Motorola Moto Z Play review: The lower cost modular option

Alex Kidman 25 October 2016

MotoZPlay_diag_450

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.
MotoZ_side_450

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:
    HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge13595333
    Samsung Galaxy S713784718
    Apple iPhone SE24494171
    Apple iPhone 6s24654052
    Google Pixel XL16294051
    Motorola Moto Z14773853
    Sony Xperia XZ16363604
    Google Nexus 6P12933594
    Motorola Moto X Force13523581
    Motorola Moto Z Play7992648
    Sony Xperia X11222626
    Motorola Moto G Play5221334

    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:

    Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
    Motorola Moto Z25629
    Google Nexus 6P24703
    Sony Xperia Z519197
    Alcatel IDOL 4S18186
    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus17981
    Huawei Mate 817947
    HTC One X916877
    Sony Xperia X16648
    Motorola Moto Z Play13958
    Sony Xperia XA11173
    Oppo R911053
  • 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.

Moto Z Play review

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.

MotoZPlay_Rear_NoMod_450

Motorola Moto Z Play: Specs

Motorola Moto Z Play
Storage
 32GB with expandable microSD up to 2TB
Screen size
 5.5inch
Resolution
 1080 x 1920
Rear camera
 16MP
Front camera 5MP
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor up to 2 GHz Octa-Core CPU with Adreno 506 GPU
Display density
 535ppi
Battery
3510 mAh
ColoursBlack with Silver, White with Fine Gold

MotoZPlay_Rear_Case_450

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.

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