Moto Z Play review: Affordable, powerful, and modular

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Lenovo released its flagship Moto Z and Moto Z Force earlier this year, exclusively on Verizon in the United States. Top to bottom, both devices were fantastic entries for the Moto family, even if they were a bit of a departure from what we’d seen from Motorola before the Lenovo acquisition.

The Moto Z is an entirely new line of devices, so it was only a matter of time before we saw another device be released that could fill in some other price points. The next device in line is the Moto Z Play Droid, which is even harder to say in one breath than the Moto Z Force Droid, and it is, again, exclusive to Verizon in the US. It’s an identical counterpart to the unlocked Moto Z Play, however, which will be immediately available unlocked if you’re not on Verizon.

So how does the mid-range Moto Z Play stack up against its bigger brothers and everything else on the market? Let’s find out.

Design

The design of the Moto Z Play Droid is nearly identical to the bigger Moto Z and Moto Z Force. It’s a cheaper phone so it’s picked up a bit of extra weight, but it compares pretty well with the Moto Z Force. You’ll get the same glossy glass front and back with a metal body, and it completely supports all of Lenovo’s Moto Mods.

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Outside of the chunkier design, you’d have a hard time distinguishing the Moto Z Play from the two higher end devices. Except, if you look at the bottom of the phone, you’ll notice a pretty key difference.

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Yep. Headphone jack.

For whatever reason, Lenovo managed to keep the 3.5mm port on the Moto Z Play. You might remember that the Moto Z and Moto Z Force did not have a headphone jack but included a USB C to 3.5mm adapter in the box so you could still listen to your current headphones, but you won’t need the adapter for the Z Play.

I’d say Lenovo kept the jack because the Z Play is a thicker device, but the Moto Z Force certainly wasn’t the slimmest phone I’ve ever seen. We’re probably moving towards “no headphone jack” becoming synonymous with “premium device,” for better or worse.

On the face of the device you’ll get the spacious 5.5-inch screen that’s only Gorilla Glass. No shatterproof screen here, unfortunately. Lenovo kept the square fingerprint scanner on the chin of the device that’s still extremely fast and responsive here.

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The left side of the device doesn’t have any ports or buttons, while the top houses the SIM card tray, a microphone, and an antenna band.

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The Moto Z Play feels like a device that’s much more expensive than it really is, and I’m personally a big fan of the added thickness of the phone. I struggled to comfortably hold the Moto Z, especially without any Moto Mods attached, but the Moto Z Play fits nicely in hand. The weight isn’t noticeable, either.

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With the Moto Z Play, Lenovo has launched a new Moto Mod for shutter bugs. The Hasselblad True Zoom mod turns the device into a full fledged camera, complete with a 10x optical zoom.

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The Mod actually houses its own camera, so if you use it you’ll never touch the default camera of the Moto Z that you’re using. That’s not a bad thing, as the True Zoom lens uses a 12-megapixel camera and can shoot in RAW format. There’s even a dedicated physical shutter button.

The drawback is that the camera mod is thick and heavy. That’s to be expected, but you’re going to have a hard time keeping up with this thing on a family vacation. That’s the tradeoff for fantastic image quality, but that’s a tradeoff that I don’t think everyone will be willing to make.

Hardware

 Moto Z Play
AnnouncedAugust 31, 2016
ReleaseSummer 2016
Display5.5-inch Full HD (1920x1080) AMOLED
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 625
RAM3GB
Storage32GB with microSD card slot
Rear Camera16MP with phase detection, laser autofocus, dual-LED flash
Front Camera5MP
Battery3510mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C with Moto TurboCharge technology
SoundFront-facing stereo speaker
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
ConnectivityNFC, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, compass, gyro, barometer, fingerprint
Measurements156.4 x 76.4 x 7mm
Weight165g
ColorsCustomized through Moto Maker

Performance

The Moto Z Play has been downgraded across the board from its bigger sibling, but the Snapdragon 625, 3GB of RAM, and Adreno 530 GPU are nothing to sneeze at. The drop in processing speed will be most noticeable when you’re doing something intensive like multitasking gaming and installing apps from the Play Store, but for the most part the device holds up extremely well for everyday tasks. Multitasking takes a hit thanks to the 25% less RAM, but 3GB is still a pretty big chunk that’s on par with high-end devices.

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Zipping through home screens, switching between apps, and playing games are a breeze for the Z Play, even if they aren’t quite as zippy as the Snapdragon 820 variants. It’s really only something you’d notice with two devices side by side.

Since the GPU is the same across all devices, gaming performance is pretty close to Moto Z level performance here. It’s mostly held back when gaming and trying to do something else that’s CPU intensive.

Battery

The bigger Moto Z devices had respectable battery life, but the Moto Z Play nails it. It uses a less power-hungry Snapdragon 625 to push a 1080p display, which makes for much longevity than you’ll get with the Moto Z Force’s Snapdragon 820 and quad HD resolution. The battery itself is also slightly bigger than the Moto Z Force, meaning it handily beats out the Moto Z and is noticeably improved over the Force.

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Heavy usage on this device lasted me an entire day with plenty of juice to spare. If you’re not a heavy user, I can easily see stretching out the Z Play’s battery over two days, and potentially three days if you’re using power saving and really going for endurance. Three days is stretching it, but importantly that means that you won’t be scrambling for a charger at 5 PM every day.

Software

The software here is identical to the Moto Z, which is a good thing. You’ll find mostly untouched Android here with just a few of Lenovo’s key enhancements. That includes the useful things like ambient display that allow you to see notifications without touching your phone or turning the screen on, and the gestures for doing things like opening the camera quickly or toggling on a flashlight.

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Otherwise, Lenovo doesn’t do much tweaking. The launcher is pretty basic Android stuff and you’ll find all of Google’s Play apps, as well as things like Google Maps and Photos. The built-in clock widget is pretty nice, too, and even offers a tiny bit of color customization.

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While the software won’t be enough to pull over diehard Android purists, it’s likely good enough for someone looking for an untouched experience, especially on Verizon’s network.

However, Verizon’s network is the caveat here. This thing is loaded with crap, again, including bloat apps like Verizon’s Messenger and Caller ID and Cloud backup, and plenty of dumb games with a bunch of ads that you probably don’t want. They even have Verizon Navigator preloaded here, in case you want to subject yourself to the punishment of using literally any other navigation app that isn’t Google Maps.

Fortunately, most of these things can be disabled or removed. It’s still frustrating, but if this isn’t your first device on Verizon, it’s probably a familiar occurrence to you.

The drawback to this being not really a Nexus phone means that we’re still not sure how well Lenovo will be updating the phone. Android 7.0 Nougat is out for Nexus devices, so the clock is ticking before its available on the Moto Z line. Typically, more budget-friendly phones receive updates slower than flagship devices, so there’s yet another question mark if the Moto Z Play will be updated as regularly as the Moto Z and Moto Z Force.

Camera

The Moto Z Play has a good, not great, camera. It features a 16-megapixel camera with laser autofocus and phase detection autofocus, but not optical image stabilization. For outdoor and well-lit shots, it’s a decent enough camera. Indoors and at night, you’re going to see the phone struggle a bit.

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It’s serviceable, and will probably be good enough for most people, but certainly won’t be outshooting flagship devices.

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For having such a high resolution camera I really wish the Moto Z Play would shoot just a little bit sharper. It manages to capture a high resolution shot with bright and clear colors, but once you start looking at things on a screen that’s not a smartphone, it’s obvious this isn’t a $700 shooter.

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Can’t argue with macro shots, though.

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It’s a $400 smartphone and shoots like a $400 smartphone, for better or worse.

However, if you’re interested in the Hasselblad Moto Mod, you’ll get some pretty significant improvements.

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Not only is the image quality quite a bit better, but you’ll actually be able to zoom in on things! That’s insane for a smartphone.

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It also features considerably stronger indoor and low light capabilities. Is that worth $300? If you use your phone as a serious camera, probably. If you just like to take pictures of your dog and food for Instagram, probably not.

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Closing

All things considered, the Moto Z Play Droid almost feels like the real successor to the Moto X line that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s not terribly expensive, costing around $400 on Verizon or $449 for the unlocked version, but it still supports Moto Mods and checks all the boxes that are really important. It performs well, the camera is good enough, and the battery life is stellar. Lenovo made trade-offs where it wouldn’t hurt too much, like the 1080p display instead of 1440p resolution, but nothing that really interferes with day-to-day usage.

Previous Nexus devices and OnePlus have long been pointing out that we should be able to buy a nice phone without breaking the bank. On top of that, the Moto Z Play will get you better battery life than what you’ll get a comparable Nexus or the OnePlus 3, which is a huge selling point for many people. It also has a headphone jack.

I’m not saying the Moto Z Play is a better device than the Moto Z or the Moto Z Force, because on paper it’s clearly not. But depending on what you’re looking for in a phone, it might make a better fit for you without sacrificing anything you can’t live without.

Buy it now: Motorola, Verizon


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid and an unhealthy obsession with fixing things that aren't broken. This accidentally led to being the go-to guy for anything more complicated than a toaster, which he considers more of a curse than a blessing. Jared is enrolled in online classes at the University of Phoenix, and spends his spare time on video games and listening to music.


  • Ismail Akram

    Why would anyone read Moto Z play review? Just to know about battery. And there is no battery information here. No battery benchmark no SOT m nothing. This review should emphasize on battery so people refer this site more

  • Adam

    “Since the GPU is the same across all devices, gaming performance is pretty close to Moto Z level performance here.” lol wut… no, that can’t be true.