OnePlus and Motorola currently offer two of the best phones in the sub-$500 segment.
OnePlus differentiated itself by offering phones with high-end specs for a couple hundred dollars less than the competition, and the OnePlus 5 builds on that foundation. The Chinese manufacturer hasn’t changed its formula all that much, with the OnePlus 5 retaining the same Full HD panel as last year’s phones. However, it does feature an all-new dual camera setup, 8GB of RAM, and runs Qualcomm’s 10nm Snapdragon 835.
Motorola also decided to play it safe with the successor to the Moto Z Play. The Z2 Play sports an all-metal chassis, but the internals have remained largely intact and the battery life has been reduced in favor of a sleeker profile, with the phone coming in a whole millimeter thinner than its predecessor. The Z2 Play retails for $499 — $20 more than the $479 OnePlus 5 — and while the phone may not offer as much value from a spec standpoint, it is one of the better options available in this segment.
Motorola’s commitment to the Moto Mods ecosystem — wherein phones in the Moto Z series will continue to support mods for three generations — means there isn’t a whole lot of leeway when it comes to designing a new device. And even though the brushed aluminum chassis certainly makes the Z2 Play feel much more premium when seen next to its predecessor, the OnePlus 5 looks better overall — its similarities to the iPhone 7 notwithstanding.
The smooth aluminum exterior combined with the flowing curves and rounded edges give the OnePlus 5 a leg up over the Z2 Play, and the build quality is right up there with the likes of the Galaxy S8 and the LG G6.
The OnePlus 5 has a more refined design, but it isn’t without its drawbacks.
Motorola and OnePlus took two different approaches when it comes to integrating the antenna bands into the design of their phones — the Z2 Play has bands that run along the edges at the back, while the OnePlus 5 has the bands tucked away at the top and bottom of the device. OnePlus’ implementation gives the OnePlus 5 a cleaner look at the back, but Motorola has also managed to do a great job of maintaining a similar design aesthetic with the rest of its portfolio.
The Z2 Play has the power and volume buttons located on the right, which isn’t the most well-thought-out design decision. Although the power button is textured, it is positioned slightly lower than where you’d normally find it on a phone. This was done to accommodate the volume buttons (which sit above), so more often than not you end up hitting volume down when you’re trying to unlock the phone.
The OnePlus 5 doesn’t have any such issues. The power button is on the right, the volume rocker is to the left, and the Alert Slider — which lets you easily toggle Do Not Disturb — is above the volume buttons. Alert Slider continues to be one of those minor additions that make a lot of difference in day-to-day use, and as much as I like it, it’s about time OnePlus offered a way to set schedules automatic rules for Do Not Disturb.
Both phones have reliable fingerprint sensors located at the front, and they’re quick to authenticate and unerringly accurate. Continuing on with the similarities, both devices sport camera protrusions at the back. It is a minor hump on the OnePlus 5, but the sensor on the Z2 Play juts out considerably from the frame of the device. That said, the paint job around the camera sensor of my OnePlus 5 is the worse for wear after a month of use.
The Z2 Play is powered by a 14nm Snapdragon 626, offering a 10% uptick in performance from the 625 featured in the Z Play. You also get 4GB of RAM, 64GB storage, and a 3000mAh battery. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 5 is running the Snapdragon 835, along with 6GB of RAM, 64GB storage, and a 3300mAh battery. The 6GB model is more than adequate for most consumers, but if you’re looking for a future-proof device, you can always pick up the variant with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage for $539.
The Z2 Play is no slouch either, but it loses out to the OnePlus 5 when it comes to sheer performance. The OnePlus 5 is one of the fastest phones available in the market today, and it’s just a delightful experience to use the phone on a day-to-day basis knowing that it won’t slow down no matter what you throw at it.
As for battery life, you can expect a day’s worth of usage out of both phones. The Z2 Play is no longer a battery champion, but the 3000mAh battery gives at least four hours of screen-on-time spread out over the course of a day. And when you need to top it up, you can always use TurboPower fast charging. The same holds true for the OnePlus 5 — you’ll get anywhere between three and a half to four hours of screen-on-time.
The OnePlus 5 and Z2 Play are evenly matched when it comes to the software side of things. Both companies offer a clean software experience that doesn’t include a ton of pre-installed apps, instead providing differentiation with a variety of customizations. For Motorola, that revolves around Moto Display and Moto Actions.
Moto Display is the best way to preview incoming notifications when the screen is off, and with Moto Actions, you get a series of gestures that makes it easier to use the phone. The gestures include a swipe up motion from the bottom of the screen to launch one-handed mode, a double-chop motion for toggling the flashlight, a twist gesture to open the camera, and more.
Both the Z2 Play and OnePlus 5 offer an uncluttered software experience.
As for the OnePlus 5, OxygenOS offers a ton of customization options that let you make the device your own. The best part about the way it is implemented is that you don’t necessarily have to tinker with your phone’s settings if you don’t want to. There are gestures for controlling music playback, waking up the screen, and launching apps, and the OnePlus also features a Reading Mode that makes the screen go grayscale, making it easier to read text.
The only question when it comes to the software is the update situation. OnePlus has rolled out consistent updates to the OnePlus 5 over the last two months, and has committed to releasing Android Oreo within the end of the year for the OnePlus 3/3T. It’s likely the OnePlus 5 will also pick up the update at around the same time.
One of Motorola’s main strengths is its ability to roll out quick updates, but with an ever-growing portfolio of devices under its belt, the company will be straining its engineering resources.
When it comes to camera quality, the 16MP primary shooter on the OnePlus 5 comes out in front. The 12MP camera on the Z2 Play is decent in its own right, but it is outmatched by the OnePlus 5. That’s not even taking into account the fact that the OnePlus 5 has a secondary shooter that acts as a telephoto lens.
Moto Z2 Play on the left, OnePlus 5 on the right.
Overall, Motorola introduced several key changes with the Z2 Play that make it a better device when seen next to its predecessor. The phone no longer has a battery that lasts for two days, but you get a much more premium design and a better camera. However, with a price tag of $499 for the unlocked version, the Z2 Play doesn’t really scream value for money.
That’s what makes the OnePlus 5 so enticing. Even though it retails for $479, the phone manages to offer an experience that’s comparable to devices that cost several hundred dollars more.
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