Motorola Moto Z Play review: The lower cost modular option
The Moto Z Play gives you access to Motorola's Moto Mods at a lower price, although its general performance isn't spectacular.
It’s pretty common for mobile manufacturers to follow up a hero device with a slightly lower-cost option. It’s why there are so many Samsung "Galaxy" phones in a given year, but only one Galaxy S7. Sometimes, however, the lower-cost option comes along at the same time as the hero phone, and that’s precisely what Motorola has done with the Moto Z Play. It’s a slightly lower-specced version of the Motorola Moto Z in a thicker frame with a lower price point.
Upsides: Why you’d want the Moto Z Play
- Moto Mods improvements: Like the Moto Z, the Moto Z Play is compatible with Motorola’s new "Moto Mod" accessories. These are a range of magnetically attached add-on devices such as cameras, speakers and projectors that substantially increase the capabilities of the core phone. Impressively, there’s no penalty in terms of Moto Mod operation for choosing the Moto Z Play over the Moto Z. What that means in practical terms is that while the Moto Z Play is undoubtedly mid-range, with the right Moto Mod you can effectively make it quite a premium phone.
- Good battery life: The Moto Z Play has a much thicker frame and heavier carrying weight than the Moto Z. That’s less fun in a style sense, but it allows Motorola to throw in a 3,510mAh battery into the Moto Z Play. Combine that with the lower power Snapdragon 625 processor in the Moto Z Play and it should have quite exceptional battery life. We’d love to be able to present you with a comparative table here as we usually do, based on Geekbench 3’s older battery life test, but despite repeated attempts, something in the Motorola Moto Z Play’s software crashed the test, every time. Based on observations it should head to a 10-12 hour battery life under that test at least, and possibly a bit more, putting it in the upper echelon of phone batteries. In more anecdotal testing, single day life is a doddle and we’d have no hesitation in saying that two days is entirely feasible even with a moderate workload.
- Fair mid-range performance: The Moto Z Play is most definitely the lower performance of the pair of Moto Z phones, and it shows in day to day use and in benchmark terms. Here’s how the Moto Z Play compared using Geekbench 4’s CPU test:
Handset Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better) Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3374 5649 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1359 5333 Samsung Galaxy S7 1378 4718 Apple iPhone SE 2449 4171 Apple iPhone 6s 2465 4052 Google Pixel XL 1629 4051 Motorola Moto Z 1477 3853 Sony Xperia XZ 1636 3604 Google Nexus 6P 1293 3594 Motorola Moto X Force 1352 3581 Motorola Moto Z Play 799 2648 Sony Xperia X 1122 2626 Motorola Moto G Play 522 1334
It’s not quite as rosy a story for 3D performance. Here’s how the Moto Z Play compared against a range of mid-range phones, as well as its more expensive sibling:
Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result Motorola Moto Z 25629 Google Nexus 6P 24703 Sony Xperia Z5 19197 Alcatel IDOL 4S 18186 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus 17981 Huawei Mate 8 17947 HTC One X9 16877 Sony Xperia X 16648 Motorola Moto Z Play 13958 Sony Xperia XA 11173 Oppo R9 11053
- Low-key Android: Motorola plays it very light in terms of overlay UI, and the Moto Z Play is no exception. If you’re a fan of the basic material design look, the Moto Z Play will appeal a lot.
Downsides: Why you might not want the Moto Z Play
- Mods are an untested commodity: We noted this in our review of the Moto Z as well. Motorola is only just embarking on Moto Mod support, and while it’s promising that upcoming phones will support the mods, it is yet to announce any other phones that will. The practical upshot of this is that you could save by buying the Moto Z Play but still spend into the premium bracket on mods to put on it, only to find them less than useful a year or two from now.
- Terrible button/fingerprint positioning: We’re still befuddled as to who in Motorola thought it would be a good idea to put the fingerprint sensor in the home button space, but not have it act as an actual home button as well. That’s a software button above the fingerprint sensor, and we absolutely guarantee that you will hit one when you mean to hit the other, over and over again.
- Chunky design: The Motorola Moto Z is beautifully sleek, and we feel a little bad to be fat shaming the Moto Z Play, but it does have to be said that this is quite a lot of phone to hold in your hand, even if you’ve only got the basic back case in place. Adding a mod turns it into a really solid brick of a thing to have in your hand, let alone your pocket.
- No contract options: Motorola’s not been with a contract partner for a while now for its handsets, and while the Moto Z Play is relatively affordable at $699, that’s an outright price not including any Moto Mods.
Motorola Moto Z Play: Specs
Motorola Moto Z Play
|32GB with expandable microSD up to 2TB|
|1080 x 1920|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor up to 2 GHz Octa-Core CPU with Adreno 506 GPU|
|Colours||Black with Silver, White with Fine Gold|
Who is it best suited for? What are my alternatives?
We still love the idea of a modular smartphone, and Motorola’s made the best stab at it that we’ve seen so far. The Moto Z is more powerful phone, but it works in the exact same way with the mods as the cheaper Moto Z Play, so there’s a strong argument if you like the modular approach to opt for this particular phone.
That being said, you have a lot of choices in the mid-range space, and at $699, it’s not even all that far from some of the discount prices we’ve seen for some of this year’s flagship phones. The most obvious competitor device would be the LG G5, which has similar modular accessories, but a much more annoying battery removal system for implementing them. You could also consider other mid-range devices such as Sony’s Xperia X, Telstra’s Signature Premium or Huawei’s P9 smartphones.
How can I get it?
The Motorola Moto Z play is sold outright for $699 from Motorola's online store. It’s also sold in retail stores by Harvey Norman, The Good Guys Stores and Officeworks.
Latest phone reviews
The reborn Nokia's first new premium phone is a fine handset, but uninspired design and a less than premium camera detract from its value proposition. Read more…
Huawei's Y5 2017 won't worry your wallet much, but you'll spend a lot of time waiting for it to respond. Read more…
The Nokia 6 is not the premium return of the Finnish brand you were hoping for. Read more…
Oppo's R11 is an impressive phone, especially if you're keen on a dual lens camera but not the premium prices they usually command. Read more…
Sony sells the Xperia XZ Premium on the back of its amazing slow-motion ability, but there's a lot more to this premium handset. Read more…