Moto Z Play Review: We review the most affordable member of the Moto Z mobile family, the Moto Z Play, which trims the Moto Z flagship phone’s specs for a more affordable asking price.
The Moto Z is Lenovo/Motorola’s most premium smartphone from 2016, and also one of the most unusual Android handsets released this year. Like the LG G5 before it, the Moto Z boasts the ability to snap on modular accessories (known as ‘Moto Mods‘) to expand the phone’s features – adding the likes of a nifty projector or a second battery, whenever needed.
Of course, while we love the Moto Z, it’s also quite a pricey handset. Which is why the Moto Z Play is such an appealing prospect.
You see, the Z Play is another 5.5-inch phone sporting the same support for the Moto Mods accessories. But by cutting back the specs and trimming some non-essential features, the Moto Z Play is much more affordable than the full-priced Moto Z. In fact, here in the UK it costs just £369, which is less than the excellent value OnePlus 3T.
So is the Moto Z Play worth a purchase? Here’s our full Moto Z Play review.
Moto Z Play review: Design
Like the Moto Z before it, the Moto Z Play is a 5.5-inch handset that can certainly be described as ‘hand filling’. One-handed use is rather tricky, not helped by the girthy design and thick frame.
But at least the phone is comfortable to clutch, and rugged to boot. That metallic edging that stretches seamlessly around the circumference of the Moto Z Play isn’t just for looks, it also helps to protect the phone from bumps and scrapes. Sadly there’s no water resistance, however, so don’t go dunking the device in your cup of tea or taking it into the shower.
Around the back you’ll find a soft-touch textured cover, which on our review sample was a shade of dark brown. This backing seems to be a serious magnet for grit and other bits, which get lodged in the grooves whenever the phone’s floating around in your pocket or bag. We’d recommend picking up a lighter shade, which will hopefully make the debris less obvious.
That back plate actually pulls right off, to expose the glass surfacing beneath. This is where you snap on the Moto Mods accessories, which fully replace the back cover and add new features to the phone. More on this later.
Moto Z Play review: Screen and media
While the Moto Z sported a supremely crisp Quad HD screen, the Moto Z Play scales this back to a Full HD panel. But despite the drop in resolution, the Moto Z Play still pumps out pleasingly sharp visuals. Push your face up to the handset’s spacious display and you’ll struggle to make out any individual pixels.
Like Samsung’s Galaxy S7, the Moto Z Play sports a Super AMOLED screen. Colours aren’t as punchy as they are on the OnePlus 3T’s vibrant AMOLED display, but images are still attractive and more realistically reproduced. The Moto Z Play’s panel is also powerfully bright, to counter any irritating glare.
If you want to carry around a massive media collection then good news. The 32GB of built-in storage can be expanded with a microSD memory card, up to 2TB in total.
Moto Z Play review: Features
The biggest and most talked-about feature of the Moto Z family is the Moto Mods, which are a range of funky accessories that can be snapped onto the Moto Z Play’s rear end. These include everything from an all-new camera with optical zoom and a funky portable projector, to a secondary battery to expand the phone’s longevity.
Moto Mods are definitely an exciting prospect, and so far we’re fans of the mini projector and the Incipio battery pack. However, the projector is unlikely to get frequent use from most users and the Z Play’s battery life is already excellent (see later), so we don’t find ourselves snapping on the Moto Mods very often.
It’s likely to be something that many users will only occasionally dip into, at least until there’s a bigger range available. And we do wonder for how long Lenovo will continue to support Moto Mods beyond the next year or so; a large part of that depends on whether other Moto phones can make use of them.
Check out our unboxing and hands-on videos with the Moto Z Play’s Moto Mods below.
Besides the Moto Mods, the Moto Z Play is a pretty straightforward Android smartphone. You get Android 6.0.1 on board, so not the latest Nougat flavour, but hopefully Android 7 will be arriving on the Moto Z Play soon. Quite likely, as there shouldn’t be any overlay issues to sort out.
For boosted security you can a built-in fingerprint sensor, housed just beneath the screen. It’s not as comfortable to use as a rear-mounted sensor, like those found on the Google Pixel phones for instance, but it is reliably accurate considering its tiny size. Just tap your finger or thumb against the sensor’s surface and the phone quickly unlocks to your desktops; no hassle, no second taps required.
Moto Z Play review: Performance and battery life
Another area where the Moto Z Play cuts back is the processor. In this handset you get the budget-friendly Snapdragon 625 chipset, backed up by 3GB of RAM.
That’s nowhere near as capable as the OnePlus 3 or OnePlus 3T, which boast premium Snapdragon processors. However, the Moto Z Play is still reasonably nippy and rarely shows any eyebrow-raising lag. You can play the latest games with a satisfying frame rate, if that’s your bag. And the likes of HD video streaming is also a pleasingly smooth experience.
Of course, the Moto Z Play will show signs of ageing before the likes of the OnePlus 3T, which is worth bearing in mind before signing up for a two-year plan.
As for battery life, the Moto Z Play is one of the best performers of the year. We consistently got two full days of use from a single charge, and that’s definitely not us holding back either. You can play with apps and games and stream video as well as browse the web and chat with mates, and still have plenty of power left in the bank.
Sadly, Moto’s Turbo Power charging tech leaves a lot to be desired. Even with the bundled Moto Z Play charger, the mobile took around two hours to charge fully – almost twice as long as the likes of the OnePlus 3T.
Moto Z Play review: Cameras
The Moto Z Play sports a very capable 16-megapixel f/2.0 rear camera, which works well for snapping your everyday life. The phase detection autofocus includes laser guidance, so the Moto Z can snap onto your subject and capture a crisp, detailed photo almost instantly. The only time we ever saw it struggle was in low light, at which point we got the occasional hazy snap.
Our photo collection after a week of Moto Z Play includes plenty of good-looking photos, and it’s only in darker environments that the camera starts to drop behind the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and the Google Pixel handsets. The camera app is pleasingly simple to use, yet still boasts manual controls if needed.
You also get a solid 5-megapixel front-facing camera which beats off most rival selfie snappers because of one key feature: a second flash. While many rivals such as the Galaxy S7 try to light up your mug with the display, the Moto Z Play can take impressive grain-free shots in low light thanks to that single-LED flash positioned above the screen.
As for video, you can shoot up to 4K resolution video and the results are solid. The lens works quickly to deal with changes in focal points and brightness levels and image stabilisation is respectable.
Moto Z Play review: Verdict
The Moto Z Play is a great affordable mid-range mobile which boasts particularly strong battery life, plus strong media chops and the unique Moto Mods expandability. Of course, Moto Mods are still far from an essential feature, and we’re yet to see if Lenovo will support this modular functionality for the long haul. But even if not, the Moto Z Play should please users with its general all-round appeal.