Moto Z Play Droid review

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Check it out at Verizon

LG was the first out of the gate this year to introduce us to the concept of a modular smartphone. The company’s implementation with the G5 was what many agreed to be underwhelming, subsequently evident by the poor sales of the phone. Many believed that the modular idea was a dead end, barely able to mold and blossom into something tangible, but that was until Lenovo introduced a better implementation with its Moto Z and Moto Z Force – and boy did it change all of our perception!

One of the delightful surprises about the new phones were the various Moto Mod accessories that brought versatility to the phones, dishing up this new concept of “expanded functionality.” Given that many companies are on board with their own unique Moto Mods, which range from battery packs, to projectors, and much more, it means that future devices in this new line will probably harness them as well. Why make another variant of the same accessory to accommodate a new phone, right?

The benefits from this strategy become more prevalent with Lenovo’s latest smartphone, the Moto Z Play Droid. We know that the two aforementioned phones are high-end, cutting-edge devices meant to compete with other flagships, but the Moto Z Play Droid favors the mid-range segment of the market based on what it’s packing. From its 1080p screen, to the Snapdragon 625 chip that’s inside, it’s very indicative of a mid-ranger. Nonetheless, it’ll leverage the benefits provided by the existing line of Moto Mod accessories that are out now.

We’ve seen plenty of great mid-range smartphones released so far this year. But while the Moto Mods add a certain level of intrigue, will they be enough to propel the Moto Z Play Droid over competing devices fighting for notoriety in this sector of the market? Let’s find out in our full Moto Z Play Droid review!

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Design

Moto Z Play Droid-9

The Moto Z Play Droid looks very similar to its bigger brothers

A cursory glance at the Moto Z Play Droid will make most people mistake it for its previously released siblings; the Moto Z and Moto Z Force. There’s the uncanny resemblance with its design language, one that recycles the same metal and glass construction we’ve seen already, but it’s all packaged in a slightly taller, wider, and thicker chassis. Everything about the design is similar, like the hump produced by its camera lens, the USB Type-C port at the bottom, the responsive fingerprint sensor, and those pin connectors on the back for the Moto Mod accessories.

moto z force review aa (11 of 16)Don’t miss: Moto Z and Moto Z Force (DROID) review51

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The latter is especially integral, mainly because it means that the Moto Z Play Droid can leverage all the existing Moto Mods that have been released thus far – further solidifying Lenovo’s strategy and implementation for a modular phone. Our review unit, in fact, came along with a dark wooden cover that covered and protected the glass finish of the phone’s rear. All of this reaffirms the validity of Lenovo’s vision of a modular phone, which we have to mention is undeniably one of the most satisfying things about the Moto Z Play Droid. For a mid-ranger, it has a host of accessories at its disposal.

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USB Type C audio jackAlso read: 3.5mm audio vs USB Type-C: the good, bad and the future81

Even though it fails to match the thinness of its siblings, we’re not disappointed by its failure to follow suit because there’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack here. Yes people, there’s a headphone jack incorporated here, which should appease those who are staunchly opposed to the idea of eliminating it entirely. And to top it off, the Moto Z Play Droid features the same nano-coating technology that gives it the water repellent quality to stave off damage from minor incursions with water (think light rain and splashes).

You heard right – the Moto Z Play Droid has a headphone jack!

Appearing very similar to Lenovo’s previous phones, the Moto Z Play Droid’s design indicates that future phones that want to leverage the Moto Mods, whether they’re high, mid, or low-end things, will have to keep within the same design language and dimensions. We wouldn’t say it’s the most beautiful thing we’ve seen, but we’ll sacrifice that for compatibility with Moto Mods.

Display

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Due to how it adopts the same design language we’re familiar with, while also accommodating those Moto Mods, it should be no surprise that the Moto Z Play Droid comes with a 5.5-inch AMOLED display. However, the resolution of the panel drops down to 1080p, which of course places it squarely in that mid-range category. Naturally, it’s an expected outcome for a phone of its caliber, but it’s still more than detailed for the eye to see – and for others, they’d be hard pressed to realize it’s lower in resolution from a normal viewing distance.

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The AMOLED display isn’t the best on the market, but it’s still above average

As we look at some of the AMOLED screen’s benchmark performance, it becomes evident that it’s not performing to the same tune as Samsung’s panels in its flagships, but it’s still nevertheless an above average one. It’s bright with a maximum luminance of 517 nits, ensuring it’s plenty visible even on those sunny days outside. While the 7333K color temperature is a tad bit on the colder side, it’s not colder than some other AMOELD panels we’ve come across, which is a common attribute of the technology as a whole. And lastly, we do notice a hint of saturation with its color reproduction in the sRGB gamut chart – where it tends to be slightly overblown with colors such as green, yellow, and magenta.

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Like we mentioned already, the screen isn’t the best from the AMOLED camp, but despite that, the Moto Z Play Droid sees one with some above average qualities. Throw in a familiar feature, Moto Display, it means notifications, the time, and date are all accessible by taking the phone out of your pocket or nudging it.

Performance

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Stepping down to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, coupled with 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM and the Adreno 506 GPU, means that the Moto Z Play Droid is most affected when it comes to graphics processing. Superficially, it moves with the same finesse and zippiness as its siblings, as basic tasks are accompanied with tight responses. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of phone for gamers, since it does exhibit some choppiness with its performance – albeit, its performance is in line with other phones in its category with the same hardware.

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Placing phone calls under Verizon’s coverage, we’re happy to inform you that its call quality is pretty good. Voices coming out of the earpiece are distinct and audible, so we’re lucky that it barely exhibits any sort of distortion with its quality. Under noisy conditions, though, the volume output could’ve been better, just because it can easily be drowned out by the ambient sounds that are around.

Hardware

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As it currently stands, there’s only a single storage option for the Moto Z Play Droid – 32GB of internal capacity. That should suffice for most users, but for those that require more, there’s a microSD slot that’s ready to provide adequate expansion.

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The fingerprint sensor below the display, much like the ones found on the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, is square shaped and has a slightly raised outline. Unlocking the phone is a breeze thanks to its responsiveness when the phone is in its locked position, but when it’s pressed while it’s on, it acts to turn off the phone. So yeah, it doubles as another power button of sorts if you happen to feel lazy pressing the actual power key on its side.

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Watching videos on the Moto Z Play Droid is a pleasant experience, mainly thanks to how its 5.5-inch AMOLED screen is just perfect for the occasion with its wide viewing angles, punchy colors, and sheer size. The accompanying audio coming from its single speaker, whereby the earpiece doubles as audio for media playback, lacks any sort of substance with its output. Don’t get us wrong, audio produced by the speaker is clean and crisp, but there’s no thump or punchiness with its quality to make us feel like it’s something that won’t get drowned out in noisy conditions.

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And lastly, we’ll quickly graze over Moto Mods with this one, seeing that there’s nothing different here from what we’ve seen already. Of course, Moto Mods snap onto the back of the phone by lining up the corresponding pin connectors – where the prominent magnetic connection establishes a tight bond between the two. When it comes to expanding the functionality beyond what a traditional smartphone is capable of doing, no other system or implementation does it better than Moto Mods.

moto mods review projector aa (8 of 8)Continue reading: Moto Mods review: Blast, Power and Project in a snap9

Battery

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Justifying the need to be thinner and lighter is a prospect we all appreciate with smartphones, but in the case of the Moto Z Play Droid, it’s thicker than its two siblings. That’s not a bad thing per se, due to the fact that it features a larger 3510mAh battery cell. And when you have a 1080p screen instead of one with Quad HD resolution, the phone has the recipe for some serious battery life.

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Boy does it impress! It’s one of the better performing phones we’ve come by, better than the Honor 8 too! When it comes to longevity, the Moto Z Play Droid doesn’t disappoint – you’ll be astounded by its resistance to deplete. In our Wi-Fi browsing test, it managed to put up an outstanding mark of 16 hours and 13 minutes, while its recharge time of 109 minutes using the included Turbo Charger is also respectable. Best of all, you can always expand its battery life by even more with one of those battery pack Moto Mods. Do you want a wireless solution too? There’s a Moto Mod for that.

honor-8-reviewRelated: Honor 8 Review

Camera

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Stumped is one way of describing our reaction to realizing what camera has been fashioned into the Moto Z Play Droid. In terms of megapixel count, it’s in between the 13MP and 21MP cameras of the Moto Z and Moto Z Force respectively – so it’s a 16MP in the Moto Z Play Droid. The other notable differences here are the f/2.0 aperture lens and the lack of OIS, but besides that, everything else is the same. Meaning, it comes with laser & phase detection auto-focus, dual-LED flash, and up to 4K video recording.

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The camera app, too, is the same as its siblings. For the masses, it suffices in quickly focusing and snapping the shot, but for enthusiasts, they’ll be yearning for more to play around with. Indeed, there’s a manual mode to compose a shot to your liking, so you can capture a scene with the utmost precision and control. However, it lacks additional modes beyond the staple ones we get in every phone. For example, you won’t find those cool light painting modes we expect on most Huawei smartphones. Despite our desire for more modes, we still find the Quick Capture super useful in launching the camera app by twisting the phone in our hand a few times.

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Under ideal lighting conditions, the Moto Z Play Droid can take a great picture

Given its mid-ranger attachment, we’re actually impressed by the results produced by the 16MP camera here. When the conditions are ideal, such as those outdoor shots taken under sunny conditions, the Moto Z Play Droid snaps some crisp and detailed images. It seems to favor a warmer tone, but colors in general have some degree of saturation. The 5MP front-facing camera does nicely with selfies, by producing a pleasant level of sharpness to accompany its solid details capture.

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Under low light conditions, it can take awhile to snap a photo

Our only qualm with the camera is its longer snapshot time under low light settings. In this case, we’re told to keep the phone steady to gain enough exposure, but the downside is that blurring becomes more likely to happen in the process. At the same, its quality becomes a bit more grainy looking – while the general tone of the shots are softer, more speckled in the details. We will thankfully say, however, that the camera does an excellent job of minimizing noise in the scene.

Moving on to video recording, the same qualities found with its still-shot performance persist here as well. Therefore, that all means that the Moto Z Play Droid handles nicely when there’s an abundance of lighting during the recording, but tends to be a bit noisy under low light. Due to the lack of OIS here, videos are far more shaky in appearance, causing for more jitter in the process – so a steady hand will be necessary in combating that.

Moto Z Play Droid camera samples

At the end of the day, even though the camera doesn’t excel in all areas, our general consensus of it is a favorable one. Knowing that this is a mid-ranger we’re dealing with, we’ll take it! There’s still the matter of the new Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod, which delivers an impressive 10x optical zoom. We haven’t spent a lot of time using this new accessory, but we’ll be putting it through the paces to see if it has any benefits besides the zoom.

Software

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Honestly, the software is the same here with the Moto Z Play Droid. Running a mostly stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow experience, with a few of the usual enhancements we’ve seen from previous Motorola smartphones (Moto Display, Moto Actions, and Moto Voice), the experience as a whole will appease hardcore purists. Yes, there’s the matter of bloatware from Verizon that we all will have to contend with, but at this point, it’s a moot point in complaining about. At the very least, the experience here feels almost like it’s vanilla Android, so those purists will like that.

Considering that Nougat has been revealed, and became available to some Nexus-branded devices very recently, the only question surrounding the Moto Z Play Droid’s experience is the obvious: how long will we wait before it too receives the new software? We’re confident that it’s only a matter of time at this point.

Specifications

  Moto Z Play Droid
Display 5.5-inch AMOLED display with 1920 x 1080 resolution
401ppi
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
GPU Adreno 506
RAM 3GB
LPDDR3
Storage 32GB
MicroSD Yes
Cameras 16MP rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash, laser and phase detection auto-focus
5MP front camera with a wide-angle lens and flash
Battery Non-removable 3,510mAh
Software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

The Moto Z Play Droid will be available for pre-order in the U.S. through Motorola and Verizon from Thursday, September 8 for $17 per month for 24 months, or for $408 full retail. You’ll be able to pre-order the unlocked, non-Droid Edition Moto Z Play in the U.S. starting September 15 with availability beginning in October. The unlocked Moto Z Play will be available for $449.99 or for €499. The new Hasselblad True Zoom will be available for pre-order starting September 8 and available for purchase from Verizon on September 15 for $249.99, or for $299.99 through Motorola.

Check it out at Verizon

Don’t be fooled by its looks, the Moto Z Play Droid looks and feels like its modular siblings. It’s about the same size and weight, features the same fingerprint sensor, and it also leverages the same set of Moto Mods. The tradeoffs for this mid-ranger are mostly related to its screen resolution and processor, and that’s about it. If you don’t consider yourself to be a power user, you’ll be pleasantly impressed by how the Moto Z Play Droid manages to deliver nearly the same experience and performance as its superiorly spec’d siblings.

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Still, there are a few noteworthy things at stake here that makes a play at the handset’s strength. First and foremost, there’s a standard headphone jack here! We know, it might not be at the top of the list for everyone, but it’s satisfying that Lenovo opted to bring it back – so there’s no need to carry an adapter if you just want to use your standard pair of headphones. And secondly, it has a battery life that requires some serious usage to deplete! In all fairness, we found it incredibly tough to drain its battery.

Bringing back some much needed money to your pockets, the Moto Z Play Droid’s cost places it below its more expensive modular relatives. The savings there is appreciated given how it can leverage all of the existing Moto Mods, so at launch, the phone already has a healthy selection of accessories to choose from. Buy the phone because you want the Moto Mods, but don’t want to spend the usual fortune in buying the better spec’d modular phones that are currently available.


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