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The $400 Moto Z Play could be Android's new battery champion

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Lenovo adds a more affordable third phone to the Moto Z series

Lenovo is today adding a third smartphone to the company's Moto Z series: the Moto Z Play. Like the Moto Z and Moto Z Force before it, the Moto Z Play is coming to Verizon Wireless as a Droid in the United States, but it will also be sold unlocked. Lenovo and the Moto team designed the Z Play to accomplish two things. First, the company wanted it to be more affordable than its flagship siblings. At around $400 ($408 full retail on Verizon, $449 unlocked) you're getting a very decent if not bleeding edge smartphone for the money. More exciting than that, though, is that the Moto Z Play is said to offer "the longest lasting battery in the history of Motorola smartphones." It also supports the full lineup of snap-on MotoMod accessories — oh, and this time there's a headphone jack.

Moto Z Play headphone jack

The Moto Z Play is chunkier than the regular Moto Z; think of it as on par with Verizon's shatterproof Moto Z Force. It's equally as thick and slightly taller and wider than the Force. The Play has the same outward design as the Moto Z with glass on front and back and a metal frame sandwiched in the middle. (Yes, this one's screen will break if you drop it.) Up front is a 5.5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display, fingerprint sensor, and 5-megapixel, wide-angle selfie camera with flash. On back is the 16-pin connector for MotoMods plus a 16-megapixel camera.

A big battery, 1080p screen, and efficient processor make for great battery life

But it's the Moto Z Play's insides that give it the marathon battery life Lenovo is so proud of. The phone features Qualcomm's Snapdragon 625 processor, which sips power compared to the Snapdragon 820 in more premium devices. In my time with the phone so far, it also (mostly) removes the annoying lag and performance hiccups I've encountered with the Snapdragon 617 used by the Moto G4 and BlackBerry DTEK50. It's pretty competent at gaming, too, with the same Adreno 530 GPU as the flagship Moto Z. Then there's the 3510mAh battery, which is just barely larger than the Force's 3500mAh, but substantially bigger than the regular Z's 2600mAh. And here, that battery only has to power a 1080p display — not the quad HD screen shared by the Play's more expensive counterparts.

Moto Z Play

If there's one downside, it's that the Play is less capable at multitasking, with only 3GB compared to 4GB in the Z and Z Force. That's one area where Moto cut corners to reach this price point. Another is in the camera: the Moto Z Play's 16-megapixel f/2.0 shooter lacks optical image stabilization, so it can struggle in low light situations. Thankfully it retains the laser autofocus and phase detection autofocus from the Moto Z and Moto Z Force. I'd describe the camera as acceptable and decent. It's what you'd expect from a 2016 midrange phone: good results in daylight, but fewer keepers elsewhere. If you're getting the Moto Z Play, it's probably because of the price, the battery, or Moto's excellent software features like Moto Display and Moto Actions.

Moto Z Play camera

So let's talk about Moto's battery life claims. Android manufacturers often disregard realistic expectations with their longevity estimates, and Lenovo is no exception to that disappointing trend. You can throw out the positively idiotic "up to 50 hours of mixed usage" that the company claims the Moto Z Play can achieve. What I can tell you is that the Moto Z Play will easily breeze through one entire day of heavy, constant use. If you're someone who doesn't pull out your phone as much, perhaps it'll last through most of the next one, too. But no, this isn't some 50-hour battery warrior. It's a $400 phone you can unplug in the morning with every confidence it'll last until you get home again and significantly beyond.

Moto Z Play MotoMods

It's also the cheapest entry path yet into Lenovo's "modular" MotoMods system, which lets you snap accessories like a powerful speaker, a video projector, and now a camera with 10x optical zoom directly to the back of the phone. Some of the more expensive MotoMods might be impractical for the budget-minded; I'd say the speaker remains the best option to get if you insist on getting one.

The Moto Z Play will be available in September for $400 on Verizon Wireless in the United States, and Lenovo says the unlocked international model will follow very soon after. It'll be offered in the white / gold color seen here, and there'll also be a black option available.

Moto Z Play Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge


Moto Z and Moto Mods review