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Hands On with the Motorola Moto Z3

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Aug 2, 2018, 5:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

The latest entry in Motorola's Moto Z series of devices is the Z3, a thin slab that's compatible with Moto Mods modular attachments. The Z3 is an improved version of the Z3 Play thanks to a better processor and camera configuration. More importantly, owners will be able to upgrade the phone to 5G on Verizon's network early next year. Here's our first look.

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The Z3 is hardly different from the Z3 Play. In fact, they are identical save for a few small details.

The Z3 keeps the general size and shape of previous Z phones, but drops the aluminum rear panel for Gorilla Glass. Together with the 6000 series aluminum frame, the Z3 is an attractive phone. Where the Z3 Play was only available in blue, the Z3 is only available in black. I like the overall look and effect of the phone, which is handsome and sleek.

Moto Z3  

The Z3 boasts a 6.01-inch 18:9 display, giving the phone a screen-to-body ration of 79%. This puts it in line with competing phones.

The screen is an AMOLED panel will full HD+ resolution. It looks good for a device at this price point. It pumped out lots of light and was easy to view outdoors under a bright sky. The resolution works well and everything on the screen was nice and sharp.

The upgraded processor means the Z3 might be compatible with Google DayDream, but Motorola is waiting for certification before it lists that as a feature. The Z3 Play was not compatible with DayDream due to its processor.

Since it would be obscured by a Mod on the rear, Motorola opted to stick the fingerprint reader on the right edge of the Z3. It works well enough after a brief adjustment period. The reader is recessed in the side of the Z3 and was easy to find and use.

The phone is a high-quality piece of hardware. The glass panels fit into the frame tightly. It is still large at more than 6 inches tall and more than 3 inches wide, but it's incredibly slim at just 6.75mm. The thin profile and slippery glass means it slips into pockets easily.

Physical controls around the frame are easy to find and use. The screen lock button, which has a textured surface, is perched on the left side of the device. This is not a great location, but 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, but excellent profiles. Feedback is satisfying. The USB-C port is on the bottom. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack (boo), but Motorola says the phone will ship with a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter. The tray for SIM/memory cards is on the top edge.

The rear surface its typical for a Moto Mod-compatible device form Motorola. The glass panel is perfectly flat save for the huge camera module. The camera 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 copper-colored pins and magnet for the Mod system are near the bottom edge. It's a great system that Motorola did a fine job engineering when it debuted two years ago.

The phone runs Android 8 Oreo with Motorola's tasteful and helpful additions. That starts with the Moto App, which controls Moto Actions, Moto Display, and other features that make using the phone easier day in and day out. Motorola and Verizon are committing to providing system updates for two full years, or Android upgrade cycles. That's nice.

The Z3 adopts Motorola's swiping navigation user interface. It sort of resembles what we'll see on Android P later this year. Taping or swiping the very bottom of the screen brings you to the home screen. Swipe to the right to jump to the multitasking screen and swipe to the left to go back a screen. After you get used to it, it works really really well.

Motorola changed the camera configuration a little bit. Where the Z3 Play had two full-color, 12-megapixel sensors, the Z3 has one full-color sensor and one monochrome sensor. This sensor is for contrast, depth, and black=and-white pictures. This system supports features such as portrait/bokeh, spot color, cinemagraphs, cut-out mode, panorama, time-lapse, slow-motion, face filters, and a card/QR code reader. The cinemagraph mode is fun and simple to use. The front camera has a semi-wide-angle, 5-megapixel sensor at f/2 with screen-based flash. It carries over most of the features found on the main camera, including portraiture and cinemagraph.

Another upgrade for the Z3 is found under the hood. Motorola opted for a Snapdragon 835 processor and it comes with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. The phone felt quick, such as when using the advanced camera features. This is a welcome improvement.

Perhaps the most curious thing about the phone is that it will eventually be 5G capable. Motorola, Verizon, and Qualcomm are developing a Moto Mod that adds a 5G radio to the device. The Mod includes a 5G radio and an LTE-Advanced radio for seamless network performance. It runs on Verizon's 28GHz spectrum using millimeter wave 5G NR technology. There are four antennas inside to ensure one is always able to connect to the network no matter how the phone is held.

The Mod packs a 2,000mAh battery of its own. Motorola claims that the Z3 and 5G Mod will together deliver a full day of performance even when using 5G. We won't know if that claim is accurate for another six months.

Verizon is the only carrier selling the Moto Z3, though others offer the nearly identical Z3 Play. It costs $480 without the 5G Mod. The 5G Mod won't reach the market until early 2019 and there's no word on pricing yet.

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