Moto Z3 Play review: 2018's MotoMod Starter Pack

Full, in-depth review

Motorola Z3 Play
  • Motorola Z3 Play
  • Motorola Z3 Play
  • Motorola Z3 Play
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • Larger display with thin bezels

Cons

  • Lacks waterproofing and headphone jack
  • MotoMod ecosystem seems to be stagnating

Bottom Line

The Moto Z3 Play is yet another MotoMod-enabled smartphone, with all the strengths and shortcomings that title implies.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

It’s difficult to be optimistic about the future of Motorola’s Moto Mod smartphone ecosystem.

The company’s once-exciting menagerie of modular accessories appears more stale with each passing month, and the modular phones that the company pair with them aren’t looking any fresher. An embodiment of this dire trend writ large: the pitch for the new Moto Z3 Play is the roughly the same as the pitch for the Moto Z2 Play, which was itself a rehash of the original Moto Z Play. And if last year’s Moto Z2 Play suffered from its overt similarities to its own predecessor, that’s doubly the case for the Z3 Play.

The Moto Z3 Play is a compelling place to start if you’re looking to give the MotoMod ecosystem a faur go. However, that being said, it’s still way too hard to make the case for it over last year’s Moto Z2 Play or even the original Moto Z - both of which can be scooped up for a steal nowadays. An ardent approach of sticking-to-the-formula yields invariably predictable, and disappointing, results.

Even at its best, the Moto Z3 Play is a victim of diminishing returns.

Specs

Display size: 6-inch

Display type: FHD+ Super AMOLED, 18:9 aspect ratio

Processor: Snapdragon 636

Operating System: Android 8.1 Oreo

Fingerprint Sensor: Yes

RAM:  4GB

Storage: 64GB

MicroSD slot: Yes

Durability: N/A

Ports: USB Type-C

SIM:  Dual SIM   

Battery: 3000mAh

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, CAT 11 LTE, Wi-Fi (802.11ac), NFC

Rear Camera:  12-megapixel (f/1.7), 5-megapixel (depth lens)

Front-Facing Camera:  8-megapixel (f/2.0)

Colors: Deep Indigo

Dimensions: 156.5x 76.5 x 6.75 mm

Weight: 156g

Price:  $799

Availability: motorola.com.au

Design - Looks, Feel and Features

For better or worse, the Moto Z3 Play ends up being largely defined by its differences more than anything else

The Moto Z3 Play features 4GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board storage. It also boasts the same 3000mAh battery, USB Type-C charging and glass sandwich design found in its predecessor.

As with previous Z-series devices, the Moto Z3 Play can be connected and used with any of the company’s MotoMods to extend and enhance its capabilities. In Australia, Motorola sell sixteen different MotoMod accessories that range from projectors to printers to battery packs.

Unfortunately, the Moto Z3 Play doesn’t come packaged with any sort of default MotoMod. This leaves the reverse-side of the device looking a little worse for wear. Sans a MotoMod attachment, it sometimes feels like you're using a phone without a back cover.

Not all of this is inherent bad, but Motorola’s decision to recycle so much (and served it up at a higher RRP than the Z2 Play launched at) does rankle somewhat.

As for the differences, they start small but quickly cascade into more visible fare. To begin with, the Z3 Play updates the internals from last year’s Snapdragon 626 to this year’s Snapdragon 636. The software has also graduated from Android 7.1 Nougat to Android 8.1 Oreo. The display size has also been bumped from 5.5-inches to 6-inches. The latter feat is largely owed to the incorporation of thinner bezels and the adoption of the 18:9 aspect ratio.

All this serves to make the Z3 Play a little more modern than its predecessors. The Z3 Play better suited for watching video content - but not especially so relative to most 2018 smartphones out there. At this point, it’d be more surprising to see Motorola launch a device without 18:9 aspect ratio and thin bezels. It's fast become the norm and the Z3 Play dutifully upholds this new paradigm. However, looking beyond these aesthetic updates, the resolution and pixels-per-inch here are almost the identical to that of the Moto Z2 Play.

If anything, the biggest improvement here is the camera. Last year’s Moto Z2 Play still relied on a single-lens configuration. The new Moto Z3 Play comes equipped with a dual-lens rear camera setup that combines a 12-megapixel (f/1.7) rear lens with 5-megapixel depth one.

Unfortunately, balancing out those additions are several fresh reductions.

One thing to go is the headphone jack. Another thing that’s been dropped from the Z2 Play is IPX2 resistance against water resistance. Sure, that rating puts the Z2 Play closer to splash-proof than water-proof but it's definitely better than nothing. The fingerprint sensor has also been moved to the side edge of the device.

There are a enough modern touches here for the Moto Z3 Play to fit in, but little to set it apart from the other options beyond the obvious.

Next Page: Camera, Performance and The Bottom Line

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Read more on these topics: Moto Z3 Play, MotoMods
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