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Motorola Moto Z Play review:

A battery beast

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The Good The affordable Moto Z Play works with swappable modular accessories, retains its headphone jack (unlike the more upmarket Moto Z and Z Force) and has a battery that goes on and on.

The Bad The Z Play is the thickest and heaviest phone in the Moto Z series and its fingerprint sensor, annoyingly, can be mistaken for a home button.

The Bottom Line Even if you don't give two licks about its cool modular capabilities, get the Motorola Moto Z for an affordable phone with an impressively enduring battery life.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.5 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Camera 7.0
  • Battery 10.0

Motorola's Moto Z is a premium phone that made waves with its magnetic snap-on accessories. Unlike the LG G5, which also had swappable components, Motorola's take on modularity made a lot more sense and was easier to use.

With its Moto Z Play, the company trimmed down the hardware but beefed up the battery, retained the quirky Moto Mod feature and slapped on a cheaper price. And what can I say? I'm all for it. Affordable, reliable and boasting super-long battery life, the Z Play is an excellent midrange phone even without the Mods.

The device is available in the US on Verizon for $408, but an unlocked version that's compatible with GSM networks will be available globally in October for $450 (or £347 and AU$590, converted). Compare that with the original Z and its other counterpart the Z Force, which costs an additional $200 or more, the Z Play offers you all the goodies from Motorola's Z series, without breaking your wallet.

What makes this phone unique again?

The Z Play is a fully functioning handset, but on its back are two rows of magnetic bumps that let you attach and swap out accessories called Moto Mods. These Mods have a variety of uses and can be as simple as a decorative back cover (those covers come in a variety of patterns and textures) or as complex as an extra battery case, a snap-on speaker with kickstand or a projector. Motorola's newest Mod, a point-and-shoot camera accessory with a 10x optical zoom, is called the Hasselblad True Zoom.

The Mods are incredibly easy to use. With the audio speaker, music automatically starts playing when attached,and the projector requires hardly any setup. Even the True Zoom takes only a few seconds to ramp up and start capturing pictures.

Connecting the point-and-shoot camera accessory with the Moto Z Play.

Josh Miller/CNET

What's the difference between this Z Play and the Moto Z and the Moto Z Force?

The Z Play looks like the Z and Z Force (they share that annoying fingerprint sensor on the front that can be mistaken too easily for the home button), but as the more affordable midrange option, its specs vary. For one, instead of ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack like the other two, the Z Play still has its jack. That means its USB Type-C port and headphone jack exist side by side, together and happy, and you don't need a dongle adapter to listen to your music. You can also charge your phone while listening to beats. With even the Apple iPhone 7 losing its jack, maybe there's hope for your wired headphones in this cruel post-headphone-jack world, after all.

Though Z Play's 5.5-inch display is the same size as the other two, but it has a 1,080-pixel resolution compared with the others' 1,440p, and it isn't as durable as the Z Force's ShatterShield display. The Z Play also has a less powerful processor and a bit less RAM and its 16-megapixel rear camera sits between the Z and the Z Force's in terms of megapixels (compare all specs below). The camera lacks optical image stabilization too, so your photos might look blurrier if you have an unsteady hand.

From left to right: Motorola's Moto Z Play, Z and Z Force.

Josh Miller/CNET

Lastly, the Z Play is a tad thicker and heavier than the already weighty Z Force. This is because the former packs a slightly larger battery. Motorola says this is the "longest-lasting phone battery" on a Moto phone, which I'll get to later. For a quick comparison, check out our chart below:

Motorola Moto Z series

Motorola Moto Z Play Motorola Moto Z Motorola Moto Z Force (US only)
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 1,920X1,080 pixels 5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels 5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 403 ppi 535 ppi 535 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.16x3x0.28 in 6.11x2.96x0.2 in 6.14x2.98x0.28 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 156.4x76.4x6.99 mm 155.3x75.3x5.19 mm 155.9x75.8x6.99 mm
Weight (Ounces, grams) 5.82 oz; 165 g 4.79 oz; 136 g 5.75 oz; 163 g
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 16-megapixel 13-megapixel 21-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel 5-megapixel 5-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K
Processor 2.0GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Storage 32GB 32, 64GB 32, 64GB
RAM 3GB 4GB 4GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB Up to 2TB Up to 2TB
Battery 3,510 mAh (nonremovable) 2,600 mAh (nonremovable) 3,500 mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Below screen Below screen Below screen
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C
Special features Headphone jack, Moto Mod snap-on accessories and dedicated accessory port on back Moto Mod snap-on accessories and dedicated accessory port on back Moto Mod snap-on accessories and dedicated accessory port on back
Price off-contract (USD) $450 unlocked $699 unlocked $720 (on Verizon)
Price (GBP) £347 converted £499 £555 converted
Price (AUD) AU$590 converted AU$905 converted AU$944 converted

How's the camera?

The phone's 16-megapixel camera took clear, decent photos and its shutter operated quickly. Though I didn't have as a noticeably rough time with the camera's white balance as I did with the Z and Z Force, some images I captured still had white hues that were slightly tinted blue. Dimmer environments understandably featured more graininess, but the camera was altogether satisfactory for quick, casual shots. For more about photo quality, check out the images below and click on them to view them at their full resolution.

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