Review: Motorola Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Mod
Editor's Note: Since the Z Play runs the exact version of Android and carries the same apps/services as the Moto Z Droid and Z Force Droid, some of the content below has been pulled from our earlier review of those phone. Rest assured, we tested every app and every facet of the Z Play's operating system and have adjusted the text to reflect and changes accordingly.
Motorola's lock screen has been among the industry's best for several years. Thankfully, Verizon Wireless did not mess with it.
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Notifications and other lock screen behaviors are now managed from a single spot, the Moto App. Moto Display can wake the screen regularly with a list of the current notifications; show important notifications on the lock screen as they arrive; or leave the screen entirely dark. It's up to you. Double tap the screen or wave your hand over the phone any time to see the time and notifications in list form.
If you press the screen lock button, the display wakes fully to show the clock, wallpaper, and notifications listed below the clock. There are also shortcuts to the phone and camera on this screen.
As far as security goes, the phone includes the trusty PIN, pattern, and password options, as well as a fingerprint reader.
The Z Play's fingerprint reader performed consistently better than that of the Z Droid. It was quicker to record fingerprints and far more consistent at recognizing fingerprints on the first try. The reader still required re-reads on occasion, but it was just as often my fault for not aligning my finger properly as it was the reader's for a mis-read.
I was worried Verizon and Motorola would over-do the software skin on the Z Play, but those fears were unfounded. It ships with Android 6 Marshmallow. The device has two home screen panels active out of the box. Moto Z Play owners can customize the typical stuff, such as wallpapers, widgets, and so on.
The home screen behaves as expected for an Android Marshmallow phone. Similarly, the app drawer, notification shade, and settings screens are all standard Android, and work accordingly. There are no themes or other fancy interface tricks on board.
Motorola did not stick the Google Now launcher on the Z Play, nor is there any other sort of alternate home screen experience (such as Easy Mode).
As for performance, the Moto Z Play dials back the processor specs when compared to the Z and Z Force. It packs a 2.0 GHz Snapdragon 625 processor with 3 GB of RAM and Adreno 506 GPU. The 600 series chips from Qualcomm are the company's mid-range processors, but you'd never know it using the Z Play. The 625 is one of the newer chips in this series. The phone never felt slow or bogged-down.
The Z Play uses the new Motorola camera app (first seen on the 4th-gen Moto G.) Gone is the odd semicircular control strip; in its place you'll see a much simpler and more accessible set of tools.
The Z Play does not have a dedicated physical camera button, but there are several ways to open the camera: a wrist-twisting gesture, a double press of the screen lock button, or the lock screen shortcut. The double press of the lock button is the quickest and most reliable method for launching the camera.
The camera would seem to have hardly any features at all. There are three controls on the left side of the screen (timer, flash, HDR) and three on the right (mode, shutter, front camera). I like that both the flash and HDR tools can be set to on, off, or auto.
As for shooting modes, the Z offers auto, video, slo-mo, panorama, and manual. The manual mode lets you take full control over focus, ISO, shutter speed, brightness, and white balance. The controls line the top of the screen and are easy to adjust. It's a shame the shutter only lets you select speeds as slow as one-sixth of a second; that's hardly long enough to get creative or take really great night shots. There's no 360 photo/video mode, which feels like an odd omission, nor is there any sort of GIF maker.
The default is always auto mode. Slide your finger up or down to zoom. Tap to focus and set exposure. Press the shutter button to take standard pictures, or press-and-hold to capture a burst. Swipe from the left side of the screen to access the settings.
The layout makes far more sense than the old camera app from Motorola. It's easy enough for novices to use effectively and flexible enough in manual mode to unleash at least some degree of creativity.
From a technical standpoint, the Z Play's camera hardware falls in between the Z and Z Force. The Z Play has a 16-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/2.0, laser-assisted autofocus, phase-detection autofocus, and pixels that measure 1.3 microns. The Z and Z Force have 13- and 21-megapixel cameras respectively, with wider apertures but smaller pixels. Does the Z Play take good pictures in comparison? Sure.
The majority of images I shot with the Z Play were in focus, properly exposed, and showed accurate white balance. I saw some grain in low-light shots, but it wasn't ruinous. Using the flash works really well when you are near your subject. The 16-megapixel resolution means you can blow up images fairly large. I was pleased with the amount of detail visible when zoomed in close on images.
The 5-megapixel selfie camera does all right. It includes what has become a standard software tool this year: self beautification. The tool does away with wrinkles and spots, but sometimes goes too far and the results look a bit less than natural. There's an LED selfie flash. The 85-degree wide-angle lens helps get more of the background in each shot.
The Z Play does well enough that you can use the phone for most of your photography needs.
You can use the Z Play to capture video up to 4K in resolution, as well as 1080p HD resolution at fast and slow speeds for slow-motion/timelapse. Most people will be happy with the full HD video results. The video I snagged was in focus, properly exposed, and showed accurate color. Like the still camera, the video camera was prone to grain in low light, but I've seen worse.
The Z Play is a fine device for most everyday videography.
The Moto Z Play Droid is sold by Verizon Wireless, which means it is packed with lots of undeletable crap apps. As expected, Verizon-branded apps are the most numerous, with Caller ID, Cloud, Message+, my Verizon, NFL, Voicemail, VZ Navigator, and VZ Protect. Others include Amazon, Audible, Candy Crush, Cookie Jam, Farm Heroes, Juice Jam, and Slacker. Of these, only the games can be scrubbed entirely from the phone. The rest can be hidden and/or disabled, but not deleted.
The phone comes with 32 GB of storage — of which users have access to 18.65 GB. The device does support memory cards up to 2 TB. I'd advise you to supplement the built-in storage with a memory card, particularly if you plan to pick up the Hasselblad True Zoom mod.
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