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

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MSRP: $480.00

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.

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7.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 9

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.

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.

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.