Moto Z Play review: The modular smartphone king


You normally have to fork out buckets of cash to get the very best smartphone features, but Lenovo and Motorola’s mid-range Moto Z Play is one handset that manages to buck this trend, and in spectacular fashion, too.

In a similar vein to the OnePlus 3, the Moto Z Play offers great value while trumping many of its top-tier rivals – including Motorola’s own flagship handset, the Moto Z. Take the Moto Z Play’s battery life. With a big 3,510mAh battery inside, the Moto Z Play instantly has a huge advantage over the comparatively weedy 2,600mAh battery found inside its more expensive sibling, and the difference this had on our benchmarks was astonishing.

Where the Moto Z lasted a reasonable 12hrs 21mins in our continuous video playback test with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the Moto Z Play lasted almost double that, clocking in at an outstanding 23hrs 45mins. That’s nearly two hours longer than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 (before it was taken off sale, that is), making the Moto Z Play the longest-lasting smartphone I’ve ever tested.

Design

It’s clear where the Moto Z Play where Motorola has stashed all those extra mAhs. Measuring a sizable 6.9mm at its thinnest point, the Moto Z Play feels positively behemoth-like compared with the svelte 5.2mm Moto Z, and its lightly chamfered edges are sharper and harder against your palm. That’s not to say the Moto Z Play is uncomfortable to hold, but it definitely feels a little gawky compared to its luxuriously slim stablemate.

Girth aside, the Moto Z Play looks every bit the top-end smartphone. Its front-facing fingerprint sensor is every bit as quick when it comes to unlocking your smartphone, and its glass rear and metal frame represent a huge leap forward in overall build quality compared to the rubberised rear of last year’s Moto X Play.

Moto Mods

It also shares the Moto Z’s main party trick: it’s modular. While its rear connection point might not look quite as elegant as its big brother’s, it supports all the same Moto Mod accessories, allowing you to transform your smartphone for different occasions without breaking the bank.

At the moment, you only have a handful of mods to choose from: JBL’s SoundBoost Mod is a brilliant stereo speaker attachment; the Hasselblad TrueZoom mod adds a 10x optical zoom, proper camera grip and 12-megapixel sensor to the phone; the Incipio offGRID Power Pack mod gives you an extra 2,220mAh battery to play with; and the Moto Insta-Share projector lets you turn your phone into a miniature projector. You can also change the look of your phone on the fly with different coloured cases.

It’s a beautifully elegant system that’s super easy to use. Each mod simply snaps onto the back of the phone thanks to its strong connecting magnets. You might need to dig your nails in to prise them off, but it’s definitely less hassle than the system on the LG G5. And Motorola is planning on making these mods compatible with at least two more generations of Moto Z phones, so you should be able to carry on using them even if you upgrade your smartphone this time next year.

With Motorola has also released a Moto Mod dev kit, so we could potentially see dozens of more bespoke and unique mods appear in the future. I’ll be updating this review with more thoughts on the Moto Z Play’s various mods soon.

Performance

Where the Moto Z Play starts to deviate from the Moto Z is its internal hardware. While the Moto Z comes with one of Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 820 chips, the Moto Z Play has to make do with one of its mid-tier octa-core 2.0GHz Snapdragon 625 processors. It also has a mere 3GB of RAM rather than 4GB.

This is still a pretty potent combination for everyday tasks, but the difference in speed became obvious when I pushed it through a few benchmarks. In Geekbench 4, the Moto Z Play scored only 798 in the single-core test and 2,599 in the multi-core test, making it almost half as fast as the Moto Z overall.

Admittedly, this is to be somewhat expected for a mid-range phone, but when you consider the cheaper £329 OnePlus 3 also has a Snapdragon 820 chip (not to mention a decent 16hrs and 56mins battery life time), the Moto Z Play starts to look slightly less special.

The same goes for graphics performance. It achieved a mere 636 frames (an average of 10fps) in GFX Bench GL’s onscreen Manhattan 3.0 test. The OnePlus 3, by comparison, completed 2,885 frames in the same test, for an average frame rate of 47fps. What this indicates is that, a couple of years down the track, the Play may not remain as nippy as its more expensive sibling, but in practice, it’ll play most current titles perfectly smoothly.

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