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Moto Z Play review: Long-lasting, affordable, and modular too

Jason Cross | Sept. 9, 2016
It may not be as fast as the other Moto Z phones, but the return of the headphone jack and super battery life make up for it.

We like the Moto Z and it’s bigger, bulkier cousin the Moto Z Force. They’re speedy, elegant phones with a good approach to modular add-ons—as opposed to the LG G5, whose “take the whole phone apart” approach to modules doesn’t sit well with us.

Those other two Moto Z phones are expensive, high-end, premium devices. The Moto Z Play takes the same general concepts, and compatibility with the same Moto Mods, and brings it down to an affordable price point: about $450. And really, unless you simply need to have a phone with screaming-fast benchmark scores, this more affordable model is a better phone. Really!

Finding the sweet spot

The Moto Z aims to be so thin that you can slap a Moto Mod on the back and still have a “regular phone” thickness, and the Moto Z Force adds a shaterproof display and bigger battery. The Moto Z Play doesn't push the envelope. It is concerned with finding the sweet spot between price and performance.

Structurally, it’s nearly identical to the Moto Z Force. It’s almost exactly the same size and thickness, with a metal band around the rim where the Force has a heavily beveled edge. I’d prefer a little more separation between the power and volume buttons on the right side, and the plastic bit surrounding the USB-C port looks a little cheap, but for a phone in this price range it looks and feels good.

moto z play buttons 
I could use a little more space between the power and volume buttons, but the overall design of the Moto Z Play belies its price.

Motorola gets the price down by downgrading the system-on-chip (SoC) from a top-end Snapdragon 820 to a mid-range Snapdragon 625, with 3 gigs of RAM and 32GB of storage. The 5.5-inch display resolution is reduced from quad HD (2560x1440) to full HD (1920x1080). Frankly, at this size, full HD is just fine and probably the smarter choice. Higher resolutions are primarily only useful for VR. The display is otherwise bright and colorful with good viewing angles and excellent visibility in bright sunlight. By default it’s a little oversaturated with slightly blue white balance, but choosing “standard” color mode in the settings helped alleviate both problems.

moto z play ports 
USB-C and a headphone jack? The mid-range Moto Z one-ups its more expensive pals.

You’ll notice a headphone jack next to that USB-C port on the bottom. You know, that important core technology stupidly missing from the Moto Z and Z Force. The square fingerprint sensor beneath the display is quite fast and accurate, but is sadly not a home button. I would prefer that it was, with capacitive Recent and Back buttons to either side, instead of on-screen controls. Or at least give me the option to use physical buttons and reclaim that screen real estate.


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