At the end of July, Motorola announced three new smartphones: the Moto X Style/Pure, Moto X Play and Moto G (2015). The Play is a mid-range phone that is not coming to the U.S. -- it's available only in Canada, in North America.
Even so, it is rumored to be the basis for the upcoming Verizon Droid Maxx 2 (which has been widely leaked). Therefore, what we learn about the Play is applicable to the U.S. too, because other than cellular band support and pre-installed software, we don't expect the Droid and Play to differ. (Of course, for our Canuck readers, any news about the Play is relevant.)
At the launch event, Motorola focused part of its presentation on imaging. With the cameras long being one of the weaker areas of its phones, Motorola said for this year it is making sure each of its new phones have class-leading cameras. To help achieve that, it equipped both the Moto X Style/Pure and Moto X Play with Sony's new 21MP Exmor RS IMX230 sensor.
On paper, this sensor is impressive and supports advanced features such as phase detect autofocus (PDAF) and HDR video. In its presentation on the Moto X Style, they even called out PDAF as a key feature of the new camera, allowing for "faster focus." We initially wrote about this technology in our Galaxy S5 review, and it is now found in most high-end phone cameras and does significantly impact focus performance.
Specification Slide from Launch Event
Because it was noted that the Style and Pure use the same camera sensor, we then assumed that the Play would also have PDAF. However, it soon became clear that we couldn't be certain; starting with the specification slide shown at the event, and continuing to the spec pages on all of Motorola's websites worldwide, there was no mention of PDAF in the Moto X Play's specs. We thought it strange that such an important camera spec would be omitted, so assumed that the Play does not support it.
As for why, as Motorola hadn't offered up any explanation, we initially hypothesized that it was something to do with the ISP (Image Signal Processor) of the Play's Snapdragon 615 SoC. Although the IMX230 sensor does support PDAF in hardware, perhaps the 615's ISP has some issue controlling it – after all, the Moto X Play also doesn't support 4K video and HDR video because of ISP-imposed limitations. It wasn't just us either; other outlets and Motorola fans were writing that PDAF was a feature that the Play lacked for the same reason.
However, that theory was proven wrong when we read this post on Qualcomm's blog. The chip manufacturer specifically called out PDAF as something supported by the 615 and even gave an example of a 615-powered phone with PDAF, the Oppo R7. This left us confused, because it meant there is no physical reason why the Play can't support PDAF.
After reaching out to both Motorola Canada and Motorola US, we have finally cleared up this mystery. Yes, the Moto X Play does support phase detect autofocus, and it looks as though, for whatever reason, it was simply an omission from the specs of the phone. In fact, it looks like there are a few other camera specs that were also missed or incorrect, too. The specs will have "Closed loop processing," "Phase Detect Auto-Focus (PDAF)," and "Video Stabilization" added, and "Quick Capture" replaced with "Quick Launch Instant ON." We expect these to be added to the Motorola websites soon.
The Moto X Play is already available in Canada, and we have one in hand. Our initial impressions are quite favorable, and although it is unfortunate that U.S. readers won't be able to buy one, the Droid Maxx 2 isn't that far off (as long as you're a Verizon customer). Of course, Canadians can go out and pick one up now from Bell Mobility, Koodo, Telus, Videotron and Wind Mobile.
Alex Davies is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Smartphones, Tablets, and Virtual Reality. You can follow him on Twitter.Follow Tom's Hardware on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.