The Moto Z3 Play could be considered a great phone. It has an improved design, an exceptional software experience, solid build, and the ability to increase functionality with the Moto Mod system. However, the phone becomes more of an issue when you see just what other devices are achieving at the same price point, making the Moto Z3 much harder to recommend.

In the United States, there is a slightly superior standard Moto Z3 model which is exclusive to Verizon. If you are mad about Moto, then I would definitely suggest that you take a look at that device if you want the highest spec phone that Motorola currently offers. It’s even the very same device that Verizon tested with the 5G Moto Mod, making it the world’s first 5G-upgradeable smartphone.

Of course, this isn’t that specific device, which is a real shame as you’ll find out with the specifications. Not that the Moto Z3 Play specs are bad, they just feel a little lighter than the Verizon exclusive model. But enough on the Verizon model, this is the more common variety that will be available globally and it does have some of its own merit.

Hardware

When the original Moto Z Play launched a couple of years ago, it ticked a lot of boxes at a time when smartphones were seemingly heading away from the basic modular approach of removable batteries and user serviceable handsets. It was a novel workaround for extra functionality and even if you didn’t care for upgradability, it was an exciting handset for that reason alone.

Fast forward a couple of years and Moto Mods have just not gained any real traction. Whether that’s because of the high entry price or we just don’t hang on to devices long enough to make real use of them is definitely up for discussion. That isn’t to say these additions are bad. Far from it. Some just feel a little bit frustrating given that the device could have had many of these features included from the start and without the extra cost.

Let’s talk hardware specifications for a moment though. The Moto Z3 Play comes with the Snapdragon 636 CPU,  4GB RAM, 64GB of internal expandable storage, 3000mAh battery, rear-facing dual 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel cameras, while the front of the device includes an 8-megapixel front-facing shooter.

As for the display, you’ll find a 6.01 inch panel at 1080×2160. The bezels are more or less what you would expect on a device priced at under $500. What I mean by that is you don’t quite get an edge-to-edge screen, instead, it has a small but visible forehead and chin. That isn’t an issue initially, but that chin has the ghastly Motorola logo embossed on it which really cheapens the sleek look.

Nothing screams world-beating, and it doesn’t need to. This is most definitely a mid-range device, albeit with a slightly higher price tag than some other competitive devices in its category. What I will say is that this phone feels quite blocky or sharp compared to other handsets, though well put together.

It has a glass sandwich design, which has been and will likely remain the trend for the next few years at least, but there are some very specific ‘Moto’ stylings. The back glass is completely flat but leads to a pronounced edge, which as I mentioned, feels sharp when you don’t have a Moto Mod installed. It’s not uncomfortable by any stretch, it just takes a little getting used to. This ‘flatness’ makes the phone feel much more slimline than many other phones I’ve reviewed over the past year as a result.

Motorola might argue that because of this slim profile, the headphone port had to be removed. But to their credit, they do include a USB Type-C to headphone port adapter in the box. I dislike the removal in general but applaud the inclusion of the cable, however, I get that many might not be able to see past this flaw.

The camera bump is very signature Motorola. It’s round, large and particularly deep on the Z3 Play. Clearly, the outwardly poking notch isn’t a problem when you have a Moto Mod attached but it does become a little bit more troublesome without, especially when flat on a desk or table.

Beyond attached hardware, there are a few weird design decisions with the other inputs on the Moto Z3 Play. For starters, it looks at first glance like there is no fingerprint scanner. Luckily there is, but the placement is beyond awful in my opinion. It’s placed on the side bezel but in a position that most devices tend to stick the sleep/wake button. This firstly means that for right-handed people, you’ll likely unlock using your right thumb, otherwise it is just weird to unlock when holding.

This terrible decision means that there is a separate sleep/wake button placed on the left side of the device. Naturally, that right-sided placement means you’ll reach to try and lock your screen expecting a button and it does nothing. That said, the unlock speed is solid and it does pick up on your finger even with poor contact on the reader.

I’m simply not a fan of the placement of it, although clearly the Moto Mods mean a rear placed fingerprint reader would simply get in the way. All of the side-mounted buttons do give great feedback and feel great when activated, although they are a little on the small side.

Moto Mods

I was only able to test the one Moto Mod included when you purchase the Z3 Play. In the box, you’ll find an extended battery, which really doesn’t bode well for Motorola’s confidence regarding battery life. The Moto Mods may be borderline gimmick at this point, but the battery pack does the job. Motorola has done a superb job with the implementation — it snaps on so easily and pretty securely too.

Now herein lies the problem with the Moto Mod system: Certain additional mods are genuinely useful, while others… not-so-much. The extended battery increases device usability by several hours without adding too much bulk. It does feel a little bit short-sighted though when Motorola could have simply packed in a bigger battery in the first place.

The same can be said of mods that add extra camera functions or even certain audio capabilities. I get that certain third-party functions probably couldn’t be included, but it does feel a little shoehorned in at this point. Don’t let that confuse you; I do actually think the Moto Mod system is good in theory, it just could be implemented just a little better and cost a lot less.

Software

Motorola’s track record with their almost-but-not-quite Stock Android is good at the point of release. Getting updates though seems to be a slow process. The Moto Z3 Play comes with Android 8.1 Oreo pre-installed, which is still good, but it would be nice to see Android 9.0 Pie soon. A post on the Lenovo forums has stated that work on the Pie update is well underway though, mind you.

Major OS updates aren’t exactly speedy but you can expect up-to-date and on time security patches. It is one area that Motorola is definitely keeping up with the pressures of maintaining a basically stock feel.

Like I say, it’s not pure Stock Android but it’s as close as we can get from any OEM. There are additions that do help the Z3 Play though, those alterations include support for the Moto Mods and a few Motorola-specific apps. Most are limited to help applications or a direct link to the Motorola Store — where you can buy accessories and extras directly.

If you’ve ever used a Motorola device before, you’ll know exactly what to expect. It’s a joy to use and even though the hardware is and chipset are relatively conservative, it’s nippy, clean and runs well in day-to-day operation.

Camera

We’re accustomed to devices at a lower entry price having mediocre or sub-par camera performance relative to those devices now regularly skirting the $1,000 price tag. I’d probably say that we’re spoilt, camera performance is one area where we let things slide when the entry cost is lower than the high-end. With that said, the Z3 Play has a good camera. It will not win awards, nor will it set the world alight with near features or exceptional post-processing.

Given the right conditions, you can achieve great photos. There is plenty of detail and close up photography is impressive, but not earth-shattering. Although the secondary 5-megapixel lens is par for the course for adding background blur to images, it allows one neat trick in the form of foreground subject separation and background removal. In basic terms, it enables you to cut out the background and replace it with whatever you like all without having to fire up Photoshop.

Don’t expect Pixel level photography and videos and you will have a great time with this camera. I do like the camera app, it’s clean, organized and very easy to use. That is often half the battle with many camera apps, you have to fumble with clunky menus or slow operation to get even basic snaps. The Moto Z3 Play has more than adequate photo-taking qualities.

Battery

My biggest bone of contention with the Z3 Play has to be the battery life when not using the attachable battery pack. Older Moto Z Play devices had stellar battery, though this feels much more modest — like the entire package. It’s clear that chucking the Moto Mod extended battery option into the retail packaging does alleviate the battery drain worries, so credit to Motorola for at least doing that.

The external battery pack adds a further 2200mAh to the 3000mAh on the device. That will give you nearly two days of solid usage if both are at full capacity. Charging is most definitely an area that Motorola have knocked it out of the park with the Z3 Play package. The included TurboPower charge brick can go from 0% to around 50% in about 30 minutes, which is seriously impressive in the flesh.

Super fast charging might not be anything new or miraculous, but it does get you out of a sticky situation should you need a little extra juice. You’ll need that super fast charging too, as to recharge the battery pack, it has to be connected to the back of the Moto Z3 Play. Not ideal and definitely indicative of the entire Moto Z3 Play experience. Everything feels like a compromise.

Final Thoughts

As with any Moto device now, I think you do have to overlook a few things to appreciate the entire package. The software is always clean, smooth, and unhindered even if the hardware sometimes can be odd in areas. While the Z3 does have quality in spades, it also has some major shortcomings.

The major problem is clear, however: does this device represent good value? I’d honestly say that if the price were dropped by a further $50 then maybe it would. The major problem for the Moto Z3 Play is that the OnePlus 6T starts at $499 and arguably is a better device in almost every single metric, save for the Moto Mods. And the Moto Mods at this point feel like they’re holding the phone back more than helping it stand out.

There’s also the problem of where this device will fit into Motorola’s own lineup once the Moto G7 becomes available. Overall, it’s a tough sell as it feels like the selling point really is the modularity and nothing beyond that.

Even with all that said, if you do really miss the option of a removable battery, then this might be the closest thing to that option on the market thanks to the magnetic battery attachment options. For everyone else, I’d simply say: Get the OnePlus 6T.

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