Moto Z Play hands-on – Motorola's affordable-ish, semi-modular smartphone

Motorola’s Moto Z may yet to have hit UK shores, but that didn’t stop the company unveiling yet another semi-modular _phone_ at IFA 2016. The Moto Z Play is the chunky-monkey sibling to the Moto Z and aims to offer the same upgrade system, but with a radically beefed-up battery life.

Having had an early play with the phone, I found that, while it’s not the subtlest handset around, there's plenty to like about it.

Here are five key reasons why you should care about the Z Play...

1. It’s sort of modular

Modular phones have been a buzz topic since Google's Project Ara finally started to look like a reality, but no handset’s truly pulled it off yet. LG tried earlier this year with the G5, releasing a few modules you could attach to the _phone_ to add new functions. But the idea never really took off with the G5, as no-one but LG bothered making modules for the phone.

The Moto Z Play pulls the same trick, but to better effect. It comes with a number of nifty Moto Mod add-ons that are actually useful, with the coolest of them being the Hasselblad True Zoom camera module.

Hasselblad is the legendary Swedish company that provided the cameras Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used to take photos of their moon landing. It’s since embraced the digital age, and has licensed this fairly chunky 12-megapixel camera add-on that magnetically clips onto the Moto Z Play’s back. Once attached, the Hasselblad True Zoom offers an improved Xenon flash and 10x optical zoom.

The addition of optical zoom means that, with the add-on attached, the Play will be one of a select few phones capable of taking decent photos of objects at long distances. Most phones, other than Samsung’s bizarre Samsung K Zoom, are limited to digital zoom. Digital zoom is a bit of tech that needs to get in the sea, as it universally produces terrible results – it essentially just crops into the image, reducing resolution and quality.

I only managed to test the add-on on the launch event’s showroom floor, but I managed to get a great-quality shot of another journalist losing the will to live on the opposite side of the room.

Related: Best smartphones

2. The 3.5mm headphone jack’s back

There’s a lot of talk about the Apple iPhone 7’s lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack, but the original Moto Z was one of the first phones to drop the input.

This made the phone a poor choice for audiophiles or people who’d invested in even moderately expensive cabled headphones.

The Moto Z Play changes this and reintroduces the 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom of the phone. Music fans rejoice!

3. It’s got a better battery, apparently

Motorola made a big song and dance about the Moto Z Play’s battery life, boasting it’ll offer users a mammoth 50 hours of juice. This is a pretty hefty claim. I’m yet to find a smartphone that can consistently offer more than two days of moderate use from one charge, and that includes Motorola’s previous battery behemoth, the Razr Maxx.

The claim is especially interesting considering that the Moto X Play features an average-sized 3,410mAh battery. For now, I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve had a chance to actually test the Moto Z Play fully.

4. But otherwise it’s a bit of a downgrade on the Moto Z

The battery and returning headphone jack are the only upgrades Motorola’s made to the Play. Like all the devices in the Play series, its specs are slightly below the original Z’s.

The 5.5-inch 1080p display isn’t as sharp as the original Z’s 1440p screen. The 1080p Full HD screen looks nice enough, though, and during my hands-on time I didn’t notice any serious issues. Colours are punchy and the AMOLED tech ensured blacks looked deep and inky.

The phone also only has 3GB of memory and a slower Snapdragon 625 2GHz octa-core processor. The original Z has 3GB of RAM and a faster 2.2GHz Snapdragon 820 CPU.

The rear camera has a slightly higher 16-megapixel count and laser autofocus, but doesn’t feature optical image stabilisation. That means it probably won’t perform so well in low light.

Related: OnePlus 3 review

Moto Z Play in pictures

Moto Z Play

The modules attach to the back using magnets

Moto Z Play

Out of the box the Play will run Android Marshmallow

Moto Z Play

The camera lacks OIS

Moto Z Play

But the Hasselblad True Zoom module should make it awesome for taking photos

Moto Z Play

The 3.5mm headphone jack also makes a return

Moto Z Play

It's also cheaper than the full-fat Moto Z

Moto Z Play – Price and Release Date

The Moto Z Play’s set for release at an unspecified point in early September. UK pricing hasn’t been confirmed, but it’ll set you back €499 in mainland Europe, which translates to roughly £424. In the US the basic SIM-free model will cost $449. The pricing is a significant mark down on the full-fat Moto Z, which costs $699 in the US.

First Impressions

The Moto Z Play is an affordable, stripped-down version of Motorola’s original semi-modular phone, and I can see it being a big hit in Europe.

Since OnePlus made people realise you don’t have to break the bank to get a great smartphone, the mid-range market has boomed. If Motorola’s claims of a 50-hour battery life come anywhere close, and if the True Zoom add-on isn't too overpriced, this could be a truly compelling package.

However, considering the LG G5’s failure to get a modular system off the ground, and our past experience with smartphone battery life claims, these are big ifs.