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Motorola Moto Z3 hands-on: Our first glimpse at the 5G future

The Moto Z3 is the latest flagship from the Lenovo-owned Motorola. So what does the Z3 bring to the table? Let's take a look.

Published onAugust 2, 2018

Some people might take a look at the Moto Z3’s spec sheet and think it’s dead on arrival. A Snapdragon 835? Isn’t this Motorola’s Pixel 2 and Galaxy S9 competitor?

Yes and no.

It is Motorola’s top-tier flagship phone of 2018, so it will be expected to go head to head with the other Android flagships on the market. But the Moto Z3 has a big trick up its sleeve: the promise of being the very first 5G-capable phone. Coupled with Motorola’s new 5G Moto Mod, the Moto Z3 will be able to run on Verizon’s 5G network when it’s rolled out sometime in 2019.

What is 5G, and what can we expect from it?
Red 5G logo

“Sometime in 2019” is important to remember, here. If you decide to purchase the Moto Z3 on August 16 — when it goes on sale exclusively at Verizon — you’ll have to wait to experience all that 5G goodness. The 5G Moto Mod isn’t arriving in the U.S. until early 2019, and we still don’t know how much Motorola will charge for it. Plus, when it comes to market, it’ll only work with Verizon’s network at first. Motorola tells us it will eventually be able to work with other carriers’ networks.

The 5G Moto Mod itself works just like any other Moto Mod — it’s a modular accessory that snaps onto the back of the Z3, and you can take it off whenever you’d like. The Mod has an extra 2,000mAh battery inside to help with the inevitable battery drain from connecting to the high-speed network, too. It makes the phone pretty bulky, and there’s a little antenna that sticks up above the top-right edge of the phone.

Moto Z3 design and specs: What’s new?

Not a whole lot.

The front of the Moto Z3.

The Moto Z3 isn’t so much a followup to the Moto Z2 Force. It doesn’t have that super scratchable plastic display, it doesn’t have the fastest processor on the market, and it doesn’t have an insanely high price tag, either. Think of the Moto Z3 as a higher-end Moto Z3 Play — Motorola’s early 2018 mid-range phone.

It’s essentially the same design — it’s thin, glass, and feels like a high-end phone. It has a big 6.01-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display, the same dual-camera setup as the Z2 Force, 4GB of RAM like the Z3 Play, and a 3,000mAh battery, just like the Z3 Play. The biggest difference under the hood is the Snapdragon 835 chipset — the same SoC that’s found in the Pixel 2, Galaxy S8, and Moto Z2 Force. It’s not a slow processor by any stretch of the imagination (my Pixel 2 still works wonderfully), but it isn’t the fastest, and will surely disappoint customers who were looking forward to a Moto phone with the new Snapdragon 845.

The fingerprint sensor is mounted on the side, just like with Play edition, and the front of the device features the Motorola logo on the chin where fingerprint sensor or home button used to be. Really, the Moto Z3 and Moto Z3 Play are the same phones as far as appearances go.

The Motorola Moto Z3 is a smartphone with a 2018 design filled with 2017 specs.

For a full rundown of the specs, take a look at the official Moto Z3 specs table below:

Motorola Moto Z3
6.01-inch Super AMOLED
2,160 x 1,080 resolution
18:9 aspect ratio
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
79 percent screen-to-body ratio
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
2.35GHz, octa-core
Adreno 540
MicroSD up to 2TB
Rear cameras
12MP main sensor with f/2.0 aperture, 1.25μm pixels
Phase-detect and laser autofocus, dual-LED flash

Front camera
8MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture, 1.12μm pixels
Front-facing speaker
USB Type-C
No 3.5mm jack
USB-C to 3.5mm adapter included
3,000mAh battery
15W TurboCharger
USB Type-C
IP rating
Splash-resistant p2i
No IP rating
Video Capture
720p (120fps), 1080p, 4K (30fps)
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
Face unlock
Android 8.1 Oreo
Dimensions and weight
76.5 x 156.5 x 6.75mm

Pricing, availability, and final thoughts

The Moto Z3 with its 5G mod is the only phone out with 5G capabilities right now.

The best part? Motorola isn’t charging an arm and a leg for this phone.

It’ll be available exclusively on Verizon’s network in the U.S. on August 16, where it will go on sale for $480 full retail or $20 per month with 24 months of payments. That’s actually a fair price for everything you’re getting here — a speedy phone, a high-end design, and decent cameras.

However, it’s hard to be excited about the price when we don’t know how much the 5G Moto Mod will cost. If the new Mod is only a $50 add-on, that might be a great value. If Moto plans on charging over $200 for it, that brings the Z3 right up into Pixel 2 and Galaxy S9 territory — not a great look for a phone with older specs and Verizon exclusivity.

Next: Motorola Moto G6 and Moto G6 Play review

We’ll be sure to tell you even more in our full review, which is coming soon. For now, I really want to know your thoughts on this phone — does the promise of 5G have you interested in the Moto Z3, or are you passing on this one?

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