moto Z3 Play Prime Exclusive review: An excellent midrange offering with one big gripe

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TA-ratings-92There is an idea I’ve been struggling with for the past year. The idea of the flagship smartphone. It used to be the flagship smartphone was the pinnacle of the industry. It had everything anyone could want or even need. But something happened. Technology got better and cheaper. Now, midrange smartphones like the moto Z3 Play are wrestling the idea that everyone needs flagship device. And, they’re doing it rather convincingly, at least from my perspective.

I’ve had the pleasure of using the moto Z3 Play for the past few weeks and I can honestly say. I’m convinced that the average user does not need a flagship smartphone any longer. Read on for my thoughts and the full review of the moto Z3 Play Prime Exclusive.


The moto Z3 Play has the following features and specifications:

  • Processor (CPU): Qualcomm Snapdragon 636
  • RAM: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 32/64GB, MicroSD, up to 512 GB (dedicated slot)
  • Display: 6.01″ Super AMOLED 1080×2160 18:9, 402ppi Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • SIM capability: Single SIM (Nano-SIM) or Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)
  • Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery with included 2000 mAh Moto Mod battery pack
  • Operating System: Google Android O (8.1)
  • Main camera dual

    • 12 MP (f/1.7, 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF)
    • 5 MP (no AF, depth sensor), dual-LED dual-tone flash
    • Geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, panorama, Auto-HDR
    • Video: 2160p@30fps, 1080p@30/60fps
    • No OIS or EIS
    • Supports Moto Gestures
  • Front camera
    • 8 MP (f/2.0, 1.12µm), 1080p
  • Dimensions: 156.5 x 76.5 x 6.8 mm (6.16 x 3.01 x 0.27 in)
  • Weight: 156 g (5.50 oz)
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Works with all Moto Mods
  • 3.1, Type-C 1.0 reversible connector, magnetic connector, USB On-The-Go

What’s In The Box

  • moto Z3 Play
  • Moto battery Mod 2200 mAh
  • USB-C charging cable
  • Charging brick


The moto Z3 Play design isn’t drastically different from previous generations of Z3 phones. The reason for this is, Motorola needs to continue to support moto mods. Motorola has a nice stable of available mods and to change the design now, would mean abandoning the ecosystem. Still, there are some differences here that give the device its own personality.

The moto Z3 phones are probably some of the nicest feeling smartphones I’ve ever used. They just feel nice to hold and the moto Z3 Play retains that slim and thin profile and feel. It is one of the thinnest family of phones on the market which makes it easy to handle.

The front and back are both glass with a nice aluminum housing to hold it all together. Previously Motorola used a metal back but opted for glass this time around. Some have complained about this but it doesn’t bother me either way. There is no wireless charging. Motorola simply says that wireless charging would not work with their moto mod tech on the back. I think the glass on the back was purely an aesthetic choice.

Taking a tour around the phone. The bottom houses the USB Type-C charging port. There is no headphone jack, an omission many will not like but doesn’t bother me in the least. Along the right side, you have the fingerprint sensor and volume rocker. The fingerprint sensor was moved from the front to make way for a bigger screen.

Along the top are the microphones and SIM card tray. Now, we get to it, my biggest gripe about this phone. The power button is on the left side of the phone. When I asked Motorola about this design choice they didn’t have much to say. Only that they felt it was a good middle ground to keep everyone happy. They didn’t feel integrating the power button with fingerprint sensor would be good so they opted to for this design.

That said. I agree. I don’t think the fingerprint sensor and power button should be combined. But I did tell Motorola that the volume rocker on the left and power button on the right would have made more sense, for most.

Moto Z3 Play
The power button on the left, no bueno.

Around the back, you have the moto mod connectors, moto logo, and dual camera with flash. Yes, the camera bump is noticeable but not as bad as you would think. Though I am sure some will not like it at all. Finally, the front houses the 6.01″ display, camera, flash and speaker.

Overall, this is a really nice looking, feeling, well-designed smartphone. I do wish the power button was on the right. So be aware that you’ll be fumbling for that for the first week or two as you get used to that.


The 6.01″ Super AMOLED 1080×2160 18:9, 402ppi display is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and is truly impressive for a midrange phone. It’s just a little better than FHD 1080p and it’s absolutely beautiful. The AMOLED panel is 18:9 which isn’t always found in phones of this price and it’s a nice touch. The fact that Motorola opted for an FHD display instead of anything higher also helps with battery life.

Since this is an AMOLED display, the colors are punchy and vibrant. Brightness levels are great and it’s useable in bright sunlight but not perfect. Blacks are nice and whites are fine, nothing out of the ordinary for this price point.

Moto Z3 Play
A solid display on this phone.

Touch responsiveness is good. Scrolling felt fine with little to no noticeable lag. Every so often, things would stutter if I tried to scroll as soon as the app opened. Nothing that would make it a deal breaker, less than a second and everything is smooth. Of course, since this is an 18:9 aspect ratio, videos will have black bars on the left and right. Just pinch to zoom and you’ll be fine, though you will lose just a hair off the top and bottom then.

Overall, the display on the moto Z3 Play is excellent. It’s FHD, vibrant and punchy, and is responsive and performs well.


The moto X3 Play is running Android 8.1.0 and it’s basically pure stock. There are some minor tweaks with gestures that Motorola does but the interface is as close to stock Android as you’ll get without getting a Pixel.

Honestly, Motorola is one of the few Android OEM’s that are doing software right. The fact that they don’t really use a skin already gives them a leg up. The added software they do use is actually very useful.

Here’s a rundown of what the company has added:

  • Moto Actions
    • Screenshot Editor: Get shortcuts to edit and share your screenshots immediately after you capture them.
    • Three Finger Screenshot: Touch and hold the screen with three of your fingertips to capture a screenshot.
    • One Button Nav: This eliminates the software buttons onscreen and replaces it with a nav bar giving you a little more screen (my favorite feature).
    • Chop twice for flashlight: Turn the flashlight on and off with two chopping motions.
    • Twist for quick capture: Twist your wrist twice and quickly open the camera anytime.
    • Swipe to shrink screen: Swipe down to the left or right to make the screen smaller for one-handed use.
    • Pick up to stop ringing: Lift the phone to switch incoming calls to vibrate.
    • Flip for Do Not Disturb: Place the phone face down to silence notifications and calls.
  • Moto Display
    • Night Display: Changes your screen to a warmer tone in the evening hours to prepare your eyes for sleep.
    • Attentive Display: Keeps the screen on while you’re looking at it.
    • Moto Display: Friendly notifications fade in and out while the screen is off.

Now, none of these software features really impacts the Android experience and you can turn them all off if you wish. I found the One Button Nav to be the best of the bunch and if you’re switching from an iPhone X, this will feel somewhat familiar to you.

Overall,  the software experience is top notch. I dare say that Motorola is second to Google’s own phones in terms of a pure Android experience.

Moto Z3 Play
The best lighting conditions make the best photos.


The moto Z3 Play is rocking a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 with 4GB of RAM. No, this isn’t a flagship chipset but it’s a capable chipset. During my time with the Z3 Play, I found that it handled daily tasks with ease.

Gaming is pretty good on the Z3 Play as well. Even with the Snapdragon 636, I felt the phone handled games like Asphalt 8 fine. There were a few instances of a stutter or some drop frames but nothing the most average users would notice. Scrolling and gestures are all smooth here as well.

One of the key features of the moto Z3 Play and any Z series phone are moto mods. Amazon sent along their Alexa moto mod to test with the Z3 Play and it’s a nice addition to the Z3 Play. The Alexa mod is basically an external speaker, much like the JBL mod but has Alexa built in. It really enhances the sound as the loan speaker isn’t exactly spatial, more on that later.

Other mods include:

The only other moto mod I’ve tested is the moto Gamepad and that is fantastic. I’ve used mobile game controllers in the past but the moto Gamepad is seamless. Because there is no pairing or signals involved, you just slap the mods on the back and off you go.

Overall, the performance of the moto Z3 Play is enough for the average user. There’s really only a small difference in performance between this and a flagship for normal use.

Moto Z3 Play
Just a few of the mods available for the Z series.


The speaker on the moto Z3 Play is not too bad. There are no dual speakers but Motorola opted to put the speaker in the earpiece rather than the bottom of the phone. I think that was a great choice. While the sound isn’t stellar, it’s at least firing straight at you rather than to the side. It’s also nice because you’re not muffling the sound with your hand. Overall, the speaker is decent, not awesome but I do like the placement.


The moto Z3 Play rear cameras are 12MP and 5MP respectively. The front camera is 8MP. Like every other OEM Motorola has added a variety of features to their camera app. You can choose from portrait mode, cinemagraph, panorama, face filters and more. Video modes include slow motion, time-lapse, face filters, and YouTube Live.

The camera is good, no, it’s not a flagship iPhone X or Galaxy S9 quality but it holds its own. It does especially well in good lighting conditions. Photos are slightly oversaturated but most users like this look. Photos are somewhere in between the S9 and iPhone in terms of color and contrast.

Like many midrange phones, it’s night and low-light conditions where the camera doesn’t do the best. It’s not horrible by any means but you can see the noise in extreme low-light conditions and loss of quality in low-light. It’s a normal thing for cameras of this quality.

The other thing that is lacking here is OIS (optical image stabilization). The camera app seems to be snappy and responsive so I haven’t had many bad photos but it is something to be aware of. Even with video things don’t seem to be too shaky. Although I imagine if you’re running or moving fast, things could get shaky.

Moto Z3 Play
Not all shots are clear, some can get blurry. This is where OIS would have been nice.

Overall, the camera is a basic midrange offering. It does well in decent to great lighting, falls off a bit in low-lighting, and gets grainy in dark conditions. My one major gripe would be the lack of OIS.

Reception/Call Quality

Great reception and call quality here, no issues at all.

Battery Life

The moto Z3 Play comes with a 3,000mAh battery and this lasted me all day. By all day I mean from 5 am until 9 pm with at least 25% left in the tank. Motorola also includes a FREE mod in the box with the Z3. It’s an external battery that adds 2,000mAh to your phone. It also protects the phone from minor drops. Combined with the internal battery, that extra 2,000mAh hours will get you through two and a half days easily.

Overall, best in class battery life here.


The moto Z3 Play is priced at $499.99USD but the Amazon Prime Exclusive gets you in at $449.99USD. That’s really a fantastic deal considering you’re also getting the battery mod with this phone.

Wrap Up

Listen, there will always be some people that need flagship phones. But many average users don’t want to spend that much money. This is where the moto Z3 Play fits. It doesn’t have flagship specs but it can easily fill the needs of the average user. It does come with its problems though. The power button on the left is annoying. The camera isn’t the best but it’s good enough. But the price point is going to make this a must look for many buyers.

*We received a review unit of the moto Z3 Play Prime Exclusive for the purposes of this review.

Last Updated on December 25, 2018.


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