Motorola has announced the latest in the mid-range Z Play line of phones, the $499 Moto Z3 Play. Motorola is still pushing its “MotoMod” modular system, and for that $499 price, the Z3 will come with an extra battery backpack.
Your $500 gets you a glass front and back with aluminum sides.
In 2016—the year of the failed modular smartphone—Motorola introduced the Moto Z, the first phone with MotoMod compatibility. Thanks to a giant gold connector on the back, the Moto Z could be outfitted with accessories that covered the entire back of the phone. In our review, we mostly found these accessories to be expensive, gimmicky, and unnecessarily proprietary (“Why not Bluetooth?” was a common refrain), but Motorola stuck with the concept and committed to MotoMod compatibility for the next three years.
We’re now entering year three of Motorola’s MotoMod experiment, and the decision to support the attachments has really limited Motorola’s phone design for three generations now. Since the back has to be clear for the clip-on MotoMods, Motorola can’t add standard features—like a rear fingerprint reader—to its phones. Similarly, the overall shape of the phone has stayed the same to ensure compatibility, and the large camera bump on the back can’t change either. As a result the designs of the Moto Z, Moto Z2 Force, Moto Z Play, and Moto Z2 Play have all been interchangeable. It’s been thin phones, thick bezels, and front fingerprint readers.
The Moto Z3 Play manages to work around the MotoMod design limitations somewhat. Instead of large bezels and a front fingerprint reader, the Z3 Play has a rare side-mounted fingerprint sensor. The side has a flat cutout just below the volume keys, where a quick finger scan can unlock your phone. A side fingerprint reader has the advantage of always being accessible, even if the phone is on a desk, but unlike a front fingerprint reader, it doesn’t suck up valuable display real estate. The downside is that you’re scanning a smaller area of your finger.
With the fingerprint reader finally kicked off the front of the phone, the Z3 Play can catch up to the competition somewhat and slim down the bezels. You get a 6.01-inch 2160×1080 “Super AMOLED” display (“Super AMOLED” is technically meaningless, but it’s a Samsung trademark) with an extra-tall 18:9 aspect ratio.
The Moto Z3 Play is only launching in Brazil right now, while Motorola says it will “roll out globally starting this month.” In the US, the Moto Z Play will only be available on Sprint and US Cellular. You can buy it unlocked from all the usual suspects.
While the Z3 Play is not Motorola’s flagship phone for 2018—that should be the “Moto Z3” or “Z3 Force”—the Z3 Play probably shares a design with Motorola’s high-end device this year. Again, with MotoMods locking everything down, there’s just not a lot of variety in Motorola’s lineup from device to device or year to year. There’s already a rumor out there that the Z3 Play and Z3 photos are interchangeable. The good news is that this is the last year of Motorola’s three-year MotoMod plan, so next year, the company might actually be able to design phones again.
As for the Z3 Play, $500 for a Snapdragon 636 phone sounds like a tough sell. For $30 more you can get a OnePlus 6, which will get you a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 845, more RAM, more storage, more screen, more battery, and a headphone jack. You won’t get MotoMods, though!