Motorola Z3 Play Review: Third Times a Charm?

Motorola Z3 Play Review: Third Times a Charm?

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What is the Motorola Z3 Play and Why Does It Matter?

The Motorola Z line of phones were first seen in the fall of 2016 with the launch of the original Moto Z. It came with on the heels of the LG G5, which was pitched as the first modular phone. As we know, the G5 was an unmitigated disaster and a complete flop. I still see the G5 in public from time to time and immediately want to engage in conversation with that person since they must be some sort of crazy to still be using that device on the daily.

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The Moto Z on the other hand was also pitched as the first truly modular phone and, in my opinion, was. Thanks to an ultra thin design and exposed pogo-pins on the back of the phone, customers were able to connect mods to the phone to enhance or add functionality.

At launch there were only a few mods available. A speaker, battery pack, some decorative shells and a mini-projector. Now the device supports a dozen or so different mods and other manufactures have taken a stab at creating their own third-party mods. Some of the more popular mods today are a game controller, Alexa speaker and 360 camera.

What I Liked

Moto Mods

Ever since I laid my hands on the original Moto Z along with the InstaShare Projector and Polaroid Printer mods I fell in love with them. Using the Z3 Play with those mods as well as the controller, 360 camera and Amazon Alexa mods has only enhanced the experience. Admittedly, if I had to put out fill price for the mods, my opinion on them may change. They are very expensive add-ons for an already expensive purchase.

So far, in my use, I have gotten the most use out of the InstaShare Projector, the game controller mod and the Alexa speaker.

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The projector mod gets used daily. Most other reviewers said it was too niche, why would you ever use it, etc, etc. Well, in my case we started using it for camping and traveling to ensure we could watch what we wanted, when we wanted and where. Today, as my family and I are moving to a new house, we have been living in temporary place as we wait for our new home. Rather than lug along a large and heavy TV, we carry our 65” equivalent project mod from place to place. It is great.

The 360 camera does a great job with applications like Facebook Live, but when it comes to taking still photos, it is less than stellar image quality.

Battery Life

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Thanks to the Snapdragon 636 CPU that comes with the Z3 Play the battery life on this phone has been incredible considering it is only a 3000 mAh battery. The same battery in my Galaxy S9 and Pixel XL struggle to get through a day. Most days with the Z3 Play I am able to comfortably go from 5 am to 9 pm with no need to get a top up.

Moto Actions and Gestures

Moto Actions and Moto Gestures have been a staple of all Motorola phones for years now, going way back to the original Moto X (still one of the best phones ever released). Going from the Moto Z3 Play to another device is always such a jarring experience without these added functions.

For example; I can double “chop” the phone in my hand to turn on the flashlight and double “snap” my wrist to open the camera. This may seem very basic but once you have worked that into your routine it is hard to get away from. I still “chop” my S9 trying to turn on the flashlight only to have nothing happen. Thankfully the S9 allows me to press and hold the Bixby button and ask her to turn on the flashlight. Thanks, Bixby! You’re the best!

What I Did Not Like

Camera

Camera’s really are what makes a smartphone. This has been true for years. Motorola has struggled to make headway in the phone market since 2014 with the Moto X and subsequent phones and that lies not with the lack of popularity of the brand or features like Moto Mods. No, that lack of market-share lies solely on the poor cameras found in their phones.

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I will say the Z3, in the right light, can go toe-to-toe with my S9 or Pixel XL, but in the vast majority of cases the camera gives me really poor output to the point where I don’t even both taking pictures. I strongly believe that if Motorola could deliver anything near the quality found in the likes of S9 or Pixel these phones would move off the shelves quickly and features like the Moto Mods would be loved by all.

However, this isn’t the case and simple fact is, Motorola and cameras almost always ends poorly. Sorry, Moto

I will say though, that this and G6 are the best cameras you can get on a Motorola phone today.

Fingerprint Scanner

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The original and second gen Moto Z phones had a front-mounted fingerprint scanner. This was done because the Z-series needed to have a clean backside to allow for Moto Mods while not impeding other function. However, the year is 2018 and we want to see phones with a clean front, tiny bezels and 18:9 screen sizes. To accomplish that Motorola went with a fingerprint scanner mounted right beneath the volume rocker. This placement not only forced the power button to be moved to the left side of the device, but it also means every single time you pick up the phone you can be sure you will swipe the scanner and unlock the phone.

The scanner is fast and accurate, yes, but sometimes I just want to pick up the phone from my desk put it into my pocket.

Now, the side really is the only place to put the scanner, since in-screen options are not quite ready for prime time, or weren’t when this phone was developed, but put it on the other side! This would be my choice, but I’m not designing phones for Motorola, so that’s neither here, nor there.

Should You Buy Motorola Z3 Play?

If you have or want to get some Moto Mods, then yes. This phone is one I can recommend if that’s what you’re after. If you like a super thin phone with great battery life, yes, this phone is for you. However, if mods are something you have no interest in and you need a good to great camera, the Z3 Play is not for you unfortunately.

It is a good overall phone and I do enjoy using it, mostly because I have a half dozen or so Moto Mods to take advantage of, but with a device like the S9 or even my aging Pixel XL, i find myself putting it down in favour of either of those devices.

Where to Buy

If you’re wanting to test drive the Moto Z3 Play you can pick it up at Bell, Videotron, Virgin and Sasktel or direct from Motorola. Check the link below for more on where to buy the Z3 Play. The kicker, the Z3 Play will set you back about $700 CAD.

At the $700 price point (Canadian $$) it is hard to justify this phone. It handles every task with ease, unlike the G series of phone which can get caught up due to a slow processor, but it doesn’t perform on the camera front to justify the price tag.


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