Moto Z Play and the Riddle of Battery Life

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Moto Z Play

What is the single most feature that any piece of portable technology must have in order to operate and perform its base functions? What is the lowest common denominator in terms of needs that a television, a computer, a mobile phone and a hairdryer share? Power. Electrical appliances all rely on some kind of power source to pass current through their innards and create the useful outputs we’ve come to be dependent on. Nowhere is this dependence on power more demonstratable than our cell phones. Have the latest and greatest camera on the back of your device? How about the newest Snapdragon 845 or A10 chip? Crisp and beautiful super-AMOLED display? Wonderful. What good are any of those if the battery is dead?

I learned the hard way about this very issue on a trip to Europe, armed with an iPhone 6S and Samsung S7 edge. It was early 2017, so both devices could still contend themselves with flagship status. I was excited to use iMessage to stay in touch with friends back home on the cheap, and the fantastic camera on the S7 to take photo after brilliant photo. To my horror, by mid-day, the iPhone would regularly give up the ghost, and using the S7’s camera proved to be a battery-sapping experience amplified by the warm Mediterranean climate. What I needed during my travels was a phone that could last, that I could rely on to get through a day and still keep going. When it came time to use my phone as a GPS in a foreign country, I needed reliability. I needed dependability. What I needed was a Moto Z Play.

Motorola’s Z-line of devices have been around for almost two years, now. They all share a flat, candybar design, a hockey puck camera bump and a double row of magnets onto which modular extensions can attach to expand the feature set of the devices. These MotoMods range from covers, to a polaroid photo printer, to a battery case, to a projector and numerous speakers. It doesn’t matter. None of the mods actually matter. Motorola’s Z-line initially broke down into a standard Z – armed with the standard 2016 Snapdragon 820, decent camera and small battery, a US-exclusive Z Force – essentially a reinforced Z with a shatterproof display, and a bigger battery, and the Z Play – a detuned version of the Z, with a Snapdragon 625 processor, an underwhelming camera and a massive 3510 mAh battery.

This combination, of a power-efficient processor, a lower quality display (still FHD, mind you), and the massive battery combined to make what was and still is, undoubtedly, a sleeper hit of 2016. With moderate usage, it would last two days. With heavy usage, it would last through the day. I bought one, and instantly fell in love. Sure, the camera wasn’t the greatest, but it was manageable. Everything else worked like a charm. The supposedly underpowered Snapdragon 625? It did everything asked of it with relative aplomb. Gaming was smooth. Pokemon GO, Real Racing 3, Plague Inc all ran well. Multitasking and juggling apps was equally surprising.

All this reminiscing is good – but the Z Play is a two-year old phone. Since then, Motorola’s put out a refresh, in the form of the Z2 Play. This successor, however, undid all the good work of its predecessor. The battery shrunk and the price tag went up. Motorola clearly realized the erroneous lapse in business judgement it made in 2016. With such longevity, who would buy pricey battery pack mods!? The result is that the Z Play will remain a one-hit wonder. More and more smartphone manufacturers are producing phones with smaller batteries, sacrificing longevity for a thinner waistline and form-factor. Out of the early 2018 models, only the Huawei P20 Pro boasts a larger power pack. Most major flagships have settled on 3000 mAh as a standard battery size. This is surprising given that few Android manufacturers can match Samsung’s might in terms of marketing and sales. The LG G7, OnePlus 6, Huawei P20, and Asus Zenfone 5 all look awfully similar: an iPhone X-styled notch, dual cameras, an at-least 18:9 aspect ratio display and a battery around 3000 mAh. Perhaps these manufacturers should look to Motorola for inspiration. Having all of the gimmicks of the Samsungs, the LGs, the Pixels is fun and entertaining, but the simple truth remains: battery life trumps all.