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printed November 19, 2017
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Review: Motorola Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Mod

Hardware Software Moto Mods Wrap-Up Comments  1  

The chief selling point of the Moto Z Play is its compatibility with the Moto Mods ecosystem of swappable modules. They snap onto the back of the phone with magnets. The Moto Mods are easy to attach and detach thanks to a notch built into the bottom of each. Don't worry about the mods falling off. They might pop off if you drop the phone, but they won't become dislodged during normal use.

Motorola said the mods and magnetic connector were designed to be robust. This includes hot-swapping, which means the Z Play isn't going to crash if you yank a mod off without warning.

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Now that we're about two months post launch, there are a handful of Mods to check out, including a battery pack from Tumi, a set of speakers from JBL, a projector from Lenovo, and several dozen alternate rear plates. The latest Mod — and the one being marketed alongside the Moto Z Play — is the Hasselblad True View Camera.

Hasselblad True Zoom Camera

First, the True Zoom is not an independent camera. You cannot use it without a Z Droid; it has no battery of its own and needs power from the Z Play. The True Zoom is about the same size as an independent point-and-shoot camera, so that's kind of a bummer.

Hasselblad True Zoom  

The True Zoom snaps onto the back of the Z Play like any other mod, except that it completely covers the phone's camera. It fits firmly and won't fall off, despite its weight. (Yeah, this thing is heavy.) It weighs about 5 ounces by itself, so the combined phone and Mod are close to 11 ounces. The combo is also stupid bulky. At a full inch (26mm) thick, the phone+mod was too big for my jeans pockets. No way it would fit in there. Only my loosest cargo shorts can accommodate the pair. The added physical controls, however, might be worth the bulk.

The Hasselblad adds a curved grip on the right to help you hold the phone, like a traditional dSLR might have, but at a smaller scale. The True Zoom has its own gold shutter button, zoom dial, and power button. Pressing the power button turns on the camera and wakes the Z Play. Alternately, you can wake the camera directly from the app or the writ-twisting gesture common to Motorola phones. I love having the zoom dial and two-stage shutter button to focus and snap the shutter. They work really well.

Hasselblad + Z Play  

The True Zoom has its own 12-megapixel sensor and xenon flash. The flash is hella bright and has a greater range than any flash built into a smartphone. When the device is on, the lens protrudes fairly far from the body of the mod. It produces 10x optical zoom and includes optical image stabilization to help reduce shake. Lastly, it can capture images in RAW format, which gives you the ability to fix exposure and white balance issues after the fact.

Images — including RAW files — are stored locally on the phone itself and not the Hasselblad. That's good, because extracting images from the mod would surely be a pain. (Just beware that RAW files can be huge.)

With the True Zoom attached, the Moto Z Play Droid loads a modified version of the Motorola camera app. It's clearly based on the standard Motorola camera app, but offers a wider range of shooting modes (auto, sports, night portrait, backlight portrait, night landscape, and landscape). They all work about as you expect them to.

Hasselblad Camera  

The Hasselblad camera app isn't quite up to speed. It takes a hair longer to focus, capture, process, and store images than the stock camera does. When shooting in auto mode, the Hasselblad is too slow to focus on moving subjects. You absolutely have to use the sports mode to boost the performance a bit. My biggest gripe is that you lose the Z Play's manual camera mode. You cannot take control over ISO, exposure, shutter speed, and white balance when using the Hasselblad: you're stuck with the few predetermined shooting modes offered by the Hasselblad app. Boo.

How are results? Not bad, not bad. The optical zoom is definitely better than digital zoom, and the OIS helps keep zoomed-in shots in focus. Using the full 10x zoom, however, introduces a lot of shake issues and more or less mandates a tripod for the best results. (Did I mention that the True Zoom doesn't have a tripod fitting? It doesn't.) Color and exposure are good. I didn't see any grain, and that's a plus.

HasselbladPhotos  

Oddly, the Hasselblad shoots 1080p HD video, but not 4K video.

The Hasselblad True Zoom is a pricey mod. Verizon will sell it to you for $250 and Motorola will sell it to you for $300. I don't think the results warrant the added expense, especially considering you can buy an entry-level dSLR for that price. But I understand the Moto Mods ecosystem probably excites a particular type of consumer and I like the idea of the modular approach.

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