Moto X Play Marshmallow

The Moto X Play was kind of a mess at launch. And our original review, published in late August, wasn't entirely positive. The Play — the international version of Verizon's Droid Maxx 2 — had an enormous battery, correspondingly impressive longevity, and a surprisingly good camera for the price. But it was absolutely mired in performance issues, at least on its out-of-box firmware. (And in the first few months following release, the Play didn't receive a single over-the-air update.)

As such, we recommended holding off on the Moto X Play until Motorola could get these performance stutters figured out. Here's how we summed up the phone's vexing performance problems back in August:

In a curious twist for a Motorola phone, it seems like the [Snapdragon 615] processor is more or less maxed out just doing basic things like web browsing and streaming music. We've also noticed intermittent animation slowdown and lag, as well as a tendency to aggressively bump apps out of memory. On more than one occasion the Play seemed to kill off processes for music streaming apps, leading to playback coming to an abrupt halt. This isn't something that should be happening on any smartphone released in 2015.

Updates were coming, we were told.

After publishing our review, Motorola asked us to feed some specifics on the Play's UI and camera performance back to its engineers in a group call. The UI slowdowns, we were told, were in part caused by the complexity of some animations, and the need to render some items, like the notification drawer, over the top of other UI elements. There was also a known bug in the latest Google Now Launcher release that affected performance on the Play, and a known memory leak in Android Wear that could have accounted for the multitasking issues we were seeing. Updates were on the way, we were told.

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Sure enough, the Google Now Launcher was updated in September to straighten out some of the launcher lag we'd seeing. But the European Moto X Play stayed on that same, relatively laggy Android 5.1-based firmware for months thereafter — until now.

Moto X Play Marshmallow update

In the past few weeks, various Moto X Play models have received an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. And as well as bumping the phone up to the latest platform release, the Marshmallow update has given the device a much-needed performance boost. Just about all the performance glitches we ran into in Lollipop on the Moto X Play have been smoothed out, and the phone feels infinitely more responsive as a result.

Marshmallow makes the Moto X Play feel like a new phone.

We'd hesitate to say it's now impossible to slow the phone down — after all, the Snapdragon 615 isn't the quickest chip around, and you're still pushing a Full HD display with relatively modest hardware. But it's night and day compared to where the Moto X Play was on Android 5.1. Anecdotally, the phone also seems a little smarter in the way it handles memory, with fewer instances of app reloading and none of the wonk we encountered before with background music playback. Where performance is concerned, Marshmallow makes the Moto X Play feel like a new phone.

In other areas, the Play retains and even builds upon a couple of its core strengths. That 3,630mAh battery now gets you even longer longevity, thanks to Marshmallow's Doze mode, which cuts back on background activity when not needed. Anecdotally, we're also seeing less aggressive battery drain in heavier use, such as browsing desktop and media-heavy sites in Chrome. So it looks like the performance optimizations made across the board are having a positive impact on battery life.

The camera experience remains much the same — great in daylight, if a little slow. (Again, a Snapdragon 615 only gets you so far.) You've got the core camera hardware of the Moto X Style (Pure Edition), so the end results are similar. Low-light photography remains an Achilles' heel here — but then that applies to just about every phone at this price point.

A more affordable price, and a more enjoyable software experience.

And the Moto X Play's price is something else to consider. Since launching in August, it's drifted steadily down towards the £200 mark in the UK (the Droid Maxx 2 Verizon version is still sitting its launch price of $384), putting it in contention with phones like the Oppo F1 and Honor 7. And with its performance issues finally ironed out, and a more affordable asking price, perhaps it's time to reconsider the Moto X Play. Motorola can't match the metal construction of Oppo or Honor, but it has an undeniable edge on software, and being able to go multiple days without charging remains an Android rarity.

Our only real reservation has to do with the phone's upgrade prospects beyond Android 6.0 — including Android's monthly security updates, on which Motorola has so far been quiet. Android 6.0 Marshmallow makes for a great experience on the Play. Just bear in mind that you might be waiting longer than you'd like for a 6.1 or 7.0 OTA.

In the meantime, is a Marshmallow-enabled Moto X Play worth your time and money? Absolutely.