Lenovo Moto Z Play in-depth review - Watch me work

When it comes to smartphones, the word "modular" conjures up thoughts of Google's Project Ara - a futuristic take on what a smartphone could be. Not long after LG had a stab at mainstream modularity with the LG G5, Moto presented their vision with the Moto Z family.

 Lenovo Moto Z Play Review - Watch me work

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,11/21/2016 2:42:06 PM


out of 10



out of 5

Look and feel


out of 5

Ease of use


out of 5



out of 5

Battery life


Fantastic battery | Great modular design | Pure Android


Performance not great | phablet size not for everyone

- By Stuart Bonner

Lenovo Moto Z Play: Look & feel

The Moto Z Play is almost identical to its other Z line counterparts. The thickness is the only giveaway - and that's no bad thing.  Gorilla Glass covers both the front and back, and the phone feels solidly made. We welcome the extra thickness; it gives you something meatier to hold while allowing for a bigger battery and the return of the headphone jack - something Moto Z users miss.

There's a Moto Style Shell included in the box, and its texture is that of the nylon/kevlar backing used in last year's Moto X Force.  It's a beautiful alternative to a case, but we found the back cover too easily removable and left it off most of the time.  The circular camera bump sits flush when the Style Shell is in place, and the design is very well thought out.  Even though this isn't a Moto flagship, it feels like it. 

There's a tiny fingerprint scanning square beneath the home button, and it's quick and accurate.  It's not a home button but placing your finger on it allows the locking and unlocking of the phone, something we got used to and ended up loving during our time with the phone.  Our only minor niggle with the design is that the power and volume buttons are identically spaced from one another, and they're the same size.  We ended up locking the phone a lot when all we wanted to do was to turn the volume down - it'd have been nice to have a bigger power button.  

Lenovo Moto Z Play: Modular design

On the back of the Moto Z Play, you will find a series of flat pins ready and waiting for a Moto Mod.  Mods are accessories that snap magnetically to the phone, adding features and functionality you traditionally wouldn't get.  Currently, Lenovo offer four Mods, the Hasselblad True Zoom, the JBL SoundBoost speaker,  the Moto Insta-share Projector and the Incipio OffGRID power pack.  It's the JBL SoundBoost speaker that we road-tested mercilessly for this review.

The JBL SoundBoost mod looks great, especially in the black version we reviewed.  It's stunningly well made and manages to be substantial without being too beefy. There's only subtle JBL branding on the orange kickstand - which complements the minimalist design well - and we loved the patterned design on the underside of the speaker.  The most attractive thing about this speaker is that it just snaps in place - no pairing, no hassle.  The music doesn't stop when you attach it; it just routes through the speaker instead.  We did find the phone impossible to use with the speaker connected, though. The whole package was just too heavy and bulky to be comfortable.

Sound quality is more impressive than what you'd get from an equivalently sized Bluetooth speaker.  Bass does take emphasis here, and there's slight distortion at full volume, but it's perfectly adequate for the party crowd it's aimed toward.

Lenovo Moto Z Play: Display & Camera

The Moto Z Play shares the same AMOLED 5.5" display as it's siblings, albeit with a lower Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution.  The result, as you would expect with AMOLED, is a vibrant display with colours that pop.  Outdoor readability is up there with the Samsung Galaxy S7, even if the screen brightness can't come close to the blinding Sony Xperia XZ.  It's nice to see Moto pack features that you'd expect in higher end handsets - especially when this competes in the same price bracket as the OnePlus 3.

On the rear, you'll find a large circular camera bump, about the size of a 10p coin, which holds inside it a 16-MP f/2.0 sensor.  There's both laser and phase detection autofocus tech on board, and colour balancing (read: one orange, one white) LEDs help keep skin tones looking natural when being used - something we missed on the Sony Xperia XZ.  Results are detailed, and shots are great in daylight, but it can't touch the snapper seen on Samsung Galaxy S7 - overall it's a great camera for this price.

Lenovo Moto Z Play: Battery life & performance

Moto is claiming upto 50 hours of mixed use from it's 3510 mAh battery inside the Z Play - and they're not far off.  This phone has incredible stamina and puts many devices to shame - including the Sony Xperia XZ,  Moto X Force, Samsung Galaxy S7 and Huawei P9.  Moto's TurboCharging tech is here too, which gives up to 9 hours of usage in 15 minutes.  

The inclusion of the power efficient Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC here could well contribute to that impressive battery time, and here it's paired with 3GB of RAM.  Performance is excellent, with only slight lag every so often, but nothing unbearable.  We've used devices with the Snapdragon 820 processor that have performed worse than the Moto Z Play.  Maybe it's down to the pure Android that Moto deploy, a welcome departure from the heavy skins seen by other manufacturers?  

Speaking of Android, they're only slight customisations like the fabulous active display that allows you to check notifications with just a wave of the hand.  Moto promises an upgrade to Android 7.0 Nougat and considering how naked Moto's take on Android is, it should be with us very soon.

Should I buy the Lenovo Moto Z Play?

The Z Play rivals the likes of OnePlus 3 and Honor 8, and you'll see devices that aren't nearly as exciting or don't offer the value for money that the Z Play does.   

Battery life is fantastic, software is better than pure Android and performance is solid.  You could buy the Moto Z for it's higher resolution display, but it doesn't have a headphone jack, and its battery is smaller.   

It's true, this isn't a powerhouse like the Google Pixel, as sexy as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and it might not have the camera of a Huawei Mate 9, but it is a fraction of the price of them all.

We do hope Moto keep making devices like this for years to come because they are fantastic.

Lenovo Moto Z Play Specifications

Also consider:Honor 8

Similar to: OnePlus 3

Killer app: The battery refuses to die!

John Lewis

Price: £499.99

Operating System: Android™ 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)

Dimensions: 156.40 x 76.40 x 6.99mm

Weight: 165g

Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels; 403ppi

Display: 5.5-inch Full HD Corning® Gorilla® Glass

Processor: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 625 (2GHz octa-core)

Camera: 16-MP with OIS and laser auto-focus; 5-MP selfie camera with wide-angle lens and LED flash

Memory: 32GB(ROM) + 3GB(RAM); 
Expandable storage upto 2TB via MicroSD slot

Battery: 3510mAH lithium-ion battery

Fingerprint sensor:Yes (home button)

Misc: Qualcomm® Quick Charge; USB Type-C; NFC; sold with a range of magnetic mods; water resistant