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Motorola's modular Moto Z Play phones are back for a third round. The Moto Z3 Play is another modular midrange phone in a line that debuted back in 2016 with the original Moto Z Play. The Moto Z2 Play debuted last year. 

Devices like the OnePlus 6 ($504 at Amazon) have raised the game for a $600-and-under device. And that's exactly where the Moto Z3 Play is playing. Motorola is selling the Z3 Play in an unlocked bundle this summer that starts at $499 (32GB), and is throwing in a magnetic snap-on battery pack, too. But, the OnePlus 6 is $529 (64GB), not far off that.

The Moto Z ($229 at Amazon) series has always come in two variations (or more): A step-up standard model and a more affordable version that used to offer better battery life (the Play version). This year Motorola has only showed us the Play version, which Motorola says is also the company's most successful.

Now playing: Watch this: The Moto Z3 Play throws in an extra battery for $499

Moto Z3 Play sale date

The Moto Z3 Play will sell this summer with Sprint and U.S. Cellular, but you can also buy the device unlocked for any carrier at Amazon (where it'll be a Prime Exclusive), Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, Fry's and B&H Photo.

Buy it in Canada from Videotron, Bell Canada, Virgin Mobile, MTS, and SaskTel for $499.

A 6-inch screen, no notch

The display's bigger this time around: A 6-inch (6.01-inch, technically) 18:9 2,160x1,080 Super AMOLED display. There's no suddenly trendy notch, but the display reduces the bezel, and Motorola's removed the bottom fingerprint sensor. It's on the side now, near the volume buttons.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Instead, there are new swipe gestures at the bottom of the screen reminiscent of the iPhone X, or Android P. This phone will get Android P later this year (for now it's Android Oreo 8.1), and when that happens, Motorola representatives say they'll reconsider what to do with Motorola's own custom gestures. Maybe they'll stay as a second option. Or maybe they won't be on the device at all.

Camera: Google Lens onboard, weirdo Cinemagraph mode

It wouldn't be the first time a Motorola software feature gets replaced by a Google one: The native camera now supports Google Lens for object recognition, visual search and text recognition, replacing Motorola's own in-house camera AI that still lives in the Moto G6. Motorola's discontinuing its in-house efforts on camera AI and will use Google Lens in future.

The cameras, front and rear, can do Portrait mode effects. Moto's newest camera trick is an odd one: Cinemagraph, which takes shareable motion gifs like Samsung, Apple, and others do... but it lets you paint out areas of motion and turn them still. The uncanny result feels like an animated clip from old Monty Python episodes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Same battery, mostly the same mods

The Z3 Play has the same 3,000-mAh battery as last year's Z2 Play, which scored a battery life of 23 hours in CNET's looping battery drain test in airplane mode. Hopefully the Z3 Play will last just as long.

Moto's thrown in a battery pack mod that adds an extra 2,220-mAh capacity just in case it doesn't. But why not include more in the phone? Size, probably: the Moto Z3 Play feels pretty slim.

The aluminum body and Gorilla Glass-covered front and back look sharp. Unfortunately, there's only splash-level water resistance rather than the full IP67 or IP68 water-resistant treatment that makes it OK if your phone falls into a full sink. A USB-C port and no standard headphone jack means you'll need to use a USB-C dongle.

What's going on with those Moto Mods?

Much like other Z models, a set of exposed pins on the back works with snap-on magnetic phone mods. There are 14 Moto Mods in existence now, and they all work with the Z3 Play. (So much for Motorola's promise to ship out at least 12 new Mods per year.)

A new Amazon Alexa mod acts like a smart speaker, and Motorola has its own stereo speaker mod. Moto Mods used to promise new ideas like projectors, snap-on zoom-lens cameras and game pads, but now it seems like the modular dream has completely settled into battery packs and speakers, which representatives from Motorola tell CNET are the most popular types of Mod accessories.

The whole Mod idea has got pretty boring, honestly. With no bold new phone-transforming inventions (and still no keyboard mod), Motorola's choosing to pack in a basic battery-pack mod instead. It's a nice extra, but the Moto Z3 Play has lost some of its unique identity.

Let's hope that long battery life, affordable pricing and likable Motorola take on Android see it through.

Moto Z3 Play specs versus OnePlus 6

Moto Z3 Play OnePlus 6
Display size, resolution 6.01-inch Super AMOLED; 2,160x1,080 pixels 6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 358ppi 402ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 3.01x6.16x0.37 inches 6.13x2.97x0.31 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 76.5x156.5x6.75 mm 155.7x75.4x7.75 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.5 oz; 156g 6.2 oz; 177 g
Mobile software Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera 12-megapixel, 5-megapixel 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K
Processor 1.8 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 32GB, 64GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB microSD None
Battery 3,000 mAh 3,300 mAh
Fingerprint sensor On the side Back of phone
Connector USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No Yes
Special features Compatibility for Moto Mods, extra battery pack Notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging
Price off-contract (USD) $499 (32GB) $529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £426 (32GB) £469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$655 (32GB) AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)