I’ve recently gotten the chance to review both the Moto Z and Z Force. They’re both some of the best flagship smartphones you can get right now, but I came to expect that by looking at the news surrounding the devices and their respective spec sheets. However, when it came time to give the recently introduced Moto Z Play (announced back in August 2016) some thought, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, a factor that just made my experience that much better.
And yes, it’s true what they say about it’s battery life.
Let’s jump into our full review of the Moto Z Play.
The design of the Moto Z Play is a bit different from its big brothers, but the language used remains relatively the same. There’s two sheets of glass being used for the front and back of the device this time around rather metal wrapping around the phone, while a metal frame can be found being sandwiched by the two glass panels. This gives the handset a cool-to-the-touch finish which I thoroughly enjoy.
Touching more on the back of the phone, the Z Play, as aforementioned, makes the switch from metal to glass to save money. There’s also a different design for the Moto Mod pins on the Play by implementing a separate element surrounding the connectors rather having them seep into the glass. I’m not sure why this design was used as it makes the back of the phone look cluttered, but I’m assuming Moto couldn’t work with the glass and instead had to use a dedicated section.
It’s worth noting that while yes, you will get fingerprints on the back of the Z Play, they’re much easier to clean off than the Z or Z Force’s metal rear panels. Thank God.
On the top of the Z Play, you’ll find a SIM/microSD card tray, a microphone, and an antenna band; on the left, there’s absolutely nothing; on the right, you’ve got a volume up/down keys alongside a textured power button; and on the bottom, you’ll find a USB-C connector, an antenna band, and (drumroll, please)… a headphone jack.
Gosh, how I’ve missed you, headphone jack.
Yes, folks. Moto didn’t entirely rid the Z lineup of a headphone jack even though it isn’t present for their more costly options. The company makes it a priority to note that they didn’t just nonchalantly implement the port, but they saw an opportunity to build it into this particular model thanks to how the phone’s designed and how thick it is (notably at 7mm). The latter factor could’ve played a role for the reason why the Z Force had a headphone jack, but I guess Moto’s opportunity with this variant wasn’t as substantial as the Z Play’s.
Oh, and can I mention how convenient having a headphone jack is? Because its way better than dealing with a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter.
Regarding the front of the device, you’ll find a 5.5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display covered in Gorilla Glass. Let me just say this: I can’t tell the difference between this display and the QHD display on the standard Z and Z Force. I literally can’t see any pixels whatsoever, colors are just as good, viewing angles are decent enough to call good, it gets bright enough for viewing in direct sunlight, and clarity is on point. Plus, everything feels smoother and games run faster since there’s a lot less pixels to push. Therefore, unless you’re only gonna use your phone for VR (which actually looks pretty good on 1920×1080 pixels, by the way), just get something with a 1080p resolution. Seriously, you won’t regret it. Trust me.
It’s worth noting that the earpiece, much like the Z Play’s big brothers, doubles as a loudspeaker, hardware that actually sounds pretty clear and nice with decent bass, high mids, and a pretty great DAC.
You’ll also find a square-shaped fingerprint sensor on the front of the Z Play. This is the same sensor found on the Z and Z Force, and if you read my reviews on those devices, you know how it performs. But just to catch you up, it’s super fast, accurate 100% of the time, and I absolutely find it an extreme convenience to have, especially since it’s front-mounted.
Moto doesn’t cut many corners when it comes to the Z Play even though it’s a sub-$500 phone. The glass and metal make it feel like a flagship handset, the display is plane beautiful for not being QHD, the fingerprint sensor is super fast and accurate, the build is sturdy, and that USB-C port just puts a bow around the entire package. Overall, for the price you pay, the Moto Z Play is one of the most well-designed phones ever. Period.
Specs & Performance
This section of any mid-range smartphone review is always critical as sometimes you can get stellar performance out of a handset in this price range or you can receive a really bad experience thanks to poor internals. Thankfully, the Moto Z Play falls in the former category and does so with flying colors.
For reference, here’s a rundown of what’s inside the Z Play.
- Snapdragon 625 processor
- Adreno 506 GPU
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage
Let me just say this: the speed packed into the Z Play exceeds it’s sub-$500 price tag. I mean, this thing absolutely flies through anything you put it to much like its big brothers. Sure, there’s the occasional stutter here and there since the 625 isn’t nearly as fast as the 820, but whatever Moto did to optimize it they did a great job. Social apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are all super fluid and a pleasure to scroll through, while web pages, animations, and touch responsiveness are also on point.
When pairing the 625 with 3GB of RAM, some may get a bit concerned about the performance, but I tend to say you never really know a smartphone until you actually use it. In other words, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, as the Z Play can handle multitasking excellently as well. Sure, you won’t get the same experience as if you had 4GB of RAM, but you can have dozens of apps open at once nevertheless and still be able to switch between them without too many redraws. Therefore, I wouldn’t be to worried about your current RAM available on the Z Play as you’ll likely never need any additional optimizations from you or third-party apps.
Regarding graphics performance, there isn’t much groundbreaking here, but it’s definitely worth noting. I’ve been testing Asphalt 8: Airborne on the Z Play as my main GPU-heavy game, and I have to say, everything’s pretty smooth. This is likely thanks to the 1080p display which doesn’t require as many pixels to be pushed out as a QHD display. And while the Adreno 506 is by no means top-of-the-line in this day and age, it still holds up pretty well and allows users to experience pretty great graphics regardless.
Storage wise, 32GB of space is available with the Z Play which may not be enough for some users. It’s definitely plenty for me, but for those who need more space, you can pop in a microSD card up to an extra 256GB of room. And thanks to Android Marshmallow’s adoptable storage feature, you can use that card as internal storage. I personally didn’t have a reason to do this, but it’s always nice to have a little extra space nevertheless.
All in all, the Moto Z Play definitely offers great internal specifications for the money you pay. Everything’s really fast on this phone, whiles games will look great thanks to the awesome graphics performance. And while 32GB of storage may not be enough for some of you, you can always grab a microSD card and pop it inside. Therefore, if you’ve been concerned about whether the performance on this guy is any good or not, let me assure you: it’s great.
As is the case with the other two Moto Z phones, the Z Play features a clean, near-stock build of Android. More specifically, this handset is running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. It’s rather a shame this model is running a two-year-old operating system and not Nougat like it’s older siblings, but an expected upgrade to Android 7.0 is currently in the works. Stay tuned.
I won’t dive too far into what the Z Play features software wise as its strikingly similar to what the Z and Z Force feature, but here’s a quick rundown.
- It’s a near-stock experience with just a quick launcher placed on top.
- Not too many customizations are present.
- You get a full suite of Moto-baked functionality thanks to the Moto app which provides Moto Display (ambient display with preview of notifications and current time), double twist to launch the camera, double chop to activate the flashlight, “OK Moto” voice control, and swipe to shrink screen.
- Since this is a Droid handset, you also get a whole folder of bloatware you’ll never touch. (Note that this won’t be present for those who purchase the unlocked model.)
It’s worth noting that the software on the Z Play has been optimized for maximum performance throughout while still remaining extremely power efficient. It’s quite insane how optimized the software really is as although there’s a Snapdragon 625 installed, you can’t tell the difference between the Z Play and standard Z with a Snapdragon 820 performance wise. And yes, with the 3GB of RAM installed, you won’t be able to multitask as efficiently, but it still reflects the performance of the standard Z relatively well.
This is where things start to get interesting. On the back of the Z Play is a 16MP camera. This is 3MP more than the standard Z which costs $200 more. Of corse, megapixels aren’t everything in a camera, but you’ll nevertheless get sharper and clearer pictures than you would with the Z with this handset.
Also inside the rear camera of the Z Play is an f/2.0 aperture, phase detection and laser autofocus, and a dual-LED flash.
In terms of overall quality, it’s nearly the same story as the Z and Z Force. You get a good amount of light, colors are pretty accurate, whites are pretty off, highlights tend to get blown out more often than they should, focusing struggles quite often, and there shouldn’t be that much graininess in some of these photos. But overall, this is a pretty good sensor for what it’s worth.
Regarding video capture, for the low price you pay for the Z Play, you can still record in 4K at 30 frames per second. I’ll have to say, I’ve seen better 4K video as this area struggles just like while taking a photo, but it gets the job done.
Switching to the front of the device, the Z Play packs a 5MP f/2.2 camera with a front-facing LEDS flash and 1080p video capture. Photos usually turn out pretty nicely with a good amount of light, but in low-lit areas, things get pretty dirty.
All in all, for the price you pay for this handset, the Moto Z Play can push out some pretty impressive photos. Note that they won’t be mind-bogglingly good, but they’re decent enough to capture special moments throughout your day. Snapchatters will love the sensors, but for serious photographers, you may wanna steer clear.
If you’ve read anything regarding the Z Play in the past, you know that it’s got some pretty stellar battery life. And fortunately, I can testify to this.
Regarding its size, the Z Play packs a pretty massive 3510mAh battery. This isn’t ginormous by today’s standards, but it’s larger than average.
Considering there’s only a 1080p display and only a Snapdragon 625 processor, efficiency plays a major role in the Z Play’s battery life. In fact, it helps so much that I can, on occasion, push out a maximum of nearly 7 hours of screen-on time. This is absolutely insane for an Android handset and deserves an award for Best Battery Life of Any Android Smartphone Ever.
With heavy gaming and browsing Facebook and Instagram more often, I can normally get about 4 hours of screen-on time before it’s time to plug-in, but that’s still really good for an Android smartphone. You can also get really good standby time, with the phone dropping just about 2-3% each night if I don’t plug it in.
I tend to call the Z Play my weekend phone as I can use the handset for two days straight without having to worry about plugging it in. I can go on a weekend trip down to Ocean City and still have juice left for the trip home. Overall, the thing I’ve enjoyed most about the Z Play is its battery life, something any buyer of the handset will enjoy as well.
Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod
One of the key distinctions that makes the Moto Z family different is their modularity factor. With the magnets around back, you can connect various Moto Mods to your phone to add additional functionality. For instance, there’s a JBL speaker, projector, and even a spare battery pack available. But the one I have yet to talk about is the recently introduced Hasselblad True Zoom Mod. It takes the place of the rear 16MP camera of the Z Play and offers a camera sensor similar to what you’ll find on a point-and-shooter.
Regarding its specs, the True Zoom Mod features 12MP to work with (4MP less than the Z Play), OIS (optical image stabilization) and EIS (electronic image stabilization), manual and autofocus, 10x optical zoom, an Xenon flash, a shutter button commemorated with a 75th anniversary orange tone, a 25-250mm-equivalent range, a dedicated power button, and the ability to take pictures in RAW format and videos in 1080p at 30 frames per second.
Using the Mod makes you feel like you’re holding a genuine point-and-shooter. There’s a nifty section where you can place your fingers for a better grip, the knob to zoom in on a subject feels nice and smooth, the lens retracts and extends as necessary, and that satisfying “CD is stuck in the player” sound comes through as well when zooming in and out. Overall, if you’re a sucker for the way a camera feels, you won’t be disappointed with the True Zoom Mod.
For the most part, photos are okay. I wouldn’t go far as to say they’re worse than the Z Play’s built-in sensor, but they’re definitely not any better. However, thanks to the 10x optical zoom, you can get closer to a subject from farther away and not have to sacrifice valuable detail like you would with digital zoom. I will note, however, that there is a difference between shooting in JPEG and RAW as each image looks much different, but if you’re like me and won’t be doing any major photo editing anytime soon, simply stick to JPEG (the format all sample photos listed here are in).
At night, photos look just like they do with the Z Play’s built-in sensor: grainy and noisy. But with the Xenon flash, things get a lot better (obviously) as much more light is being brought in. That said, it still looks like you took the photos with a smartphone and not a dedicated camera module, so don’t think you’ll see a striking difference between this camera and the ones already available with any member of the Moto Z family.
As for video capture, the True Zoom Mod yet again doesn’t make its presence known, even though it’s a dedicated camera. The 1080p picture isn’t all that great and isn’t entirely clear, while the 30 fps doesn’t stay consistent as it tends to flop around 27-28 fps for some reason. To me, I wouldn’t use the True Zoom Mod for video capture as every member of the Moto Z family can shoot in 4K while the $299 dedicated camera Mod cannot, while the videos produced don’t look any better whatsoever.
I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty enthusiastic about the True Zoom Mod. I thought it would solve all the problems I had with the Z/Force/Play’s camera array, but alas, I was disappointed. Hasselblad’s been making cameras for quite some time now (since 1941, in fact), so I expected them to create something worth $299. But in all reality, I’d have a hard time paying half of its cost knowing how it performed. Therefore, if you’ve been eyeing up the True Zoom Mod and have $300 to blow, buy it just for the sake of that 10x optical zoom, because that’s the only reason anyone should even think about purchasing it.
Oh, and if you like the feel of digital cameras and don’t mind poor quality.
The Moto Z Play is definitely a killer mid-range handset. It’s by no means underpowered even though on paper it should be, battery life is the best of any Android handset hands down, the camera’s perform pretty well for what you pay, the software experience is smooth and clean, the display is actually really nice, and calls sound really clear. And while the True Zoom camera Mod isn’t my favorite by any means, at least there’s a way to get some true optical zoom with your smartphone nowadays.
All in all, I give the Moto Z Play a 9/10 with a point taken out for the camera quality. As for the True Zoom Mod, I, unfortunately, have to rate it a 6/10 due to it’s camera performance.