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.
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.
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.
The JBL SoundBoost mod is one of my favourite mods so far. It’s a great choice for anyone who regularly watches videos on their phone at home, as this chunky stereo speaker brings a massive improvement to your phone’s audio. Costing just £70, you’ll find it hard to go back to listening without it once you’ve started using it.
This is partly because the Moto Z Play only has a single built-in speaker, which sounds very tinny in practice and has hardly any bass to speak of. Snap the JBL SoundBoost onto the back, though, and suddenly your music and videos sound like you’re watching it on a proper TV. As well as adding a welcome sense of breadth to your music, it also enhances low-end sounds, making each soundtrack feel a lot warmer as a result.
It also comes with a small kickstand on the back so you can prop it up on a table, and has plenty of volume to fill your room. It tends to distort around higher volume levels, so it probably isn’t a very good fit for impromptu parties, but it’s great for playing games and giving your YouTube or Spotify playlists a bit of a boost.
The SoundBoost even comes with its own built-in 1,000mAh battery, which Motorola says should add another 10 hours of battery life on to what’s already available on your phone. You can either charge it separately using the small USB-C port on the back of the Mod, or you can charge it while it’s attached to your phone – just plug it into the mains like normal and the Moto Z Play will charge it at the same time as it’s own battery.
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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