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Review: Motorola Moto Z3 Play

Hardware Software Wrap-Up Comments  

Jul 17, 2018, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Editor's Choice
Moto z3 Play

Motorola's third-generation Z Play brings the series up to speed with its competition. This mid-range Android phone switches to a 2:1 screen shape and offers a fingerprint reader and face unlock for security. Pair these with Motorola's wide variety of Moto Mod accessories and a clean build of Android, and the Z3 Play is a flexible option for those who like unlocked phones. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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Is It Your Type?

The Moto Z3 Play puts the right face forward with a new, taller screen shape and reduced bezels. It targets those who may have invested in Motorola's previous Moto-Mod-compatible phones and are looking to upgrade. If you're seeking an affordable device with modern appointments, the Z3 Play is a fine option.

Body

Motorola painted itself into a bit of a corner with its Moto Z series phones. Each model must maintain the same size and shape to remain compatible with the growing family of Moto Mod accessories. The Z3 Play makes just the right updates to keep pace with rivals, while appropriately sticking to its roots.

The Z3 Play is a sleek, metal-and-glass handset that looks and feels classy. It drops the aluminum rear panel of last year's Z2 for Gorilla Glass. The front and back glass panels are blended with a frame made of 6000 series aluminum. I like the rounded shape of the outer chassis. The Z3 Play is an attractive phone.

Z3 Play  

The only color option is indigo blue. It's such a deep blue that it often looks black. The blue color only truly shows itself under bright light. The paint is mirror-like in its finish. I like the overall look and effect of the phone, which is handsome and sleek. Motorola slapped just enough new paint on the phone to give it its own identity.

The phone is still large at more than 6 inches tall and more than 3 inches wide, but it's incredibly slim at just 6.75mm thick. I have no doubt that some people will be put off by the size of the phone, but it's about the same size as most other phones with 18:9 screens. The thin profile and slippery glass mean it glides into pockets easily.

There's no question the Z3 Play is a high-quality piece of hardware. The glass panels fit into the frame tightly. The components are top-notch and assembled perfectly. The Z3 Play could easily be mistaken for an expensive flagship device.

Apart from the glass backside, the biggest change to the design is the new screen shape. Motorola has finally moved on from the 16:9 shape to a 2:1 (18:9) shape. This means slimmer bezels. There is still a bit of a forehead and a bit of a chin on the Z3 play, but they are greatly reduced when compared to older Moto Z phones. The earpiece and user-facing camera are tucked into the forehead.

In order to retain the phone's footprint while increasing the screen size, Motorola was forced to relocate the fingerprint reader. Motorola's Z-branded phones traditionally have it on the front. Since it can't go on the rear, (it would be covered by Moto Mods,) Motorola put the fingerprint reader on the right edge of the Z3 Play. It was easy to find and use.

Fingerprint Reader

Fingerprint Reader

The other controls around the frame are also easy to find and use. The screen lock button, which has a textured surface, is perched on the left side of the device. It has great travel and feedback. Motorola opted for two separate volume keys, which are located above the fingerprint reader on the right edge. These keys have smooth surfaces and excellent profiles. Feedback is satisfying.

The USB-C port is on the bottom. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack (boo), but the phone ships with a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter. The tray for SIM/memory cards is on the top edge.

USB-C

USB-C

The rear surface its typical for a Moto Mod-compatible device from Motorola. The glass panel is perfectly flat save for the huge camera module. The module is about the size of two quarters stacked on top of one another. It has a reflective rim that sets it apart visually, if the size/shape didn't call it out enough. The way Motorola arranged the two camera lenses and flash makes the module look like an emoji winking at you.

Camera Module

Camera Module

The copper-colored pins and magnet for the Mod system are near the bottom edge. These are what allow Moto Mods to attach to and communicate with the Z3 Play. It's a great system that Motorola did a fine job engineering. The glass is prone to collecting unattractive fingerprints and smudges.

Mod Contacts

Mod Contacts

Motorola did not fully waterproof the Z3 Play. Like many Moto devices, the Z3 Play has a nano-coating sprayed onto the internal components that protect it from light rain and splashes, but not submersion. Also, let's not forget that glass breaks. Many Moto Mods will protect the rear surface by default, but won't protect the front.

The Z3 Play is just about exactly the update I was hoping Motorola would give us. It was critical for Motorola to advance to the 2:1 screen, and the device is put together well.

Screen

The Z3 Play jumps from the 5.5-inch, 16:9 display of last year's Z2 Play, to a 6.01-inch, 18:9 display, all while keeping the chassis the same size and shape. This means a huge reduction in the forehead and chin, giving the phone a screen-to-body ratio of 79%. This puts it in line with competing phones.

The screen is an AMOLED panel will full HD+ resolution (2,160 x 1,080). The resolution works well and everything on the screen is nice and sharp. My eyes didn't see any individual pixels. The screen pumps out plenty of light and was easy to view under a bright sky. AMOLED screens offer better contrast than LCD screens, and in that respect the Z3 Play's display delivers. Blacks look great.

Despite the AMOLED display, the phone is not compatible with Google's Daydream VR system due to the mid-range processor. That's a shame.

You can take control of the display's color profile, blue light filter, and other options via the settings menu, to make the experience more your own.

Display  

Signal

Motorola sells the phone unlocked with excellent support for US networks. It covers all the major LTE bands for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and their prepaid subsidiaries. I tested the phone on Verizon and AT&T and the phone performed incredibly well. (The phone is certified to run on Verizon's network.)

The Z3 Play performed on par with most other devices I've tested on AT&T and Verizon, meaning it connected calls on the first dial and maintained those calls across miles of highway driving. LTE data performance was very good. Speeds were more than adequate to browse the web, search Google, swipe through social media, and more. Streaming standard definition video and audio from services such as YouTube and Spotify worked well with little buffering. Switching to high definition content introduced more buffering, though that's fairly normal for mid-range phones.

Sound

The earpiece above the screen is for both normal and speakerphone calls. It handles regular phone calls far better than other recent offerings from Motorola. Calls were clear and loud. I had no trouble hearing calls in coffee shops or other semi-noisy spaces. The Z3 Play did well on city streets and in the car, too. Clarity was quite good and voices sounded warm and present. Those I spoke to through the Z3 Play said my voice came across "very good".

The speakerphone delivered similarly clear and loud calls. I was able to use the Z3 Play everywhere I took it without compromises.

Ringers and alerts are fantastically loud, and the vibrate alert gets the job done.

It's not the best at blaring music, but that's what Moto Mods are for.

Speaker Mod  

Battery

Despite measuring less than 7mm tick, the Moto Z3 Play has a 3,000mAh battery. That's on par with many flagships. The phone on its own can push from breakfast to bedtime, though just barely. I never had the phone call it quits before the end of the day; that's a good thing.

You can take advantage of software tools to manage battery life and put Motorola's TurboCharging to use for rapidly replenishing the battery. The phone doesn't support wireless charging on its own, but a Moto Mod accessory adds that capability for a bit more cash.

Battery  

Motorola sells a Moto Mod with a 2,220mAh battery of its own, and it can recharge the Z3 Play rather quickly. Some Z3 Play kits include the battery Mod in the box. Together, the combined 5,220mAh of the Mod plus built-in battery can deliver nearly two days (40 hours) of battery life.

Battery Mod  

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

The Z3 Play's secondary radios mostly get the job done. I'm happy to report that the Z3 Play has Bluetooth 5.0 aboard, though it is limited to the normal A2DP profile and doesn't seem to include any advanced codecs, such as aptX. The phone connected to accessories, including headphones and speakers, just fine. Phone calls pushed through headsets were good, and music sent to Bluetooth speakers was passable. Calls I made through my car's hands-free system were very good.

The GPS radio paired well with Google Maps and handled real-time, voice-guided navigation without breaking a sweat.

The Z3 Play has NFC aboard, which helps when pairing with some accessories and making payments with Google Pay. Moto Mods will get in the way, however, which means you'll have to remove most Mods to perform tap-and-go actions.

The dual-band WiFi radio delivered speedy app downloads and perfect HD video streams at home.

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