Last week, Motorola officially announced the Moto Z3, what it claims is the "the world's first 5G-upgradable smartphone." While the company's Moto Mods are generally compatible with all of its Moto Z-series devices, the newly unveiled 5G Moto Mod that launched alongside the handset will only work with the Moto Z3, allowing the device to communicate with the next generation of wireless networks that promises revolutionary performance and applications. The thing is, none of that really matters because this is all shaping up to be a generic publicity stunt.
The number of caveats that come with the promise of a 5G-enabled Moto Z3 is truly astounding. First of all, there's the issue of networks; as the Moto Z3 is a Verizon carrier exclusive, the 5G Moto Mod will apparently only be compatible with the 5G network offered by the largest mobile service provider in the country. Needless to say, that network will only start being deployed on a non-insignificant scale next year, which is when the modular attachment in question is set to be released as well. So, when the new Moto Z3 hits the stores on August 16, it won't be able to communicate with 5G networks because there obviously won't be any for it to connect to. But the thing is, the device and its 5G Moto Mod likely won't offer wireless 5G even by August 16, 2019. While Verizon has certainly been committing significant resources to 5G R&D, all of the plans it disclosed on that front so far are solely focused on its fixed wireless access solution, which is essentially an alternative to traditional broadband Internet services.
So, all of that talk about Los Angeles and Houston getting 5G this year is basically just a promise of a better broadband service that will likely be anything but affordable. While we're on the same subject, the price of the 5G Moto Mod hasn't been announced either but it will likely be closer to the higher end of the spectrum currently covered by Motorola's modular ecosystem of products, especially as it also comes with a 2,000mAh battery, i.e. above $150. Coupled with the $480 price tag attached to the device itself and the cost of Verizon's not-really-mobile 5G, that's going to be a lot of money to shell out for what's essentially an Android-powered mid-ranger for anyone interested in experiencing the next generation of connectivity that's lucky enough to live in one of handful of cities that will be getting Verizon's FWA service in the near future. Besides the aforementioned duo, Sacramento is the only other city that has so far been confirmed as being set to receive 5G FWA by the time the 5G Moto Mod is released in early 2019, with one final city being expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Even if one was to ignore the issue of service and availability and assumed they'll actually use the Moto Z3 for 5G connections, there's the question of performance. As it turns out, 5G is going to require a lot of power. Like, a lot. So much, in fact, that manufacturers are presently looking into cooling solutions such as copper sheets that have been absolutely unheard of in the context of smartphone applications so far. So, that aforementioned 2,000mAh battery included in the 5G Moto Mod isn't a bonus, it's a necessity. And one that likely won't be enough, as suggested by the example of the 2011 HTC ThunderBolt, the world's first 4G device. As history already demonstrated, being the first handset to support an entirely new wireless standard isn't necessarily a good thing, especially if the implementation of such a technology is as half-baked as the one Motorola unveiled this month.
In overall, with a lack of native 5G support, questionable 5G performance, the extremely limited availability of the first wave of Verizon's 5G service, and the fact that the network in question won't even be a mobile one but an alternative to broadband Internet access, it's really hard to describe the Moto Z3 Play as a "real" 5G phone. By the time wireless 5G actually becomes generally available in the U.S., you'll have at least half a dozen 5G-ready handsets to choose from, and none of them will require any unsightly attachments to communicate with 5G, while most probably won't lock you into a single carrier either and will ship with much more energy-efficient chips than the 2017 Snapdragon 835 that is extremely unlikely to be able to cope with the requirements of the next generation of wireless connectivity, which is part of the reason why you won't be seeing it in any "real" 5G phones.