Motorola Moto Z3 vs. Moto Z3 Play

Motorola Moto Z3 vs. Moto Z3 Play: Is Motorola's latest flagship worth buying?

Motorola’s latest phone is finally here — but it’s perhaps not what many were expecting. Featuring some nice specs and an even nicer price tag, however, the new Moto Z3 may well be the phone for you.

Of course, there’s another Motorola phone that might be even better, depending on your needs. The Moto Z3 Play comes in at a similar price, and is very similar in many other ways. But does the new standard Moto Z3 feature enough power to beat out the Moto Z3 Play? We put the two phones head to head to find out.

Specs

Motorola Moto Z3 Motorola Moto Z3 Play
Size 6.16 x 3.01 x 0.27 inches (156.5 x 76.5 x 6.8 mm) 6.16 x 3.01 x 0.27 inches (156.5 x 76.5 x 6.8 mm)
Weight 5.5oz (156g) 5.5oz (156g)
Screen size 6-inch Super AMOLED 6-inch Super AMOLED
Screen resolution 2,160 × 1,080 pixels (402 pixels per inch) 2160 x 1080 pixels (402 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android  8.1 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo
Storage space 64GB 64GB
MicroSD card slot Yes, up to 2TB Yes, up to 2TB
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 636
RAM 4GB 4GB
Camera Dual 12MP + 12 MP rear, 8MP front Dual 12MP + 5MP rear, 8MP front
Video 4K at 30 fps, 1,080p at 120 fps 4K at 30 fps, 1,080p at 60 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Water resistance No No
Battery 3,000mAh 3,000mAh
App marketplace Google Pay Google Pay
Network support Verizon All major carriers
Colors Ceramic black Deep indigo
Price $480 $500
Buy from Verizon Motorola, Amazon
Review score Hands-on 3.5 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, charging

moto z3 play usb c port
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Let’s get one thing straight right away — the new standard Moto Z3 is clearly better in the performance department than the Moto Z3 Play, and it all comes down to the fact that the Moto Z3 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. Now, the Snapdragon 835 isn’t the most powerful Qualcomm chip around — that title falls to the newer Snapdragon 845. But it is Qualcomm’s 2017 flagship, and as such it’s a very powerful chip. The Snapdragon 636, which is found in the Moto Z3 Play, is a decent chip but decidedly more midrange. Both phones feature 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

The two devices are identical when it comes to battery life and charging. Both have a 3,000mAh battery with a USB-C port for charging, and both come with a 15W TurboPower charger for fast charging.

Winner: Moto Z3

Design and durability

Moto Z3
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Battery life and charging aren’t the only ways in which these phones are identical. They also feature an identical design, only coming in slightly different color options. Both the Moto Z3 and Moto Z3 Play feature a 6-inch display with beautifully rounded corners, and while it’s hard to judge the display as truly edge-to-edge, it is pretty close. The devices have a fingerprint sensor, but it’s not on the front or the back — instead being found on the left side. On the back, there’s a typical Motorola camera bump, with both phones boasting a dual-lens sensor.

When it comes to durability, neither of the two phones are great. Neither have any real water-resistance beyond basic splash-proofing, and both feature heavy use of glass in their design, so you will want to consider buying a good case.

Winner: Tie

Display

moto z3 play back front
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The display used is also the same on both devices. It’s a 6-inch Super AMOLED display, with a resolution of 2160 x 1080 pixels. It’s a pretty decent display, to be sure, though a higher resolution is always nice. This resolution translates to 402 pixels per inch. The aspect ratio on the phones is 18:9, which helps give the phone a nice, modern look — and means that the fingerprint sensor had to be moved to the side of the phone.

Winner: Tie

Camera

Moto Z3
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While the camera may look the same from the outside, it’s actually pretty different. Both devices feature a dual-sensor camera, but the Moto Z3 features two 12 megapixel sensors, while the Moto Z3 Play boasts one 12-megapixel sensor and one 5-megapixel “depth-sensing” lens. In other words, while both devices feature dual-sensor cameras, the camera on the newer Moto Z3 should be a little better in some situations than the Moto Z3 Play.

The Z3 sports an aperture of f/2.0, while the Z3 Play comes in at f/1.7, which theoretically means that the Z3 Play should be a little better in low-light shots — though we’ll have to wait and see if that turns out to be true. However, only the Moto Z3 offers a black and white mode that employs that second 12-megapixel lens.

On the front, both phones feature an 8-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/2.0.

While we’ll have to wait and see how the cameras perform in the real world, for now, this one goes to the Moto Z3.

Winner: Moto Z3

Software and updates

Moto Z3
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both the Moto Z3 Play and the Moto Z3 ship with Android 8.1 Oreo, and they should both get updates to Android Pie at some point in the near future. Generally speaking, Motorola ships relatively stripped-down versions of Android with its phones, and the Moto Z3 Play is no exception to that rule. The phone features little bloatware.

Unfortunately, things are a little different on the Moto Z3, likely because of its Verizon exclusivity. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re in the market for the Moto Z3.

Of course, Motorola has also made a few tweaks for its phones, and they’re pretty nice. For starters, the phones allow you to turn on Moto Actions, giving you extra gestures that you can use for things like turning on the flashlight. Moto Display, another tweak, allows you to see discreet notifications on the lock screen.

Motorola isn’t the best these days when it comes to updates. While the phones should get Android Pie and eventually Android Q, it may take a while. That’s also true for security updates — so keep that in mind.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Moto Z3
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While many of the special features fall into the software category, there is one special feature that only the new Moto Z3 boasts — it’s the first phone to be upgradeable to 5G. With the new 5G Moto Mod, which will be available in 2019, you’ll be able to connect to 5G networks — providing there’s 5G service in your area.

The Moto Z3 also adds Amazon Alexa support — so you can set Alexa to be your default digital assistant if you so choose.

Winner: Moto Z3

Price

The price of the two phones is perhaps surprisingly similar. While the Moto Z3 Play comes with a Moto Power Pack mod and comes in at $500, the standard Moto Z3 has a price tag of $480. Keep in mind, however, that the standard Moto Z3 is only available through Verizon — so if you’re not on Verizon or not willing to switch, you won’t be able to get your hands on the device.

Overall winner: Moto Z3

The Motorola Moto Z3 is the clear winner here. It features a better processor, slightly better rear-facing camera, and comes in at a slightly cheaper price. There’s only one problem — it’s really only the better choice if you’re a Verizon customer or you’re willing to switch. Otherwise, unfortunately, you’re out of luck.

That said, the Moto Z3 Play is still an excellent device. It supports a range of Moto Mods and features pretty decent specs for the price.

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