The Motorola Z3 is the first phone to officially offer support for Verizon’s forthcoming 5G network. Announced at an event in Chicago in early August, it’s exclusive to Verizon and is compatible with the growing roster of Motorola MotoMods. In fact, it’s a MotoMod that we get to thank for the 5G capabilities.

As the standard bearer in the Z line of Motorola phones, this is what you would expect from the handset maker at the flagship level.

While we’re more than excited for something new out of the OEM, we couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed and anxious with the overall package. Not the phone, but the impending 5G stuff.

In short, the Moto Z3 is not all that unlike its predecessors, the Z2 models. Specifications are nearly identical across the board. In fact, if you were to visit Verizon today, you might find it rather difficult to choose between the new model and the current offering of Moto Z2 Force Edition and Moto Z2 Play.

General Details

Powered by Android 8.1 Oreo, the Moto Z3 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB RAM. And, while this is the same as what came in the last iteration, it’s still enough to get the job done for most users in the middle of 2018.

Yes, we’re seeing phones with 6GB and 8GB RAM now. Yes, we’re seeing more capable and processors. On the flip side, we’re also seeing handsets that push into the $ 800 realm.

If you want the latest and greatest, this ain’t it. You probably know that, though, if you’re buying a new smartphone. If you’re the type who likes to keep pace with the industry, you already had your eye on another phone.

The Motorola situation is an interesting one to be sure. On one hand we have a phone that’s plenty strong enough for the masses. And, a few years ago, it seemed Motorola would have made this sort of device more readily available. This one is exclusive to Verizon, though, so it plays by a different set of rules.

Where Motorola tends to shine is in the middle of the pack. The company hasn’t sought out the high end of the market in some time and the Droid brand is long gone. It seemingly doesn’t seem to care about competing with the annual flagships. Moreover, its release schedule is scattershot and somewhat random.

Given that Motorola doesn’t really offer its main family of phones through the major carriers, it’s a case of buying direct. That often means a more educated or savvy consumer who looks beyond what their cellular provider sells. At the same time, this type of buyer tends to seek out a more robust phone.

In markets outside of the United States business is excellent for Motorola. It’s seeing tremendous sales for its E and G family of phones. And, though it does sprinkle some of these models across smaller or prepaid carriers.

Unfortunately, we do not get a phone that takes on the likes of Samsung, LG, or Google in the area of “flagship” models. Further, we don’t even get a phone like this that’s offered across the top four wireless providers. You can’t get a Moto Z, or a variant, from the big name carriers. Verizon has that locked down.

Why do we say all of this, or add it to our review of the phone? To illustrate a point. That point being this is not the situation we wanted Motorola to be in for the second half of 2018.

Design

We like the feel of the Z phones and the Moto Z3 is no exception. The phones don’t change all that much from year to year, and we’re okay with that. The handset feels slim and durable, and there’s something refreshing about the harder lines and angles. Curves are great and all, but we are cool with the design choices which call to mind more of a platter or slice..

This design calls to mind the Razr of the early 2000’s and certainly looks like a descendant of the wildly popular flip phone. It’s thin, dense, and has just the right amount of angles.

If you’ve already invested in the ModoMod ecosystem, this is among your only choices for 2018. The only other option is to go with the Z3 Play and pick up the phone though Motorola. To be fair, that might be a better all around option, especially if you may hop carriers in the near future. But, if you’re down with Verizon for the foreseeable future, then consider this one for a selection from the middle of the pack.

It does take some time getting familiar with the physical layout of the Moto Z3 as the fingerprint reader is located on the side. Once you’re accustomed to it the experience is great. Your thumb or finger finds the indentation easily and it’s in a comfortable spot. It just takes time to adapt from a rear reader or front-facing one under the display. Looking ahead, this would be a good, albeit small, way for Motorola to differentiate itself from other phone makers.

The Z3 is fun to look at, especially up close. We’ve always found it enjoyable to catch the light on the camera or inspect the MotoMod conductors. The 2.5D glass has just the right amount of curve along the edge; the polished aluminum feels sturdy and strong.

At 6.01-inches there’s a lot of real estate to work with. It makes watching video and looking at pictures a pleasure and who doesn’t appreciate not having to squint at text? The 18:9 aspect ratio is new for the 2018 models and we like its presence.

Does this big screen translate to an unwieldy phone that needs to hands to operate? Happily, no. While we might not get our thumb all the way over to the other side, we can browse the web and social media quite easily with just one hand.

With a 2160 x 1080 pixel resolution the Z3 should also handle your VR without problem. We didn’t use it in our DayDream VR but suspect it looks, and responds, as well as anything else on the market.

WIth no 3.5mm headphone jack present, we instead rely on the USB-C to 3.5mm converter that comes in the box. It’s somewhat awkward, yes, but at least we’re not forced to buy it separately or treated as if Bluetooth is the only way to go.

The volume buttons are found to the right side of the display and sit just above the fingerprint reader. On the opposite side is where you locate the knurled power button. It’s very easy to find it in the dark.

Although the phone doesn’t have full waterproof and dust-proof protection, it’s resistant to water. It won’t withstand being at the bottom of your glass of water for a few minutes but we understand it can handle rain, sweat, and life’s other wet accidents.

Camera

The camera software, and its features, is fairly robust. Employing two sensors on the rear, you have a lot of tools to play around with and explore. It’s a fairly intuitive stuff that doesn’t hide behind too many taps or menus and offers just about all of the modes you might expect to find.

Why two cameras? One captures your standard images while the other, monochrome sensor is what helps add even more detail and clarity. Moreover, it’s what helps to adjust depth-of-field and focus prior to capturing a shot.

Click here for a growing library of images taken with the Moto Z3

As for results, we found the two cameras complement each other well, giving users good control over depth. If you’re looking for nice portrait shots with blurred backgrounds, crisp black and white pictures, or manual control over ISO, shutter speed, and white balance, it’s here.

Results may vary for some of the more unique features like spot color or cutout mode. Our suggestion is to play around with these for some time and feel out the boundaries before you get into a situation where you come away with undesirable shots or finished products.

We found the Z3 takes very sharp pictures with good contrast, exposure, and white balance. Considering the overall price, the majority of images we captured would be considered good or great. The HDR setting deliver excellent levels of contrast and doesn’t have any lag when capturing.

Software

Fortunately, we knew what we were getting into with the Z3. Motorola does a fantastic job of keeping things light and lively, often leaving the operating system almost untouched. The gestures and additions are sparse, but often helpful. This helps to keep updates timely, something we definitely appreciate.

The Z3 is almost exactly the same software experience that we’ve come to know and love. To be clear, there are a couple of apps loaded here as Verizon can’t seem to help itself. Generally speaking, there shouldn’t be anything here that slows the update process. At least on Motorola’s side of things, that is.

As for what you will find installed on the Z3, our review unit came with Facebook, Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, Hum (Verizon), Message + (Verizon), SlotoMania, SmartNews, Security & Privacy (Verizon), Verizon Caller ID, and Verizon Cloud.

The standard fare of Google titles are here, of course, and there’s just a smidge of Motorola found. Everything else is pretty much the same Google experience that you might get from a Pixel phone.

You can use your digital assistant of choice with the Moto Z3. We tend to prefer Google Assistant because of its overarching presence and increasing smarts; you can add a MotoMod to access Amazon’s Alexa if you like.

Motorola does have its own tool, Moto Voice, loaded onto the phone, but it’s currently in beta. Our time with it was nothing spectacular and we feel like we might need more experience before we can understand its limitations.

It might be fun to play with on the side as you go about learning it, but you’re locking yourself into Motorola’s ecosystem. Not that Samsung doesn’t do the same with its Bixby; also, we just prefer the omnipresent and reliable stuff from Google.

Having used multiple Motorola phones over the last few years we intuitively knew what gestures would work here. A quick double twist of the wrist brings up the camera, for instance. Other options include doing a “chopping” motion with the phone to turn on the flashlight, three fingers on the display to perform a screen capture, and lifting the phone to unlock by glancing at it (Face Unlock).

The Moto app is a great place to go in and customize the user experience. It’s here where you can not only fine tune the gestures and actions, but also set up Moto Voice and how your display works in various conditions. Moreover, there’s also a few tools to help manage storage and power.

But… 5G

The 5G MotoMod isn’t here yet; that’s a different topic altogether. We love that the Moto Z3 is ready to handle Verizon’s network in the coming year(s). We also appreciate the fact it works with all of the other MotoMods.

If you’ve previously purchased a phone equipped with MotoMod support, and really care about the 5G network, this is the best, if only, option available.

Given that you probably won’t see the 5G network in your neck of the woods for some time, it’s hard to really push this phone on someone using that selling point. Were Verizon’s 5G already built out, and you found those speeds and features important, then it’s a no-brainer.

We suspect that more devices will include 5G support internally sometime in the next year. The early 2019 flagship announcements will likely offer 5G radios.

At this stage it’s hard to say what Motorola will command for the 5G MotoMod. That’s a cost in and of itself, and you need to consider that when thinking of the overall package.

Performance

The Moto Z3 performed admirably in our time with it. As of the publication of this article we had roughly ten days with the device. It’s enough to form a pretty good opinion to be sure, but it’s hardly a chance to provide an exhaustive look at it. To be sure, it’s usually a few months before we know how much we love or hate something, especially when it’s got custom touches.

The camera juts out from the back of the phone in a rather pronounced manner. Without a MotoMod or case on it the phone feels, to us, like it’s asking to have the camera scratched. It’s only been around ten days but we’ve yet to actually scratch it, though. Something in us tells us we will want to protect the back sooner rather than later.

The 3,000mAh gives us solid day or so of usage out of it; admittedly, we don’t have our full daily driver set of apps and games loaded. Moreover, we’ve developed a habit over the last decade which sees us charging our phones a couple of times throughout the day. Our philosophy has always been “charge when you can, not when you need.”

The TurboCharger tops the battery off really fast, giving us more than enough to power through the rest of a day in just 15-30 minutes. Throw it on the charger on your drive home and you’ll find the Moto Z3 will stay awake longer than you at night.

Conclusion

Fortunately, the Z3 doesn’t command a hefty price tag. There’s just enough new here to qualify as an update to an existing phone, and the cost is commensurate.

This is a great “every man” phone. Period. It will definitely fit the needs of most of the people you know. Sure, you might know a few guys who want more, but this largely handles the duties for all.

This isn’t much of a step forward from last year’s model so it’s hard to really recommend it as a direct annual upgrade. But, if you have the first generation of Moto Z, this is a decent leap.

The problem we have with this package is that it‘s offered at a specific carrier, with a selling point that’s for a specific user living in specific markets. In other words, that’s a very niche buyer. If we’re speaking to that person, then we have zero reservations about buying the Moto Z3.

It’s really easy to fall in love with this phone. The problem, though, is it’s like dating someone with baggage. In this case, it’s the Verizon influence we can’t get beyond. Consider this one without the MotoMod if you can. In other words, buy the phone but don’t buy the 5G gimmick. Not this year or next.

On its own, the phone is excellent and worthy of the price tag. Look deeper at what Motorola and Verizon are asking of you and it becomes a gamble. We don’t know how much the MotoMod will cost. We don’t know what sort of rates Verizon will charge for the 5G. And, most of all, there’s likely going to be another year or longer before it is available across the country.

In that time we suspect Motorola introduces a Z4 or something along those lines with 5G baked into the phone. We’re willing to bet that all the big phones of 2019 come equipped with it and that’s no longer a “selling point” for consumers. At that point, all of the promise and next-gen network hype is for naught.

Availability

You can pre-reigster for the Moto Z3 from Motorola today with more information to follow.When released it will carry a price tag of $ 480 through Verizon. Spread out over two years, the cost shakes out to $ 20 per month. The phone reaches general availability through on August 16.

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