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Review 11 min read 1 Comment

Moto Z3 Play review: Playing it safe but where's the fun?

Motorola is back with a premium smartphone for those of us who want a smartphone that’s higher end than the Moto G6 Plus, while still being compatible with Moto Mods, all at an affordable price. This third opus of the Moto Z Play series is still missing a big battery (unlike the first generation), but the Z3 Play offers some interesting features, such as the dual camera and new screen. So what’s this new Motorola device all about? This answer is in our comprehensive review!

Rating

Good

  • Battery life
  • Compatible with Moto Mods
  • Navigation with gestures

Bad

  • Camera
  • No headphone jack
  • Price

Moto Z3 Play release date and price

The price for the Z3 Play will be $499 in the United States. For the same price, you might be able to purchase a OnePlus 6, which puts this Moto Z3 Play in a price range where competition is particularly fierce. Motorola does, however, offer a Moto Mod Power Pack in addition to the smartphone.

The device is available in two colors: deep indigo and blue onyx. The release is scheduled for this summer.

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The Moto Z3 Play comes with the 2,220 mAh Moto Mod Power Pack. / © AndroidPIT

A familiar design

On the design side, the Moto Z3 Play is at the crossroads between the Moto G6 Plus and the Moto X4. The rear glass part is now more similar to what was seen on the first Moto Z. On the back, you’ll find the connectors for the Moto Mods and the module that houses the cameras.

It should be noted that the Moto Z3 Play hasn’t evolved much in terms of dimensions. The most obvious aesthetic changes are on the front, especially the Max Vision display, which offers an 18:9 aspect ratio and AMOLED technology. Compared to the G6 Plus, the Motorola logo is on the front and there’s no minijack. Motorola provides an adapter that links a USB Type-C to a headphone jack that should console you. Personally, I find it regrettable that the Z3 Play doesn’t include this feature, especially since competitors offer it.

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The Moto Z3 Play in all its splendor. / © AndroidPIT

For the third (and last) time, the smartphone is indeed compatible with Moto Mods. Motorola has kept the promise that it announced when it released Moto Mods. This is a rare enough fact in the smartphone world, so I have to salute it. Owners of the older generations of Motorola smartphone will therefore be able to reuse their accessories on this Z3 Play without any worries. Bravo, Motorola!

Of course, the disadvantages are that the photo module always protrudes on the rear side and the design of the device hasn’t changed much.

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The device still houses the connectors for the Moto Mods. / © AndroidPIT

Motorola places the fingerprint reader on the right side of the device. The most striking novelty is certainly the presence of a dedicated power button, in addition to the fingerprint button. Motorola is making the opposite choice which Sony has made in the past, when it placed its fingerprint reader and power button on the same side.

If the location of the fingerprint reader didn’t bother me (sometimes it does), I do find it very disappointing that there’s another button on the device for sending it to sleep. With all the finger gymnastics, I don’t really understand what the designers of the Z3 Play were thinking. Going into it, I was afraid of being disappointed and in the end I was.

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In addition to the power button on the left, the fingerprint reader is located on the right side. / © AndroidPIT

Overall, the Z3 Play is a fairly classic device that won't really set you apart from your friends. On the whole, however, it’s elegant (in deep indigo, especially) and the finish is high quality.

Finally, an AMOLED screen

The screen on the Moto Z3 Play is called Max Vision and has an 18:9 aspect ratio. The Z3 Play has the brand’s first Max Vision OLED screen, although it only comes with Full HD+, rather than QHD+. The bezels are also slimmer, making the optimization of space better on the Moto Z3 Play than on the Moto G6, which is probably because Motorola’s mid-range smartphones use a physical button on the front.

The 6.01-inch size is perfect for all users. The AMOLED display also works perfectly with Moto Display. Motorola offers a few colors modes (standard and vibrant) with a slider for customization. The screen has all the qualities of an AMOLED screen with deep blacks and very good contrast. The brightness is also very good, along with the viewing angles.

You should note that although the smartphone doesn’t offer any official certification against water resistance, the Z3 Play still benefits from nano-coating technology to protect the screen against splashes of water and dust.

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Motorola has finally switched to AMOLED on its smartphones. / © AndroidPIT

Finally, Motorola has provided its fans with an AMOLED screen . Of course, it’s not the same thing as the AMOLED offered by Samsung, who are the real experts when it comes to displays. There’s also the Moto Display, which remains a good option for customizing the screen.

Oreo and a taste of Android P

As for the system (Android Oreo 8.1.0), Motorola has made some changes in comparison to the previous edition. The settings menu, for example, has been slightly modified in some categories, most notably in the search bar at the top.

The most interesting thing here is that the virtual button for navigation in the system is similar to on Android P, where the gesture is used to access the multitasking screen or to go back. In the settings, however, you can still activate the old navigation bar.

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The user interface has been reworked. / © AndroidPIT

After years, Motorola continues to improve the Moto line, which now features a night mode display, battery management, new system features and Moto Voice. The icons have also been kept in their circular format and the app drawer can be activated by sliding your finger upward. The end result is nice, so essentially you have an Android Oreo 8.1.0 smartphone with a taste of Android P .

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Android Oreo in version 8.1.0 is part of the package. / © AndroidPIT

Overall, the software is perfectly fluid and apps open quickly. I’ve noticed some bugs on some apps, but it’s not something that affects multi-tasking. My only worry concerns Motorola’s update policy, which has left something to be desired these last few months, and which makes me fear the worst for the future.

No, it's not a high-end processor

The Z3 Play’s technical characteristics aren’t its strong point. In essence, the specs are similar to those on last year’s model, with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal memory. The device is powered by a Snapdragon 636 octacore processor.

There’s also another version of the Z3 Play with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of memory. In this configuration, the Z3 Play is able to house all your apps and games as well as many photos and videos. As for the battery, it’s the same story as last year, with a battery with a capacity of 3,000 mAh.

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Just like last year, the Z3 Play comes with a battery with a capacity of 3,000 mAh. / © AndroidPIT

Overall, the experience is fluid enough thanks to its pure interface and sufficient RAM , but lacks enough power for more demanding games. Generally speaking, if you’re a big gamer, I’d advise you to go out of your way to invest in another device. The other thing is that the Moto Z3 Play doesn’t tend to overheat.

Moto Z3 Play benchmark results

 Smartphone  3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme ES 3.1 3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited ES 2.0 Geekbench 4 - single core Geekbench 4 - multi core
Moto G6 442 810 12799 757 3965
Moto Z3 Play 930 1466 19336 1288 4750

No mini-jack plug, and the frame isn't any thinner

As is now the tradition at Motorola, the Z3 Play comes without a headphone jack . This is somewhat disappointing because the smartphone isn’t any thinner than its predecessor, so its absence doesn’t mean there’s some additional functionality. You’ll need a Bluetooth headset to enjoy the audio or use the USB Type-C to minijack adapter provided in the box.

There’s a single speaker located on the top of the unit. It delivers fairly average sound that is sufficient for watching video or listening to songs. But for more demanding use, you’ll need to invest in the JBL Moto Mod or pass the audio through an external Bluetooth speaker.

Lights, camera, action!

The Moto Z3 Play houses a dual camera in the rear with 12 (f/1.7) and 5 megapixels (f/2.2). It does offer better results than the Moto Z2 Force and the Moto X4, especially in the portrait mode (with bokeh effect), but in general, the camera is disappointing . Motorola is not known for offering the best smartphone cameras, and the Z3 Play won’t win over any non-believers.

The software might be faster and optimized in several ways (slow motion mode, color selection mode and some animated effects), but the photos are overall quite average. It’s not bad, but leaves something to be desired. It is, however, always possible to improve your photos through photo editing apps.

Color management can be a problem for the smartphone. While the colors are generally quite vivid and the details are accurate, the noise arrives quickly when the lighting conditions aren’t great. Fortunately, the portrait mode does work well. In the front, there’s an 8 megapixel (f/2.0) lens without LED flash. The front camera gets the job done, so you’ll have quality selfies.

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A shot I took in automatic mode. / © AndroidPIT

One of the highlights of the camera is that it can shoot in 4K at 30 fps and Full HD at 60 fps. The quality of the videos is quite good, but be aware that the smartphone does slightly warm up during a 4K recording. The device also comes with Google Lens, but you should know that the Google app is still lacking the data for artificial intelligence to be optimally implemented.

A durable device

Motorola’s Z Play series was first known for the battery life of its smartphones. With the second generation, the brand changed course by reducing the size of the battery to 3,000 mAh. The third generation doesn’t make any major changes, and still has the same capacity. Motorola also offers an external battery in the form of the Power Pack Moto Mod, which offers 50% more battery life.

By combining the two batteries, the Z3 Play offers two full days of battery life. Without this accessory, the Z3 Play still turns out to be a pretty durable smartphone. The Z3 Play is capable of offering 12 hours of autonomy , depending on what benchmark tests you look at. From my personal use, 12 hours seemed to be about right. You’ll be able to get through the day without any worries, even with quite intensive use. In the PCMark battery test, the smartphone held on for about 8 hours (100% to 20%) with the screen brightness half way up.

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Despite the lack of a headphone jack, the smartphone is no thinner than its predecessor. / © AndroidPIT by Irina Efremova

Moto Z3 Play technical specifications

Dimensions: 156.5 x 76.5 x 6.8 mm
Weight: 156 g
Battery size: 3000 mAh
Screen size: 6.01 in
Display technology: AMOLED
Screen: 2160 x 1080 pixels (508 ppi)
Front camera: 8 megapixels
Rear camera: 12 megapixels
Flashlight: Dual-LED
Android version: 8.1 - Oreo
RAM: 4 GB
Internal storage: 32 GB
64 GB
Removable storage: microSD
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 636
Number of cores: 8
Max. clock speed: 1.8 GHz
Connectivity: HSPA, LTE, NFC, Dual-SIM , Bluetooth 5.0

Final verdict: the revolution will take a while

The Moto Z3 left me with mixed feelings. It’s not a bad smartphone and will meet most of the expectations you’d have for a smartphone in 2018, but this model offers no added value over the competition, except for the Moto Mods.

Aesthetically, the phone has acquired some style and handling comfort, but under the hood, the improvements have been pretty minimal. Motorola has certainly kept its promises for the Moto Mods, which is rare in the world of smartphone manufacturers. Users who purchase these kinds of accessories will therefore have a reason to buy the device. Its battery life, especially when using the Power Pack Mod, is also ideal for people looking for an enduring smartphone, and the device comes with some software tricks.

In the end, however, the Z3 Play doesn’t really have any other ways to attract the increasingly demanding public. This is especially true because the camera doesn’t do much to stand out, and its price seems quite high given the quality of the camera.

Do you have any thoughts on Motorola’s Moto Z3 Play?

1 Comment

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  • What I like, the included battery mod, amoled display. What I don't like, instead of the 660processer they used the 636. No headphone jack, an average camera, but they do include a dongle. I hate dongles. It seems a bit pricey for what's offered. The op6 & honor view 10, same price they both offer much more!

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