From Play to Z: An increasingly comprehensive, yet decidedly non-authoritative Moto Z Play review

Discussion in 'Smartphones' started by Mi An, Jan 24, 2017.

  1. Mi An

    Mi An Nexus Refugee

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    I intend to update this as time goes on with my impressions and additions, but ultimately it's just my musings on a phone I fancy and an excuse to make a bad pun.

    Size and Design
    I was bribed into buying the 6" behemoth Nexus 6 (Shamu) with a killer fire sale. I was never comfortable with its size and indeed even felt my Nexus 4 was a smidge too big. One upside of using it is it has desensitized me to the new normal in large phones. It's been like wearing ankle weights. Moving to the much narrower Z Play is an ergonomic relief.

    It is quite tall with ample bezels above and below. Even having seen many pictures and videos, I was surprised at how pronounced its tallness was. I'd be displeased by this and the overall screen to body ratio if it weren't functional. The speaker and fingerprint sensor are both excellent and worth a little space. The extra body above and below the screen has more aesthetic impact than ergonomic. I don't have much of an eye for aesthetics, so I won't say whether it's good or bad, merely that the tallness catches the eye.

    The feel is high quality in every way. Everything about it, from use to form, does not feel like a budget phone, even a really good one. It feels like it was designed with care and made to last.

    Display and Performance
    In some ways the move from the flagship Nexus 6, 1440p and snapdragon 805 to a mid range Z Play, 1080p and snapdragon 625 sounds like a downgrade. It doesn't feel that way. I was more worried, as heavy reader, about the sharpness of rendered text than about speed, but neither presents an issue thus far.

    The display is sharp enough and like everything about this phone has an air of quality. My eyes enjoy reading on this screen and I consider that a high compliment. The performance doesn't merely feel good enough, it feels better by no small amount. I threw my heaviest game, the one that lags the most at it (Civilization Revolution 2), and it cut through the game like a hot knife through butter.

    Audio
    I'm not much of an audiophile. I tend to skim that section of reviews as they discuss the quality of bass and suitability as a music player. I care about the speaker because I want something 1) loud and 2) clear. My reading of reviews showed no one impressed or depressed by this front-facing mono speaker, but I'm absolutely stunned by it.

    My Nexus 6 speakers were, until now, the finest I had, not that I ever gave them much competition. The volume on this is a bit better and the clarity is much better. What I mean by 'better' on any technical level is anyone's guess, but I love the way it sounds and my ability to distinguish voices coming across it is as good as I can imagine.

    I expected a downgrade here as well, and got an upgrade.

    Buttons and Interface
    I do love buttons. In this case, though, I'm again not fond of Motorola's choices. 3 buttons, volume up, down and power, all made to be the same shape, distinguishable only by some surface differences. Thankfully, I use the fingerprint sensor to power on and off and find it to be very reliable (can't vouch that it won't let a baddie in, but it doesn't keep me out, which is something).

    Motorola lets you double twist to launch the camera, and that works easily without practice. It also does notifications without the LED waking whenever you get near it. I'm giving this a fair shot right now since I no longer worry about battery life. It's not too bad because it's very sensitive waking often, but I still think an LED that stays on would be useful. This can be enabled with root.

    I was able to program my Nexus 6 to wake from sleep with the voice command "Computer", a la Star Trek from within Google's own setup. Didn't use it much because I figured it'd impact battery life (not a problem with Z Play), but I think "Okay Google" sounds idiotic and feels like a ham-fisted attempt to get unpaid advertising directly into my mouth. Great way to make me never want to use it. I can't get my Z Play to respond to anything else using google specific settings. During training, it just refuses to acknowledge that I'm trying to say anything unless I say okay google. :vbmad:

    There are also Motorola-specific settings that allow custom phrases. Sadly, they require 4 syllables. I don't want to say "hello computer" or "hey computer" or 'sup computer', I just want to say with commanding presence, "Computer!" and have my phone ask me what I want. But, if you use this and your phone is locked, some commands won't work until you unlock your device, for example scheduling a reminder. Google will respond, sorry I can't do that until you unlock, and then the point of doing something hands free is lost. "Okay Google," set up through google settings can be set up as an alternate means of unlocking your device, so it doesn't have that issue.

    TL;DR, yay fingerprint sensor, boo voice command customization.

    Battery and Accessories
    Well, this is what everyone talks about, and it's a big part of why I got the phone. First trial was without a sim card with just wifi on, but was at device managed brightness and I made no attempt to save any battery life in any way. There was also lots of installing stuff and downloading, which can put a bit of strain on things. Instead of running it down, I decided to see where it was at 50% and extrapolate.

    At 50% left with just wifi, I rang up 6 hours and a bit of change worth of screen on time with 2.5 days of standby. I played maybe 2 or 3 hours of music with the screen off in addition to that. It's everything I hoped. The battery life took a hit once I got the sim card in. With roughly an hour of calls I dropped to 5 hours of screen on time over 50% of the battery. Still phenomenal. If needed, around 10 hours of SOT and maybe 3 days run time between charges.

    I have no mods, but am watching for a price drop on two wireless charging batteries which I intend to use to never plug the device in again. This is hardly necessary. The quick charge is very fast (that 50% was replaced in maybe an hour twenty) and the reversible usb-c plug eliminates another hassle of charging. But given 1) I think I love this phone and want to keep it for a very long time and 2) the internal battery is not remotely replaceable, I think I'd rather wear down external easily replaceable battery mods instead of wearing down the internal battery.

    I have the Verizon Wireless bumper case, and I'm thrilled to once again have a minimal case that provides both corner protection and a lip reduce vulnerability of the screen, but man this case feels cheap and it makes the volume/power buttons goofy. I'll be watching for a sale on incipio's bumper down the line. I was very spoiled by LG's 1st party bumper case which offered world class protection and was appealing both in tactile and visual terms Verizon's case offers some peace of mind, but little else.

    Cameras
    My understanding is that it does have cameras. I'm unlikely to test them because my threshold for good enough is so low pretty much anything could pass it.

    Development
    This is the fly in the ointment. Everything is sparse, poorly documented, what little exists is poorly sourced so not only aren't there active developers vetting each other's work, but you don't even necessarily know developed what's out there. People are flashing whatever just to get recovery and root. It's sketchy.

    My HTC Touch Pro2 had 1000x as much android development activity... and it wasn't an Android device! I had hoped things might improve with time, but there are no signs to that effect. My impression is that there is a big user base, especially worldwide, but developers have not followed, at least not at xda.

    Conclusion
    I love this thing already and not just for the vague possibility of a future tilting sliding landscape QWERTY mod (that no hardware developer has yet mentioned). But I think I could own this happily for a long time.

    maybe more later...
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
  2. Mi An

    Mi An Nexus Refugee

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    I have no idea how google's backup works. It offered to move all my apps AND data over with a little NFC help, and it did autoinstall all the apps, but no data for any of them. I checked, and my Nexus is enabled backup the app data and the z play is set to auto restore app data, so I dunno. Great feature :vbrolleyes: Hal's signature comes to mind. Google probably made their backup idiot-proof and I proved how witty us idiots can be.

    I'll get it all with titanium eventually, I'm just wary of my recovery options right now so I've yet to root. Maybe I'll try adb in the meantime.
     
  3. jigwashere

    jigwashere Life is a circus!

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    Google's backup feature is pretty lame. "Note: Not all apps use Android Backup Service. Some apps may not back up and restore all data." -support
     
  4. Mi An

    Mi An Nexus Refugee

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    I loved my Nexus 6 and sometimes I loathed it too. The screen was brilliant for reading. It was beyond sharp and combined with kcal color control produced the best night time reading I've ever had. I've watched more video on it than all my other mobiles phones/PDAs combined. Since my first color PDA (Tungsten T) I always think, "wow, that'll be amazing for video!" Then I breathlessly test it, I'm relatively impressed, but often my first test is close to my last use. The speakers always suck and the screens have never been that great. But here, man, what a multimedia machine this was. It wasn't a 'phablet', it's a tablet and it's the best tablet for consumption I've ever owned or even wanted. Everything looked and sounded amazing.

    Ergonomically, it's been a different story. It's hefty and bulky. This is complicated by the dearth of good bumper cases that keep the protection trim and minimal. I've had health issues affecting my hands since childhood, and while holding it most of the time is alright, at night while laying down and reading, even with a flygrip, hasn't been ideal. I'm relieved to downsize. I'm also surprised by how different a small .5" step down feels, I wondered how noticeable it would really be, but it's been quite nice so far.

    Back to a positive, modifying a Nexus with wug's NRT toolkit was ridiculously easy and the diversity of options for modifying it, incl kernels and roms etc is plentiful. Meanwhile the Z Play development section has tumbleweed bouncing around. I appreciate the few people there who've poked and prodded the device a little, but the safety of the tools there and the clarity of how to use them is lacking. I will eventually root and there are actually more options now than I when I got my Z Play about a week ago, so that's something. Not sure I'll ever get kcal color control back.

    Anyway, I've finished restoring my Nexus to stock and was feeling nostalgic. Soon I plan to free willy (that's a whalephone joke for anyone who'd forgotten that Google nicknamed the device shamu). I'll miss it but I'll also be glad to see it go. It deserves to be adored without reservation by someone who really wants something this big.
     
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  5. Mi An

    Mi An Nexus Refugee

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    My Nexus 6 sold fast and for way more than I'd hoped. After a year of use, I sold it for as much as I paid originally and not only wasn't out of pocket for the Z Play I just bought or its accessories, I actually made a little scratch in the process. I credit both the Nexus 6P holding it's value so stubbornly (causing some who would otherwise shop for it to set their sights on the 6) and the 64GB version of the Nexus 6 possibly being in low supply making mine more valuable.

    I feared I had missed my moment to really get the best price -- I figured after November there'd be a disproportionate drop in the price. And the average price did go down in December, but it went back up in January. Cheapskate that I am, I love my Z Play all the more because it's frugal.
     
  6. jigwashere

    jigwashere Life is a circus!

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    Wow! That's awesome, Mi An. :newpalm:
     
  7. Hook

    Hook Cat and Mouse and Linux

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    It really speaks volumes about how well a well-cared for Nexus device keeps it's value. In fact, although we kept hoping it would happen again, the Nexus 4 was the only one that I recall having a fire sale.
     
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  8. Mi An

    Mi An Nexus Refugee

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    Yeah, other than the Nexus 6 of course, I don't recall another fire sale either. <wistfully> That would have made a delightful tradition though.
     
  9. scjjtt

    scjjtt A Former Palm User

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  10. scjjtt

    scjjtt A Former Palm User

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