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Motorola Moto Z3 review: Solid, midprice phone with a bright 5G tomorrow

Motorola’s Moto Z3 is reliable, but has little to do while waiting for 2019’s Verizon 5G networks to light up.

Jessica Dolcourt
Jessica Dolcourt Editorial Director / CNET Franchises, How-To, Performance Optimization
Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Franchises, How-To and Performance Optimization teams. Her career with CNET began in 2006, and spans reviews, reporting, analysis and commentary for desktop software; mobile software, including the very first Android and iPhone apps and operating systems; and mobile hardware, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of practical advice on expansive topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
3 min read

Editor's Note: In June 2019, Motorola released the Moto Z4 an update to the Moto Z3. Check out CNET's in-depth review of the Motorola Moto Z4. We spent weeks testing the phone and found things we really enjoyed like the battery and stuff we didn't like the design and camera performance.


Motorola Moto Z3

The Good

The Moto Z3 is a reliable midranger with magnetic Mod attachments. One mod will make it compatible with upcoming 5G networks for faster data speeds.

The Bad

You can only buy it at Verizon. The 5G Mod won't go on sale for months and we don't know how much it will cost.

The Bottom Line

Buy Motorola's Moto Z3 if you're looking for a well-priced Android phone on Verizon today, not for the promised 5G upgrade module.

The Moto Z3 is living on a prayer. A Verizon exclusive billed as the first phone to be upgradable to 5G speeds, the Moto Z3 does not actually have 5G capability built-in. For that, it needs the attachment known as the 5G Moto Mod, which is currently in prototype form and won't go on sale until early 2019.

That makes sense, because there also won't be any actual 5G wireless networks for the mod to tap into until next year, when carriers like Verizon are expected to spin up their first 5G networks in the United States. Even when the buds of 5G coverage do begin to bloom, it'll happen one market at a time, with 4G LTE speeds carrying on as usual while the roll-out slowly continues.

The Moto Z3's simple looks will win you over

See all photos

So if 5G's 10x faster speeds won't become reality for at least another five months, where does that leave the Moto Z3 today?

In a pretty good place, actually. The Moto Z3 is not worth buying solely for its 5G upgrade promise, but it does make sense for a Verizon customer in search of a solid, midrange device. It sells for $480, which works out to $20 per month on a two-year payment plan.

Read: Why the Moto Z3 has a 5G Mod instead of 5G inside

The Moto Z3 is good and reliable but not remarkable when stripped of its mods. You get a great, 6-inch screen, fast fingerprint reader on the right side, and a pretty fast processor, even if it is last year's Snapdragon 835 instead of this year's Snapdragon 845. The 12-megapixel dual cameras take respectable photos in a variety of lighting scenarios, including portrait shots, selfies and convincing black-and-white pictures using a newly introduced monochrome lens.

The Z3 is splashproof but not fully water-resistant. It lacks a headphone jack but does throw in a 3.5mm jack-to-USB-C dongle. You'll have a decent amount of built-in storage (64GB) and enough RAM for daily needs.  Motorola  has also given the Moto Z3 a strong 3,000mAh battery that lasted nearly 14.5 hours in CNET's looping video drain test.


The Moto Z3's monochrome lens makes for convincing black-and-white pictures.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

You'll also find software features that are consistent across most Moto phones, including gesture navigation that I like more than Google's take with Android P.

Since the Moto Z3 will only sell through Verizon for the foreseeable future (Motorola still hasn't confirmed if it will sell the phone unlocked on its website, or outside the US), it makes some buying decisions easy. 

Get the Moto Z3 if you want a solid device for nearly half the price of an iPhone or Galaxy S9 Plus (I do recommend picking up at least a backing module; it feels a little unfinished without one). Look to the Moto Z3 Play (unlocked) if battery life is your chief concern. And buy the unlocked OnePlus 6 if you're considering a switch to T-Mobile or AT&T and still want to keep costs in check.

Look, if the Moto Z3 really does wind up being the only 5G-ready phone in 2019, Verizon's reasonable price makes it an affordable option for data-hungry buyers with a need for speed to pick up as a potential second device when the 5G future becomes now. It's very likely that Verizon will heavily promote the Moto Z3 and its 5G Mod once 5G does switch on, which means more deals and bundles are sure to come.

And remember that access to 5G won't come cheap -- carriers will need to recoup on their investment into building up their new networks, and that means higher prices for 5G plans.

We also don't know how much the 5G Mod will cost. My guess is that you'll pay a premium for access one way or another, which would explain why the phone's price is so much lower than last year's Moto Z2 Force , which sold for between $730 and $810, depending on the carrier.

This review originally posted on August 13, 2018. 


Motorola Moto Z3

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Camera 8Battery 9
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