Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Like the gearhead who aspires to turn his Toyota Camry into a street racer by bolting on an aftermarket exhaust, Lenovo’s Moto Z phones let you soup them up through mods, magnetic accessories that add functionality such as a better camera, longer battery life, and a projector.
With its 5.5-inch display and Snapdragon 625 processor, the Moto Z Play is the midrange model in this lineup, costing $449 on Verizon ($669 unlocked). While there’s nothing spectacular about this phone’s performance one thing does stand out: Its amazing battery life.
Design: Still Has Headphone Jack
Can you hear me now? Unlike the Z Force and the Z Droid, the Z Play has a headphone jack, which will be a major plus for those who don’t want to run out and buy Bluetooth earbuds.
I like the Z Play’s all-glass front and back, as well as its aluminum edging. However, unlike the more tapered sides of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the Z Play has more vertical sides, making the phone a little harder to hold. At the bottom of the front, you’ll find a square fingerprint sensor that annoyingly doesn’t double as a Home button; too many times, I pressed the sensor, believing it would bring me back to the home screen. For that, you have to use the on-screen home button.
In another questionable design decision, the power button for the Z Play is located on the right side of the phone, just below the volume buttons. While the power button has small ridges, all three are the same size, making it likely that you’ll accidentally turn the screen off when you’re just trying to turn down the volume.
The rear of the Z Play is a smooth piece of glass, with a large circular camera lens at one end, and a rather unsightly connector at the other, that you use to link the phones to the mods. The 16-pin connector looks like someone forgot to attach a SCSI cable.
Like its brethren, Z Play has a water-repellent coating that should keep it safe from unexpected splashes, but it doesn’t have the dunkability of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which can be submerged in up to 5 feet of water for 30 minutes.
At 6.08 x 3 x 0.28 inches and 5.8 ounces, the Z Play is about the same size and weight as the Z Force, and is a bit wider, taller, and heavier than the S7 Edge (5.53 ounces) and OnePlus 3 (6.01 x 2.94 x 0.28 inches and 5.57 ounces).
Display: Vivid Colors
The Z Play’s 5.5-inch 1080p super AMOLED screen doesn’t have the resolution of the Galaxy S7 Edge (2560 x 1440), butit’s on a par with similarly priced phones such as the OnePlus 3. The display is bright, colorful, and will get the job done.
At 448 nits, the Z Play just outshines the average smartphone as well as the OnePlus 3 (379 nits), but isn’t nearly as retina-searing as the Galaxy S7 (530 nits).
Explosions and laser blasts in the Star Wars Rogue One trailer were rich and vibrant, and I was also pleased with the contrast during darker scenes, such as the Star Destroyers and Death Star set against the black sky.
Our test results backed up my impressions. The Z Play can display 172.8 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which, while not as wide as the OnePlus (192 percent) or S7 Edge (189 percent), is plenty colorful. However, its Delta-E score (a measurement of how accurate those colors are displayed) was a high 4.3, which is nearly twice the competition—numbers closer to 0 are better.
It’s a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World
Moto’s modular attachments are, on the whole, far more functional and practical than the LG G5’s add-ons. Currently, five mods are available, starting with the basic $19.99 Moto Style Shells, which let you change the look of the rear of the phone.
The most practical is perhaps the Incipio offGRID Power Pack ($59.99), which added more than 7 hours of battery life when we tested it with the Moto Z.
Other mods include the JBL SoundBoost Speaker ($79.99), the Moto Insta-Share Projector ($299), and the Hasselblad 4116 True Zoom ($249), a camera attachment that took disappointing photos when we put it to the test.
The 16-MP camera in the Z Play is more than adequate for a camera in this price range.
An image of a large pink Hibiscus was well-lit and full of color, and when I zoomed in on the pistil, I could make out intricate details in the flower.
Everybody takes pet photos, and in this regard, the Moto Z Play won’t fail, but it won’t impress, either. In a shot of two lazy cats indoors, the foreground gray cat (Mervin, if you’re wondering) was sharp, but underexposed. In the background, the mostly-white Walter was half blown out, with some unnatural yellowish shading.
As I noted in the review of the Hasselblad True Zoom, the Moto Z Play did a better job than the Mod when taking a nighttime photo with flash; The woman in the foreground wasn’t blown out by the flash, and I could still clearly make out the Manhattan skyline in the background.
The camera had a bit of trouble with the color balance inside the World Trade Center’s transit hub; the white ribs of the Calatrava-designed station had a sickly, greenish hue.
In sunny conditions, the Moto Z Play was able to record vibrant 1080p video, but struggled when it came to lighting; in the clip below, the Flatiron building is almost completely silhouetted with the sun behind it, but to be fair, most cameras will have trouble in this situation. I liked the fact that I could adjust the exposure on the fly by pressing and holding the center circle, then dragging my thumb around it.
A front-facing 5-MP shooter took good selfies, and a beautify feature will automatically smooth over your wrinkles. If you have an especially hideous face, you can manually adjust the level of beautification.
Performance: Pretty Good
Powered by a mid-range Snapdragon 625 processor with 3GB RAM and 32GB ROM, the Z Play turned in strong, but not category-leading performance.
On Geekbench 3, its score of 4,699, was higher than the average for smartphones (3,240), but below the Snapdragon 820-powered Moto Z (5,612) and Z Force (5,596). The S7 Edge also scored a higher 5,448. The OnePlus 3, which has a Snapdragon 820 CPU and 6GB of RAM, scored 5,554. The Honor 8, which has an octa-core Kirin 950 and 4GB of RAM, beat them all with a score of 6,229.
Similarly, on 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, the Z Play’s score of 14,104 was half that of the Moto Z and Z Force (28,306 and 29,502, respectively), as well as the S7 Edge (29,851) and OnePlus (29,957). The Honor 8 fared a bit better, at 17,965. In this instance, the Z Play also fell below the category average of 14,650.
Transcoding a 205MB video from 1080p to 480p took 5 minutes and 13 seconds, much longer than the OnePlus 3 (3:28) and the S7 (4 minutes)—not to mention the Honor 8’s 2:27—but it was more than two minutes faster than the smartphone average of 7:49.
Battery Life: Epic
The Moto Z Play’s 3,510 mAh battery greatly impressed, lasting 13 hours and 46 minutes on our battery test (Web surfing via LTE on Verizon).
By comparison, the Motorola Moto Z Force lasted 10:15 and the S7 Edge lasted 10:09; the average smartphone lasts 8:45, the OnePlus lasted 8:33, and the Moto Z Droid conked out after 7:45. The Honor 8 could only hold on for a mere 7 hours.
The Z Play also has Turbo Charging, which will give you up to 9 hours of juice after just 15 minutes of charging, using the included plug.
Bloatware: Too Much, Verizon!
As with other Android Verizon smartphones, the Z Play has its share of bloatware, including six apps from Verizon alone, Audible, Amazon Kindle,IMDb, NFL Mobile, and Slacker Radio.
Do we really need a phone with Cookie Jam, Juice Jam, Farm Heroes Saga, and Panda Pop? Fortunately, you can uninstall much of this pablum.
As a phone, the Moto Z Play is a good midway point between the ultra-thin Moto Droid and the powerful Moto Z Force. It performs well, has great battery life, and its camera is pretty good, too. I wish it had less bloatware, but that’s something endemic to most all Android phones. For $270 less (compared to the unlocked Moto Z Play), the OnePlus 3 offers much better performance, an all-metal design, but five hours less endurance. Ultimately, though, the Moto Z Play is a good phone that has the potential, through add-on Mods, to be a very good phone.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Michael A. Prospero is the U.S. Editor-in-Chief for Tom’s Guide. He oversees all evergreen content and oversees the Homes, Smart Home, and Fitness/Wearables categories for the site. In his spare time, he also tests out the latest drones, electric scooters, and smart home gadgets, such as video doorbells. Before his tenure at Tom's Guide, he was the Reviews Editor for Laptop Magazine, a reporter at Fast Company, the Times of Trenton, and, many eons back, an intern at George magazine. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College, where he worked on the campus newspaper The Heights, and then attended the Columbia University school of Journalism. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, electric scooter, or skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine, smoker, or pizza oven, to the delight — or chagrin — of his family.