t cause any slow-down and deteriorate performance. You can move apps to the card easily, automatically save all your media to it and use it as your main point of storage.
LTE/4G support is included for speedy data-connections when you’re away from home, while dual-band (important if your home router splits the signal into 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands) a/b/g/n Wifi takes care of things when you’re all connected up at home.
NFC is included, a feature left out by some similarly priced phones including the OnePlus 2, and even if you don’t use it for much more quickly hooking up a Bluetooth speaker currently, the introduction of Android Pay later in the year should finally make it a vital feature. Apple Pay showed that mobile payments can easily be widely accepted and hopefully Google’s interpretation can work just as well.
Should I buy the Moto X Play?
If you want a well built smartphone with a fantastic display, great daylight camera and true all-day battery the Moto X Play is a fine choice. It just makes the package even sweeter that it can be had for £279.
Motorola has continued its impressive run and with the Moto G setting new standards for the low-end, I think the Moto X Play can do exactly the same for the mid-range.
Instead of trying to pack the phone with new features like OnePlus 2 did with USB-C and a figerprint scanner, Motorola has ensured all the most important parts are the best they can be. From the camera, to the battery and the screen. Adding in TurboPower capabilities just adds to the package. It’s just a shame you have to buy the compatible charger separately.
Yes, there are some annoying performance niggles and the low-light camera performance isn’t good, but that doesn’t stop me recommending the Moto X Play.
With a fantastic display, detailed camera and a battery that can last all day, the Moto X Play continues Motorola’s impressive run of smartphones.
Note: The Moto X Play is currently only available in Europe and Canada, though rumours suggest a Verizon-branded Droid version will be coming to the States soon.
Score in detail
Battery Life 9
Calls & Sound 8
Screen Quality 9
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.