Moto Z Play review: A decent package backed by monstrous battery life

 

Overview

The Moto Z Play is the more affordable version of the flagship Moto Z modular smartphone. Like its premium counterpart, you can apply the same Moto Mods attachments to Z Play’s rear, and the S$699 phone gets a boost based on the current attachment’s properties. Inside is a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor clocked at 2.0GHz, 3GB RAM, and 32GB internal storage with microSD support up to 2TB. Interestingly, the Moto Z Play has a significantly larger battery capacity at 3,510mAh (as compared to the Moto Z’s 2,600mAh capacity), in exchange for a thicker body (6.99mm versus the Moto Z’s 5.19mm).

The Moto Z Play is characterized as a mainstream alternate to its flagship model – the core functionalities and features are familiar, but it comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack that the Moto Z lacked. What remains to be seen is the Z Play’s value and worth as a mainstream smartphone in a competitive market segment, and as one of the first truly modular smartphones in Singapore that costs below S$700 before any add-ons. So let's find out!

 

Design & Handling

The design of the Moto Z Play sticks out in two ways. First, it’s aesthetically similar to the flagship Moto Z, which is great news for folks who value a premium appearance at a lower priced tier. They share the same aluminum frame, but the Moto Z Play uses a plastic back instead. Despite the difference in materials, the Z Play still exudes a refined look, thanks to its polished rear surface.

Secondly, the Moto Z Play is noticeably thicker than its flagship counterpart, but that's only relatively speaking. At 6.99mm, the Z Play is still considered thin, but it has just the right amount of girth that makes the phone feel sturdy in hand, but it lacks the grace of the Moto Z’s slim profile. However, the weight doesn't seem to be balanced perfectly and that’s because of the protruding rear camera housing. This phone is meant to be used with a Style Shell, and we would also recommend as such.

The top edge of the Z Play holds the tray for both SIM and SD cards, and the bottom has a USB Type-C port next to the 3.5mm audio port.  Like the Moto Z, the volume and power buttons are on its right profile, with the latter rocking tactile grooves to make the phone more user-friendly just by feeling the buttons. If you’re upgrading from an older mid-range smartphone, the Z Play certainly won’t disappoint in aesthetics and feel.

 

Display & Audio

The Moto Z Play uses a Super AMOLED Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution) display that’s 5.5 inches across. It’s a lower resolution than the Moto Z’s Quad HD display, but that helps contribute to the impressive battery performance on the Z Play (see our Battery Life benchmark on the next page).

The display comes with Standard and Vibrant mode options, which can be adjusted as required in the Settings menu. Vibrant mode was selected by default, and it gives the Z Play a warm color temperature that’s commonly found in Super AMOLED displays. It gave our test image a colorful spectrum, which the Standard mode could not achieve. That said, the display is sufficiently bright, making it pleasant for day-to-day use.

As mentioned in our Overview section earlier, the Z Play phone has a 3.5mm headphone port that the flagship Moto Z lacks. Unlike the iPhone, an Android OS smartphone without the 3.5mm port would likely be competing against other models that do offer it; so it's a good thing that the Z Play has an upper hand. The default  phone speaker is relatively loud compared to most other smartphones in its price range, but is otherwise functional. It’s worth noting that audio comes from the same speaker that's used for incoming calls.

 

UI & Features

Like the flagship version, the Moto Z Play comes with Android 6.0 OS out of the box. The user experience isn’t very different from your typical Android 6.0 OS smartphone, nor does it differ from its flagship offering.

 

Fingerprint sensor

The fingerprint sensor on the Moto Z is the raised, square-shaped block below the smartphone’s screen. It’s easy to mistake it for a Home button of sorts, and it can get mildly annoying before getting accustomed to the phone. (“Why isn’t this button bringing me back to the main menu?”) Otherwise, the fingerprint sensor is responsive enough, and it's also not very different from the Moto Z’s fingerprint sensor, too.

 

Moto Mods

The key feature of the Moto Z Play is its compatibility with its proprietary modular attachments, dubbed Moto Mods. Since this mainstream smartphone uses the same 16-pin connector as found on the flagship Moto Z for the modules, the Moto Mods are effortlessly compatible with the Z Play as well.

As we've discussed about the each of the Moto Mod's functionality and practical worth in great detail in our Moto Z review, we'll not cover them again in this article. While Moto has new Moto Mods that are due for a 2017 release, the local Moto team has been quiet, with no new offers or bundles on the horizon at the point of publishing.

With the attachments in mind, users who are interested in dabbling modular-type smartphones do not have to necessarily shell out S$899 for the Moto Z phone itself. You can opt to spend S$699 on the Moto Z Play instead while channeling your remaining cash towards another Moto Mod. That said, we maintain that the Moto Mods are rather expensive for what they do. Until more attachments come along, or until Moto decides to bundle the Moto Mods with the phones (like how they do in other territories), the Moto Mods will still feel a little inaccessible to the average phone user despite its intentions.

Benchmark Performance

The Moto Z Play uses a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor clocked at 2.0GHz, 3GB RAM, and 32GB internal storage with microSD expandable storage support up to 2TB. Naturally, we'd like to compare the Z Play to other phones with similar standings/price point, as well as a side-by-side comparison between the Z Play and its flagship counterpart, the Moto Z.

  Moto Z Play ASUS ZenFone 3 Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) Sony Xperia XA Ultra Moto Z Xiaomi Redmi Note 3
  Moto Z Play ASUS ZenFone 3 Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) Sony Xperia XA Ultra Moto Z Xiaomi Redmi Note 3
Launch SRP
  • From S$699
  • From S$498
  • From S$648
  • From S$899
  • From S$299
Latest Price
  • From S$515
  • From S$370
  • From S$790
  • From S$290
Operating system
  • Android 6.0 OS (Marshmallow)
  • Android 6.0 with ASUS ZenUI 3.0
  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
  • Android 6.0 OS (Marshmallow)
  • Android 5.1.1 with MIUI 7
Processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core, 2.0GHz
  • Samsung Exynos 7880 Octa-core 1.9 GHz Cortex-A53
  • Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 octa-core
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 hexa-core 1.8GHz
Built-in Memory
  • 3GB RAM
  • 4GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 4GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
Display
  • 5.5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels / Super AMOLED
  • 5.5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (~401 ppi) / IPS
  • 5.7-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (386 ppi) / Super AMOLED
  • Always-On Display
  • 6.0-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (~367 ppi) / IPS LCD
  • 5.5-inch / 1,440 x 2,560 pixels / AMOLED
  • 5.5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels / IPS
Camera
  • Rear: 16-megapixel, f/2.0 aperture
  • Front: 5-megapixel, f/2.2 aperture
  • Rear: 16-megapixel, f/2.0, TriTech AutoFocus, 4-axis OIS
  • Front: 8-megapixel, f/2.0
  • Rear: 16-megapixel, f/1.9, 27mm, LED flash
  • Front: 16-megapixel, f/1.9
  • Rear: 21.5-megapixel, f/2.2, LED flash, Phase Detection Autofocus
  • Front: 16-megapixel
  • Rear: 13-megapixel ClearPixel
  • Front: 5-megapixel
  • Rear: 16-megapixel with 5-element lens, f/2.0, 78° wide-angle lens and a two-tone flash
  • Front: 5-megapixel with f/2.0 and face recognition
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/b/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE + EDR, USB-C, 3.5mm audio
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB 2.0 Type-C, Wi-Fi Direct
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 + 5GHz), 4G+ LTE Cat 9 (up to 450Mbps), Bluetooth 4.1, VHT80, MIMO (2x2), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Screen Mirroring
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, NFC, Bluetooth v4.1
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/b/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE + EDR
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Wi-Fi Display, Wi-Fi Direct
  • GPS, AGPS, GLONASS and BeiDou positioning
Storage Type
  • 32GB internal storage
  • 2TB MicroSD
  • 64GB storage (expandable via microSD to 2TB)
  • 32GB internal storage
  • 256GB (MicroSD)
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 256GB
  • 64GB internal storage
  • 2TB MicroSD
  • 32GB internal storage space
  • microSD support up to 32GB
Battery
  • 3,510mAh
  • 3,000 mAh
  • 3,600mAh
  • 2,700mAh
  • 2,600mAh
  • 4,050mAh
Dimensions
  • 156.4 x 76.4 x 6.99mm
  • 152.59 x 77.38 x 7.69 mm
  • 156.8 x 77.6 x 7.9 mm
  • 164 x 79 x 8.4mm
  • 153.3 x 75.3 x 5.2 mm
  • 150 x 76 x 8.65mm
Weight
  • 165g
  • 155g
  • 186g
  • 202g
  • 136g
  • 164g

 

SunSpider

SunSpider JavaScript measures the browsing performance of a device when processing JavaScript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience. Expectedly, the Z Play wouldn’t outclass smartphones with recent, flagship-tier processors, but it certainly does a faster job (score-wise) than its similarly configured opponent, the ASUS ZenFone 3.

For your reference, the Moto Z Play scored 30.55 for the JetStream benchmark – this is a new test where we're gathering test data, so we'll be a while more before we can fully report all results based on this test.

 

Quadrant

Quadrant benchmarks a device’s CPU, I/O, and GPU performance. This is where the Snapdragon 625 processor really shines, as the Z Play and ZenFone 3 blazes ahead of the phones with slightly older processors. However, the Z Play is no match against its flagship brethren, the Snapdragon 820-equipped Moto Z.

 

3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited

3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test uses a mix of graphics and physics tests to measure hardware performance. The first test measures the GPU’s ability to process lots of vertices, while the second does the same thing with lots of pixels and post-processing effects. Finally, the physics test switches the load to the CPU to test its ability to process physics simulations, while keeping GPU load low. Graphics processing differences are the biggest when comparing between mainstream and flagship-tier processors – this meant that the Z Play certainly holds its ground against similar rivals, but a true graphics beast would only be found in its flagship counterpart.

For your own reference, the Moto Z Play scored 832.50 for the 3DMark Sling Shot benchmark – we're still gathering companion results for this new benchmark, but as with 3DMark results, the higher the score, the better.

 

Camera Performance

The Moto Z Play comes with a 16-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture lens and 1.3-μm pixel size on its sensor. Like its flagship Moto Z, it has a color-balancing Dual LED flash, but it lacks the OIS found on its flagship counterpart. It also goes up to 4x digital zoom, unlike the Moto Z’s 8x digital zoom. It does boast a higher megapixel count than the 13-megapixel flagship, but that only translates to higher resolution photos – the rest of its features are sized down, relative to its asking price. Fortunately though, like the Moto Z, the Moto Z Play can record 4K videos at 30 FPS.

Click for full-res image.
100% crop of above test image.

Images captured by the Moto Z Play had noticeably vibrant colors. Most notable is strong presence of white which does stand out a little awkwardly, but it didn't overexpose the images. The lack of OIS means it can't match the sharpness levels of its flagship counterpart and we found the phone had difficulty capturing finer details - such as the outlines of each individual poker card, or the depth on the embossed dragon and phoenix to its right. Otherwise, the camera seems rather functional for day-to-day use. 

 

Battery Life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The 3,510mAh battery capacity isn’t just a meaningless number on the Moto Z Play. Repeated testing showed that the Moto Z Play has a surprisingly long uptime of 18.5 hours. Not only did the Z Play outperform Samsung’s phones that regularly top our battery benchmarks, the Moto handset also lasted 1.5 times longer than the ASUS ZenFone 3 with just a 510mAh difference in capacity.

If you’re solely looking out for an Android OS smartphone under S$700 with a battery that can last a better part of the day, the Moto Z Play should rank highest on your list of possible candidate.

 

Conclusion

The Moto Z Play is a decent option if you’re looking for a sub-S$700 mid-range alternative. Modules aside, it packs a decent mid-range processing subsystem that outclasses its peers with older processors, while giving its flagship Snapdragon 820 brother a run for its money. It packs an impressive battery life – a core feature for just about any smartphone user pushing long hours of work, every day. Besides decent specs and battery life, you’ll also find other expected features for its class – be it a fingerprint sensor, 3.5mm headphone jack, a bright display, a functional camera, and the list goes on.

However, when we factor the price tag and modules into play, the Moto Z Play would seem like a less practical investment. The Moto Mods are pricey for what they provide, and the variety of modules are still stagnant/limited for the time being. If you can afford to spend S$300 on a module, you’d have effectively paid the difference to top up for a flagship class device. So would you rather have a mid-range phone with 1 x Moto Mod or go straight for a flagship phone? That's a debate only you can answer, but it's still food for thought.

At S$699, it's also a hard bargain against the pretty yet cheaper ASUS ZenFone 3 (S$498) or the flagship-tier OnePlus 3 (S$699) going by the handsets' overall quality and processing sub-systems used. While the Z Play's monstrous battery life makes it favorable, the Moto Mods would still push the price far above the appetite of your typical phone user - plus, there's no need for a modular phone if you're going to avoid dropping the cash for its pricey modules.