We've reached the point in smartphone development where it takes a lot to make a phone stand out from the crowd. Because come on... they are all, pretty much, rectangular slabs of black glass. So, when something unique does come along, boasting actual physical uniqueness and interest – not just higher internal specs – we get excited. Hence our joy in reviewing the Motorola Moto Z Play.
From the outside this is very much a normal high-end and modern smartphone: it runs Android Marshmallow, has a 5.5 inch 1080p AMOLED screen, 3GB of RAM, a 16MP main shooter, and everything thing else you'd expect from a smartphone that will set you back £370 out of contract.
Aesthetically speaking, the Motorola Moto Z Play is a good looking phone, with a softly curved top and bottom and gentle rounded edges. The bumper is smooth aluminium, and the volume and sleep/wake buttons are both on the right-hand side. Other than that there is the standard headphone port on the bottom and a USB-C charging port. Because that's a thing these day, did you know?
We so desperately want to push on to tell you about the back of the device, but first... In use, the Motorola Moto Z Play is a joy yo use, feeling quick and smooth with whatever we threw at it. The 1080p screen is bright and crisp, there is a front-facing flash next to the 5MP selfie cam (yes, a selfie flash!), and the fingerprint scanner is the quickest and most accurate of any phone with one that we've ever reviewed – better even than the iPhone 7. There is 32GB of storage built in, expandable with the Micro SD port which shares the space with the SIM card. And hey, the damn battery lasted two whole days between charges – we kid you not. So, what's going on at the back?
Well, that textured plate at the rear pops off...
...revealing a still very attractive face with a weird connector point at the bottom. This is where the Moto Mods attach, and it is with these optional add-ons that the Motorola Moto Z Play becomes so much more exciting than any normal smartphone.
Moto Mods are, in essence, magnetically attaching pieces of hardware that fulfil a specific task, either one that the phone cannot normally do (like a projector), or to augment something it can (like an extra battery pack). These Mods are made both by Lenovo (who own Motorola these days) and other companies such as Hasselblad and JBL. We were sent four to try out, each very different from the next.
JBL Soundboost Speaker
This Moto Mod is probably the most obvious: phone speakers are rubbish, so improve on that. The JBL Soundboost does just that, snapping on to the Motorola Moto Z Play and featuring big and chunky grills.
The quality of the actual sound reminded us of a mid-sized Bluetooth speaker, something along the lines of this. Room-filling... yes, but party get-starting... perhaps not. But still, we've yet to see a speaker this thin that can confidently reproduce bass like that. The JBL Soundboost Speaker includes a kickstand to prop it all up and neatly offer you your phone's screen, so definitely more of a personal music device. Oh, and it includes a battery that will boost the Moto Z Play's by an extra ten hours! Nice.
Incipio Offgrid Powerpack
You've had your speaker augmentation, so now here is your battery's. The Offgrid snap-on is not only the slimmest of the Moto Mods we reviewed, but it also provides an additional 22 hours of battery life from a 2220mAh battery, as soon as you attach it to the phone. Bare in mind that the Moto Z Play is already boasting two days of life, and this pushes you to three! Three effing days, guys! It's like it's 2001 again!
There's not a great deal more to say about this one, but it is rather clever in how it trickle feeds the juice to the phone, optimising when it is most important to do so. One slight annoyance is that it can only be charged when it is attached to the phone, and we would have preferred an extra USB-C port on this to charge separately. Still... THREE DAYS!
Hasselblad True Zoom
If we're being honest, and we rarely aren't, the True Zoom Moto Mod was the one that really caught our eye... and yet ended up not being out favourite (that is still to follow). This one snaps on to the Moto Z Play and turns the phone into a compact camera. 'But it already has a camera', we hear you cry, and yes it does – a very good one, in fact.
But the Hasselblad True Zoom adds a 10x optical zoom, a whopping great flash, the ability to capture images in RAW format, and physical shutter and zoom buttons that you'd normally only find on cameras. And a carry case, to boot – just like an actual camera. Snapping shots is real joy with this thing attached, and the whole package feels natural in your hands – something that using a phone for photography rarely does. Mind you, it's bloody pricey, and many might be eyeing up a compact DSLR for about that much!
Moto Insta-Share Projector
And here is our favourite Mod – a projector. That actually surprised us, as we've never been big fans of projectors on The Test Pit. However, that changed the moment we snapped this bad boy onto the Moto Z Play and hit Netflix. Using the built-in stand you can project an impossibly bright and clear image of up 70 diagonal inches (!), and all from a pin-point of a lens.
The Insta-Share Projector even knows the orientation of your device, and will adjust the picture angle accordingly. This means there are no Star Wars intro crawl-like perspective issues – just a perfectly rectangular screen. Find a white wall (or ceiling), hit the lights, and it's movie time.
Seriously, this is so much fun, and we found a great use for it was at night. Tilted back, it can project onto the ceiling, and the dial on the front of the unit can be used to get the perfect focus. Then just hook up a pair of Bluetooth headphones to the Moto Z Play, and lay back in bed. This is a truly awesome addition to any phone, and the fact that it just snaps right on and can still fit in your pocket may also sway the business lot with their many presentations. However... cough-£250-cough!
Even without any of the Moto Mods, the Moto Z Play is still a very good phone with high specs, which (from the deals we've seen in the UK) won't smash the crap out of your bank account each month. And... if you love your music, go for the speaker Mod. If you go camping a lot, go for the battery Mod. If you love photography... etc etc. There could be something for you here, and as more Mods are released in the future, the Motorola Moto Z Play could present you with a more specialised and bespoke device. Not many phone makers can offer that.
JBL Soundboost Speaker £69.98
Incipio Offgrid Powerpack £59.99
Hasselblad True Zoom £199.99
Moto Insta-Share Projector £249.98