Motorola's Moto Z Play line has been well-known for offering great battery life at a lower price, and that trend continues with the Moto Z3 Play.
In 2016, Motorola unveiled the Moto Z line of devices. This was a new series from the company under its new owner Lenovo, and the firm also unveiled Moto Mods to go alongside it. These were modules that could be attached to the back of a compatible phone and do all sorts of things. From giving the phone more juice, adding a speaker, giving it a better camera and so much more. Motorola promised three years of support for the Moto Mods ecosystem, meaning there were very little design changes made to the product family ever since. And that is evident here on the Moto Z3 Play as well. The overall design is fairly similar to the Moto Z Play and Moto Z2 Play from the past two years. But does that make the Moto Z3 Play a deal-breaker? Let's take a closer look and find out.
Moto Z3 Play Specs
The biggest design change for the Moto Z3 Play this year is the fact that it now has a 18:9 aspect display here. It's now 6.01-inches instead of 5.5-inches. But it still sports full HD+ resolution on an AMOLED panel. Motorola is using the Snapdragon 636 chipset to power the Moto Z3 Play, along with either 4GB of RAM and 32GB/64GB of storage or 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The latter version is only available in Brazil at this time.
Motorola did decide to give the Moto Z3 Play a dual-camera setup this time around. With the main sensor being a 12-megapixel sensor that has a f/1.7 aperture, and it does also have phase detection auto-focus. While the secondary lens is a 5-megapixel sensor, and surprisingly does not sport auto-focus. This is primarily used as a depth sensor, allowing you to get better portrait mode shots out of the Moto Z3 Play. The front-facing camera is a 8-megapixel sensor with a f/2.0 aperture. Unlike the Moto G6 series of smartphones, there is no flash on the front of the Moto Z3 Play.
Wrapping up the specs here, the Moto Z3 Play is powered by a 3000mAh capacity battery and it does also run on Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box. It does also sport WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac for wireless, with Bluetooth 5.0 also available here. There is a fingerprint sensor included, as well as a USB-C port for charging. Finally, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack available on the Moto Z3 Play.
Moto Z3 Play: In the Box
Motorola actually includes something rather special in the box with the Moto Z3 Play this time around. Instead of including just the phone, it's TurboPower charging brick and a USB-C cable, Motorola has also included the Moto Power Pack. This is a Battery Moto Mod which has a 2000mAh capacity. This is going to allow the Moto Z3 Play to last even longer, and it's included in the box which is nice to see. Of course you also get that headphone dongle, as well as the usual USB-C cable and the TurboPower charging brick for quick charging your Moto Z3 Play here.
Moto Z3 Play Hardware & Build Quality
The Moto Z3 Play marks the return to glass backs for Motorola on the Moto Z series. The original Moto Z sported a glass back, however the Moto Z2 series went back to an aluminum frame. Now Motorola is back to all glass, and it makes the Moto Z3 Play look rather stunning. It is only being offered in one color - Deep Indigo - which does look pretty nice actually, on this device. The sides are now rounded, which feel really nice in the hand, though with Motorola going back to glass it does make the Moto Z3 Play pretty slippery still.
Past Moto Z smartphones have felt more like prototypes, more like there was something missing on the back. And that is still somewhat the case with the Moto Z3 Play here. It's not as flat or naked-feeling as previous Moto Z device, but that feel is still there. Luckily, the Moto Power Pack isn't too thick, so you can leave it on the phone every day while you are using it. It doesn't add to much thickness, but it does add some grip, making it easier to hold onto this smartphone, and that's definitely a good thing here.
On the left side of the phone you'll find the power button. Which is in a different place than usual for Motorola. Typically this is place on the right side, below the volume buttons. But Motorola decided to add a fingerprint sensor to the side, so the power button got moved to the left side this time around. The fingerprint sensor on the right side of the Moto Z3 Play is in the perfect spot to use it without needing to readjust the grip of the phone, but it also is pretty easy to use. This is actually here because Motorola can't put it on the back of the phone due to Moto Mods, but it wanted to go full-screen on the front, so there wasn't much room for it (though there was on the Moto G6). So it was a design choice that was made two years ago that affected this decision. Which isn't a bad thing, but still worth noting.
Overall, the design of the Moto Z3 Play is pretty impressive. It's not the most flashy smartphone out there, but it does get the job done, which is definitely important. It gives you all of the 2018 trends, while still supporting Moto Mods, and it does support the original crop of Moto Mods as well, like the InstaShare Projector from 2016.
Moto Z3 Play Display
Motorola has kept with using AMOLED displays on its Moto Z line of smartphones, this helps with battery life, and also helps with Moto Display. Not only that, it makes the whole phone look and feel more high-end, as the picture quality on an AMOLED display is better than what you'd get on an LCD panel. There's deeper blacks here, and more contrast with other colors. The panel itself here on the Moto Z3 Play looks really good. Especially if you are doing any type of media consumption on this device.
However, the one area where the Moto Z3 Play's display does fall flat is the brightness. While it's fine for using in an office and such, it does not get bright enough in direct sunlight to be able to use it outdoors for any length of time. That isn't always an issue with AMOLED panels, but it is the case with the one that Motorola is using. Otherwise, the panel here is pretty good, and does enhance the entire experience of using the Moto Z3 Play.
Moto Z3 Play Performance
Inside the Moto Z3 Play is the Snapdragon 636 chipset which is paired with 4GB of RAM. On paper, it's a bit slower than the Snapdragon 845 you'll find in other smartphones. But in real-life usage, you won't notice much of a difference. The reason for Motorola going with a Snapdragon 600-series here on the Moto Z3 Play is because it will conserve battery life without impacting performance. There are eight 1.8GHz cores included in the Snapdragon 636 and it performs perfectly fine in day-to-day usage. The only time that you may notice a drop in performance is when playing games. But even then, the Adreno 509 still performs quite well. Add in 4GB of RAM to the mix, and you have yourself a pretty well-performing smartphone here, for not a bad price.
During the review phase of the Moto Z3 Play, we did not notice many slowdowns at all. This only happened when playing some graphic-intense games, and even then, it did not slow down a whole lot. The Snapdragon 636 is still a beast of a chipset, even if it isn't the fastest chipset that Qualcomm currently has. In 2018, 4GB of RAM may be on the low-side of RAM but it is still plenty for keeping the Moto Z3 Play running and running smoothly.
Moto Z3 Play Sound
Motorola has decided to go with just one speaker on the Moto Z3 Play. And this speaker doesn't get all that loud either. It can actually be somewhat quiet. This could be a way for Motorola to force customers to buy the JBL SoundBoost 2 Moto Mod, but it is rather surprising that the sound is this poor. The actual quality of the audio here is not bad. The bass is pretty heavy, with mids and highs still sounding crystal clear. The only issue is the volume here. However, for those that want to use their headphones, well, there's no headphone jack here, unfortunately. So you're going to be stuck with using the dongle or going Bluetooth. Which is unfortunate seeing as the previous two Moto Z Play smartphones had headphone jacks.
Moto Z3 Play Security
It comes as no surprise that Motorola has included both Face Unlock and a Fingerprint Sensor for unlocking your Moto Z3 Play. Face Unlock was available on the Moto G6 range, so it's not surprising to see it available on the Moto Z3 Play either. Face Unlock is pretty decent, as far as speed goes. It's not the fastest version of Face Unlock we've seen, but it does get the job done pretty well. The fingerprint sensor also works well. It's located on the right side of the phone, where your thumb will most likely rest anyways, so placing it there was a good idea. It is also just as fast as you'd expect, it's almost instant. The Fingerprint sensor can be used for authentication in apps, however, Face Unlock cannot yet be used for authentication - only unlocking the device.
Moto Z3 Play Phone Calls & Network
Like with most Motorola smartphones, the Moto Z3 Play does indeed work with all four US carriers. That includes AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. During the review process, we used the Moto Z3 Play on both Verizon and T-Mobile networks here in the US. The Moto Z3 Play worked perfectly fine on both networks and had no issues at all. Motorola does not have support for VoLTE or HD Voice on the Moto Z3 Play though. That's not a huge surprise, considering most of those features are installed at the carrier level and since this is not a carrier-branded device, they aren't here. But if you are just looking to make phone calls and use data, then there won't be any issues with this phone.
Moto Z3 Play Benchmarks
As per usual with smartphone reviews, we ran three benchmarks on the Moto Z3 Play. That included AnTuTu, 3D Mark and GeekBench 4. The Moto Z3 Play scored about where it was expected, given the specs that it is sporting. On AnTuTu, it picked up a score of 110,813. Over on GeekBench 4, it picked up a single-core score of 1328, and a multi-core score of 4868. While on 3D Mark, it picked up scores of 947 in the Sling Shot Extreme - OpenGL ES 3.1 test, and a 755 in the Sling Shot Extreme - Vulkan test. You can see the full results in the gallery below.
Moto Z3 Play Battery Life
The main selling point of the Moto Z Play smartphones have been its battery life. After all it has a downgraded display from the Moto Z Force and Moto Z2 Force, and it has a larger battery, and a lower-end processor. And that selling point continues with the Moto Z3 Play. The 3000mAh capacity battery here still performs as it should. It'll get you through a full day and then some. In fact, we found on most days that it would get you through a full day and still have around 30-percent battery left. So even on heavy days it should get you through the entire day. Add on that 2000mAh capacity Moto Power Pack, and it'll get you through two full days, most likely. That Moto Power Pack won't get the phone from zero to 100-percent, but it will give you a nice boost.
During the review process, we were able to get over five hours of on-screen time consistently, with some cycles getting over six hours and one over eight hours (that was with the Moto Power Pack doing the heavy lifting though). So it is definitely going to get you through the day. Now when it comes to charging, it does support Quick Charge 3.0. Which means you can go from zero to 100-percent in around 90 minutes. However, the Moto Power Pack will add a bit more - since it doesn't support Quick Charge 3.0. There is also no support for Qi Wireless Charging here, unfortunately. So you will need to charge the old-fashioned way, by plugging in your smartphone.
Moto Z3 Play Software
At the time of reviewing the Moto Z3 Play, the device was running on Android 8.1 Oreo with the May 1, 2018 security patch. That is the latest version of Android, but not quite the latest version of the security patch. It is pretty close though, so there's not much to complain about here. Seeing as Motorola isn't going to push out every single security update, but it will roll them up into one larger update that comes out once every few months.
On the software-front, there's not much new here. It's still basically stock Android with some Motorola customizations on top. It's an approach that has worked well for Motorola in recent years, and it seems to want to continue with that trend. In fact, just about all of the customizations that Motorola has made here are included in the Moto app on the Moto Z3 Play. That includes Moto Actions, Moto Display and Moto Voice. These are not new features at all, but they do get updated from time to time and definitely have improved. With Moto Actions, you have the ability to turn on different gestures, like the screenshot editor - which allows you to immediately edit and share your screenshot after taking the screenshot. There's also a three-finger gesture to take a screenshot, one-button nav, and much more. Now the one-button nav is basically the same gesture navigation that Google introduced in Android P. Where you have a bar at the bottom that works as a home button and can be slid back and forth to navigate through your recent apps.
With Moto Display, you are able to see what notifications you have that are unread on your display without turning on the phone. Motorola was actually the first to do some type of always-on display, and in many people's opinion, it's still the best. Moto Display isn't technically "always on" as it will "breathe" so show you the time, date, battery percentage and your unread notifications. You can also wave your hand over the display to bring it up. It's a simple feature, but very useful. Then there's Moto Voice, which Motorola says is in beta right now, but it allows you to talk to Google Assistant without ever touching your smartphone.
The software experience on the Moto Z3 Play is about what you would expect. It's pretty fluid and doesn't hang up at all, which is nice to see. It also offers plenty of customization for those that want to change out the launcher, change up the icon colors and much more. Motorola has stuck to its approach of keeping things simple and not changing things just because. Which makes the phone run smoother with slower hardware, compared to companies like Samsung and LG who have much heavier skins on their smartphones.
Moto Z3 Play Camera
In a nutshell, the Moto Z3 Play's camera is actually pretty good. But there are some issues with it, as is always the case with a camera. In regular lighting, the Moto Z3 Play's camera is going to give you a pretty good experience. With great looking shots, and even in dimly lit situations, there won't be much of an issue. But things get a bit messy when you use its Portrait Mode. The rear camera does have a depth sensor, which should ideally make this Portrait Mode a bit better, but that's not exactly the case. While Portrait Mode does look pretty good on the shots we've taken with the Moto Z3 Play, it does have issues with edge detection. For example, I took a picture of a bottle of hot sauce, and it had trouble detecting the left edge which is partly blurred out. This is actually pretty common for smartphones, but it's not always as noticeable as it is on the Moto Z3 Play's camera.
Other than Portrait Mode, there's not a whole lot to complain about here. Most of the pictures we took with this smartphone came out looking really good. They were nice and bright and didn't look over saturated either. When it comes to low-light photography, the Moto Z3 Play actually does quite well here, which is a bit surprising. Of course, there is also manual mode available, so if you really want to get a great shot, you can switch to manual and adjust things like the exposure, ISO and more and get that perfect shot. Overall, the only real issue with this smartphone's camera is Portrait Mode and how it has trouble with edge detection. This is likely something that Motorola is going to improve on with software updates, so it shouldn't be that big of an issue further down the road.
Inclusion of the Moto Power Pack Mod
Portrait Mode Edge Detection
A Single Speaker
No Headphone Jack
The Moto Z3 Play is in a rather interesting place in the smartphone world. It's not quite in the sub-$300 range, but not quite in the $600 bracket with higher-end devices either. It's sitting somewhere in the middle, and that might be a good thing for Motorola. It appears to be hitting that spot for people that want something that's powerful, has a great design, and excellent battery life. And the Moto Z3 Play does all of that quite well, with a retail price of $499.
Should I Buy the Moto Z3 Play?
If you're someone who is always worried about battery life, then the Moto Z3 Play should be at the top of your list. It's a great smartphone from Motorola that is going to last all day long, and then some - especially with the included Moto Power Pack. And at $499, it's pretty affordable as well. Though, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can save another $50 off that price, since the device is priced at $449 for Prime members, and the only difference between the two models comes in the form of a few more Amazon apps being pre-installed. So, that's definitely a great deal.