The "1-Minute" Review
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
- No water resistance
- Dim display
As the longest running modular Android phone series, the Moto Z-series offers a blend of flexibility and mid-tier performance that helps it stand out from the competition. The Z3 Play is their 2018 update to the popular lineup and comes with some interesting design changes and spec updates. But it also comes with a price increase -- a potential issue for people new to the Moto Mods ecosystem.
The new design follows this year’s trend of glass front and rear panels with an aluminum chassis. Reviewers thought the phone looked great but noticed that the aluminum sides were prone to scratches and scuffs. Normally, you’d just grab a case to protect the phone, but with the mod support, that is a tricky problem.
The major changes come in button placement. To keep the phone the same size as previous models while adding a bigger screen, they had to shift the fingerprint scanner to the side of the phone. This forced them to move the power button to the phone’s left side.
While reviewers questioned the arrangement at first, most had no problems hitting the scanner or powering on the phone after a few days of use.
They also ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack. So if you want to use your favorite cans, you’ll need a 3.5mm to USB Type C adapter.
The phone includes a 6.01-inch 1080-by-2160 pixel Super AMOLED display -- the Z-series’ first release with a taller aspect ratio. Reviewers loved the slim bezels and the detail on offer from the display. Screen brightness was the only weak link mentioned. While not dim enough to be a problem, it’s noticeably dimmer than most phones in the same price range.
Motorola chose an octa-core 1.8Ghz Snapdragon 636 processor with 4GB of RAM to power the phone. While far from a flagship processor, the chip provides enough muscle for daily tasks and light gaming with no noticeable lag or stuttering. With graphics-intensive games, you might need to scale settings back.
In typical fashion, Motorola applies few touches to the Android 8.1 Oreo interface. you’ll find slight tweaks to the interface and the addition of Moto Actions. Otherwise, it’s a stock setup and reviewers appreciated how smoothly the software ran.
Depending on your region, you’ll find variants with 32 or 64GB of internal storage. Support for microSD cards up to 2TB makes adding extra space affordable and simple.
While the phone includes a dual-lens 12MP/5MP rear camera, the 5MP sensor is only used for depth sensing. There’s no telephoto zoom or true monochrome mode. However, reviewers were impressed with the results with many calling it the strongest Motorola camera to date. In good lighting, the phone produces well-balanced images with plenty of contrast and color.
Low-light shooting produced softer images with muted colors. Yet, images were mostly noise-free and well focused -- a common issue with low-light shots in mid-tier phones.
The front-facing lens received equal praise. While it lacks a flash, it captures plenty of detail as long as there is any amount of light in the room.
The phone’s 3,000mAh battery lasted most reviewers a full day with no problems -- even with gaming and streaming music or video. Paired with the USB Type-C TurboPower charger for full charges in under 90 minutes, you should have no worries about battery life. Pairing it with the Moto battery mod, many hit two days with ease.
Despite the praise, the phone has one glaring issue that stopped most reviewers from recommending it -- the price. With the bump in price, the Z-series has moved from a firmly mid-tier phone with excellent specs to a questionable value.
Tom’s Guide summarizes concerns well, saying, “The issue the Z3 Play faces involves the competition. A few years ago, all of those Z3 Play charms would have sufficed at [the price]. But then, [the OnePlus 6] and [the Honor V10] arrived and raised the stakes, with top-tier performance and very few concessions. Of course, the Z3 Play has its mods, but they're hardly a replacement for a brighter screen, better low-light photos or a faster processor.”
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