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Motorola Moto Z3 review: Don't buy this phone for its 5G promise

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  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good
  • $480.00

Pros

  • Affordable price point
  • Smooth performance
  • Battery life

Cons

  • This design is a getting a little old
  • 5G is several months away

A couple of weeks ago, Motorola held an event at its Chicago campus, where the company unveiled the Moto Z3. The Z3 is yet another phone in the company's lineup designed to work with Motorola's accessory approach, the Moto Mod.

That last part is important, because the Moto Z3 is the currently the only Motorola device that will work with the newly announced 5G Moto Mod. By simply attaching what looks like an oversized battery pack, the Moto Z3 will switch over to Verizon's 5G wireless network. The only problem is, the mod -- and the network -- won't be available until next year.

Also: Motorola Moto Z3 Play review: The free battery pack is the best thing about this phone CNET

So, what's it like to use a phone that's built with last year's hardware with next year's experience in mind?

Design

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Motorola somewhat locked itself into a generalized design for the Z line thanks to Moto Mods. The accessories are designed to fit on the back of every Moto Z phone, including the Z3, without the user having to worry about compatibility.

Because of that, Motorola can't drastically change the design. However, the company found a way to increase display size and use the increasingly common 18:9 aspect ratio on the Z3.

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Also: What is 5G? Everything you need to know

By moving the fingerprint sensor to the right side of the phone, the display has been increased to 6.01-inches (up from 5.5-inches on the Z2 Force). Moto Mods released with the first Moto Z still fit and work with the Z3 without issue, as has been the promise all along.

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The fingerprint sensor sits just below dedicated volume up and down buttons and is easy to find when gripping the phone with either hand. I had to register my left index finger and my right thumb, a weird combination if you ask me, in order to use the reader when naturally holding the phone.

A USB-C port on the bottom is the only port you'll find on the Z3. That's right, there isn't a headphone jack on this phone. There is an adapter in the box, however.

Also: 5G mobile: Arriving not with a bang, but a whisper

The left side of the phone is where you'll find the sleep/wake button, with the SIM card and microSD card slot found on the top of the phone.

On the back is a circular camera bump, and the familiar line of gold-colored pins used for the Moto Mod and phone to talk to one another.

Outside of the bigger screen and moved fingerprint sensor, the Moto Z3 looks a lot like the Moto Zs before it. But that was to be expected.

Specifications

  • Operating system: Android 8.1 Oreo
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
  • Display: 6.01-inches 2160 x 1080p FHD+, 18:9 aspect ratio
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB
  • MircoSD support: Up to 2TB
  • Rear cameras: 12-megapixel w/f2.0, 12-megapixel monochrome
  • Front camera: 8-megapixel f2.0, wide-angle 84-degrees.
  • Water resistance: Nano coating to protect against splashes.
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU, NFC
  • Sensors: Fingerprint reader, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light, proximity, magnetometer, ultrasonic
  • Battery: 3,000mAh
  • Size: 76.5mm x 156.5mm x 6.75mm
  • Weight: 156g

Performance

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Motorola opted to use an older Snapdragon 835 processor in the Moto Z3, instead of the Snapdragon 845. Motorola explained this decision to me as a means to hit a price point. Using the latest processor would have upped the end price for customers.

Try as I might to fault Motorola here, I just can't. I understand the decision. Even though what appears to be the company's "flagship" device for 2018 uses a year-old processor, the overall performance is still smooth and responsive. Apps open without delay and scrolling is stutter free. On a geeky level, yes, I'm annoyed. But looking through the lens of the consumer, what's the issue?

With a 3,000mAh battery in the Z3, Motorola touts 24-hour battery life. During my testing, I opened Google Maps on the Z3, entered my home address, and started driving to Colorado from Waco, Tex. With added stops, the total drive time was around 13.5 hours. I started with the Moto Z3 unplugged and 100-percent charged. It wasn't until near the end of the hour eight that I had to connect a charger to the Z3.

Also: What 5G wireless devices will do that 4G cannot

In other words, with the screen on at 75-percent brightness, Google Maps constantly updating and moving my location, the Z3 lasted nearly 9 hours.

Outside of use as a dedicated navigation device, the Moto Z3 battery offered enough juice to get through a typical 14-hour day for me.

On the back of the Z3, you'll find two 12-megapixel cameras, one of which shoots in monochrome. Using the two cameras you can capture photos with blurry backgrounds, black and white photos, and everything in between. I found the cameras to do a good enough job, but not wow me by any means. It seemed to suffer the most in harsh lighting conditions, be it too much or too little light.

All this is to say, there aren't any major hiccups or issues with the Z3's performance. But there's also nothing worth calling out as impressive about it either.

Not all about 5G

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Don't buy this phone for its 5G promise. Other than a few announced cities and a generalized timeframe of "early 2019," we have no idea when Verizon will flip the 5G switch. And even when it does, you have to be lucky enough to live in one of the initial launch cities. Currently, Houston, Los Angeles, and Sacramento have been announced as cities where Verizon will launch its 5G home broadband service, with no mention of a 5G wireless network.

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Not only do we have no idea of when, and only vaguely know where, we don't know how much it's going to cost. Verizon is still finalizing price plans for 5G, and Motorola said the same about the 5G Moto Mod -- pricing is TBD.

Also: Almost half of US consumers will have access to 5G by 2023

Motorola and Verizon used the Z3, complete with its 5G upgradeability, as a means to be first to announce a device with 5G anything related to it. In that regard, the Z3 is a success.

Wrapping it up

Motorola's light touch with customizing Android, combined with the lag-free performance, impressive display, and lengthy battery life, make the Z3 and its $480 price tag incredibly attractive.

As I already mentioned, don't let yourself get caught up in the 5G craze and buy this phone in anticipation of its eventual rollout. This phone was used as a marketing tactic to start the 5G discussion and Verizon at the same time.

Also: 5G mobile networks: A cheat sheet

The Z3 is a solid choice for someone who is a Verizon Wireless customer who wants an affordable and reliable Android device, with the option to add more functionality through Moto Mods. Outside of that narrow scope, the Moto Z3 is impressively mundane.

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Specifications

Details
Integrated Components Front-facing camera, voice recorder, navigation, dual rear-facing camera, digital player
Body Color Ceramic black
Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Type smartphone (Android OS)
Integrated Components digital player, dual rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, navigation, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, BeiDou, GLONASS, GPS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 1900/800
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 8.1 Oreo
Intelligent Assistant Google Assistant
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, magnetometer, gyro sensor, ultrasonic distance sensor
Additional Features Smart Screen function, four microphones
Security Devices Fingerprint reader, face recognition
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor, ultrasonic distance sensor
Included Accessories USB-C to 3.5 jack adapter, USB-C cable, TurboPower charger
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, EV-DO, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE
3G UMTS Band Band 1, Band 2, Band 5, Band 8
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 5.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Processor
Clock Speed 2.35 GHz
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty 8-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology Super AMOLED
Display Resolution 2160 x 1080 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Display Format Full HD+
Diagonal Size 6.01 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 15.3 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 6.01 in
Aspect Ratio 18:9
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 3 (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Display Languages English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Features 2.5D Glass, Max Vision display, night mode
Multimedia
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 540
Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC - up to 2 TB
Battery
Fast Charging Technology TurboPower technology
Digital Camera
Special Effects Black & White, Cinema, Spot Color
Header
Brand Motorola
Product Line Motorola MOTO
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor, ultrasonic distance sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices face recognition, fingerprint reader
Additional Features Smart Screen function, four microphones
Android Enterprise Recommended Yes
RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 64 GB
Max Supported Size 2 TB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC
Graphics System
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 540
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Full Contract Period 1 year
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 8 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.0
Second Rear Camera
Sensor Type Monochrome CMOS
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty

Where To Buy

Price
$480.00

Top ZDNET Reviews

Where To Buy

Motorola Moto Z3

Part Number: MOTXT192917
Price
$480.00