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Motorola Moto Z3 Play review: The free battery pack is the best thing about this phone

Moto can't fight the OnePlus 6 without slashing this phone's price.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Franchises, How-To, Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads CNET Franchises, How-To, and Performance. With over 15 years in journalism, her experience includes mobile phone and software reporting and reviews, and delivering advice on expansive topics ranging from personal finance to travel and home. Jessica got her start at Download.com and holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).

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5 min read

Last year's Moto Z2 Play was a genuinely likable phone with terrific battery life. It felt like a really good deal. I'm sorry I can't say the same about this year's Moto Z3 Play, which seems to have lost some of its charm -- and definitely its headphone jack -- despite having some decidedly useful features.

Moto Z3 Play
7.2

Motorola Moto Z3 Play

The Good

The Moto Z3 Play comes with an extra battery pack that gives it two-day battery life. Its take on Android 8.0 Oreo is a pleasure to use, and the fingerprint sensor on the phone's right side is easy to reach.

The Bad

It's not water-resistant, and there's no headphone jack. It looks outdated with the mod on and costs about the same as faster phones with better specs.

The Bottom Line

The Moto Z3 Play's two-day battery life is great, but at its current price, it can't compete with the OnePlus 6.

I still like the Z3 Play as a midprice phone. It does the job, but without a whole lot of personality. The promise of Moto Mods, those magnetic add-ons that are designed to enhance and customize your phone experience, has dramatically dimmed. The majority of Mods are now battery packs and cases.

Still, the external battery Mod that comes in the Z3 Play's box significantly extends the phone's life. This is one of the top reasons to get the Z3 Play, even if it doesn't feel great in the hand and leaves you wondering why the phone doesn't just have a larger battery to begin with.

The Moto Z3 Play looks a little naked without its Mods

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And at its current cost, the Moto Z3 Play doesn't stand a chance against the much faster, much more streamlined OnePlus 6, or even last year's LG G6. But it does have a more congenial take on the Android operating system, so don't completely discount it yet. If the cost drops well below that of the OnePlus 6, the Z3 Play's value would instantly become much more appealing.

See pricing and a full specs comparison below.

Moto Z3 Play price and where to buy it

The Z3 Play costs $499 at full retail price, which includes a 2,220 mAh Moto Mod battery in the box. Amazon Prime Members in the US can snag the Moto Z3 Play for $450. The Z3 Play sells for £372 and AU$655 in the UK and Australia, respectively.

You can buy the Z3 Play at Sprint and US Cellular, or unlocked for any carrier at Amazon (the Prime Exclusive program), Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Fry's and B&H Photo.

What's good about the Moto Z3 Play

Extra battery life: When you snap on the 2,220mAh Moto Mod battery add-on that comes in the box, the phone will easily last you through two days of mixed use. You can set the pack to keep the phone at either a constant 80 percent or 100 percent charge. Go for 80 percent -- it'll last longer.

Moto Z3 Play

The fingerprint reader is accurate and easy to use.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fingerprint reader on the phone's right edge: The unlock button that seems tailor-made for your right thumb looks like a power button, but isn't. At first, I felt like I was lunging to unlock the phone, but it didn't take long for the movement to become completely natural. I like that the unlock target is within your line of sight, and you don't have to fumble on the back to find the reader.

One button navigation, without the button: A now-standard Moto feature, this opt-in setting will convert Android's three onscreen navigation buttons into a single slider you can use to go Home, go Back, and call up your Recent tabs and Google Assistant. It's a lot like Android P but smoother, and it worked very well.

Split-screen mode: Another Motorola software feature that's not exclusive to the Z3 Play, you can open two apps in the screen at once. Samsung phones have this too, and I've come to really appreciate being able to copy information from one screen, then paste it into another.

Motorola's take on Android: I've always liked Motorola's operating system that rides on top of Android -- in this case, Android 8.0 Oreo. It looks good and makes sense, from the big clock widget on the home screen (tap it to get to the clock app) to the circular peek-a-boo icons in a home screen folder.

Z3 Play's design is a little lacking

The Z3 Play has the same general look and feel as Motorola's other modular phones. It's a slim, straight slab of a handset with two neat rows of magnetic pogo pins on the back. But stripped of a Moto Mod, the phone feels unfinished and somehow gangly. But with the black, rubberized battery mod latched on, it feels bulky, cheap and outdated. It's only splash-proof and not fully water-resistant.

It's a shame Motorola stripped out the headset jack from last year's Z2 Play. Now you'll have to buy a dongle if you want to use your own wired headphones.

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An example of the Moto Z3 Play's portrait mode.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The dual rear camera is perfectly usable

The Z3 Play' dual 12-megapixel, 5-megapixel camera setup takes pictures like a midrange phone. Photos are absolutely usable for social media and sharing, but without a manual mode or raw support, this is definitely not a photographer's phone. And that's fair; it's not meant to be. 

Colors and white balance are a bit off, and there's a naturally shallow depth of field, which means that images blur around the edges. This is something you want when you're taking a portrait shot, but not when you're taking a photo of flowering ice plants on a coastal hike. Focus seems a little weak, too.

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This Moto Z3 Play photo, at right, shows greater low-light contrast than the Galaxy S9, left.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

There's good contrast on low-light shots, but the Z3 Play won't brighten an especially dark scene the way a premium phone would, so you'll need to make sure there's still some light around. Selfies taken using the 8-megapixel front-facing camera don't automatically kick in beauty mode, but you can turn it on (or use automatic enhancement) if these shots present a little too much reality.

Battery life gets a boost, speed's on par

Without Motorola's battery Mod, the Z3 Play's 3,000mAh battery averaged about 16 hours in CNET's looping video drain test. That's a little less than last year's Z2 Play.  In real life, the phone will easily run a whole day. Add the Mod back on and you're looking at two days of life left. The Mod doesn't charge on its own, so when you top up the Z3 Play, you're also feeding the Mod.

Navigation and processing speeds were completely on par with my expectations for a midrange phone, both through benchmarks tests and real-world observation. While you can certainly play casual games with the Z3 Play's 1.8 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, it falls far below the graphical rendering prowess of the OnePlus 6's Snapdragon 845 chipset. Just keep your expectations in check.

Moto Z3 Play specs vs. OnePlus 6, Honor View 10, LG G6*


Motorola Moto Z3 PlayOnePlus 6Huawei Honor View 10LG G6
Display size, resolution 6-inch Super AMOLED; 2,160x1,080 pixels6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels6-inch; 2,160x1,080 pixels5.7-inch, 2,880x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 358 ppi402 ppi403 ppi565 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 3.01x6.16x0.37 in.6.13x2.97x0.31 in.6.18x2.95x0.28 in.5.86x2.83x0.31 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 76.5x156.5x6.75 mm155.7x75.4x7.75 mm157x75x7 mm148.9x71.97.x7.9 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 5.5 oz; 156g6.2 oz; 177g6.1 oz; 172g5.7 oz; 162g
Mobile software Android 8.1 OreoAndroid 8.1 OreoAndroid 8.0 OreoAndroid 7.0 Nougat
Camera 12-megapixel, 5-megapixel16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto20-megapixel, 16-megapixel13-megapixel, 13-megapixel wide
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel16-megapixel13-megapixel5-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor 1.8 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845Kirin 970 processor2.35GHz Snapdragon 821 with Adreno 530 GPU
Storage 32GB, 64GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
32GB
RAM 4GB6GB, 8GB6GB4GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB microSDNone256GBUp to 2TB
Battery 3,000 mAh3,300 mAh3,730 mAh3,300 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Right sideBack of phoneBelow screenBack cover
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack NoYesYesYes
Special features Compatibility for Moto Mods, extra battery pack, splash-proofPortrait mode, notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash ChargingN/A18:9 screen ratio, wireless charging, IP68
Price off-contract (USD) $499 (64GB) $529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)$499AT&T: $720, Sprint: $708, T-Mobile: $650, Verizon: $672, U.S. Cellular: $597.60
Price (GBP) £372 (64GB) £469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)£449£649
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$675AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)Converts to AU$677AU$1,008

*This chart represents each phone's initial retail price. Check for local promotions and savings.

Moto Z3 Play
7.2

Motorola Moto Z3 Play

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Camera 7Battery 9
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