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Moto’s Z Play is the phone I just can’t quit

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It’s all about the battery

Moto Z Play Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

What’s the most important feature on your smartphone? Is it the camera? The display? The design? The processor? The software and apps it runs? Chances are, it’s a combination of all of those things and more. But over the past few weeks I’ve learned that the most important feature on my smartphone is none of the above; it’s the battery life. It’s a little obvious: if your phone’s battery is dead, none of the other features are useful or even matter.

I came to this realization after spending the last month using a six-month-old, midrange Moto Z Play as my primary device. I had impulsively purchased the Z Play late last year when it was on sale for the holidays (down from its already attractive price), but after briefly using it to get some initial impressions and try out Moto’s Mod accessories, it sat largely unused for months. That changed in March when Moto finally delivered the Android 7.0 Nougat update to my unlocked model and I took the SIM out of my Google Pixel and put it in the Z Play full time.

At first glance, the Z Play is not very impressive. It’s on the larger side, with a chunky, unimpressive design, a lower-resolution 1080p display than many other 5.5-inch phones, and a midrange Qualcomm processor. It doesn’t do VR, isn’t water resistant to any extent, doesn’t have tiny bezels, has a silly fingerprint scanner on the front that doesn’t double as a home button, and doesn’t have a class-leading camera.

Moto Z Play Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

But as my colleague Chris Welch noted in his original review of the Z Play for Verizon, this phone has the best battery life of any device you can purchase right now. Those otherwise unimpressive features — 1080p display, midrange processor, and blocky design, which allows for a large, 3,510mAh battery — combine to provide outstanding longevity between charges. Moto says the device has its “longest lasting smartphone battery ever,” but I’ll go one further and say the Z Play has the longest-lasting battery of any modern smartphone I’ve ever used.

For example, according to GSam Battery Monitor, a battery usage monitoring app, I’ve averaged over seven hours of screen time between charges with the Z Play. That’s an actual seven hours that the display was on and I was staring at my phone, either reading, tweeting, emailing, taking pictures, or whatever. Compared to my Pixel, which typically kicks the bucket after two and a half or three hours of screen time, this changes how I use and think about my phone. Even other devices with exceptionally long-lasting batteries, such as the OnePlus 3T or Samsung’s S7 Edge, usually only provide four or five hours of screen time before giving up.

On a typical day, I have a long, mostly train-based commute that has me using my phone for a solid two hours before I even arrive at the office. I’ll read my Pocket queue, catch up on Twitter, manage email, connect with colleagues on Slack, use my phone as a mobile hot spot, and stream music from Spotify to my wireless headphones or watch YouTube videos during this time. I’ll also use my phone to buy coffee and check the status of the subway lines on my way in. When I get to the office, I might take a handful of phone calls, send a few dozen texts, find a spot to get lunch, and use my phone for other miscellaneous tasks throughout the day. By 4PM (or even earlier), I have to charge virtually every other smartphone in order to make sure I have enough juice to last me on the commute home.

But with the Z Play, I don’t even think about recharging my phone in the middle of the day. By the time I leave the office, it typically still has 35 to 40 percent battery remaining, which is plenty to last through my demanding commute home and even still be useful when I’m vegging out on the couch in the evening. In my years of reviewing devices, no other smartphone has ever been able to last through my demanding workday like the Z Play can. If I had a less challenging schedule, I could easily see the Z Play going two or three days between charges.

This stellar battery life would be all for naught if the Z Play had showstopping failures in other areas, but that’s not the case. It’s a little bigger than I’d like, but aside from that, I don’t have any issue with the display (I don’t care about using my phone for VR, which is really the only reason you’d need higher than 1080p resolution), the processor is more than capable for what I use my phone for, and even the camera is good enough that I don’t miss my Pixel when I’m taking photos.

The Z Play doesn’t have any poorly designed software changes that make it more annoying to use than my Pixel, and in fact, I’ve grown to appreciate Moto’s software additions that my Pixel lacks. The Moto Display feature that shows me notifications whenever I pick up the phone or wave my hand over it is way more reliable than Google’s similar Ambient Display, and the double karate chop gesture to turn on the flashlight has become one of my favorite and most-used shortcuts. And Moto has included a useful swipe-up shortcut to make the interface easier to reach with your thumb, which the similarly large Pixel XL doesn’t have.

Moto Z Play Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Further, because the Z Play supports Moto’s Mod platform, I can take advantage of the JBL SoundBoost speaker for better audio (this is killer for conference calls), Mophie’s Juice Pack battery mod for even longer stamina (a fully charged Z Play and Mophie mod will cover me from Friday to Monday without needing to plug in all weekend), or Incipio’s Vehicle Dock, which is perhaps my favorite Mod accessory. The Z Play shines on its own without the Mods, and I don’t think they are a good reason to buy a phone. But if you already have a great phone, the Mod options are just icing on an already tasty cake.

Before I started using the Z Play full time, I’d constantly check my phone’s battery meter throughout the day and worry about when I’d need to charge up. (Hence the reason I use apps like GSam in the first place.) Fast-charging features, which have become standard on Android phones in the past couple of years, have made it a little easier to live with charging in the middle of the day, but nothing has eased my anxiety like the Z Play worry-free battery life. It’s one less thing I have to think about during the day, which for me, is invaluable.

I’m sure that I will be tempted by other devices coming out this year (the Galaxy S8’s design and display might be too irresistible to for my poor wallet), but each time I’ve switched my SIM into another phone, it ended up back in my Z Play after less than a day. I hope that in the future other device makers will prioritize battery life the way that Moto did here, without compromising the rest of the features that make my smartphone such an indispensable tool. Until then, I’ll be sticking with my Z Play.