Moto Z Play review

The longer-lasting modular phone with a headphone jack

Moto Z Play review
Moto Z Play review

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  • 16MP rear-facing camera with an f/2.0 aperture
  • Laser auto-focus and phase detection autofocus (PDAF)
  • 5MP front-facing camera, wide-angle 85 degree lens
  • Twist twice gesture launches the app or switches cameras

The Moto Z Play camera is 16MP with an f/2.0 aperture, and it provides around the same picture quality as the Moto Z, with its 13MP sensor but superior f/1.8 aperture. The Moto Z Force is better in all ways with a 21MP camera, and a f/1.8 aperture to match the standard Moto Z.

Moto Z Play

Moto Z Play combines laser autofocus and phase detection autofocus that translates into zero shutter lag, but it doesn't have the best low-light capabilities and lacks optical image stabilization. Noise and poor color tones become issues when you turn down the lights.

Does well when it's nice and bright out

It performs just fine in ample daylight, of course, and at night, its bright color-balancing dual LED flash won't go unnoticed. The circular camera and flash bump are huge, but that doesn't mean the picture quality is the best. Just like the megapixel count, bigger isn't always better.

Too much noise when the lights are dim

The front-facing camera is 5MP, with what Motorola touts as a wide-angle 85 degree lens. It captures more of your selfie scene than an iPhone, which we have always found incredibly narrow and cropped. But you're not going to get nearly as much in as the LG V20 with its 120 degree wide selfies.

Moto Z Play

Video capabilities here are surprisingly robust for the price, with the resolution climbing all the way up to 4K. It doesn't go beyond 30fps at 4K or 1080p, but it can shoot okay slow-motion 720p video at 120fps.

Motorola has thankfully redesigned its default camera app to be a little more feature-filled and easier to use by moving away from the hidden settings wheel. It's now a slide-from-the-left settings menu.

The front-facing camera does an okay job with a wide-angle field of view

Cycling through your gallery of previously taken photos by dragging them from the right is a little annoying, especially when in landscape mode (which is how you should take most photos). Sliding from this orientation puts your swipe too close to the on-screen shutter button. Now you have an out-of-focus-shot.

What makes up for the fumble-prone gallery mode is the ability to open the camera app with the the quick capture gesture. Just twist the phone twice and it'll launch the app. If the app is already launched, it'll toggle between the front and back cameras. That's handy.

Battery life

  • Awesome two-day battery life with a 3510 mAh capacity
  • Its 1080p resolution and softer specs increase longevity
  • Fast charging, but USB-C cable and charger are one piece

Here's what took us the most time to confirm in our full review: just how long does the Moto Z Play battery last? Motorola promises 50 hours of mixed use, and we generally agree with that number.

Moto Z Play

We found that the Moto Z Play lasted a full 44 to 48 hours – up to two days – based on our our heavier-than-average phone addiction. That's a big deal among even the best smartphones in the world.

Generally, we've been impressed by day-and-a-half battery life, but this phone tops that by another half day. It's about less time charging, and, just as the name suggests, more time playing.

Going to bed two nights into testing the Moto Z Play and having it cling to life at 2% in the morning (47 hours after originally taking it off the charger) gave us a new battery life benchmark.

That extra use time is thanks to the 3,510mAh battery capacity. It makes the phone thicker than the ultra-thin Moto Z (with a small 2,600mAh capacity), but the Play will get you through more just a day.

Even the Moto Z Force, touting its big battery life in marking materials, doesn't last quite this long. It's rated at 40 hours thanks to its nearly-as-large 3,500mAh.

In our standardized battery lab test, a 100% charged Moto Z Play made it through a 90-minute looped HD video and only dropped 7% to 93%. By comparison Moto Z dropped 27%. Ouch.

Here's how the Moto Z Play does it. Not only does it have a big battery size, its 1080p screen resolution and lighter specs easily make it go 12 hours longer than the Z Force. It's all about saved resources here.

This longer-lasting version of the Moto Z does take more time to fully charge, but it features the same fast-charging TurboPower charger in the box. It took a depleted battery to 24% in just 15 minutes.

We liked the TurboPower charger's reversible USB-C connection, and only had an issue with the fact that Motorola permanently ties the big charger block and USB cable.

You can't separate the two and plug it into a computer, for example. We had the same issue with the Moto Z and Moto Z Force. You can, thankfully, use almost any QuickCharge charger from a different phone.

Matt Swider