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Motorola Moto Z Play review: A battery beast

Look at the Motorola Moto Z Play for its extra-long-lasting battery as much as its swappable snap-on accessories and affordable price.

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Lynn La
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Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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5 min read

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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.

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8.5

Motorola Moto Z Play

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.

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.

Moto Z Play: It keeps going, and going and going...

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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.

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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.

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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 PlayMotorola Moto ZMotorola Moto Z Force (US only)
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 1,920X1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 403 ppi535 ppi535 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.16x3x0.28 in6.11x2.96x0.2 in6.14x2.98x0.28 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 156.4x76.4x6.99 mm155.3x75.3x5.19 mm155.9x75.8x6.99 mm
Weight (Ounces, grams) 5.82 oz; 165 g4.79 oz; 136 g5.75 oz; 163 g
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 16-megapixel13-megapixel21-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K
Processor 2.0GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6252.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8202.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Storage 32GB32, 64GB32, 64GB
RAM 3GB4GB4GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TBUp to 2TBUp to 2TB
Battery 3,510 mAh (nonremovable)2,600 mAh (nonremovable)3,500 mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Below screenBelow screenBelow screen
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-C
Special features Headphone jack, Moto Mod snap-on accessories and dedicated accessory port on backMoto Mod snap-on accessories and dedicated accessory port on backMoto 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 convertedAU$905 convertedAU$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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A sunny outdoor shot shows objects that are bright and in focus.

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In this well-lit indoor image, you can see a few blue tints against the white background.

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In this closeup image, you can see the fine detailing of the shrimp cakes.

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The small text in this picture is still readable, especially at full resolution.

Lynn La/CNET

Does it perform well?

The most outstanding thing about the Z Play is its battery life. For our lab tests (we conducted two trials) of continuous video playback in Airplane mode, the device lasted an eyebrow-raising 23 hours and 3 minutes. Outside the lab, with mild usage it lasted four whole days without a charge. Four! The handset also comes with a 15W Turbo Charger for fast charging. Within an hour it regained 56 percent of its power and it was fully charged after 1 hour and 48 minutes.

As for its processor, the Z Play's Snapdragon 625 chipset isn't as advanced as the Snapdragon 820 on paper. Our benchmark tests confirmed this when I compared it with the Z and Z Force. The OnePlus 3, which also has the 820 processor but costs the same as the Z Play, outscored the Z Play as well on all tests, and the Alcatel Idol 4S, which has a 652 processor, beat the Z Play too.

But with day-to-day usage, you won't be able to discern much of a difference. The Z Play is fast enough to satisfy your common phone needs, and I didn't notice any sluggishness or delay with real-world tasks like opening the app drawer, calling up the keyboard, and launching apps like games and the camera.

Motorola Moto Z Play Benchmark Scores

Motorola Moto Z Play 810 2640 14168Motorola Moto Z 1733 4093 29675Motorola Moto Z Force 1730 4181 30468OnePlus 3 1750 4089 30337Alcatel Idol 4S 1459 3415 17627
  • Geekbench 4 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 4 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Should I get it?

Although it isn't as fast on paper as its Z and Z Force brethren, or its fellow $400 rivals like the OnePlus 3, Alcatel Idol 4S or ZTE Axon 7, the Motorola Moto Z Play is still worth your consideration. Sure, if you're on a tighter budget and don't find its Moto Mods completely necessary, I say go for the OnePlus 3. You'll be saving some dough and you'll have a more attractive handset by far.

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Of the three Moto Zs in the series, the Z Play has the most value.

Josh Miller/CNET

But if $450 is still within your price range (or £347 and AU$590, converted) and you want a phone that you can go days without charging, get the Moto Z Play. You won't have to use its Mods if you don't want to buy them (though they are fun to play around with), and you'll still get an enduring handset (with a headphone jack!) that'll outlast the next $400 or even $700 phone by far.

Motorola Moto Z Play comparison chart

Motorola Moto Z PlayOnePlus 3Alcatel Idol 4SZTE Axon 7
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 1,920X1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 403 ppi401ppi534 ppi538 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.16x3x0.28 in6.01x2.94x0.29 in6.06X2.97X0.28 in5.97x2.95x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 156.4x76.4x6.99 mm152.7x74.7x7.35 mm153.9x75.4x6.99 mm151.8x75x8.7 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.82 oz; 165 g5.57 oz; 158 g5.26 oz; 149 g6.53 oz; 185 g
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Camera 16-megapixel16-megapixel16-megapixel20-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.0GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6252.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8201.8GHz + 1.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6522.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Storage 32GB64GB32GB64GB, 128GB (varies by region)
RAM 3GB6GB3GB4GB, 6GB (varies by region)
Expandable storage Up to 2TBNoneUp to 200GBUp to 128GB
Battery 3,510 mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Below screenHome buttonBack coverBack cover
Connector USB-CUSB-CMicro-USBUSB-C
Special features Moto Mod snap-on accessories and dedicated accessory port on backNotifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash ChargingBoom Key (programable key), reversible OS, dual-SIMDual-SIM
Price off-contract (USD) $450$399$400$400
Price (GBP) £347 converted£329£385Converts to £345
Price (AUD) AU$590 convertedConverts to AU$530AU$470Converts to AU$605
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8.5

Motorola Moto Z Play

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Camera 7Battery 10