Motorola Moto Z3 Review: A Solid Sub-$500 Smartphone
Motorola is touting the Moto Z3 as being “5G Upgradeable” but that doesn’t matter in 2018, since the 5G Moto Mod isn’t available until early 2019. However, the Moto Z3 is still a very solid smartphone, despite sporting last year’s Snapdragon 835, coming in at $480.
Motorola’s Moto Z3 sits in a rather interesting position this year. It’s clearly the company’s “high-end” smartphone, however, it is priced lower than the arguably, mid-ranged Moto Z3 Play. This is partly because it is running on Qualcomm’s 2017 flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 835. Which makes many people wonder, whether this device is worth it? For under $500, it does have a whole lot going for it, which is not a surprise. But let’s find out if it is worth picking up the Moto Z3, for $480!
The Moto Z3 sports a 6.01-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio display. With a Full HD+ resolution of 2160×1080, and it is an AMOLED panel – which is what Motorola has used on the Moto Z series for a few years now. Under-the-hood, you’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There is also a micro SD card slot, that can support up to 2TB of storage – however, currently micro SD cards only go up to 400GB.
Motorola is using dual cameras on the back of the Moto Z3. That includes a 12-megapixel main sensor that has a f/2.0 aperture. While the secondary sensor is a monochrome sensor that is also a 12-megapixel sensor. Motorola has included laser autofocus here, as well as phase detection autofocus. This is going to allow the camera to get some great shots in low-light as it is able to focus faster. The rear camera is also capable of shooting in 4K at 30fps. Meanwhile, the front-facing camera sports a 8-megapixel sensor with a f/2.0 aperture. This is a somewhat wide-angle sensor, coming in at 84-degrees. There’s no front-facing flash here, which is a bit of a surprise for Motorola, instead it uses the display as a flash.
As per usual, the Moto Z3 sports a variety of sensors, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light, proximity, magnetometer and ultrasonic sensors. There is a fingerprint sensor also available here, which is located on the side of the Moto Z3. It also supports WiFi 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks. There is also Bluetooth 5.0, with location tracking being done with GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS and BEIDOU. Finally, there is NFC, but no headphone jack.
In the Box
Included in the box with the Moto Z3, you’ll find the phone right on top, as you might expect from any smartphone maker. You’ll also find the TurboPower charger, as well as the USB-C cable and a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack dongle included. Unlike the Moto Z3 Play, the Moto Z3 does not include a Moto Mod in the box.
Since Motorola had decided to support Moto Mods for three years, it was forced to stick with mostly, the same design since the original Moto Z that was released back in 2016. Three years with basically the same design, doesn’t usually bode well for sales. Motorola has made some differences over the years. Like moving the fingerprint sensor to the side, giving the device a taller display. But for the most part it looks a lot like the original Moto Z. That may not be an issue for some users, as this is still a good looking smartphone, but some decisions here are a bit questionable, and it’s all because of Moto Mods. For instance, the fingerprint sensor on the side. Many would move it to the back. However, that’s not possible. And that’s because of Moto Mods.
Motorola went back to a glass and metal sandwich here on the Moto Z3. So the backside is all glass, and it will scratch pretty easily. This is covered in Gorilla Glass 3, so it won’t scratch super easy like Gorilla Glass 5 would. But you’ll still want to toss it into a case, or grab a Style Shell from Motorola. The back of the Moto Z3 includes the huge camera bump, which many people don’t like, but the whole point to this camera bump is again, Moto Mods. The camera bump helps keep Moto Mods attached to the back of the phone. There are also the connectors at the bottom of the Moto Z3, which is how Moto Mods work with the Moto Z3. There are Motorola and Verizon logos on the back here, but once you put on a Moto Mod or Style Shell, you won’t even see them.
The left side of the phone is where you’ll find the power button with the volume buttons on the right side. The volume buttons are actually separate buttons. So it will take some getting used to, using those buttons in the dark or when not looking at your device. But all of these buttons are very clicky, and easy to press. They are not stiff at all, and that’s definitely a good thing here. Now below the volume buttons, you’ll find the fingerprint sensor, which works pretty well. The top of the Moto Z3 is where the SIM card and micro SD card slot is located. With the bottom of the device housing the USB-C connector. There is no speaker on the bottom, as that is in the earpiece.
Motorola is pretty well-known for its “industrial” build quality on its smartphones. And despite using glass here on the Moto Z3, it’s still pretty industrial. Motorola isn’t known for creating smartphones that are flashy with color changing backs, or anything like that. Motorola focuses more on the usability of the phone. So while the Moto Z3 may look boring, it definitely is not. But, holding the phone, without a Moto Mod or Style Shell on, it does feel rather naked and a bit weird in the hand. That’s due to the back being flat instead of curved like most smartphones today – as well as the camera sticking out so much.
For many, the display on the Moto Z3 is going to be a downgrade from the Moto Z2 Force on a few levels. Firstly, because it is no longer a shatter-proof display. Secondly, because Motorola went from a Quad HD resolution to a Full HD+ resolution on the Moto Z3. However, Motorola did keep the AMOLED panel here, so it does still look rather nice. Now with Motorola making the display about half an inch larger, and dropping the resolution, that means that the pixel density also dropped quite a bit (534 down to 402). But that shouldn’t be the reason why you don’t buy the Moto Z3. The display here still looks really good and sharp. It’s an AMOLED panel, which means that the colors are really going to pop, especially when you are watching movies and such.
Brightness on this display is basically what you’d expect from an AMOLED display. It does get pretty dim, making it great for using in bed or in the dark. But it can also get plenty bright. It is able to be used in direct sunlight, which is definitely important these days. As many smartphones that aren’t AMOLED have issues with working in direct sunlight. The Adaptive Brightness here works decently, but it can be a bit too aggressive in terms of trying to save battery life. So you may want to turn that off, from time to time.
While many are making a big deal out of Motorola using a year-old processor, it is still using one of Qualcomm’s best chipsets in the Snapdragon 845. Sure, over time, the Snapdragon 835 will start to show its age. But with Motorola using a stock version of Android – which is very light – and 4GB of RAM, performance is not an issue. The Moto Z3 was able to do everything we threw at it with ease, and no lag or slowdowns at all. That’s how it should work, anyways, but still nice to see a slightly older chipset still pulling its own weight.
When it comes to the RAM included here, 4GB might seem a bit on the light side, seeing as smartphones that are $700 or more, are coming with 6GB and even 8GB of RAM nowadays. But it’s still plenty for Android. Remember, Motorola uses stock Android, so it’s not adding in a bunch of extra software and elements into the OS that needs more RAM. It’s keeping everything lightweight here, so that less RAM and slower processors will work better on this phone versus something like the Galaxy Note 9.
In recent years, Motorola has pioneered stereo speakers, by only adding one speaker. Motorola was one of the first to have a down-firing speaker and then use the earpiece as a second speaker, for stereo speakers. But, since the Moto X4 was released last fall, it has moved towards just using the earpiece as its only speaker. This means that Motorola can save more space inside, and provide a cleaner look on the frame of the phone. But it also means that the speaker isn’t going to be as loud. That earpiece doesn’t get all that loud, and that is definitely seen here on the Moto Z3. The single speaker here, can sometimes be hard to hear, and that’s at full volume. The actual sound quality here is actually not too bad, it’s just tough to hear it sometimes. And unfortunately, there is no headphone jack here, so you can’t just plug in your headphones – unless you remembered to bring your dongle with you.
There are two biometric options here for securing the Moto Z3. That includes the fingerprint sensor which is side-mounted now, as well as Face Unlock. The fingerprint sensor still works really well on the right-hand side of the device. It’s right where your finger is likely already resting while you are holding the phone. It’s quick and accurate to recognize your finger as well. Now Face Unlock is also pretty quick. And in dark situations, it will light up the screen to illuminate your face and unlock the device. Both of these options are pretty good for unlocking your phone. But it’s a better idea to use the fingerprint sensor, since it is more secure. Not to mention the fact that it works with many apps for authentication.
Phone Calls & Network
The Moto Z3 is being sold exclusively by Verizon in the US – currently, there’s no word about it being available outside of the US. Which means that we used the Moto Z3 on Verizon during the review period. As expected, it worked quite well. LTE speeds were comparable to the Pixel 2 XL on Verizon (both of which have the same processor and modem from Qualcomm). Phone calls were also good, none were dropped and everyone sounded crystal clear. Now because this is a Verizon smartphone, you do get Advanced calling here, which includes HD Voice, VoLTE and Voice Calling.
The Moto Z3 had three benchmarks run on it, during our review process. That includes AnTuTu, 3D Mark and GeekBench 4. On AnTuTu, it picked up a score of 192,242. Over on GeekBench 4, it grabbed a single-core score of 1932, and a multi-core score of 6175. Meanwhile on 3D Mark, it picked up a score of 3,465 in the Sling Shot Extreme – OpenGL ES 3.1 test, and a 2,651 in the Sling Shot Extreme – Vulkan test. These scores are pretty much what is expected for a device running the Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM. Not the highest numbers, but still respectable. You can see the full results in the gallery below.
Battery life here is actually pretty decent. It’s similar to the Moto Z3 Play, but it’s just a tad worse. That is likely due to the processors in each smartphone, since they both have the same display and battery capacity. But you should be able to get through a full day on the Moto Z3. This will of course depend on your usage. We were able to get through a full day, with somewhat heavy use, and still have some juice left at the end of the day. Of course, if you do need some more juice for your Moto Z3, you can pick up one of the two battery Moto Mods that Motorola sells.
Moto Z3 does support Quick Charge 3.0. This is going to allow you to quickly charge up your smartphone and top it off. Quick Charge 3.0 is able to fully recharge this battery in a little under 90 minutes. Compared to conventional charging, that’s pretty quick. It makes it a great way to top off your battery before you start heading out for the night. There’s no wireless charging here, despite the glass back. However, if you purchase one of Motorola’s Style Shells, you can get wireless charging, as Qi support is built-in there.
At the time of reviewing the Moto Z3, it was running on Android 8.1.0 Oreo, with the June 1, 2018 security update. We have not received any software updates during the review process. That is not particularly a surprise, considering Motorola usually sends out fewer but larger updates, instead of more frequent smaller updates. It is, unfortunately, not running on Android 9 Pie. This was announced before Pie became a stable version of Android, so it’s not too surprising. But Motorola has said that the Moto Z3 will get Android 9 Pie. However, there’s no word on when just yet.
Motorola is sticking to its approach of keeping software simple, on the Moto Z3. That includes running stock Android here, along with a few features that are included from Motorola via the Moto app. Now with these features being included in the Moto app, Motorola is able to update them by pushing out app updates through the Play Store. This is easier for Motorola, as it doesn’t need to compile an entire software update, and it doesn’t need to get it certified by various partners (including Google and Verizon). But within the Moto app, you’ll find Moto Actions, Moto Display and Moto Voice. None of these are actually new on the Moto Z3, they’ve actually been around for quite some time.
Moto Actions is a collection of gestures that you can enable or disable, depending on how you use your smartphone. This includes the Lift To Unlock, which will unlock your phone when you pick it up and look at the screen. This is done in conjunction with Face Unlock. There’s also the three-finger swipe down for a screenshot, One Button Nav, Chop Twice for Flashlight and much more. Now Moto Display is a form of always-on display. It will “breathe” to show you the time, battery percentage, and whatever notifications you might have. This will only appear when you have notifications, or when you wave your hand over the phone. This is an easy way to check the time as well, without picking up your phone. Finally, Moto Voice, this is still in beta, but it’s basically Google Assistant. It’s an assistant that you can ask all sorts of questions to. Like the weather, what’s on your calendar and much more. This feature isn’t used all that much these days, since Google Assistant is already available here, and is much more feature-rich.
There are also suggestions now in the Moto app, with suggestions for different things to do on your phone. Like turning on the Night Display – to get rid of the blues and make it easier to use at night. It may also suggest things to free up some storage on your device, or get better battery life. This is similar to the suggestions that Google has included in the Settings app – starting with Android Oreo last year.
Software here is pretty self-explanatory really. There’s nothing too special, Motorola has kept it nice and simple and clean. With Motorola running a stock version of Android, it is able to keep the experience pretty fluid and fast. And that’s always a good thing on smartphones these days, as some smartphone makers can get carried away in creating their own “skin” for these smartphones.
Over the years, Motorola has struggled with its camera on smartphones. Though, it has gotten better in recent years. But the Moto Z3 is not the best smartphone camera available right now, however it’ll get the job done. One of the biggest complaints with any Motorola smartphone’s camera is the portrait mode. It does seem to have improved since the Moto Z3 Play – released a few months ago – but it does still have trouble with edge-detection. It will sometimes blur out the edges of the item that is focusing in on. Now this is actually a pretty common thing with portrait mode on smartphones, but it usually isn’t an issue on dual-camera smartphones like this. Fortunately, it does seem like Motorola is making some progress here, and can still improve it some more with software updates, so hopefully that does actually happen.
Outside of portrait mode, Motorola has a few other cool modes in the Moto Z3. There’s Cutout, True black and white, Spot color, Cinemagraph, Panorama, Text scanner, and face filters. On the video side, there’s slow-motion, timelapse, true black and white, YouTube Live and Face filters. For slow-motion, the Moto Z3 is able to do 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps. Unfortunately, it can’t do the super slow-motion that other flagships can, at 960fps.
In general, the Moto Z3 camera will get the job done. It does, from time to time, overexpose the background of some shots. But that is not all that common, fortunately. You will, nine times out of ten, get a good shot that you can use on social media or share with your friends. The color accuracy seems to be on point here, but the Moto Z3 still will not replace your DSLR. It may replace your point and shoot camera though. As always, you can see all of the pictures we took with the Moto Z3 in the Flickr gallery below. These are all unedited and shot in Auto, or another photo mode – not manual.
Outdated (slightly) software
Same boring design as last year, and year before
No headphone jack
The Moto Z3 is still an interesting phone. It seems like Motorola only made this phone for the 5G Moto Mod – that won’t even be available until next year. That’s the entire selling point of this phone, that it’s 5G-upgradeable. But it does offer a pretty good device for under $500, for those that want a “flagship” but don’t want to pay nearly $1,000 for phones like the Galaxy Note 9, or even the upcoming LG V40.
Should I Buy the Moto Z3?
Probably not. If you are not on Verizon, the Moto Z3 Play is a better option, and it’s only $20 more (or if you buy from Amazon, it’s $30 less) as it has better battery life, and comes with the Moto Mod battery pack in the box. If you are on Verizon, it’s still a tough sell. As there are plenty of other great options to pick up. However, if you do want something under $500, and want to buy from Verizon, then this is a good option.