It sounds good, I know, but if there was ever a product that proves the folly of focusing too closely on specs, this is it. In fact, some of those spec sacrifices make for a better smartphone. That Snapdragon 625 is less powerful than the 820 in the Moto Z, but Qualcomm specifically calls out how power efficient it is, and this is one time that the reality absolutely matches the marketing.
I can't get any current Android phone to last me more than a day, and some, like the original Moto Z, don't always get me that far. Now, the Z Play, with that huge battery working together with the power-saving processor usually has about half a charge left when I go to bed. For me, that kind of endurance is totally worth the hit in processing power, especially since I can't even notice a difference in performance. I should mention though that the lower amount of RAM does make shuffling apps a bit more pokey. Also, the screen res takes a downgrade; it's only full HD. On the flip side, the glass back on the plate is very soft. It's much more prone to scratches than the metal panel of the Z and weirdly, the style shells don't seem to fit as snugly either. Other mods lock on just fine though. As Lenovo promised, everything is interchangeable across the Z line. I've used the Tumi battery pack and JBL Sound Dock on the Play, and they work just as well as they do on the other Zs. Let's get to the newest of the mods, Hasselblad is a Swedish company that's been in the camera business long enough to have literally put cameras on the moon, and it pays homage to its 75th anniversary with a little Easter egg on the face of this, its first ever smartphone accessory.
This is the True Zoom. You slap it on the back of a Moto Z and instantly, it looks more like a classic camera than any smartphone you've seen before. More importantly, it feels like one. You've got a big grip on the right side, stippled for traction and topped by a two-stage shutter button. Push the power key alongside and you see why it's called the True Zoom. The motor driven lens assembly is capable of 10X optical magnification, which you can control by the telephoto toggle under the shutter release. The Moto Viewfinder is almost completely unchanged, so there's basically no learning curve, and you can still launch the camera with Moto's quick gesture. There are a few custom modes thrown in for sports and night shooting, as well as the capability to record stills in raw format.
And if you wanna use the True Zoom with another app like Snapchat or Instagram, that's no problem. Once again, Moto has completely delivered in terms of delivering a Mod with the stock smartphone experience. And maybe it's no surprise that the biggest advantage to the True Zoom is zooming. 10X is a crazy amount of magnification compared to the crappy digital cropping of the Z Play's regular camera, and the stabilization makes it possible to get a clear photo even at full mag in low light, though it does take a steady hand.
You've got a xenon flash here if you want it and dual microphones for clearer audio recording when you switch to video mode. Oh, a note on that, while the phone can shoot in 4K, you'll be confined to HD when using the True Zoom. I took a bunch of shots with the Z Play's onboard camera followed immediately by the True Zoom. Having this kind of range in your pocket is really fun, and it's a very comfortable camera to shoot with too. But is it something I'd buy myself? Honestly, probably not. I tend to find the Z Play's onboard camera perfectly serviceable for everyday use because like most people, I'm throwing filters on my photos and uploading them through Facebook and Instagram's compression anyway.
Also, the True Zoom is slow. First, you need to attach it. Then you wait for the optics to unfold, and then you wait for it to focus, which can take a very long time. Now, I used the True Zoom on pre-release software so it's likely some of this will get better as Lenovo pushes out updates. I did receive one about halfway through the review period but it didn't seem to make much difference. And the True Zoom suffers from the same convenience issues a lot of Moto Mods do. It's too cumbersome to leave on there all the time so you need to carry it separately, and so now, you're devoting two pockets to your phone instead of just one. Now, if you're the kind of person who carries a point and shoot camera anyway, you're already used to that. Maybe in that case, the True Zoom makes sense.
It's really the only way I can see to justify the suggested retail price. Check the description for that, as it wasn't finalized by press time. And as a final quibble, I wish Hasselblad would have thrown in some extra storage or at least a small battery, like some other Moto Mods do. The upshot, while I think the True Zoom will appeal to the niche photographer, and I'm happy to see the Moto Mod ecosystem get something so cool, I don't see it as a must have. Maybe my opinion will change over time as software updates come in to clean up some of the rough edges.
On the other side of the coin, the Moto Z Play itself is rock solid. In fact, if this one were the unlocked version, I would have taken it with me to Berlin this year to serve as my trade show sidekick for IFA, which is no small endorsement. It cuts corners where it needs to and it's certainly not the phone for the spec freak, but if you're budget sits around $400, I'd give it serious consideration. I say that despite the $400 tier being one of the most competitive segments this year. The Z Play has no trouble keeping up. Again, check the description for the suggested retail price, and for now, it is a Verizon Wireless exclusive in the States, but you can expect its unlocked counterpart to launch later this year. I mentioned IFA 2016 before, folks.