As the least expensive model in its Z line of smartphones, the Moto Z Play Droid is a fantastic solution for mid-range needs. Designed with MotoMod support, it can quickly become much more capable than it already is.

The Moto Z Play Droid is exclusive to Verizon, but it’s also available in an unlocked capacity, too. Aside from the software experience, and Droid branding on the rear camera, the two are virtually indistinguishable from one another.

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Taking the phone out of the box you realize that this generation of Motorola is unlike anything else in the company’s history. Like the Moto Z Droid and Moto Z Force Droid this phone is svelte and sexy. On the surface it exudes premium craftsmanship and begs to be looked at from all angles.

It didn’t take us long to realize that there’s no Verizon branding on the phone. While it’s certainly prominent on the box and in the apps, it’s not on the surface of the handset. If you know Verizon’s history, then you know this is something remarkable.

There is a “Droid” branding under the camera, but that’s really it. Otherwise, it’s a simple stylized “M” on the rear and a Moto on the front above the display. We’re not sure if this was Motorola’s doing or if Verizon loosened its grip a bit, but we’ll take it.

Hardware & Design

The Moto Z Play Droid is a heavy device; it’s more dense than we expected it to be and is quite noticeable coming from other handsets. It might not be so much in the two-hand stuff, but more of the pocket and one-hand experience. At times, this one feels solid. On the other hand, we found this to be a plus. There’s premium design at play here, and the Moto Z Play Droid looks to be among the more expensive end of phones.

Looking it over, there’s so much here that intimidates us. It has been a very long time since Motorola delivered a phone that we were afraid to leave the house with over fear of ruining it. One drop and we’re afraid it would be scuffed, scraped, or worse, shattered. We want to show it off so badly but, at the same time, we want to protect with some sort of case. As much as we like to insure ourselves with cases, we enjoy looking at the details on the rear.

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The Z Play is built from metal and glass, including its 2.5D curved glass display. Even the rear is wrapped in glass, something that varies from its siblings in the Z Droid and Z Force Droid. Everything fits tightly together, signaling attention to detail and time.

The Moto Z Play Droid offers up a 1080p HD display, which is considerably different from what you’ll get in other high-end models. At 5.5-inches it still looks great on both images and text.

Colors are quite accurate, particularly indoors and in medium light settings. Get outside, though, and you may find yourself cranking up the brightness. This doesn’t so much affect accuracy, but it could come into play with your battery life.

Moving the phone around in various angles and distances we found the Z Play Droid to be a generally good experience. The glass does give some reflection of light sources, but it’s nothing that will cause you to squint.

All things considered, we’re just fine with what Motorola delivers here, especially as it helps drive the cost down. Sure, a higher display image is always nice, but so is money in the pocket. And, if you’re not pushing for the latest in heavy gaming, you shouldn’t care about not getting a Quad HD/2K display.

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The copper-colored contacts look entirely out of place yet oh-so-perfect with the Z Play Droid’s aesthetics and the rear camera feels like a droid eye watching over things.

Our review unit has black/gray colors but there’s a white gold offering available, too. and gold metal accents, but a black/gray version is also available.

Holding and using the Moto Z Play Droid with one hand is comfortable, even with our smaller hands. At 5.5-inches, the display does have a little thicker bezel than some of its competitors, but we’ve seen worse. We found that while the bezel wasn’t that much of an issue over time, we would have really liked to see the curved glass taper into a near seamless edge. With that said, there is quite a bit of space on top and bottom of the screen.

As for the layout of the phone, the volume button and power buttons are on the right side with a clean edge trimming the left side. Up top is where you locate the microSD and SIM card; the bottom offers up the USB Type-C charger and 3.5mm headphone jack. We’re at that point now where discussing a headphone jack’s presence is noting. Indeed, the Moto Z Play Droid has one whereas its brethren do not.

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There are a couple of protruding spots on the phone, namely the camera, earpiece, and fingerprint reader. Each sticks out to varying degrees and can be easily identified in low lighting. Speaking of the fingerprint reader, we would have liked to see it pull double duty as the home button.

Travel and feedback was excellent across the board; there’s no mistaking whether you pressed the volume buttons or power. The latter, for its part, has a ribbed or ridged texture which helps it to stick out from the other.

In the Box

In addition to the phone itself, the box also comes with a wall charger (USB Type-C), a MotoMod protective shell for the rear, and a tool to remove the microSD and Nano-SIM cards. There’s also a small booklet but there are no headphones. Speaking of which, a quick glance at the bottom shows us that Motorola did leave the 3.5mm port in this model.

The protective rear shell snaps into place via magnets and fits snugly against the phone. In fact, you’d be forgiven if you thought that it was part of the handset itself. The wood grain design has the same realistic appearance that is found in other, previous Motorola phones built in the Moto Maker tool.

Camera

On paper, the Z Play Droid falls in the middle of the Z Droid and Z Force Droid. Specifically, this one comes with a 16-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/2.0, and features such as laser-assisted autofocus and phase-detection autofocus. There’s also a dual-LED flash on the back to brighten up your shots.

The Z Play Droid employs the same camera app that other Z models do; it’s the same that’s found in the Moto G 4 series, too. In other words, it’s simple to use and features a decent set of tools which are easily accessible.

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Although there’s no hard button to access the camera, users can twist their wrist to activate the app. Moreover, it can also be opened from the lock screen, too.

Once in the app, users find three controls on the left hand side of the screen: Flash, HDR, and a timer. On the right we locate the shutter, modes, and toggle for front-facing camera. Both HDR and flash can be set to HDR, something we appreciated for both well-lit outdoor shots as well as those in darker environments.

Getting into the modes, the Z Play includes options for automatic, manual, panoramic, slow-motion, and video. Manual, as one might expect, lets users tailor the settings for focus, ISO, shutter speed, brightness, and white balance.

If you just like to open the app and snap a picture, you’ll enjoy the default settings. Slide your finger up and down the display to zoom in and out, tap to focus, and snap.

By and large, the pictures we took with the Z Play Droid were in focus and color accurate. Exposure was generally good, though it does pick up grain in lower light conditions. The flash is really good for capturing inanimate subjects in dark settings but it tends to wash out the color on people. Focus was quick and burst shot pictures came out nicely.

The front-facing camera is 5-megapixels and features a software enhancement called self beautification. It’s a nice touch for those of you who love to take selfies as it removes wrinkles and spots. As far quality goes, the pictures were more than adequate for social media. The 85-degree wide-angle lens lets you loop in a few extra people for group shots.

Software

Powering on the phone and checking the app tray we find that there’s no mistaking this for anything but a Verizon model. There’s Verizon branding everywhere; it’s almost as if it was designed to offset the lack of physical branding on the device.

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There are nearly one half dozen apps with Verizon branding pre-loaded including VZ Navigator, VZ Protect, My Verizon, Message+, and Cloud. You’ll also find a couple of others here, too: Android Pay, Caller Name ID, Amazon Kindle, IMDb, NFL Mobile, and Slacker Radio.

If you are a current or previous Verizon user, this will not feel all that different. But, if you’re coming from an unlocked phone or stock Android experience, this is going to feel saturated in red.

After spending time away from Motorola phones, it was refreshing to be return to the software experience. Specifically, we were happy to find a largely untouched version of Android (6.0.1 Marshmallow) with only minor additions. And when we say additions, it’s subtle stuff that really enhances things.

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Who doesn’t love picking their phone up and seeing the screen wake up? Moreover, we appreciate being able to twist our wrist to launch the camera, double chop to kick on the flashlight, or simply wave their hand over the display to wake it? To us, it’s just the right amount of OEM customization.

Aside from the heavy Verizon influence, we love the software that comes out of the box. And, even though we have our preferences to install, we can certainly make do with the default suite.

Do note, though, that of the 32GB of space that comes with the phone, you end up with a little over 18GB to use. If you plan to snap a bunch of pictures or load music, get yourself a microSD card. This goes double if you’re using the Hasselblad camera MotoMod or plan to capture 4K video.

Performance

The Moto Z Play Droid isn’t going to best any benchmarks but that matters little to us. We’re not pushing our phones to their limits and wager to guess that most of you aren’t either. With that said, the Snapdragon 625 processor (2GHz octa-core) and 3GB RAM do the trick for us.

We added a suite of applications and games to the phone over the last few weeks, all of which performed to our expectations. On paper the 625 CPU doesn’t sound as capable as an 810 or 820, but that’s hard to see in real-world scenarios. We know that there are, but the average user is not going to notice it.

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We have no problem suggesting the Z Play Droid for middle-range and even moderately heavy users. If you don’t hold on to your phone for more much more than a year or so, or don’t care for bleeding-edge games, this is more than enough.

The fingerprint reader was easy to set up and has responded quickly in every situation we’ve employed it. Whether waking a phone up or authenticating a purchase, we found it to be accurate and fast.

What’s the best $400 phone you can buy?

We’d love to see Motorola put some sort of reader on the rear where the logo is, but that’s a quibble. To us, if you’re not pulling double duty with the reader acting as a home button, we say move it around back. Taken as a whole, this is one of the faster sensors we’ve spent time with. Not only that, there were fewer second and third touches than when compared to other devices.

As for speakers, there’s only one on the Moto Z Play Droid; it’s the same one for taking calls. Listening to music is decent as there’s plenty of sound. It could be more rich, but we don’t ever find ourselves breaking out a phone to take in a playlist.

Watching videos on YouTube or Netflix was pleasurable, but not overly robust. Again, we’re not the type to spend extended periods on our phone watching movies and expecting a theater experience. Throw in some headphones or pair to a speaker and now we’re talking.

Speakerphone was loud and clear, but music and video can get somewhat annoying in a single speaker setup. It could be worse, though; the loudspeaker could come from the side/bottom edge.

The phone comes with an internal, non-removable 3,510mAh battery. This is a really generous amount, especially when you see that it’s more than what the other Z models pack.

We’ve found that the battery lasts us well beyond two full days of use. Without fail, we’d unplug at 100% on Monday morning and get into bed on Tuesday night with juice left over. There’s such a wonderful feeling in knowing that you don’t have to get to a power supply before the day is out. But, even when you do, the Z Play Droid gets you up and running in no time.

Charging is super fast, for what it’s worth, thanks to the TurboPower cable. According to Motorola, spending 15 minutes on the charger will result in 10 hours of power. Seriously, plug your phone in at lunch and you’ve got another day’s worth of battery.

MotoMods

The whole notion of the MotoMods is an interesting one, but it’s also a gamble for prospective buyers. Just about every person we showed the phone and camera module to were immediately impressed but were quick to temper enthusiasm. “Yeah, what happens when Motorola stops using mods?” “Who is to say that Motorola doesn’t change their mind down the road?”

If you buy a Moto Z or Moto Z Droid series of phone, you’re buying into the added flexibility that comes with the modules. In theory, you’re also buying against the future when other, perhaps better MotoMods are made available.

MotoIncipio

On one hand, you’re buying the promise that your phone will be more flexible in the long run. On the other, investing in the MotoMods means you’ll be sticking with Motorola down the road. There’s nothing to suggest, at this point, that Motorola might scrap the design. But, if accessory makers aren’t seeing much traction or interest, they can very well pull out on a moment’s notice.

To us, it would be quite a PR mess for customers to purchase a number of MotoMods with the hopes they’ll work on the next generation (or two) of phones. At this stage we have to bank on the idea that Motorola and Lenovo are serious about the MotoMods.

As for the day-to-day usage of these, well, it’s pretty damn awesome. The magnets and hot-swappable design means you can snap on a killer speaker, extended battery, or better camera without rebooting. They stay in place quite well and don’t feel as if they are going to fall off on accident or with slight bumping. You have to put at least a moderate amount of effort to pull them apart from the phone.

Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod

As part of our review kit, we also received one of the Hasselblad camera MotoMods to try out. Indeed, you can snap this guy on to the back of the phone as easily as the case and give your Motorola phone a 12-megapixel camera with a 10X optical zoom. Capable of taking RAW images, the camera also boasts a Xenon flash. The range of the flash is fantastic and beats anything you’ll get from a smartphone.

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As you might expect, the camera can connect with both the Motorola Z Droid and Motorola Z Force Droid, too. Moreover, the other MotoMods launched in the last few weeks can be attached to the Moto Z Play Droid.

Once in place, the Hasselblad camera makes your phone about as thick as a point and shoot camera. Moreover, it weighs just as much, likely more. It’s a dense and bulky experience. Don’t look for it to slide into a pants pocket; its weird shape doesn’t make for a fun time to carry around.

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The Hasselblad MotoMod completely covers the rear of the Moto Z Play Droid and other phones. Indeed, it even sits atop of the camera as it relies on its own hardware for picture taking and video recording. Additionally, it relies on the battery of your phone for power, too.

The Hasselblad has a curved grip on the right side which feels like a traditional camera. Further, the power, shutter, zoom dial, and other controls give it the look and touch of a well-designed point and shoot style camera. Pressing the power button wakes the Z Play Droid and launches the camera app. Alternately, you can still wake the camera up directly from the writ-twisting gesture or camera app.

If you have to go through Verizon for your phone needs, the Moto Z Play Droid is fantastic “every man” phone.

It would be nice if there were a way to put on a tripod mount somewhere in the module. Once connected to a phone, it begs to be put on a tripod. Start zooming in on a subject and you’ll see that, even at 10X, you’ll be shaky and unstable. This leads to pictures that aren’t focused or framed properly.

All of the pictures and videos captured by the phone and/or the True Zoom are stored on the handset. There is no external storage that comes with the Hasselblad MotoMod. Keep this in mind because once you get into RAW files or HD video, you’ll be chewing through space.

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Once you’ve attached the MotoMod, Moto Z Play Droid loads a slightly different version of the Motorola camera app. Based largely on the default Moto camera experience, there are more shooting modes to choose from: sports, night portrait, backlight portrait, night landscape, landscape, and auto.

Strangely enough, the Hasselblad MotoMod doesn’t capture 4K video. The phone itself does, but the module doesn’t. It does, however, film 1080p HD video. Additionally, users don’t get a full manual setting for pictures. This means you’re not able to toggle ISO, exposure, shutter speed, or white balance when using the True Zoom. To say this was disheartening would be an understatement; we wanted full control over the enhance camera experience.

Moto Z Play Droid Samples

How are the photos? Generally speaking, they were not bad at all. Color and exposure are good, there’s not much grain, and we noticed very little light flare. Given this was centered around a brand name, and pricey $250+ camera experience we had high hopes. In the weeks we’ve spent with the module we’ve come away pleased with results.

As somewhat of a stress test, we relied strictly on the Motorola Moto Z Play Droid and the Hasselblad MotoMod for a recent press event. Coming away from it, we can’t say there were any particular instances where the camera should have done a better job for us. That is aside from not having any manual settings, of course. A macro mode would have been truly impressive. The timer worked nicely, capturing focused pictures and we definitely appreciated the optical zoom.

Conclusion

Given that the Moto Z Play Droid closely resembles both the Z Droid ($625) and Z Force Droid ($720), we have no issues in recommending it for most users. The specifications that most people care about are not all that different across the board and it’s $200 less than the counterparts. Hell, take that extra money and apply it toward a MotoMod on day one.

For about $400 you end up with one of the cooler looking phones on the market, plus it’s ready for modifications down the road. Assuming Lenovo and Motorola continue to support the ecosystem and other accessory makers climb aboard, the phone potentially increases in value over time.

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Outside of the extra Verizon bloatware apps and services, the Moto Z Play Droid boasts one of our favorite builds of Android. Specifically, it’s like taking the default Android experience from Google and adding in just the right amount of gestures and functions. If you have to go through Verizon for your phone needs, the Moto Z Play Droid is fantastic “every man” phone.

If you can afford to, want the flexibility, or don’t have a carrier preference, opt for the non-Droid model direct from Motorola. It’s only $50 more and the unlocked nature means timelier updates and freedom to switch service providers.

With a variety of cool module accessories to choose from already, we’re optimistic that the MotoMod features are here to stay. And, thanks to its price, the Z Play Droid is the least expensive way to leverage that technology. On its own, the phone is a tremendous value, but it could get even better with time.

Editor’s Note: Excerpt of this post appeared in the initial unboxing and impressions post.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Build Quality
Design Choices
Display
Camera
Sound
Battery
OS & Apps
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  • Adrian Charlton

    Actually, you can and should use the Manual mode with the True Zoom. The icon is the same for internal camera an external. While the light balance and focal point in the default app still work pretty well, fine tuning your shot is easier in manual, if you have the time anyway.

    I’m also surprised by your comment on stabilization. When I got mine I was used to tapping the screen to snap a pic, so I was pretty sloppy using the shutter button. I rarely saw any issues from shake or movement in anything G but very low light shots.

    While this will not replace a dedicated Super Zoom bridge camera, Four Thirds, or DSLR, it does very quickly and easily turn your phone into a point and shoot camera with 10x Zoom. It also solves the headache of how to get images from your camera to your social media. Fun stuff.

    • David Martrano

      Had one in my hand at Verizon yesterday. Solid feel display looked nice with brightness turned all the way up. There stating 2 day battery life. Plus the mods are a nice feature. It’s got a 625 processer &3gb’s. That’s where the battery comes into play. Now are there better deals, yes the op3 & axon7 etc. But if your a battery nut the other’s cannot compete. The real question is the 625 & 3gb’s. There was no lagging with the 625 & I would say it’s good but can’t compare with 4 or 6gb’s and the 820. But I still think the battery & mods make a difference too! So I really feel it’s a good deal for the money. Choice is always the key!! It does not offer OIS!

      • Adrian Charlton

        Very good points David. The 3gb and 625 processing limitations are minimal for most users. The 625 is an octacore so it simply opens fast and slow cores as needed with no real turbo mode. Running near-stock Android doesn’t require near as much Ram either.

        Heavy gamers will note the graphics processor is a step down from top of the line, but no one else really will.

        Good note on the lack of OIS in this model, it uses digital stabilization much like the new Pixel phones. The slower graphics chip keeps it from being Pixel class in low light situations but the colors are notably accurate. And of course, the difference in cost would buy you a True Zoom Mod, one if the best accessories I’ve ever used.

        • David Martrano

          Adrien, I use the edge as my daily but I really like the Z play. I guess I’m really a fan of motorola having the original turbo & turbo 2. I know the play can’t compare to the edge but I love the battery power on the play. It would make the perfect backup. I get what your saying about digital stabilization seems to work well with the pixals. Thanks for the input! When the Zplay goes unlocked which it is it’s going to sell very well! Battery & mods will make a difference.

  • Cinema_2012

    Fantastic design, excellent features, good price, good camera. I’ll buy one now!!!

  • Lavesh Mamodia
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  • the dogiest gamerz

    Ran out of space and android OS isn’t the cause neither is the apps and those are the two biggest either this phone is a piece of shit or its my own problem.

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