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Motorola Z3 Play Hands-on

By Adam Z. Lein June 6, 2018, 9:30 am

The Moto Z series has been Motorola’s flagship Android smartphone series for a few years now and the “Play” model has always been the more-budget-friendly version in the Z series. Today Motorola is announcing the new Moto Z3 Play which is obviously the third generation of this phone. The original Moto Z Play was a little thicker than the other Z series devices, and it had a lower-quality screen, but much better battery life while still having full compatibility with all of the Moto Mod expansion packs available. Motorola has not yet announced any other third generation Z series devices, but we expect a few more-expensive Moto Z3’s to be launched later in the year. In the meantime, we’ll take a look at the Moto Z3 Play.


Of course the Moto Z3 Play is the same shape as the other Moto Z Family devices, especially on the back so that it maintains compatibility with all of the existing Moto Mod expansion packs. The old projector, Hasselblad True Zoom camera, stereo speakers, extended batteries, wireless charging covers, etc. all still work on the Moto Z3 Play.

The Moto Z was one of the first to remove the normal circular wired headset jack after it was re-added to smartphones around 2007 after it was removed from smartphones in early 2006. Although up to 2006, smartphones used the 2.5mm TRS headset port as opposed to the 3.5mm headset port that was a more widely used standard for headphones. Well, actually around 2002-2003 some smartphones did use the 3.5mm headset jack too. Anyway, the original Moto Z Play was the only Moto Z family device to keep the standard 3.5mm headset jack, and now that’s gone in the Moto Z3.

The fingerprint scanner has been moved from the front to the side edge in order to make more room for a larger screen on the front. This makes a much more ergonomic hand position for unlocking the device. If you hold it in your right hand, you can use your thumb to unlock it or if you hold it in your left hand, you can use your index finger. It’s a really great position for the scanner, and much nicer than the back or front options that other phones use. The fingerprint scanner only does wake/sleep/authenticate functions though, there are no pre-programmed or user-programmable gestures for it.

The Moto Z3 Play comes with Android 8.1 which will support 2 version updates in the future. It’s mostly a pure Android experience, but there are still some Motorola customizations. The awesome glance screen that shows minimal information without fully powering on the screen is still there, as are a slew of secret gestures for controlling certain things.  There’s also a new “OneNav” command bar option at the bottom. By default you’ll get the usual triangle, circle, square Android nav bar buttons, but if you want, you can change that to a thin simple line. Tapping the line goes to the home screen, swiping it left goes back, and swiping it right goes to the recent app task view.

There’s also a new Motorola speech interface that really isn’t finished, but it’s there if you want to try it. The intention is that this Motorola speech UI will be able to understand and carry out multiple commands in one sentence.  For example, “Call the nearest pizza place” should search for the nearest pizza place, get its phone number, and call it all at once. The current GUI is clearly not done very well though as there is no indication of how to activate listening mode, no obvious plain-English indication of when it is listening, and “what can I say” suggestions look like touch buttons. So there are still some design problems with that.

While older Moto Z Play models had only one camera on the back, the Z3 Play upgrades that to one 12 Mp sensor with a secondary 5Mp depth sensor. Of course this is to enable the fake-background-blur filter fad that everyone else is doing and nobody is doing well enough for it to look good.

Above is a 100% crop of a sample photo from the Moto Z3 Play’s camera and its fake background blur filter. Just as with all of the other cameras that do this, it looks really bad when you zoom in. The edges are very poorly selected and it just looks like a Photoshop fail done by someone who doesn’t know how to use the software correctly.

The camera does not support RAW output, but it does include some other neat features like a built in Google Lens, and cinemagraphs.

The built-in cinemagraph mode works almost exactly like the Nokia cinemagraph modes we saw many years ago. Basically it shoots a short video, then automatically selects an area to keep animated in a loop while other parts of the image remain still.  You can use your finger to paint over areas in order to hide or show other sections as animations or still sections. Then you can save the cinemagraph as an animated GIF.


Moto Z3 Play photos

Technical Specifications Moto Z3 Play

Operating system

Android™ 8.1, Oreo™


Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 636 processor with a 1.8 GHz octa-core CPU and 850 MHz Adreno 509 GPU

Memory (RAM)

4 GB1

Internal storage

32 GB / 64 GB2

Expandable storage

Up to 2 TB microSD3


Fingerprint reader, face unlock


Fingerprint reader, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light, proximity, magnetometer (e- compass), ultrasonic

Battery size

3000 mAh non-removable Li-Ion

Battery life

All-day battery4


Half a day’s power in half an hour4

Charger type

15W TurboPower™ charger included, USB-C connector. Wireless charging available with Moto Mod5

Display size


Screen to body ratio


Display technology



Full HD+, 2160 x 1080p

Aspect ratio

18:9 Max Vision

Display design

Corning™ Gorilla™ Glass 3

Display features

Moto Display,6 night mode


76.5 x 156.5 x 6.75 mm


156 g


2.5D glass front and back, 6000 series polished aluminum frame

Water protection

Splash-resistant p2i7




Deep Indigo

Rear camera hardware

12 MP, f1.7, 1.4um + 5 MP depth, Dual Autofocus Pixel (pDAF), Color Correlated Temperature (CCT) dual LED flash, Zero Shutter Lag (ZSL)

Rear camera software

Cinemagraphs, portrait mode, spot color, cutout mode, face filters, panorama, manual mode, YouTube Live mode, landmark & object recognition (powered by Google Lens),8 text translator (powered by Google Lens)8 text scanner,9 active photos, barcode & QR code scanner, business card reader

Rear camera video capture

Up to 4K Ultra HD (30 fps), Timelapse video, Slow motion video, Video face filters

Front camera hardware

8 MP, f2.0, 1.12um, wide-angle 84° lens, screen flash

Front camera software

Cinemagraph, portrait mode, group selfie mode, YouTube Live mode, face beauty, manual mode, face filters, active photos

Front camera video capture

Up to 1080p (30 fps), Timelapse video, Slow motion video, Video face filters


Front port loud speaker


4 far-field mic system

Headphone jack

USB-C to 3.5mm converter included

Voice control

Moto Voice (beta),9 Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa available with Moto Mod

Quick gestures

Moto Actions: three finger screenshot, screenshot editor, one button navigation, chop twice for flashlight, twist for quick capture, swipe to shrink screen, pick up to stop ringing, flip for do not disturb

Smarter screen

Moto Display:5 night display, attentive display

moto mods

Compatible with all Moto Mods

Networks + bands11

LTE: B1 (2100), B3 (1800), B5 (850), B7 (2600), B28 (700 APT)

UMTS: B1 (2100), B2 (1900), B5 (850), B8 (900)

GSM: B2 (1900), B3 (1800), B5 (850), B8 (900)”

SIM card



802.11 a/ac/b/g/n 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz

Bluetooth® technology


Location services





TurboPower™ charger, USB-C cable, headset adapter, guides


The Moto Z3 Play will be available in Brazil today starting at R$ 2,299. In the U.S.A., the it will be available on June 29th with a preorder starting June 21. It will be available unlocked in two bundles each costing $499. You can choose either the 2000mAh extended battery Moto Mod or the stereo speaker Moto Mod. Those retail bundles will be available at Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Fry’s, B&H Photo, and as a Prime Exclusive Phone on Amazon.com. A stand-alone version will be available on Sprint and U.S. Cellular in the U.S.A. and in Canada at Videotron, Bell Mobility, Virgin Mobile, MTS, and SaskTel, but pricing for those versions hasn’t been announced yet.


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