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Motorola Moto Z3 review: Is the promise of 5G enough?

The Motorola Moto Z3 brings the promise of 5G but fails to deliver an exciting smartphone on its own merits. This is the Moto Z3 review.

Published onAugust 16, 2018

Motorola Moto Z3

The Moto Z3 is the first 5G upgradeable smartphone to hit the market, but that's all it has going for it. Take away the 5G and it becomes the most unexciting smartphone of 2018. Unless you're willing to wait for the 5G Moto Mod in 2019 there are better alternatives.

What we like

Thin and sleek design
Fast fingerprint sensor
Vibrant display
Clean, stock-like Android software
Affordable price
5G upgradeable

What we don't like

Verizon exclusive
Poor low-light camera
Outdated specifications

Our scores


Motorola Moto Z3

The Moto Z3 is the first 5G upgradeable smartphone to hit the market, but that's all it has going for it. Take away the 5G and it becomes the most unexciting smartphone of 2018. Unless you're willing to wait for the 5G Moto Mod in 2019 there are better alternatives.

Update – April 4, 2019 – Motorola and Verizon have begun selling the 5G Moto Mod for the Moto Z3. Normally the accessory is priced $349.99 but Verizon is currently selling it for just $199.99. Verizon does require that customers have a Moto Z3 on their account before they will sell them the 5G Moto Mod. Verizon has also turned on its 5G network in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis, with more cities to be added in 2019.

The introduction of the original Motorola Moto Z in 2016, with its attachable Moto Mods, was exciting. It was new and refreshing, and having attachable parts to add more functionality to your smartphone was unheard of in the smartphone industry. We’re now on the third generation of the Z line with the Moto Z3 but Motorola seems have lost its momentum. Aside from its future promise of 5G speeds, the Moto Z3 does very little to make it a compelling product otherwise.

Read Next: Motorola Moto Z3 vs the competition

So is the Moto Z3 worth buying, and if so — who is the target audience? That’s what we aim to answer in this Moto Z3 review.


Moto Z3 rear design
The Z3 recycles the same glass sandwich design of the Z3 Play with identical dimensions and no headphone jack.

The Moto Z3’s design is identical to the recently released Moto Z3 Play. There used to be a clear distinction in design between the Play and non-Play versions of the Z line, but this is no longer the case. Aside from the Verizon stamp on the back of the Moto Z3 and the blue color of the Z3 Play, you won’t be able to tell the difference. The Z3 has the same glass sandwich design of the Z3 Play, with identical dimensions and no headphone jack.

Moto Z3 held from the side

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The design is sleek, comfortable to hold, and extremely thin. I’m a fan of the side mounted fingerprint sensor — it’s in a perfect position for your thumb if you use your smartphone in your right hand and very quick to unlock. For left-handed users, it won’t be quite as easy to use and is not in the best location for registering multiple fingerprints.


Moto Z3 display
The screen is a comfortable size for productivity and great for more casual activities like gaming and watching Netflix.

The Moto Z3’s 6-inch 18:9 AMOLED screen is also identical to the Z3 Play, which again isn’t a bad thing. It is surrounded by thin bezels, has vibrant color, and the FHD+ resolution keeps everything looking sharp. The screen is a comfortable size for productivity and great for more casual activities like gaming and watching Netflix. It’s bright enough to be visible in direct sunlight, and Motorola’s software includes a color mode for adjusting the temperature and saturation of the screen.


Moto Z3 resting in hands

The Moto Z3’s specs are a significant upgrade over the Z3 Play, though it ships with last year’s flagship Snapdragon 835 processor instead of the 845 we’ve seen in most 2018 flagships. This doesn’t ruin the experience by any means. The 835 is still an extremely fast processor and the 4GB of RAM is more than plenty.

The Moto Z3 ran smoothly, handling any task I threw at it. It performs well with normal everyday tasks such as reading emails and social media and can handle the most graphically demanding games from the Google Play Store. I would have loved to see how Fortnite runs on the Moto Z3 for this review but it isn’t on Epic’s compatibility list for now.

Moto Z3 USB Type-C port
I didn't expect much from the 3,000 mAh battery but it definitely lives up to Motorola's claim of all-day battery life.

Battery life on the Z3 was surprisingly just as impressive. I didn’t expect much from the 3,000mAh battery but it definitely lives up to Motorola’s claim of all-day battery life. I was able to consistently achieve more than five hours of screen-on time. I usually ended the day with 20 percent battery left in the tank. My usage varied from day to day, but a typical day for me included some light gaming, watching YouTube, reading emails, and the typical social media. Standby time was also excellent with the Z3 ranging anywhere between 16 to 20 hours off the charger.


Moto Z3 trying on different moto mods
Although the excitement for the Moto Mods has waned, Motorola is still leveraging it as a reason you'll want to buy the Moto Z3.
Moto Z3's Mod reveals the problem with 5G

The main reason anyone should buy a Moto Z smartphone is for the Moto Mods — it’s a big part of why these smartphones exist. Although the excitement for the Moto Mods has waned, Motorola is still banking on it being a reason to want the Moto Z3. The latest addition to the Moto Mod lineup is the 5G Moto Mod, which will enable 5G data speeds and presumably make the Z3 a better smartphone. It won’t be available until early 2019, but if you want to be one of the first to hop on a 5G network when it goes live, the Moto Z3 will be the phone to do it with. The 5G Moto Mod will initially only work on Verizon’s network and the Moto Z3, but the possibility of it working on other networks and prior Motorola devices are not out of the question.


Moto Z3 back camera

The Moto Z3 comes with dual 12-megapixel cameras on the rear. The primary 12-megapixel shooter features f/2.0 aperture and laser autofocus. The secondary sensor is of the monochrome variety for true black and white photos, better details when capturing stills, and portrait mode photography. An 8-megapixel camera is on the front for selfies. It’s also capable of software-based portrait photos. The camera experience is identical to the Z3 Play, with the same features, like Cinemagraphs for capturing animated stills and Google Lens integrated in the Motorola camera app.

Moto Z3 camera

Overall, I was happy with the quality of the images from the Moto Z3’s camera. It performs well in good lighting or bright outdoor situations. Images are sharp, detailed, and colorful. It worked perfectly for taking pictures of everything from close-ups of food to wide outdoor landscapes. Dynamic range was good enough that I rarely ran into situations where highlights were overblown or shadows were too dark.

The camera faltered in low light, which isn’t surprising given its lack of OIS. Once the sun starts to set or you walk into a dimly lit bar, the quality diminishes very quickly. Images become very soft and muddy, and the colors are washed out. Depending on the subject, the camera has a much harder time grabbing focus in dark scenarios. In most situations, the camera produces more than adequate results but don’t expect much from it at night.

Note: The camera samples in this review are resized. You can check out the full gallery of Moto Z3 camera samples at this Google Drive link, or see a preview of the camera samples in the gallery below.

Motorola Moto Z3 camera samples


Moto Z3 software
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motorola moto g6 and moto g6 play review software display

The Moto Z3 offers the standard Motorola software experience, running Android 8.1 Oreo with the usual suite of Motorola additions, such as the wrist twist to launch the camera, Moto Display, and the double chop action to turn on the flash. You can also use iPhone X/Android Pie-like navigation gestures in lieu of the default navigation keys. Otherwise, the experience is about as close to stock Android as you can get without using a Pixel.

Despite Motorola’s clean and intuitive software, being a Verizon exclusive means it’s mucked up by a ton of bloatware. In addition to the entire catalog of apps Verizon continually likes to shove in consumers’ faces, there is an excess of third-party applications such as Slotomania, Final Fantasy XV, Bank of America, eBay, WeatherBug, and FanDom. You can uninstall these apps to free up storage and clean up the software, but it’s an unnecessary hassle.

Motorola also recently announced that the Moto Z3 is on the Android 9.0 Pie update list. The company says it’ll start rolling out the update this fall, so it shouldn’t be long until the Z3 is running the latest version of Android.


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

Moto Z3 pricing & final thoughts

Compared to other 2018 flagships, the Moto Z3 is relatively cheap. It’s $480 outright from Verizon — oddly cheaper than the more mid-range Z3 Play — but the cheaper price means you don’t get a Moto Mod bundled in the box. If you’re on Verizon, the Moto Z3 is a great deal for the price. It’s a good smartphone with no major faults, it just isn’t exciting.

The exciting part comes later down the road when 5G speeds become available. Like a fine wine, the Moto Z3 will only get better with time. However, that is still many months away. I don’t imagine many people will want to invest in a phone with dated specifications for the promise of future technology.

So that’s it for our Moto Z3 review. What do you think of Moto’s latest? Let us know in the comments.

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