Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom, hands on: The first module I wanted to buy

Motorola's Moto Z lineup is now a little cheaper and boasts a camera Moto Mod.

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The Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.

Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Every time I travel to some sort of press event, I lug around a Fuji X-T10, a couple lenses, and its proprietary battery charger. There have been times when I decided to leave something at home, like a lens, only to get sat further away from the stage and wish I had a bigger lens to capture the right shot. Another time I decided to leave my camera's charger at home, and then I found the camera was left on in my bag, draining the battery and leaving me without a camera at all.

So now I pack everything. Every time. It's a lot of extra equipment to carry for a quick trip across the country, but I've learned my lesson.

Until last week, when I flew to San Francisco, Calif., to attend Apple's iPhone 7 event. I left my camera and the rest of my kit at home, deciding instead to put the Moto Z Play and the newly announced Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod to the test.

Did I regret it? Not one bit. Instead, I walked out of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium with a newfound appreciation for modular smartphones -- even if it is just for one accessory on one phone.

About the Moto Z Play

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Moto Z Play Droid

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With the addition of the Moto Z Play, Motorola's Z lineup now consists of three different models. The Moto Z Force Droid, Moto Z Droid, and Moto Z Play Droid. The first two devices are higher-end devices; faster processors, better cameras, more expensive. As you can probably tell from the nomenclature, these devices are currently specific to Verizon Wireless.

Unlocked GSM variants of the Moto Z and Moto Z Play will ship in October, with preorders opening Sept. 15 for both devices at Motorola.com.

The Z Play, however, sits happily at the lower end of the spectrum, priced at $408. Unlike its bigger siblings, it has a 3.5 mm headphone jack and still works with Motorola's Moto Mod lineup.

Using a series of magnets on the back of the phone, owners can connect and swap out accessories ranging from an external battery or a miniature projector to the Hasselblad True Zoom camera. You don't have to power the phone off to switch between mods, or completely remove the phone's battery, as is the case with the LG G5. You attach a mod, use it, pull it off, and go about your day.

I didn't spend much time using the Moto Z Play as my daily phone -- other than to set it up and check social media. ZDNet's Matthew Miller did a fine job in his review of the Moto Z Force Droid should you find yourself interested in the nuances of what the Moto Z line is all about.

For those who want the quick version: the battery life is better on the Z Play than on the other two models due to a slower processor, lower resolution screen, and a slight gain in battery size. You aren't likely to be blown away by the Moto Z Play's overall performance, but you'd be hard pressed to find much to fault.

Hasselblad Moto Mod

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Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Z Mod.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The real star of the show in my time with the Z Play has to be the $299 Hasselblad Moto Mod. As smartphone accessories go, it's not cheap.

You can shave $50 off the price if you purchase it at a Verizon Wireless store, starting Sept. 15. A $50 discount for walking into a retail doesn't make much sense, but hey, saving $50 just for walking into a store isn't that bad of a deal.

Just what does $299 get you?

  • 12-megapixel camera
  • 1080p high-definition video at 30fps
  • 10x optical zoom
  • f3.5-6.5 aperture
  • Capture RAW photos for more control over the finished product while editing
  • A carrying case

Unlike the rest of the Moto Mod lineup, the True Zoom lacks an internal battery you have to worry about charging. Instead, it draws power from the Moto Z's battery. Over the course of two hours during the Apple keynote, I used the True Zoom to take 130 photos and two videos. I rarely locked the screen, leaving the device running the entire time while simultaneously uploading each new photo to Dropbox through the Android app.

During that time, I used 28 percent of the Moto Z Play's battery. Two hours of the screen constantly lit up, connected to a Moto Mod, dozens of photos, zooming in and out, uploading nearly nonstop -- and the battery performed like a trooper.

Putting the True Zoom to use

When you first connect the True Zoom to a Moto Z, the phone vibrates and the default Camera app launches. Holding the phone in landscape orientation, you can find the zoom and shutter button on the top-right, with a power button located just next to it. Press in the power button to activate the mod when you're ready to use it, or you can just open any app that uses the camera. Instagram, for example, brings the mod to life.

If you've ever used a point-and-shoot camera, the controls will feel familiar and natural.

Motorola's Camera app offers six different shooting scenes, ranging from sports to landscape. A more valuable setting gives users the option to capture photos in JPEG or JPEG and RAW. RAW files capture and store more information and therefore provide more editing options after the photo is captured. I shot everything in standard Color JPEG during the event, knowing I wouldn't have time to edit photos right away.

When I first started snapping photos of Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage, I struggled with finding the sweet spot of focal point and exposure level. You can tap on the screen to set the focus point and then drag a circular slider to change exposure.

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A horrible photo of Apple CEO Tim Cook captured with the Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.

Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The end result was an overexposed picture from front to back. As you can see above, Cook looks more like a ghost, the entire audience is visible, and the stage is grainy. It was a horrible shot.

As I kept tinkering and adjusting settings, I finally got dialed about the time Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage to announce Super Mario Run.

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Shigeru Miyamoto announces Super Mario Run. Shot with the Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.

Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Again, this was snapped with a modular accessory on the back of the Moto Z Play.

Here's another photo, my favorite from the day, taken with the Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.

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Shot with the Moto Z Play and Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.

Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

It wasn't all gravy

When you figure out the quirks of the Hasselblad True Zoom, that doesn't automatically translate into capturing quality photos each and every shot.

Outside of the 10x optical zoom, the True Zoom is little more than a glorified smartphone camera. It still struggles in low-light conditions, especially when there's movement. You're also giving up a 16-megapixel camera on the Moto Z Play for the 12-megapixel Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.

Not to mention, it adds a lot of bulk to an otherwise impressively thin smartphone in the Moto.

At $300 (or $250 if you visit a Verizon Wireless store), the Hasselblad True Zoom is going to be a hard sell.

However, I can see this mod fitting nicely into a daily work routine for select industries: real estate agents snapping photos for a new listing, or insurance adjusters taking photos for claims. This expensive, yet powerful accessory, is going to make your job easier.

Instead of carrying around multiple pieces of equipment, worrying about whether your camera is charged or your memory card has space, you can snap on the True Zoom, then take your photos, and upload or email them wherever they need to go in a matter of minutes. There's no doubt the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod made my day easier.

Would I run out and buy a Moto Z Play just so I could use the True Zoom mod? Not likely. But man, if I don't wish there was something like this for the iPhone or latest Galaxy devices.

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