Moto Z Play review: The best smartphone battery yet
Moto Z Play: Performance
If you’re scratching your head and wondering where Lenovo have made the £130 saving, stop looking. While the Moto Z was powered by the quad-core 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM, the Moto Z Play has the markedly less powerful 2GHz Snapdragon 625 running the show. There’s also 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage, with a microSD slot allowing you to add an extra 256GB should you wish.
To be clear, in daily use you won’t find the Moto Z Play to be a slouch at all. As most Android phones are out the box, the Play is zippy and smooth, and has no problems multitasking. When exposed to more demanding benchmarks, however, you discover that, while the Moto Z is right up there with the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7, the Moto Z Play is more at home battling the mid-range market.
Here it is against the Moto Z and a handful of other similarly priced handsets.
As you’d expect for a handset that is £130 more expensive, the Moto Z wipes the floor with the Play. The Huawei Nova (£340) and Nova Plus (£386) offer similar performance, as you’d expect, but yet again the outlier is the OnePlus 3, which somehow manages to offer flagship performance while undercutting every single one of them at £330.
In other words, if speed and price are your only concerns, stop reading now and get a OnePlus 3. Don’t feel bad, Lenovo, pretty much every phone manufacturer has had that verdict from us lately.
Moto Z Play: Battery life
Battery life is usually something so mundane that I don’t tend to give its own review segment, but the Moto Z Play’s results were so good that it left us wondering whether we’d miscalibrated somehow.
To give you some background, this is how our battery test works. We play a looped 20-hour 720p video, set the phone’s brightness to 170cd/m2, enable flight mode, set the volume to medium and connect a pair of in-ear headphones. Then we let the video run the battery all the way down, reboot the phone and see where the video stopped. It’s not the perfect way to gauge battery life, but it allows us to compare handsets like-for-like, and 20 hours is so long that most phones don’t see anywhere near the end of the video.[gallery:3]
The Moto Z Play did. Not only did it see to the end of the video, it managed to keep going for another 3hrs 45 minutes on top of that.
To put that into context, the only phone that has come close was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (and there are reasons we don’t celebrate the battery life on that handset so much nowadays), which lasted 21hrs 57mins. With that out of the equation, the next nearest contender is the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with 18hrs 42mins. That means the Moto Z Play’s battery lasts 27% longer than the best in the business.
I don’t quite understand the secret sauce Lenovo has mixed into their battery here, especially when the Moto Z’s was so underwhelming. And while the battery capacity of the Moto Z Play is bigger, 3,510mAh doesn’t suggest a performance this huge. However, our sister site Expert Reviews is getting similar times with its Moto Z Play, so I’m inclined to trust my results.
Moto Z Play: Camera
The camera isn’t so easy to praise. If you just pay attention to megapixels, you might be impressed: it has a 16-megapixel camera, which looks better on paper than Moto Z’s 13-megapixel effort, and the pixels are bigger, at 1.3um in size compared with the Moto Z’s 1.12um. That should ensure better performance and cleaner low-light imagery. In other areas, however, the Moto Z Play’s camera takes a step backwards. For starters, it has a slightly dimmer, f/2.0 aperture, negating the advantage of the larger pixels somewhat. There’s also no optical image stabilisation here, which further reduces the effectiveness in less than optimal conditions.[gallery:5]
From the specifications, I’d expect similar results to the Moto Z; in fact, in some respects, it’s better. The photographs it captures are noticeably brighter than the Moto Z’s and more detailed. In darker environments, things become considerably more grainy, but most casual snappers will be happy with the results. Again, they’re not too far removed from the output of the Moto Z, and I thought that was among the better smartphone cameras I’d used recently, although it’s not in the same league as the Samsung Galaxy S7 or Google Pixel XL’s camera.[gallery:8]
The front-facing camera is identical to that found on the Moto Z: a 5-megapixel, f/2.2, 1.4um Pixel camera with LED flash. It’s be fine for selfies, although with many rivals plumping for 8-megapixel units recently, it feels a little old hat.
Moto Z Play: Mods
I’ll be back to cover these in more detail at a later date, but the bottom line is this: mods for the Moto Z Play are far more convincing than anything we’ve seen in a modular phone before. Unlike the LG G5, which requires you to turn off the phone every time you want to sub in a different modification, the Moto Z family is plug-and-play. It’s so elegant, in fact, that if you attach the JLB SoundBoost add-on while listening to music, the output will automatically switch from the internal speakers without you having to do anything at all.
At the moment, there are four add-ons available. A Hasselblad camera with 10x optical zoom, that JBL speaker to beef up the sound, a battery pack and a projector. We’ve had the first two in to look at, and I’ll update this review with some thoughts later.
All mods are compatible with both the Moto Z and Moto Z Play, and Lenovo has already said it will keep this innovation going for their next generation of phones. It really is one of the best innovations I’ve seen in years, although at the moment add-ons that make it necessary are a touch thin on the ground.
Moto Z Play: Verdict
The Moto Z Play is a strange one to assess. It has the same bold innovation as the Moto Z, but its extra chunkiness makes it inherently less appealing. It’s considerably cheaper, but slower, making it seem like worse value for money. Then again, it has both a record-breaking battery life and a 3.5mm headphone jack – both of which the Moto Z lacks.
My conclusion, therefore, is also a bit of a mix. On the one hand, the Moto Z Play is both more expensive than the OnePlus 3 and a poorer performer. For many people, that will be enough, and for those reasons the OnePlus 3 remains our favourite smartphone of 2016.[gallery:9]
But it’s hard to ignore what the Moto Z Play does well. The battery life is the best we’ve encountered yet in a smartphone, and not by a small amount – it’s a country mile in front of its nearest competitor. And, along with its more expensive sibling, the Play is comfortably the most innovative, interesting phone of 2016.
Overall, I think the Moto Z Play is a great smartphone, and one I’d suggest you seriously consider alongside the OnePlus 3 if you’re in the market for a mid-priced handset.