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Moto Z Play review: Lenovo leads the charge

Unveiled at IFA 2016, the Moto Z Play is a new modular smartphone from Lenovo. Compatible with Moto Mods, it is the third device to join the family after the Moto Z and Moto Z Force. More economical than its other variants, the Moto Z Play wants to democratize the modular smartphone. Did it work? Read on to find out.

Rating

Good

  • Excellent battery
  • Quality screen
  • Mini-jack

Bad

  • Too heavy
  • Disappointing camera
  • Moto Mods too expensive

Lenovo Moto Z Play release date and price

The Moto Play Z is priced around $500 for the 32 GB internal storage (expandable with microSD) version. The release  began in September. Mods are also available for sale in the US, like the JBL speaker or Hasselblad camera.

Lenovo Moto Z Play design and build quality

It's hard not to notice the Moto Z Play. The latest Lenovo is indeed a pretty awesome smartphone in terms of its dimensions (156.4 x 76.4 x 7 mm), although it is heavier than its counterparts. The smartphone is not ugly either. It's classic and looks like the Moto Z (the screen is the same size, i.e. 5.5 inches), except it is much thicker. The differences between the two devices are few, the only glaring difference is that the front flash is not on the same side.

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Can you spot the differences? / © AndroidPIT

The weight gain has its advantages. It enables it to bring back the 3.5mm mini-jack (because a mini-jack is apparently now an advantage) and include a bigger 3,510 mAh battery, which performs quite well (more on that later).

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The mini-jack is on the back. / © AndroidPIT

However, the camera is on the rear panel and sticks out a bit, which is not aesthetically pleasing. To remedy this, Lenovo offers Moto Style Shells, which are about 2 mm thick. The one that comes in the box provides a textile-like feel but Motorola gives you other options with many materials, textures and fabrics. Customization fanatics can change the style at any time, and quite quickly. The other advantage of this mod is it protects the connectors for mods on the back of the smartphone.

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You can customize the Moto Z Play. / © AndroidPIT

As far as material goes, the Moto Z Play flows seamlessly from metal to glass (Gorilla Glass 4). This makes it very a nice phone to hold but it collects fingerprints easily.

At the front, there is the fingerprint reader. It has no other function since you can't set it up as a home button. Its square shape is similar to the latest devices from Moto. This is something we don't care for.

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The fingerprint reader does not serve as the home button. / © AndroidPIT

Finally, on the right side, there are the volume and power buttons. One is serrated so you can distinguish between the two. In practice though, it is difficult to tell the difference.

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The grooved button is the power button. / © AndroidPIT

Overall, the Z Play is a stylish smartphone with high-end specs. Its handling is also good for those who like phablets. And the return of the mini-jack is always appreciated, even in 2016.

Lenovo Moto Z Play display

The Moto Play Z has a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED display. Unlike the Moto Z, which has a QHD screen, the Z Play is Full-HD (1080 x 1920 pixels), with 403 ppi.

In my case, I find that Samsung has the best displays. However, Lenovo has done a nice job with the Moto Z Play. The brightness looks good – a bit more would have been good though – and the colors are sharp in 'standard' mode. Generally speaking, you'll be pleased with the Moto Z Play display.

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The colors of the Moto Play Z are quite saturated. / © AndroidPIT

The Z Play also offers Ambient Display technology and displays information such as the time and notifications with a simple interaction, such as taking it out of your pocket. This is not new technology and has been around for a while.

Lenovo Moto Z Play special features

What makes the Moto Z Play really special and unique are its modules. Here is an overview of some Moto Mods currently offered.

Moto Mod: Insta Share Projector

It is impossible to look at the Moto Z Play projector module without thinking of the old Galaxy Beam. Back in 2012, this Samsung device came with a small embedded multimedia projector, and it was not a success. This Moto Mod operates the same way: it allows whatever is on the screen to be projected onto a flat surface with a resolution of WVGA 854 x 480 pixels (408 ppi).

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The projector module for the Moto Z line. / © AndroidPIT

When connected to the device you can adjust the image to any surface, as well as the brightness of the screen and notification settings, which can be silenced during mirroring. This feature is especially important for those who might work conventions and, of course, for those lovers of holiday slideshows with a modern twist.

The projector comes with a 1,100-mAh battery for extra power. The Moto Z Play and the Insta Share Projector are almost impossible to hold when connected. However, it can be used without interruption, and the accessory has a built-in fan for cooling, just like in a PC.

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Rest the device on a flat service while projecting a video. / © AndroidPIT

Moto Mod: JBL SoundBoost

JBL Moto Mod increases the volume of your device by adding speakers, which provide stereo sound instead of mono. When the module connects to the smartphone, it vibrates and you can hear an audible alert.

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The JBL SoundBoost optimizes the Moto Z Play's sound quality. / © AndroidPIT

In addition to this, the JBL SoundBoost has audio of 80 dB SPL @ 0.5 m, frequency response from 200 Hz to 20 kHz and can run for about 10 hours.

Moto Mod: Hasselblad True Zoom

Hasselblad is one of the most famous companies specializing in photographic equipment. It took images of the first man on the moon as well as the cover of the Beatles album Abbey Road.

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A very compact camera. / © AndroidPIT

The module has a Xenon flash, 10x optical zoom, RAW format support, a physical shutter and automatic backup. In other words, this module is better than many dedicated cameras out there.

The suggested price of this little beauty is $300.

Lenovo Moto Z Play software

Unsurprisingly, the Moto Z Play runs stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. There's no trace of bloatware and that's good. The experience is fluid and enjoyable. Those who are don't care for manufacturer-developed interfaces will be delighted with the Z Play.

The ultimate Android UI comparison

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Enjoy the total Android experience with the Moto Z. / © AndroidPIT

One downside of the Moto Z Play is the lack of Android Nougat, the latest version of Android. True, the update will come quickly (Q4 of 2016) but it's always a mess to launch a smartphone with the old version of the OS. The fault is not exclusively with Lenovo, Google has to share of responsibility as well.

Lenovo Moto Z Play performance

The Moto Z Play packs a Snapdragon 625 processor (octa-core), clocked at 2 GHz. This is backed by the Adreno 506 GPU and has 3 GB RAM. Its storage capacity is 32 GB, with microSD support offering the option to expand upon this.

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The Moto Z Play runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow / © AndroidPIT

Under normal use, the Z Play is quite satisfactory and it is difficult to note the performance differences with the rest of the Moto Z line. It does everything well, including multitasking. The optimization between software and hardware seems to be good. The pure version of Android certainly helped there. The only time you can see differences with most high-end smartphones is with fairly intensive games.

Here's how the Moto Z Play and Moto Z performed in benchmark tests:

  3DMark Unlimited 3D Mark Slingshot OpenGL 3.0 3D Slingshot OpenGL 3.1 Geekbench 4 Single-core Geekbench 4 Multi-core
Moto Z Play 13958 820 460 749 2418
Moto Z 24660 3001 2195 1487 3991

Another advantage of this mid-range processor is battery life. Compared with a faster processor, the Snapdragon 625 is a good compromise because it consumes less power and increases its lifespan. 

Lenovo Moto Z Play audio

For a smartphone, the Moto Z Play has good sound quality. Like many smartphones, there's a mono speaker. Of course, the sound quality is not perfect. It is worse than an Alcatel Idol 4, for example. The speaker is not loud but it prevents crackling or problems when you turn it up. I did not notice distortion. It is more than enough to watch videos or listen to podcasts.

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The Moto Z Play speaker is located at the front top of the device. / © AndroidPIT

Anyway, if you want a better experience, the Mod Motorcycle JBL is the perfect accessory to the Z Play. This increases the sound quality significantly.

Finally, regarding calls, the Z Play is very good. The network coverage is nice (even on the subway) and none of my contacts have complained so far.

Lenovo Moto Z Play camera

The main camera comes with a 16 MP sensor (capable of shooting in 4K), and the selfie snapper comes in at 5 MP. The resolution is better than the Moto Z but the aperture is clearly worse (f / 2.0 vs f / 1.8). It also lacks an optical image stabilizer.

As you can you expect, the Z Play camera isn't so great in low light conditions, despite the low-light mode. The photos aren't bad, however, in better lighting conditions. The Z Play is in the high-average of smartphone cameras in its class, but more affordable devices like the OnePlus 3 or Honor 8 have better cameras.

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The Moto Z Play camera sticks out too much. / © AndroidPIT

On the software side, the Moto Z Play has the same software as the Moto Z, G4 and G4 Plus. So, naturally, there's a manual mode. It's simple and effective.

Finally, if you are concerned about the quality of selfies, the front camera has an LED flash, like the Moto X Style.The front camera provides a sufficient aperture (f / 2.2) for selfies.

Lenovo Moto Z Play battery

Although it is the least expensive version of the Moto Z line, the Z Moto Play has a good battery with a capacity of 3,510 mAh. Additionally, the device can be recharged with TurboPower fast-charging technology. This allows several hours of use with just 15 minutes of charging.

The battery clearly is the highlight of the device. It is one of the best on the market right now. People looking for a good smartphone should seriously consider the Z Play. With this phone, Lenovo had the good sense not to yield to the temptations of a dainty design. The result is the phone can last two days under heavy use with no problems.

Why does it have such a good battery, you might ask. The answer is simple: a good battery + Android + stock AMOLED Full-HD + uses less CPU + Ambient Display.

Those looking for a good smartphone should consider the high-endurance Moto Z Play

The vast majority of Android phones die after four or five hours with the screen on. The Z Play (with the brightness set to 80 percent), can get you seven to eight hours of playtime. It's just a nice to use every day. Being near an outlet at all times is difficult. This long battery can change your smartphone usage. You can view all the videos you want or use the GPS in your car without having to worry about recharging. Thank you Lenovo.

Lenovo Moto Z Play technical specifications

    • Type:
    • Phone
    • Model:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Manufacturer:
    • Lenovo
    • Dimensions:
    • 156.4 x 76.4 x 6.99 mm
    • Weight:
    • 165 g
    • Battery size:
    • 3510 mAh
    • Screen size:
    • 5.5 in
    • Display technology:
    • AMOLED
    • Screen:
    • 1920 x 1080 pixels (403 ppi)
    • Front camera:
    • 5 megapixels
    • Rear camera:
    • 16 megapixels
    • Flashlight:
    • Dual-LED
    • Android version:
    • 6.0.1 - Marshmallow
    • RAM:
    • 3 GB
    • Internal storage:
    • 32 GB
    • Removable storage:
    • microSD
    • Chipset:
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
    • Number of cores:
    • 8
    • Max. clock speed:
    • 2 GHz
    • Connectivity:
    • HSPA, LTE, NFC, Dual-SIM , Bluetooth 4.0

Final verdict

The Moto Z Play is the most affordable modular smartphone on the market. If this concept interests you, then it could be a cheaper option than the LG G5. However, I remain skeptical of this first generation of mods. Although the Lenovo system is ingenious, its first mods did not convince me. Worse still, its prices are discouraging.

The Moto Z Play's battery lasts a long time

Fortunately, if you put the modular aspect of the smartphone aside, the Moto Z Play is a good smartphone that stands out for its long battery life. This advantage becomes one of the best arguments for purchasing it. Lenovo has found a way to market a modern phone that can last at least two days. Certainly its camera and design are not the best on the market but the battery life has been a refreshing experience for me. This is not, however, the best smartphone in the $500 price range.

3 comments

Write new comment:
  • Dean L. 2 weeks ago Link to comment

    The Moto Z Play just made my list. The battery life puts it on my list and I'm not a gamer so as an average user the performance would work for me. Doesn't seem fair to knock the camera just because it's got an f2.0 aperture. The mods at least give you options. But not having a flagship price helps imo.

  • why do u want more usb type c ports when there has never been a phone before with more than 2 of the same ports?

  • storm 3 months ago Link to comment

    Keeping the headphone port is a wise idea at this point in the market. The Z is not a full on flagship play.

    There are far too many out of spec USB C products on the market. USB C products are still way overpriced. Most people don't have a USB C port on their computer yet.

    You need adapters to operate your current gear--clunky. You need a clunky hub for connecting multiple things simultaneously.

    USB C will be great when they realize they need to give me at least two and preferably three USB C ports on my phone so I can really use my phone like I want to and do now with multiple ports available. One port is a bad move in the market and not a move for any phone poweruser.

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