Motorola has changed a lot since the days when it was a Google company. Ah, what a time that was! With the glory days of the Moto X long behind us, it’s all about Moto Mods now. The company has just launched its first 2018 Z device—the Moto Z3 Play, and it’s pushing the modular angle even harder. When you purchase the Z3 Play, you get a Motorola battery Mod in the box, plus support for all the Mods released thus far. Unfortunately, that’s not as strong a selling point as Motorola would have you believe.
The Moto Z3 Play is a mid-range device with a Snapdragon 636 and a 1080p OLED. The shape is familiar due to the Mod support, but Moto has stepped into 2018 with a taller 18:9 display. This isn’t a bad phone; in some ways, it’s actually quite nice. However, the price is bordering on delusional. Motorola is asking $499.99 for the Moto Z3 Play, which is just $30 less than the vastly more powerful OnePlus 6.
|Storage||64GB, plus microSD card support|
|Display||6-inch 2160 x 1080 OLED|
|Battery||3,000mAh, plus 2,220mAh included Mod|
|Camera||12MP+5MP rear, 8MP front|
|Measurements||76.5 x 156.5 x 6.75 mm, 156g|
|Price||$499 from Motorola|
|Display||The 6-inch OLED display is 18:9 with sufficient brightness for outdoor use.|
|Consistent Mod support||If you have Moto Mods from 2016 or 2017, they will still work on the Moto Z3 Play.|
|Software||Motorola’s version of Android is clean and fast. Moto Display and Actions are still great.|
|Camera||The main camera takes nicer photos than I expected with solid dynamic range and quick captures. Low-light performance is just okay, though.|
|Price||$500 for this phone is just bananas when the OnePlus 6 is $30 more.|
|Included Battery Mod||The included battery Mod doesn’t have its own port, so you can only charge it when the phone is fully charged. It also adds too much heft to be convenient to carry around.|
|Fingerprint sensor placement||The fingerprint sensor on the right is easy to trigger accidentally, and moving the power button to the left is awkward.|
|Moto Mods again||Motorola still hasn’t made the case that Mods are a good idea. It’s unlikely you want a $120 photo printer for your phone.|
|Update prospects||Motorola is no longer leading the pack when it comes to Android updates. You’ll probably get one major update on this phone, and it’ll be late.|
Design, hardware, what’s in the box, and more
Look at the Moto Z3 Play even for a second, and you can tell it’s a Motorola phone. It has the signature rounded square shape and flat back with a big, round camera module. The Moto Z3 Play bears a striking resemblance to the last two generations of Z phones for one fundamental reason: it supports all the same Moto Mods. The flat back is now mirror-finish glass as well.
That same shiny aesthetic is carried over to the edge of the device, which is polished aluminum. Yes, it’s a somewhat slippery phone. There’s a USB Type-C port on the bottom edge, and that’s the only port. Motorola was among the first to kill the headphone jack, and it hasn’t gone back on that decision.
The Moto Z3 Play makes several changes to the Z-series formula, starting with the 6-inch OLED display. This 1080p panel is 18:9, so it fills the front of the phone almost completely. There’s no room on the front of the phone for the fingerprint sensor, which is where it lived on prior Z-series devices. The Mod system on the back means you can’t have the fingerprint reader back there, either. Motorola decided to put the sensor on the right edge, but that’s not the power button. That’s on the left side opposite the fingerprint sensor.
The Moto Z3 Play is a step up from the new Moto G6 with a Snapdragon 636 SoC, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. The 3,000mAh battery will get you through a day, but not much more. That’s when you either plug the phone in or snap on a battery Mod. The Z3 Play runs Android 8.1 instead of 8.0 like the G6. The software is what you’d expect from Motorola: almost stock with a suite of added features like Moto Display and Moto Actions.
Motorola seems more committed to Mods than ever. When you purchase the Moto Z3 Play, you get the basic Power Pack battery Mod in the box (A $30-50 value). This 2,220 mAh cell adds 72g of mass and 5mm of thickness. Motorola says it offers about 16 hours of life to your phone. The Moto Z3 Play also includes a standard 15W charger with a USB A-to-C cable, a 3.5mm adapter for the Type-C port, and the usual collection of manuals and warranty notices. It does not come with any Style Shell covers, and you’re out of luck if you want to buy some. Moto currently only offers a single option: black nylon. A handful are listed on Amazon, but they’re mostly poor quality and sold by third-parties.
The Moto Z3 Play is not being sold directly by any carriers, which is a bit of a surprise. Verizon was the premier partner for the Z-series in past years. This phone is only sold by Motorola for $499. It’s unlocked and supports all major carriers, even CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint.
Motorola equipped the Z3 Play with a dual-camera array similar to the one on the G6. It has a 12MP main sensor and a 5MP secondary depth-sensing camera. So, that secondary camera is only for portrait mode shots. The camera does perform better than the G6, but it’s inferior to phones that cost just a little more. Here’s a gallery of camera samples.