Introduction, Design and Features
You probably had a hard time containing your excitement when Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division first announced Project Ara back in October 2013 – an open-source platform that would serve as the groundwork for the creation of a modular smartphone with interchangeable hardware.
But, alas, after being put through a series of delays and setbacks, Google – who retained ATAP after selling Motorola to Lenovo for US$2.9 billion (~RM12.4 billion) in October 2014 – ultimately decided to scrap Project Ara indefinitely in September 2016.
If your hopes and dreams of owning a modular smartphone were crushed upon Google’s announcement, don’t despair, as you can still get a little taste of what Project Ara could’ve been with the Moto Z2 Play.
Design and features
Granted, the Z2 Play isn’t technically a modular smartphone per-se, since you can’t technically replace any of its core components as you supposedly could with Project Ara. But it is somewhat modular, thanks to the array of magnetic connectors on its back that allows you to attach add-ons in the form of Moto Mods – which we’ll get into a little more detail later.
But first, let’s talk about aesthetics. With a thickness of just 5.99mm, the Z2 Play is easily one of the thinnest devices that you can buy today. It’s rather lightweight too, tipping the scales at only 145g. Respectable numbers, especially once you take into consideration that the Z2 Play has an expansive 5.5-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) Super AMOLED display on its front.
Sure, it might not be the most pixel-dense display in town, but it’s definitely sharp and crisp enough for all intents and purposes. Its colors are pleasantly vibrant as well, as you would expect from a Super AMOLED panel. If it’s any indication, we watched an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix using the Z2 Play and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.
Located above the display of the Z2 Play is a 5MP f/2.2 wide-angle front-facing camera, which comes replete with a Color Correlated Temperature (CCT) dual LED flash to ensure that your selfies are well-lit without turning your complexion pale white.
Flip the Z2 Play around, and you’ll be greeted by a 12MP f/1.7 rear camera module, which protrudes quite significantly from its otherwise flush back. You might want to take extra precaution when putting the Z2 Play down on hard surfaces, as you really don’t want to be bumping its camera module too often, for obvious reasons.
Moto Actions, Moto Display, and Moto Voice
One of the more unique features of the Z2 Play is a suite of gestures called Moto Actions, which allows you to perform actions like two karate chops to switch on its torchlight, or two flicks of your wrist to fire up its camera. We’re happy to report that the Z2 Play was able to recognize our gestures perfectly fine, despite us being particularly cautious with the torchlight gesture – we didn’t want to accidentally fling the Z2 Play onto the ground.
We have to admit, we quite like the Moto Display feature of the Z2 Play, as it allowed us to quickly check the time and see if there are any unread notifications by simply hovering our hand above its display – no need to tap its lock or home button as you normally would with any other smartphone.
Moto Voice is essentially a voice assistant that allows you to say phrases like “Show me the calendar” to bring up the calendar, “Show me Chrome” to open up Google Chrome, and “Show me Facebook” to open up Facebook. You don’t need to say a trigger word like “OK Google” for Moto Voice to work – just say the phrase and Moto Voice will comply.
Dive into the settings of Moto Voice, and you’ll find an option to choose whether the feature is able to bypass the security lock of the phone, thus allowing it to work its magic even when the screen is switched off. We would advise against it, however, as even someone who did a terrible voice impression of this writer was able to trigger Moto Voice, and consequently gain full access to the Z2 Play.
Speaking of security, the fingerprint scanner of the Z2 Play also doubles as a one-button navigation key.
Once activated within the Moto Actions menu, the three familiar on-screen Android soft keys will be removed – giving you a fraction more screen real estate – and substituted with thumb gestures that you can perform on the fingerprint scanner. You can swipe left to go back, swipe right to bring up the recent apps list, tap to head back to the home screen, long-press to lock the device, and perform a slightly longer press to invoke the Google Assistant.
And that leaves us with the defining feature of the Z2 Play: Moto Mods.
All in all, there are four Moto Mods that are compatible with the Z2 Play. For all you avid shutterbugs, there’s the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod, which offers 10x optical zoom, and a Xenon flash for lighting up your photography subjects at night. And because it bears the legendary Hasselblad name, it comes with a premium price tag as well – RM1,299.
In the event that you’re finding the 3,000mAh battery of the Z2 Play a little insufficient for your needs (which really shouldn’t be the case), the 2,200mAh battery of the Incipio offGRID Power Pack Moto Mod will supplement you with an additional 22 hours of battery life for RM499.
If you want to emulate the experience of watching your favorite TV shows and movies on the big screen, the Insta-Share Projector Moto Mod will happily project them onto any flat surface, at sizes of up to 70-inches – provided that you’re willing to shell out RM1,399 for it, of course.
And lastly, we have the JBL Soundboost Moto Mod, which is the only Moto Mod we managed to get our hands on. Attaching the Soundboost Moto Mod to the Z2 Play was as simple as snapping it onto the magnetic connector pins on its back – no brute force or precision alignment necessary. You don’t have to worry about it coming off either, as a fair bit of finger strength would be needed to actually pry it off the Z2 Play.
There’s no need to install any additional software, or tinker with any settings to get the Soundboost Moto Mod up and running – as long as it’s securely fastened onto the back of the Z2 Play, you’re pretty much good to go.
With regards to audio quality, the warm and welcoming sound signature of the Soundboost Moto Mod is undoubtedly more pleasing to the ears than the loud, but otherwise tinny front-facing speakers of the Z2 Play. Don’t get us wrong, the Soundboost Moto Mod is well capable of bellowing your favorite songs across the room, and it even does so without sounding like a harsh, distorted mess.
That being said, we’re still not entirely sure if the Soundboost Moto Mod is worth spending RM599 for.