Motorola unveiled its Moto Z3 Play today, giving its battery-friendly smartphone line much of what it needs to stay current in 2018. You’ll immediately notice a few hardware and aesthetic changes over last year, all of which improve the phone’s caliber and bring it more up to speed with modern flagships. The mid-range device features a dual rear-facing camera system, a new side-mounted fingerprint sensor, thinner bezels, and a glass back with an aluminum body.
The phone looks nice, even if it does gather lots of fingerprints. But a note on that glass back: it doesn’t allow for wireless charging capabilities — you’ll need to buy a separate Moto Mod for that. Yes, of course the Z3 Play still supports Moto Mods, just like the rest of Motorola’s Z lineup.
Other than the shiny glass back, the most obvious change is the phone’s display. It’s now a six-inch, Full HD+ AMOLED with an 18:9 aspect ratio. The Motorola name is still stamped across the smaller bottom bezel.
Although I appreciate the thinner bezels and taller screen, the actual display didn’t impress me immediately. During my brief time with the device, skin tones looked either too orange or too cool, depending on whether you turned vibrant mode on, and even the demo phone’s stock background looked pixelated and grainy. The display also was almost too dim for outside use, even when the brightness was turned up all the way.
As for the side fingerprint sensor, I don’t hate it. The sensor seemed to work fine during my demo and was comfortable to use because of its large size. Unfortunately for Motorola, the side-mount is its only option because of the phone’s thinner front bezel. Moto Mods, which the company definitely wants you to buy, would cover a rear-mounted one, so Motorola is stuck with the side, at least until screen-embedded fingerprint sensors become an affordable option. Still, Sony was really the only other company that stayed loyal to the side-mounted sensor and even they gave up on it.
Diehard Moto Z Play users loved the original model’s battery life, which had a capacity of 3,510 mAh. The Z2 Play and now the Z3 Play feature a 3,000 mAh battery, which should still be sufficient for a day of use. My conspiracy theory-filled mind thinks this is because Motorola wants users to buy its battery mod, as well as its wireless charging mod. Otherwise, the device charges over USB-C.
The most coveted change with the Z3 Play is likely its various camera upgrades. The dual rear-facing cameras include a 12-megapixel sensor and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. That depth camera is used for some new photography modes, including the cinemagraph feature, which lets you record footage of a scene and then edit the video to freeze certain aspects. So when I recorded a balcony with balloons and a flag fluttering in the wind, I was able to edit the flag to stay still. It’s a neat trick that entertained me. I’m not sure I’d use it very frequently, though, just as I’ve stopped using Instagram’s Boomerang or Google’s Motion Stills over the years. Google Lens is also built into the camera app.
The front-facing camera is now an 8-megapixel sensor that can take photos in portrait mode, which is a small but possibly important change for anyone who loves a blurred selfie.
The Z3 Play will be available unlocked through various retailers, including Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Fry’s, B&H Photo, and Amazon. It’ll cost $499 and will be bundled with Motorola’s battery mod. It’ll also be available this summer as a standalone device through Sprint and US Cellular for an undisclosed amount.
Overall, the Moto Z3 Play is a nice aesthetic and hardware upgrade. I’m not sure where it can go from here, however, as Motorola is beholden to this form factor in order to keep its phones compatible with already released Moto Mods. The dimensions of the phone will have to stay the same, as will the rear camera bump. But maybe next year the phone will have a notch.