Moto Z3 Play

Tech Advisor - - Review - Henry Bur­rell

Af­ter buy­ing and res­cu­ing Mo­torola’s phone busi­ness, Len­ovo went all-in on mod­u­lar de­sign. 2016’s Moto Z in­tro­duces Moto Mods, the snap-on ac­ces­sory ecosys­tem that gave you a speaker, ex­tra bat­tery or even pro­jec­tor if you wanted it.

Two years later and Moto is on to the third gen­er­a­tion of Moto Mod smart­phones. It’s great that ac­ces­sories two years old work with the lat­est crop of Moto phones, but the Z3 Play is a ham­strung de­vice com­pared to the Z2 Play and even the orig­i­nal Z Play.

The ‘Play’ moniker refers to the mid-range ver­sion of the Z range and has stood for mid-range spec­i­fi­ca­tions but with sim­i­lar de­sign and su­pe­rior bat­tery life. That’s not so clear cut any­more, and while the Z3 Play is a per­fectly ser­vice­able phone, the loss of head­phone jack and bat­tery life doesn’t make sense on a phone of this price.

De­sign

The Z3 Play moves to the now-fa­mil­iar 18:9 screen as­pect ra­tio for the first time on a Moto phone, and it’s a gen­er­ous 6.01in. This is good news as the bezels on the Z2 Force and Z2 Play were too big.

You can still clip Mods on to the back of the phone, which high­lights how lit­tle the de­sign has been able to change over three gen­er­a­tions. The back of the phone has to be the ex­act same di­men­sions as its pre­de­ces­sors with the round cam­era bump and mag­netic pins in the same places as usual. This leaves Moto lit­tle room for ma­noeu­vre, but it’s an­noy­ing that it has made the Z3 Play fully glass on the back. With­out wire­less charg­ing here, it serves to make it more break­able and more prone to greasy fin­ger­prints.

And be­cause of the new taller dis­play Mods it wants you to use, the fin­ger­print sen­sor can’t be on the back so it’s now on the right edge. The sen­sor works well but is not a but­ton, so the power but­ton is on the left. We found that hold­ing the phone nat­u­rally in our right hand meant ac­ci­den­tally un­lock­ing it with or thumb more of­ten than not, like when putting it on our right pocket.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, the Z3 Play is a very well-made glass and me­tal phone in a lovely deep

in­digo colour that we vastly pre­fer to the lighter blue Honor cakes all its phones in. De­spite the same shape as older Z phones the taller dis­play fills it out more, with at­trac­tive curves and good, clicky but­tons.

The phone now bears ‘Mo­torola’ brand­ing on the bot­tom chin, a sub­tle change from the ‘Moto’ brand­ing nor­mally used on the phones. It sits in­be­tween two mic dots.

Like ev­ery other Moto Z-se­ries phone, it still feels a bit odd with­out a Mod given the hard edges and nec­es­sar­ily to­tally flat back panel. It’s a shame there’s no Moto style shell in the box like there was be­fore.

You do get a bat­tery mod in the box this time though, which is good and bad – we’ll get to that. The phone isn’t IP rated, and is only splash­proof.

At 6.75mm thick and 156g it’s quite pock­etable but loses the head­phone jack. This is very an­noy­ing es­pe­cially as the Z2 Play man­aged to fit one in its 6mm frame. No head­phone jack on a mid-range phone, even in 2018, is pretty crim­i­nal.

If the ‘Play’ name once stood for an en­ter­tain­ment fo­cussed phone that lasted all day, the loss of the jack goes against that. It turns out the bat­tery life joins it in the dog­house.

Dis­play

The Play se­ries con­tin­ues to used AMOLED rather than LCD dis­plays, and it’s wel­come. The 6.01in 2,160x1,080 panel is punchy and well cal­i­brated if a tad over­sat­u­rated, but ad­justable if you want to tin­ker.

It’s Go­rilla Glass 3, which should keep scratches at bay but it doesn’t have the un­break­able Shat­ter­shield

of the Z2 Force. The good trade-off is ex­cel­lent touch re­sponse – the best we’ve seen on a mid-range de­vice.

It’s also sur­pris­ingly de­cent in di­rect sun­light. But the best part of the screen, like many Moto phones, is the al­ways on dis­play. Ac­ti­vated with a wave of your hand over the phone (great when on a ta­ble), it dis­plays the time and icons from any apps from which you have no­ti­fi­ca­tions. Press­ing and hold­ing on an icon al­lows you to view, and then drag the icon to app-spe­cific ac­tions. It’s bril­liant, and we miss it on other phones.

Moto Dis­play also has At­ten­tive Dis­play, which keeps the screen on while you’re look­ing at it, and the usual blue light fil­ter for night time view­ing.

Pro­ces­sor, mem­ory and stor­age

The Z3 Play runs on a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 636, the same chip found in the Asus Zen­fone 5. It’s a mid-range

pro­ces­sor that has al­lowed mid-range phones to sup­port Full HD+ dis­plays. This is paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB stor­age – gen­er­ous, but stan­dard for 2018. A mi­croSD card slot al­lows ex­pan­sion up to a fur­ther 512GB. It’s also a dual-SIM phone, but you’ll have to de­cide be­tween a sec­ond SIM or a mi­croSD card as they use the same slot.

In our ex­ten­sive test­ing we have been thor­oughly im­pressed with the per­for­mance on of­fer. The phone barely stut­ters, even when mul­ti­task­ing be­tween tens of apps. Even graph­i­cally in­tense games run well, and un­less you are push­ing your phone to within an inch of its life there re­ally is lit­tle real-world dif­fer­ence be­tween the Snap­dragon 636 and the high-end 845.

We bench­marked the Z3 Play us­ing the Geek­bench 4 app that scores the power be­hind the pro­ces­sor and how it’s in­te­grated into the phone. We also score on four dif­fer­ent GFXBench tests that look at the dis­play and how graph­ics ren­der, and fi­nally JetStream, which scores browser per­for­mance.

Our charts com­pare the Z3 Play to the Z2 Play, the much cheaper Moto G6, the Zen­fone 5 as it has the same pro­ces­sor and the Nokia 7 Plus as it achieves higher scores, but has a bet­ter pro­ces­sor and costs less at £349. Th­ese scores are great for the Z3 Play and show the per­for­mance of a flag­ship phone from less than two years ago. But given the ef­fi­ciency of the 636 chip paired with 4GB RAM, the Z3 Play runs ex­cel­lently.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and au­dio

With no head­phone jack, it’s laugh­ably an­noy­ing that Moto bun­dles the phone with head­phones that

have a 3.5mm jack. Add to that the in­cluded 3.5mm don­gle, it seems like a con­fus­ing slap in the face as the com­pany that took away your jack at the same time ad­mits you still need it. The in-ear head­phones are cheap and not much to write home about, but at least they’re in­cluded. Don’t lose the don­gle, as it’s more use­ful to use with a bet­ter set of head­phones.

The sin­gle speaker is in the ear­piece and is per­fectly ser­vice­able, but doesn’t get very loud It’s what you’d ex­pect from a phone of this price. Call qual­ity through it is good, though.

If you’d pre­fer to use Blue­tooth, there’s Blue­tooth 5.0 and aptX – ba­si­cally the best you can get right now. NFC for mo­bile pay­ments is also present.

A beta fea­ture called Moto Voice lets you set up voice com­mands for cer­tain apps, but it’s still as odd or as per­sonal as us­ing a voice as­sis­tant. If the lat­ter ap­peals, then Google As­sis­tant is built in.

Cam­eras

An up­grade on the Z2 Play, the Z3 Play has dual cam­eras. The 5Mp sec­ond lens is purely for depth

sens­ing, not zoom, mean­ing por­trait mode is pos­si­ble. The main sen­sor is f/1.7 12Mp and is good for im­ages in day­light.

You can record 4K video too, but as with stills, it’s no­tice­able that there’s no im­age sta­bi­liza­tion, a fea­ture only found on more ex­pen­sive hand­sets.

Por­trait mode pho­tos are a bit hit and miss, but are pleas­ing for a mid-range phone. You can also get por­trait pho­tos from the front-fac­ing 8Mp cam­era, but re­sults are less than im­pres­sive as Moto’s post pro­cess­ing is nowhere near as good as Google’s.

It’s cool though, that Moto has in­te­grated Google Lens right into the cam­era app. It’s still in the early stages of be­ing use­ful, but point it at places, ob­ject and shops and you can quickly find out more in­for­ma­tion.

Bat­tery life

And so to the most dis­ap­point­ing as­pect of the whole phone – and all be­cause its pre­de­ces­sors were so good at it. The Z Play launched in 2016 with a 3,510mAh bat­tery and mid-range specs. Its bat­tery life was out­stand­ing – by some re­port, three days.

The 2017 Z2 Play was a bit less im­pres­sive with a 3,000mAh bat­tery, but was still good for well into two days. The Z3 Play keeps a 3,000mAh cell, but with a big­ger screen to power and more de­mand­ing pro­ces­sor and RAM, the bat­tery life is good for only one day.

It’s still bet­ter than most high-end phones, and in nor­mal use we went a whole 24 hours be­tween charges. Even a par­tic­u­larly heavy day saw us go­ing to bed with around 30 per­cent. But when the whole USP of the Play se­ries was never wor­ry­ing about bat­tery, it’s a step

back­wards. The longest we got out of the phone was three and a half hours of screen on time over 25 hours.

Fast charg­ing is also bril­liantly quick, with the bun­dled charger giv­ing 54 per­cent in 30 min­utes.

There’s even a free 2,200mAh power pack Mod in the box, but at £439, is it re­ally free? This gives you 5,200mAh over­all, and over 48 hours of use. But wouldn’t you rather Moto had put a big­ger bat­tery in the phone in the first place? We cer­tainly would.

Soft­ware

Moto’s soft­ware is close to vanilla An­droid, if not Google’s cur­rent imag­in­ing of the OS. The Z3 Play ships with An­droid Oreo 8.1 and opts to use Google apps for ev­ery­thing when pos­si­ble. It’ll prob­a­bly get an up­date to An­droid Pie, too.

Ex­cel­lent ad­di­tions in­clude the Moto Dis­play al­ready men­tioned and the op­tion to use Moto’s own nav­i­ga­tion bar in­stead of the nor­mal An­droid back,

home and re­cent apps but­tons. Us­ing just a line at the foot of the screen, you tap to go home, hold for Google As­sis­tant, swipe left to go back and swipe right for re­cent apps.

It’s bliss­fully sim­ple and the best im­ple­men­ta­tion of one-but­ton nav­i­ga­tion we’ve seen – yes, bet­ter than Google’s. There are other neat ad­di­tions like a dou­ble chop of the phone to turn the torch on and off, and a dou­ble twist in the hand to open the cam­era.

A face un­lock fea­ture is also fast and we found it prefer­able to the fin­ger­print sen­sor – though re­mem­ber it’s not as se­cure as Ap­ple’s Face ID. Ver­dict The Moto Z3 Play is a charm­ing but frus­trat­ing smart­phone. Moto has im­proved the de­sign, the dis­play and the soft­ware from the past cou­ple of years, but then mad­den­ingly taken away the head­phone jack and the out­stand­ing bat­tery life.

The price is now higher and for prac­ti­cally the same money you can get a One­Plus 6 that is bet­ter on most fronts and has a head­phone jack. And given that Moto Mods are likely near­ing the end of their life cy­cle, it makes the Z3 Play hard to rec­om­mend, even at launch. If you must have Moto, then this is the best Moto phone you can buy in 2018. But where once th­ese Play phones were gen­uinely unique, the Z3 Play is merely okay.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6.01in (2,160x1,080; 402ppi) Su­per AMOLED ca­pac­i­tive touch­screen

• An­droid 8.1 Oreo

• Qual­comm SDM636 Snap­dragon 636 pro­ces­sor

• Octa-core 1.8GHz Kryo 260 CPU

• Adreno 509 GPU

• 4GB RAM

• 32/64GB stor­age (mi­croSD up to 512GB)

• Dual rear-fac­ing cam­eras: 12Mp, f/1.7, 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF; 5Mp, depth sen­sor

• Front cam­era: 8Mp, f/2.0, 24mm, 1.12µm

• 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi

• Blue­tooth 5.0 with aptX

• A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS

• NFC

• Fin­ger­print sen­sor (side mounted)

• Non-re­mov­able 3,000mAh Lithium-ion bat­tery

• USB 3.1, Type-C 1.0 rev­ersible con­nec­tor

• 156.5 x 76.5 x 6.8mm

• 156g

The Z3 Play’s dis­play is punchy and well cal­i­brated

De­spite com­ing with wired head­phones, the Z3 Play doesn’t have a socket for them to plug in to

The Z3 Play ships with An­droid Oreo 8.1

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