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Moto Z Play Review: Buy it for the battery, stay for everything else

Motorola, a Company that has had a storied past; they were awesome, then smartphones came along and they stumbled/ Then google bought them and they made some awesome stuff again.Then Google sold them and Lenovo bought them and they made, well, less than awesome stuff. This year the Z series is back on track to be awesome again with the Z, Z Force and Z Play all able to use the modular Moto Mods system and just awesome phones in their own right. Let’s get on to the awesome review then!

Disclaimer: Motorola sent us this Z Play and these Moto Mods to do our review on. The phone and mods were provided free of charge, but no money exchanged hands and Motorola have no say on the editorial outcome of this review. This Z Play was used on the Three UK network in the southeast of the UK for 3 weeks.

Moto Z Play Review

Speeds and Feeds (Specs)

  • 5.5” 1080p AMOLED screen
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
  • Adreno 506
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB internal storage with up to 128GB MicroSD
  • 16MP main camera, with PDAF and able to record 1080p and 2160p at 30Hz
  • 5MP front camera, LED Flash, 1080p video recording
  • 3510mAh battery
  • USB-C
  • Moto Mods connector.

For more specs, hit up GSMArena which go into more depth than we will here.

Hardware
Externally, the Z Play looks very similar to the rest of the Motorola lineup this year. Being a Z series phone it, of course shares a lot in common with the Z and Z Force, but from first glance it also looks a fair bit like the G4 Plus that I reviewed earlier this year.

The front houses the 5.5” 1080p AMOLED panel, and it’s an awesome display, a far cry from the LCDs that Moto was experimenting with last year, but also a marked improvement over the panel in the G4 Plus which is the same size and resolution, but a cheaper IPS panel. People ask me if I would have preferred a QuadHD panel like on the Z and Z Force. Honestly? No, no I wouldn’t have. The screen paired with a chipset that can handle it this year means the Z Play is snappy and never once made me wait for something.

Moto Z Play ReviewAbove the screen there is the LED Flash, Mono earpiece that doubles as the loudspeaker, the proximity and ambient light sensor and the 5MP front facing selfie camera. I’m generally not the biggest fan of front facing flashes, but if you can have it there and hide it well, I’m okay with it, like on the Idol 4s from Alcatel. But Motorola hasn’t hidden it well. It is in fact very obvious that it is there, which is quite annoying.

Below the screen we have the main microphone as well as the non-clickable fingerprint sensor (provided by Fingerprint cards, of course) that is always polling. The fingerprint scanner is a nice addition that is quickly becoming a necessity on even mid range phones, and Motorola, like everyone that is not Samsung or Apple, has gone to Fingerprint cards for theirs, the FPC1035 to be exact. I’ll speak more about it in the misc section later.Moto Z Play Review
On the right hand side we have the volume buttons and the power button, and these are some of the worst placed and poorly defined buttons I’ve tried in a while. The buttons have nice tactility, but that’s about where the niceties end. They are all identically spaced and roughly identically sized, with the power button have a slight ribbed texture to it, but they are really hard to differentiate by feel alone. This is a shame because this is not something I usually have to say about Motorola products. In this case I feel that either switching the volume buttons to a single rocker switch, or moving the buttons to the other side would have helped this. Speaking of the other side, it’s empty, like pretty much every Motorola phone since the Original Moto X in 2013.

Up top we have one of the secondary noise cancelling microphones and the MicroSD/NanoSIM tray. I like this implementation of the tray, it’s near identical to what they did on the X Style and X Play last year and is essentially identical bar the thickness difference, to the Z and Z Force. Another small thing of note is the antenna bands. On most phones they are on the left and right sides, or on the left and right edges of the top and bottom, but Motorola has decided to whack a small one in the centre of the top, and a much larger on in the centre of the bottom, It doesn’t affect the phones use, but it’s nice to see a company changing things up every now and then.

Down below is the USB-C port and 3.5mm audio jack as well as all the silk-screened regulatory information. So yes, unlike the iPhone 7 and its Z series brethren, the Z Play does indeed have a headphone jack. It’s nothing to do with  thickness though, I asked, was just told that the people this is aimed at are not the same people that are likely to buy the more expensive Z Model, so take that how you will. The Type-C port on the bottom is great, and I’m glad Motorola has adopted this on it’s new phones. I was very upset to find out that the G series still uses MicroUSB at the tail end of 2016, but at least all the Z Series are hopping onto Type-C.

Lastly having a quick look at the back, we see the camera bump, which is more pronounced than the Z Force, but smaller than the normal Z (a consequence of being 5.19mm thin). Is it bearable? Of course, but I’d rather it not be there though it is somewhat alleviated with the Style Shell that ships in the box. The camera bump houses the Dual LED flash that appears to be dual tone and the main 16MP camera unit, as well as a nicely stylised Moto branding. Below the hump we have the famous Motorola batwing logo, it’s silk-screened once again so you can’t feel it, but the upside is that it can’t be scratched off. Lastly we have the magnets and pogo pins for the mMoto mods. This MotoMod connector is cool and universal across all 3 Moto Z phones meaning if you buy a Z and an instashare projector, but break the Z, and still want to be able to use the projector, buying a Z Play will allow you to do that, but at a lower cost.

Software
Android 6.0.1 with the November 1st security patch, that’s what we are running here. In the time I’ve been using the Z Play there have been 2 OTAs, but neither where system OTAs, just the (still important) security patches.

Motorola is very hands off with its approach to Android, and that is a good thing, Android doesn’t need to be messed with anymore, not like it used to need in the earlier days of Android. Motorola have still made adjustments, for example the Google Camera app is now the Motorola Camera app, there is a Moto app for controlling and adjusting the Moto Voice, Moto Actions and Moto Display functions, as well as a MotoMod manager. But most everything Motorola adds to the Z Play is a welcome addition.

For starters, Moto Display? Still leaps and bounds better than what Google offers, and nothing else really comes close. It’s better than what Samsung and LG offer, and I’m not even sure HTC even has anything to offer. Annoyingly as Moto Display is not a system app but a hardware level feature. You can’t screenshot it, but trust me, it works much better than anything else either. Wave your hand over the front of the phone (closer to the proximity sensor the better) and it wakes up in a monochrome screen with the time, and below that the date and in the top right the battery percentage, which also shows the percentage of the Moto Mod you have attached.

Additionally, you can blacklist apps you don’t want showing up, you can stop it vibrating when you touch a notification bubble, heck you can even turn it off if you really want to, but Moto is still much further ahead here than many realise.

Heading back into the Moto app and looking at the options under “Moto Actions” we see a plethora of options for you here. Want to turn off the proximity wake for mMoto display? You got it. Want to do a double twist to open the camera? Sure. Double karate chop to turn on the torch mode? You betcha! Moto has done loads here, including an option small screen mode (that is turned off by default) that shrinks the screen for easy one handed usage.

Is it perfect? No. I would really have wanted Nougat by now and the December security patch seeing as we are halfway through the month at the time of writing this section. But the experience isn’t really lacking because of it (despite the notifications, but once you use Nougat notifications, everything else sucks, badly). Moto doesn’t get a free pass, I want them to be held accountable, and I think this should have Nougat by now, but at least being stuck on Marshmallow isn’t so bad when it is done properly.

Performance
In a word? Baller. In a slightly more refined word, excellent.

The Snapdragon 625 is what should have been out last year, or at least that’s what I think and many will agree. The 625 shares the same basic architecture as the Snapdragon 615/616/617, which is 8 Cortex A53 cores at varying clock speeds, except this year Qualcomm made the 625 on a modern fabrication platform, the 14nm FinFET node from Samsung/GloFo. They also put a GPU in it capable of actually running a 1080p screen, which is not something that could be said about the 61X series from last year.

It is near impossible to talk about the performance of the Z Play and not be impressed. There has only been one instance of “lag” for me, and that was when it was first downloading all my apps and I decided to take a load of photos in burst mode of my niece doing something stupid, but in daily use, the Snapdragon 625 and the Z Play are solid. They feel just as fast as flagships I’ve tested, and that is, once again, not something I could say last year, and not something we might ever have been able to say of a “mid-range” phone.

I’ll pop some benchmark screenshots below this, but whilst it won’t win any bench-marking awards, it keeps nice and cool around the entire device and it doesn’t feel like it is throttling even under the games that I played, albeit they weren’t all that intensive. If you were hesitant after the total disaster that was the X Play and the Snapdragon 615 last year, don’t be. Motorola and Qualcomm learned their lesson, this is a great chip that has been optimised by Motorola, and it is really noticeable.

Battery
Moto Z Play ReviewJust like the performance section, this is going to be short and sweet. If you need a phone that will comfortably last you one day and likely even 2 comfortably? Get this phone, you want a phone that might even be able to get 3 for you? Buy this and a battery mod. Let me elaborate.

In my testing, I took the phone off of the charger at 10am on a Thursday, at 9am that Saturday it hit the 15% low battery warning, so I clipped on the battery mod, got me up to 42%, which lasted me the rest of the day and I didn’t put it back on charge until the next day again. Over that time I totalled over 8 hours of screen on time, this thing is an absolute battery beast.

The 3510mAh sealed Lithium-Ion battery is generously sized, slightly above the 3000mAh average that I guessed for most devices this year, but the improvement over most is TurboPower charging, and unlike the TurboPower on the G4 Play, it doesn’t get unreasonably hot either. The TurboPower 15 wall charger included with the Z Play is a 15w charger that pumps out 5v3a, indicating to me that Motorola is now using the USB-C USB-PD specification, instead of forking Qualcomm QuickCharge. This is helped by the fact that I plugged the Z Play into the Acer Chromebook R13 charger, a UB-C USB-PD charger, and the device showed “TurboPower connected” leading me to even more belief that TurboPower is now based on the USB Power Delivery spec, which is awesome.

Once Again I’ll pop a battery benchmark screenshot down below, but honestly, this thing is insane. If you can kill this in a day, kudos to you, Kudos.

 

And this is after adding the Incipio battery mod.

 

Camera
Cameras have never really been a strong point for Motorola. They aren’t as bad as they once were, and this one is actually quite competent, but I won’t lie to you, for the price the Z Play costs, there are devices with much better cameras, such as the Honor 8 by Huawei/Honor.

I can’t find out who makes the 16mp main camera, but given the Pixel size of 1.3Microns, I’d be led to believe that Sony makes it (As Samsung Is very gungho on shrinking Microns without reducing quality too much). The PDAF (Phase Detect Auto-Focus) system works really quite well,but only when there is enough light, and to be honest, that’s the story of both of the Cameras on the Z Play, they’re really quite good in daylight and better if you can plan the shot and go into pro mode, but lose the light or be in a hurry, you’ll likely be somewhat disappointed with the shots you get from this.

Here is some selfies from the front, and as I said, give the phone enough light, and It’s pretty great, but start removing the light or move a little too much, then you’re going to have a bad time.

Lastly here is a 1080p video sample from the Z Play, it was also my first ever video in the 12 days of Vlogmas series, and once again, look closesly at the shots in low light and see where the camera has cranked the ISO and all the grain in the shot.

MotoMods
Let me just start off by saying how sceptical I was of MotoMods when we first saw them earlier this year. I thought they were stupid and that a phone maker was too lazy to finish the phone so they sell you modules to complete it, that’s what we saw with the G5 from LG, and look how well that turned out. But Motorola did it differently, we have a fully formed phone, in fact we have 3 of them, and all three of those phones can use the exact same mods, and they all work exactly the same across all the phones. Even better? Lenovo (Motorola parent company) has committed to 12 new mods next year, that is on top of the 2 battery mods currently available, the Instashare projector, the JBL SoundBoost speaker and all the style shells.

So how do they work? Really, really, really well. The Magnets that hold the device in place are solid and aren’t going to fall off with a vigorous shake, in fact you’re more likely to drop it doing that, that to get the mod off. The Pogo pins transfer the data between the two flawlessly and seamlessly. Moto has included certain software tweaks to make the experience easier, for instance showing the battery percentage of the mods that have batteries in them, automatically changing the volume of the JBL soundboost so you don’t rupture an eardrum, little things like this. Do I wish there were more Mods? Of course, I could see a high quality audio mod, giving you more audio jacks, or maybe a full on ¼” jack for those that still love those for some reason. An E-Ink mod to make a makeshift YotaPhone would be viable as well In my eyes, the possibilities are almost endless, and it’s off to a great start.

Misc
The 2 things I want to talk about in Misc are the fingerprint scanner and the radios/connectivity. Starting with the radios, they’re somewhat underwhelming. I Don’t think they’re worse than anything else, but they’re not the usually miles ahead of everyone else that Moto radios usually are. The range and reception here is fine, but that’s it, I regularly found myself with troubles switch from LTE to WiFi as well, and the 5ghz WiFi radio seems weaker than on other phones I’ve tried recently, such as the Honor 8 and Huawei P9.

So how about that fingerprint scanner? Well actually it’s pretty good. The FPC1035 by Fingerprint Cards is an always on, Always polling fingerprint scanner, with one of the lowest power draws (if not the actual lowest) available on the market, and despite FPC recommending this be put on the back, Moto went and used it here on the front, and It doesn’t really suffer for it too bad. It is a little eager sometimes and will catch the edge of my thumb when i’m just holding the phone, which powers down the screen, which is an awesome feature when you purposefully use it (means you don’t have to use that terrible power button) but when you’re accidentally turn off your screen by having the corner of the scanner covered by a stray finger is quite annoying.

Accuracy wise it’s pretty damn g’m actively trying to use the scanner, again the only negative readings I’ve had are the ones when It was accidentally reading the absolute corner of my thumb by accident, but otherwise, It was all good. Despite my distaste for front mounted scanners, and the fact this one looks like, but doesn’t function as, a home button, I Won’t condemn the fingerprint scanner on the Z Play, Moto did good here.

Conclusion
So, Is it worthy of a buy? Hell yeah, on multiple counts, the only reason I’d tell you not to buy the Z Play is if you are a shutterbug, the Camera on the Honor 8 will serve you much better than this. But If you want great performance, a great screen, phenomenal battery life, solid build, and a modular ecosystem that doesn’t suck, you can do a lot worse than this.

The Problem for Motorola is that there are a lot of good phones nay, great phones at the price point the Z Play is competing at. We have the Honor 8, the OnePlus 3T and the Idol 4s. They all have their pros and Cons, as does the Z Play, but if you want battery life amongst all else, and can live with an only okay camera, It’d be hard to go wrong with the Z Play from Moto and Lenovo.

Moto Z Play

£369
Moto Z Play
9.56

Performance

10/10

    Build Quality

    10/10

      Camera

      9/10

        Software

        10/10

          Battery

          10/10

            Pros

            • That Battery life
            • Performs like a champ
            • Solid build
            • MotoMods are awesome
            • Nice screen

            Cons

            • Still on Marshmallow
            • Camera is only okay
            • Speaker is loud but quite thin sounding
            • Camera bump

            About Domenico Lamberti

            Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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