Moto Z3 Play Review – The Best Z Phone Yet

Motorola is back with another entrant into the Moto Z family, the Moto Z3 Play. The phone supports the same Moto Mods (packs that attach to the back of the phone and offer expanded functionality) as the previous models. I really enjoyed my time with the Moto Z Play and Moto Z2 Play. Does the Moto Z3 Play continue that trend? Well, spoiler alert, yes it does. It’s got new internals, an updated OS, plenty of 2018 features, and the best placement of any fingerprint reader on any phone I’ve ever used.

DESIGN

If you’ve seen or used a Moto Z phone since the series first launched in 2016 then you will recognize the Moto Z3 Play. It has the same basic rounded rectangle shape and similar metal band running around the sides. One thing to note straight away is the color. The Z3 Play is only offered in Deep Indigo. It’s a really dark reflective purple that almost looks black but is just different enough to be noticeable when placed next to a black phone. I really like the color.

Moto Z3 Play

The back of the phone features the same metal pin interface for Moto Mods and raised camera bump. The bottom edge of the phone has a single USB-C port. The left edge of the phone contains the power button. There’s a SIM/microSD slot up top. The bulk of the interface options are along the right side. There are chiclet type volume buttons and the fingerprint reader. Overall, the phone is solid and feels like a premium device.

The placement of the fingerprint reader is nearly perfect and I would be very happy if other manufacturers copied it. The primary reason for the move is to support a 6 inch 19:9 FHD+ display. Moving it to that back of the phone would interfere with Mod attachments so the side is an excellent compromise. It’s accessible while holding the phone and, importantly, while the phone is placed on a table or other surface. I can’t tell you how much it irritates me to have to pick up my other phones to quickly check something. The Moto Z3 eliminates this frustration. I’ve added four fingers (right thumb, left thumb, left index, and left middle) and that allows me to unlock the phone comfortably in every scenario I’ve come across.

Moto Z3 Play

One nice thing about the Z3 Play compared to previous models is that every edge is rounded off. The phone really feels great to hold but it is a bit slippery without a Mod on the back. The phone is 6.16 x 3.01 inches and weighs 5.5 ounces. It is just about the same size as a Pixel 2 XL but just a hair lighter.

DISPLAY

The screen is a gorgeous 1080×2160 AMOLED panel that is quite bright. This resolution and DPI (402) suits me just fine and is almost indistinguishable from higher res screens. As is the current fashion, the corners or the screen are slightly rounded. Thankfully there is no notch. The screen does have some configuration options for color temperature and vibrancy.

SOFTWARE

The phone ships with Android 8.1 and the May 2018 security patch. Motorola has already promised an Android 9 upgrade but no timeframe has been given. If you’ve used a Motorola phone in the last few years you know what to expect. It’s a mostly stock feel with slight changes to the launcher and some uniquely Moto add-ons (twist for camera, chop for flashlight, voice hotword customization, etc) that are, rightly, well-loved and have been covered many times before.

My favorite software feature of the Moto Z3 Play is the gesture navigation. On previous Moto phones with a front facing fingerprint reader you could swipe that reader to go back, home, or bring up the app selector screen. If one enables one hand hand navigation on the Moto Z3 Play, a small black bar with a white pill button is placed at the bottom of the screen. Simply swipe left on it to go back, right for the app switcher, or tap it for home. You can long press it to launch the Google Assistant. It works great and is the system that I wish Google would implement.

Here you can see the gesture pill.

CAMERA

As always seems to be the case with Moto phones, the camera is nothing special. The rear camera is a dual 12/5 megapixel affair capable of recording 30 FPS 4K video. The front camera is a pretty standard 8 megapixel shooter. The camera app is good and has plenty of customization options like manual modes, face recognition, portrait, etc. The phone will take good pictures but it just isn’t up to par with other premium camera experiences like the Pixel 2 or iPhone X. What I mean by that is that premium camera phones take excellent pictures most of the time using their default settings. The Moto Z3 Play requires too much fidgeting.

PERFORMANCE

The Moto Z3 Play runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636 SOC. It’s a good balance of performance and battery savings. In fact, there’s not much difference in day-to-day usage from flagship phones. Some apps (I’m looking at you Mario Run) do open a little slowly but overall the phone runs well. Geekbench scores it at 4850 which is in the Galaxy S7 neighborhood.

Battery life is good, too, thanks to the 3,000 mAh non-removable battery and the power friendy SD 636. The Moto Z3 Play strikes a nice balance between the super slim original Moto Z and and thicker Moto Z Force line. And that’s primarily due to the internal battery size. Motorola also includes a 2,000 mAh battery Mod in the box. That’s a smart move and maybe something they should have done with previous models. It’s nearly impossible to kill the phone with the Mod with a day’s use. Add in Quick Charge 3 support and the overall power package is excellent.

MISCELLANY

  • The phone is “splash resistant” but not IP67 rated.
  • There is only one front-facing speaker and it is above the screen. No stereo sound here.
  • It is one of the rare phones that supports Verizon/ATT/T-Mobile/Sprint right out of the box.
  • Amazon Prime members can get the phone for $450 from Amazon. That feels like the right price for this phone.
  • There’s no headphone jack but there is a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter included in the box.
  • Motorola added screenshot editing and scrolling screenshots. Samsung’s implementation is better.

CONCLUSION

I really like the Moto Z3 Play. That’s not a surprise considering I also liked its predecessors but I dig the improvements, both subtle and major, that Motorola’s engineers have put into this phone. The phone is available for $500 directly from Motorola but you can get it from Amazon for $450 if you are a Prime subscriber. This is definitely one of my favorite phones of 2018 thus far.

Robert Daniels

I'm a long-time tech and gadget enthusiast that currently uses Android, Windows 10 Mobile, and iOS devices. I'm always interested in ways to improve my family's life with new devices and services, though my beautiful wife might just say I'm addicted to playing with gadgets.