Motorola has been the hot-potato of the tech industry for the last few years, but now that Lenovo has adopted the brand it appears as if things are bit more stable.
Perhaps the most revealing example of this is the Moto Z Play. The handset is well built, has a wealth of features and is even more impressive when you realise you can literally clip additional features onto the handset as and when you need them thanks to the Moto Mods.
We were sent two of these mods to try out, namely the JBL Soundboost and the Incipio Offgrid Power Pack, which we have reviewed as well.
There is however a big “but” we’ve avoided until now and that’s the price. The Moto Z will cost you R8 999 and the awesome mods we mentioned have to be purchased separately.
The Moto Z Play then needs to not only wow us with its array of mods but it also needs to justify its price tag.
Moto Z Play review – Low and slow
The brain of the Moto Z is a Snapdragon 625 with an octa-core CPU running at a peak of 2.0GHz with 3GB RAM available for it to draw from.
This sort of configuration is popular among mid range phones, indeed it’s the exact same configuration we saw in the Huawei nova. If you can recall that review I lamented that the nova was too expensive for the performance it offered up.
And the nova actually beats out the Moto Z in our benchmarks.
This is not to say the Moto Z’s performance is bad. Like in the nova every app runs smoothly until you start demanding more from the handset. This is easily solved by freeing up some memory and closing unnecessary apps.
The problem is that by all accounts the Moto Z should be the around the same price as the nova, but the Moto Z has those interesting mods and looking at those performance figures and the price, I can’t help but feel like Lenovo is asking you to pay for that functionality which you may or may not use.
Incidentally those mods don’t come cheap. The Incipio offGrid Power Pack Mod costs R1 199 and the JBL Soundboost Mod costs R1 699. More on the mods later.
Moto Z Play review – Battery with a back-up plan
Inside the Moto Z is a 2 200mAh battery. The battery is juiced up via a USB Type C port and getting it from 0% to 100% shouldn’t take more than an hour thanks to Turbo charging.
Using the Moto Z to take photos, check emails send text messages and play games for a few hours we managed to get two full days of life from the Moto Z. More aggressive use with WiFi, Bluetooth and the display being on constantly while streaming YouTube videos gave us 11 hours of life.
We were also given the Incipio offgrid Power Pack to review. Together with this Mod you will forget to charge your phone and that isn’t a joke.
The power pack charges the handset just like a regular battery bank but it sits at the back of your phone without cables and quietly does what it needs to. The pack can charge the Moto Z up from around 20% once before needing charging itself.
The best way to use the mod then is when your battery is running low rather than having it constantly attached to the phone.
Moto Z Play review – Ready for a close-up?
At the back of the Moto Z sits a 16MP snapper and while the camera quality is good, the camera options are incredibly limited.
There isn’t much to be found other than a few filters and the option to take panoramic photos.
This is par for the course when it comes to vanilla implementations of Android so we won’t cut off too many points here but it would have been nice to see a few more options, just to make the handset feel a bit more special.
We would have liked to see a camera at the back that was a little sharper and had a few more options than customising the brightness of the image. In short the camera is serviceable for posting to Facebook and Twitter but it’s not going to get tongues wagging on Instagram.
Our usual gallery of snaps follows below.
Moto Z Play review – Vanilla Android is a joy to experience
Reviewing the number of phones we do you can become rather oblivious to how often manufacturers tweak Android for their own betterment.
Using a plain version of Android 7.0 however is about as perfect as a full English breakfast on a sunny Saturday morning.
Choosing not to fuss with the operating system also lets the handset’s performance really shine. Sure it isn’t as fast as other phones on the market but it feels so fluid and unhampered by rubbish like app monitors and constant requests to log in to some fitness app or another.
Where navigating through something like Meizu’s OS feels like a clunky maze, the Moto Z’s vanilla Android OS is such a joy to use.
Moto Z Play review – A better speaker
The JBL speaker mod makes the Moto Z the phone I’ve been longing for since smartphones started becoming prolific. Yes, it’s loud, yes it adds a considerable amount of thickness onto the phone but if you love music and you hate having to carry around a Bluetooth speaker this is the perfect solution.
The one issue we have with the JBL mod and the mods in general is that they feel like they’ve stolen some of the functionality in the phone to be sold back to you.
This speaker for instance becomes a “must buy” when you realise the only speaker included in the Moto Z Play is the same speaker you take calls with. Incidentally the sound quality of that speaker is terrible
Despite my gripes Lenovo has got right what LG failed to do with its G5 and that’s make mods easy to use. The G5 required you remove the battery, switch out the mod and then power the phone on again. The Moto Z requires you lift and click a mod into place. It’s simple and we love simple things that are brought on by clever design.
While I do like the fact that I don’t have to carry around a separate Bluetooth speaker, the Soundboost costs R1 699. Considering you can pick up a Bluetooth speaker for about a quarter of that price it does seem like a hard sell.
Moto Z Play review – Final verdict
The Moto Z, even without the Mods is a real joy to use.
The fingerprint scanner is fast. The camera is decent and if you need extras they can be added with apps. The phone is slim and light without feeling flimsy and the Mods are a really clever idea.
My issue however is the price. Yes, I love the mods, especially the JBL Soundboost but I could never see myself spending R8 999 just to be able to buy a mod to fit to the base phone.
Sadly then, the Moto Z doesn’t get a recommendation. Perhaps if the price drops by a large margin it would be worth a look but even then, it’s a lot to pay for vanilla Android and the option to add a speaker.