Moto Z3 Play: Everything you need to know about Motorola’s modular phone

You can now buy the Moto Z3 Play for use on Verizon's network

moto z3 play camera app balloon
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Motorola is filling out its 2018 range nicely — we’ve seen the Moto G6 and the Moto E5, and we’re just waiting on the midrange and above devices to complete the lot. You can mark another entry off the list though, as the Motorola Moto Z3 Play has been released, and it’s a doozy of a midrange device. From the new specs to the updated design, here’s everything you need to know.


Verizon certifies the Moto Z3 Play on its network

You now have another network option for the Moto Z3 Play. Verizon announced that it has certified the device to work on its network — which means you can take it straight to Verizon, if you so choose. It’s important to note that it doesn’t look like Verizon will be selling the device directly — but instead you can buy it from Amazon or Motorola then take it to Verizon for use on its network.

The Moto Z3 Play is now available

If you’ve been waiting patiently for your chance to snap up the Moto Z3 Play then your patience is now being rewarded. The Moto Z3 Play is finally up sale, and you can pick it up for $500 from Motorola, Best Buy, and B&H Photo. That price also comes with one of Motorola’s Moto Mod battery packs for 40 hours of battery life.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, then you can take advantage of Amazon’s Prime Exclusive Phone deals and pick up the Z3 Play for just $450 — and that includes the Motorola battery pack, and an additional offer from Amazon to receive the Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa for free, too. Just make sure to check Amazon’s Special offers section for that offer.

An updated, fresh design

The Moto Z2 Play was a good-looking device, but the chunky bezels placed it firmly in a bygone age of smartphone design. That’s no longer the case with the Z3 Play, as Motorola embraces a bezel-less future with a brand-new design.

Because of the continued use of Moto Mods, there are limits on what Motorola can change without breaking functionality with older Mods, and this means that the new Moto Z3 Play is pretty much the same size and thickness as the Moto Z2 Play and Z Play — but the shrinking of bezels on the sides and the top means that a huge 6.01-inch Super AMOLED display can be squeezed into the front of the device. It’s not as starkly bezel-less as the Samsung Galaxy S9 — it’s more like the LG G6‘s approach to bezels — but it’s still a marked difference from the past design. Like the previous Z Play phones, there’s no water-resistance here — just a splash-resistant coating.

After a detour into metal town for the Z2 Play, glass is back on the Moto Z3 Play, and the smooth material coats the front and back of the device, with an aluminum frame around the edges. Granted, this means the Moto Z3 Play will be more prone to breakages than the last model, but it makes such a difference in style that we really don’t care. You’ll find the fingerprint sensor around the right side of the device, just below the volume keys — and this will also function as the power key. We’re unsure of how this will work in practice, and we’re looking forward to testing it out.

The Z-range’s long rock-and-roll tradition is also set to continue — yes, the camera bump is back, and that means the Moto Z3 Play won’t be able to rest flat on its back without rocking back and forth. Still, that’s an annoyance, but nothing new for the range. Longtime fans are likely used to it anyway. What fans likely won’t be used to though is the removal of the headphone jack.

Motorola has finally done what it’s been threatening to do for a good few years and nixed the venerable port on the Z Play-range, which had persisted with the simple hole long after the main flagship Z-series got rid of it a few years back. Whether this will cause a few fans to reconsider their upgrades remains to be seen, but Motorola has included a USB-C dongle in the box to replace the jack.

Powerful new specs

What would a new hardware cycle be like without a refresh of the specs available? Despite being firmly within the midrange market in terms of hardware power, the Moto Z Play-range has never let us down in the past, and it seems the Moto Z3 Play will be continuing that fine heritage with some pretty decent specs.

The phone is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636, and that processor should provide some zippy speed and smooth performance for most users, and while it’s obviously not going to trade blows with the big boys, it should hold up well over time. Qualcomm claims the processor is up to 40 percent faster than the previous Snapdragon 630, and that should translate to some better speed when in standard use. With Android 8.1 Oreo included from purchase, that should mean some pretty snappy performance.

Multi-tasking should be a breeze, too, thanks to the ample 4GB of RAM present in the hardware. For context, that’s the same amount of RAM you’ll find in the Samsung Galaxy S9, and while RAM’s impact on performance can be limited, it does mean the Z3 Play should be able to handle switching between multiple apps and tasks with relative ease. Buyers will have the choice between models with 32GB or 64GB of onboard storage, but regardless of your choice, you’ll be able to boost that storage by up to 2TB with a MicroSD card.

Finally, it’s all powered by a 3,000mAh battery. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s the same size battery that we saw on last year’s Z2 Play, and that phone managed a two-day battery life — so we’re looking forward to seeing whether Motorola has managed to squeeze any extra battery life from the upgraded hardware and software. When the battery does finally give up the ghost, Motorola’s TurboPower fast charging will be able to refill it pretty quickly. Despite the glass back there’s no wireless charging — but you will be able to add that with a Moto Mod.

Brand-new camera

It’s fair to say the camera has been something of a weak link in Motorola’s midrange phones. The Z Play and Z2 Play had decent snappers, but they exhibited shutter lag and sub-par low-light performance — will the Moto Z3 Play be able to conquer that weakness?

The initial signs are good — Motorola has upgraded to two lenses on the back of the Z3 Play with a 12-megapixel primary camera and a 5MP secondary. The primary 12MP lens is much the same lens we saw on the Z2 Play, complete with f/1.7 aperture and a sensor size of 1.4um. The second lens will mostly be used for depth-sensing, according to Motorola, so you can expect to see some additional use of “bokeh” — or background blur — that depth-of-field effect that mimics high-end DSLR cameras. There’s also an 8MP selfie camera around the front, and we expect that to be a decent selfie snapper, especially thanks to the wide-angle 84-degree lens.

Software and special features

Android 8.1 Oreo is joined by some of Motorola’s favorite features — Moto Voice, Moto Display, and Moto Actions. Moto Actions uses specific gestures to access specific functions — double chop your hand to trigger the flash, or twist your wrist to quickly open the camera. Moto Voice accesses device-specific features with just the user’s voice, and Moto Display governs the ambient display, fading in notifications to save battery, and also removing blue light from your display at night.

As mentioned earlier, there’s also full Moto Mod support, so if you’ve amassed a large collection of Moto Mods, you can rest easy knowing you’ll be able to attach your speaker-boosting JBL Soundboost, Hasselblad camera mod, or Moto TurboPower battery pack right off the bat.

Availability and price

If you can’t wait to get your hands on the Moto Z3 Play then you’ll be pleased to know it’s now available for $500 from Motorola, Best Buy, and B&H Photo. The Z3 Play is also available as a Prime Exclusive Phone from Amazon for just $450. You’ll also be able to pick it up in the U.S. from Sprint and U.S. Cellular, though the unlocked version works with any major U.S. carrier.

Updated on June 29: The Moto Z3 Play now works on Verizon.


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