Moto Z3 Play: First Impressions

The Good: Premium glass-sandwich design with aluminum sides, great 6.01-in AMOLED display, Android 8.1 Oreo, and Moto Mod-compatibility | The Bad: Mediocre battery life and cameras; no headphone jack; right-side fingerprint reader feels like a discrimination against left-handed people.

Moto Z3 Play: First Impressions

Before we dive into the specs and features of the third-generation Motorola Z3 Play, it’s important to know that sometimes innovation comes at a cost.

It’s not just the pecuniary repercussions we’re talking about here but, rather, the long-term cost of making a decision and having no option but to stick with it.

It’s been two years, now, since Lenovo-owned Motorola introduced the Modular Moto Z, with its new line of snap-on magnetic Moto Mods that allow you to add everything from projectors and cameras to speakers and batteries, and whatnot.

The new Moto Z3 Play, therefore, was forced to retain nearly the exact same dimensions of the previous-gen Moto Z2 Play because, per its commitment, Motorola had to make it compatible with the Moto Mods that have fixed dimensions.

Although the Z3 Play is slightly thicker than its predecessor, at 6.75mm it still feels a bit too thin without a Moto Mod attached to it but, then, that’s what it has been designed for – to serve as a vehicle for those slap-ons.

However, this is, apparently, the last model that will support the magnetic add-ons and that is, probably, why new Moto Mod releases have slowed down to a trickle.

Here’s a complete list of all the Moto Mods that can be snapped on to any of the Moto Z series, including Moto Z, Moto Z Force Droid, Moto Z Play, Moto Z2 Play, Moto Z2 Force Edition and, of course, the latest Moto Z3 Play.

  • Moto 360 Camera
  • Moto Smart Speaker w/ Amazon Alexa
  • Moto Stereo Speaker
  • Moto Style Shell
  • Moto Style Shell with Wireless Charging
  • Moto TurboPower Pack
  • Moto Power Pack
  • Moto Insta-Share Projector
  • Moto Folio
  • Moto Gamepad
  • Hasselblad True Zoom Camera
  • Incipio Offgrid Power Pack
  • Incipio Vehicle Dock
  • JBL SoundBoost
  • JBL SoundBoost 2
  • Kate Spade New York Power Pack
  • Mophie Juice Pack

In spite of its self-imposed limitations, Motorola has done whatever it could to upgrade the Z3 Play, like, for example, it stretched the 1080p AMOLED screen to an impressive 6.01 inches with a contemporary 18:9 aspect ratio.

The bezel has also been reduced this time around, and the fingerprint reader has been knocked off its perch on the front and shifted Sony-style to the right side of the device.

Most companies would have relocated it to the back of the phone and so would Motorola, had it not been restricted by its Moto Mod-compatibility pledge – the cost of innovation, as explained at the outset.

One fails to understand, though, why Motorola moved the power button to the left side of the phone instead of allowing the fingerprint reader to double as the power button, too, along the lines of the Sony Z5 series.

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Like the Moto G6 series, the Z3 Play has what is called the “glass sandwich” design, covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on the front as well as on the back, with 6 series aluminum on the sides.

The buttons have a nice, satisfying click to them and are pretty responsive, as well, which is good; however, what’s not so good is the lack of a headphone jack, making the Z3 Play the first device in the Play series not have one.

Motorola does not really have a valid excuse for not including the headphone jack on the Z3, considering that the Z2 had one in spite of being at least half a millimeter thinner.

What makes it even more unforgivable is the fact that it does not even have a larger battery, as it retains the Z2’s non-removable Li-Ion 3,000 mAh battery.

Making the phone thicker without giving it a headphone jack or a larger battery sounds criminal, but that’s how it is, unfortunately.

So, how come Motorola is claiming a better battery life on the Z3 Play?

The answer to that lies in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor inside it, which is definitely more efficient and powerful than the Z2’s Snapdragon 626.

It has not only improved the battery performance on the Z3 Play but also supports faster download speeds of up to 600 Mbit per second and better handling of the rear-facing cameras.

When you’re going to get a single speaker on your device, you’d rather have it on the top, facing you, rather than a bottom firing speaker like you have on the Z2. So, the Z3 Play scores well on that count, as well.

The Moto Z3 Play is being made available with 4GB of RAM and internal storage options of 32GB as well as 64GB to choose from.

The rear-facing dual-camera setup includes a 12-megapixel primary camera, with 1.4-micron pixels and a fast f/1.7 aperture lens, and a secondary 5-megapixel camera, which only serves the purpose of depth-sensing when shooting portraits.

If you go by last year’s impressions of the 12MP primary lens on the Z2 Play, you can expect a pretty decent daylight performance and equally bad lowlight results.

However, the company is claiming some improvements in lowlight results this year – obviously, because of the image signal processor in the Snapdragon 636; however, without the benefit of optical image stabilization, you can’t really be sure that the Motorola claim will hold any water – we should know soon enough.

The front-facing selfie camera is getting an upgrade with a larger 8MP sensor and a wide 84 degree f/2.0 aperture lens.

From a software perspective, there are a quite a few things you’re going to love about the Moto Z3 Play, including an ambient display and Motorola’s suite of gestures or Moto Actions, allowing you options like twist for the camera mode, chop for the flashlight, or 3-finger tap for the screenshot editor, and more.

Another great change is the new digital “one-button nav” system, which comes in place of the conventional Android navigation menu of Back, Home, and Recent Apps.

Now, all you need to do is swipe left to go Back, swipe to the right for Recent Apps, tap once for Home, and press and hold to activate Google Assistant.

At $499 the Moto Z3 Play is a fantastic value for money device, and the fact that it’s getting shipped with a 2,220mAh Moto Mod battery, with no extra charges, makes it even more so.

That said, with devices like the One Plus 6 boasting a far better specs sheet for just $30 more, the better option would be to incur that additional expense rather than settle for something inferior for as small a saving as thirty bucks.

A couple of points to consider, though, before you take a call between the two; one, if you’re on Verizon or Sprint, then One Plus 6 is not an option for you as it’s not compatible with these carriers, and two, the Z3 Play is only coming to Sprint and US Cellular in the United States.

KEY SPECS

Display
o Type: Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
o Size: 6.01 inches, 93.2 cm2 (~77.9% screen-to-body ratio)
o Resolution: 1080 x 2160 pixels, 18:9 ratio (~402 ppi density)
o Protection: Corning Gorilla Glass 3

Platform
o OS: Android 8.1 (Oreo)
o Chipset: Qualcomm SDM636 Snapdragon 636
o CPU: Octa-core 1.8 GHz Kryo 260
o GPU: Adreno 509

Memory
o Card Slot: micro SD, up to 512GB (dedicated slot)
o RAM: 4 GB
o Internal Storage: 32GB/64GB

Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery

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