There's two new Moto Z handsets for 2018: the Z3 and Z3 Play. The former is a US exclusive, in essence replacing the Z2 Force, while the latter updates the Z2 Play.
For this new generation there's no Force edition to be found, however, so how do the new Moto Mods-featured handsets fit in? For starters there'll be a 5G Moto Mod coming in 2018 (a Verizon and US exclusive), seeing Motorola as the first to strike in the consumer 5G market.
- All models: Moto Mods compatible, 156.2 x 76.2mm footprint
- Moto Z3: 6.75mm; Z3 Play: 6.7mm; Z2 Play: 6mm; Z2 Force: 6.1mm
- Moto Z3 & Z3 Play: glass rear; Z2 Play & Force: metal rear
- Moto Z3 & Z3 Play: Side-positioned fingerprint scanner; Z2 Play & Force: front positioned
- All models: Splash and dust resistant
As all Z series phones are Moto Mods compatible, the footprint of each is one and the same. The thickness of each device varies slightly, with the newer Z3 models marginally thicker than either of the Z2 models. You won't notice by eye or hand, though, and we suspect it's the new glass finish that adds around 0.5mm to the width.
The Z3 Play comes as a Power Edition in Europe, which means there's a 2,000mAh battery Mod included in the box. It's the only Z series phone to date to come pre-packaged with such a bonus benefit. Of course you can buy as many other Mods as you please.
The Z3, however, is a Verizon exclusive set for US-only launch at present. So it's only the Play you'll be able to buy in other territories for now.
One key difference between the two Z3 devices is the side-positioned fingerprint scanner, necessary on account of the taller 18:9 aspect ratio screen. The Z2 handsets both opt for a front-facing scanner, positioned to the bottom front of the device, like a home key. The front-facing scanners can be used for gesture control, whereas the side-positioned ones cannot.
- Moto Z3 & Z3 Play: 6.01-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio Super AMOLED display
- Moto Z2 Play: 5.5-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio Super AMOLED display
- Moto Z2 Force: 5.5-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio P-OLED display
- Z3 & Z3 Play resolution: 2160 x 1080; Z2 Play: 1080 x 1920; Z2 Force: 1440 x 2560
The biggest difference between all the handsets is the both Z3 models' adoption of an 18:9 aspect ratio screen, making them taller the the 16:9 aspect displays of the Z2 models. That means less bezel, hence no space for that fingerprint scanner to sit on the front.
Despite adopting a 6-inch display, the Z3 and Z3 Play are no taller or wider than the 5.5-inch display Z2 handsets, which is all down to this new screen format.
That extra screen height also needs a little extra resolution: so while the Z3 handsets sound more resolute than the Z2 Play, they needs those extra pixels to fill in the addiitonal head height. The Z2 Force, on the other hand, goes all-out with a QHD resolution for the most resolute experience of any Z series phone.
- Moto Z3: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (2.35GHz), 4GB RAM, 850 MHz Adreno 540 GPU, 64GB storage, microSD expansion
- Moto Z3 Play: Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor (1.8GHz), 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, microSD expansion
- Moto Z2 Play: Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 processor (2.2GHz), 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, microSD expansion
- Moto Z2 Force: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (2.35GHz), 6GB RAM, 64/128GB storage, microSD expansion
- Moto Z3 & Z3 Play: 3,000mAh battery capacity; Z2 Play: 3,000mAh; Z2 Force: 2,730mAh
- All handsets: USB Type-C with fast-charging
On the power front, the latest Z3 is similar to the Z2 Force, using the same Snapdragon 835 processor (but a little less RAM).
The Z3 Play is a moderate update over the Z2 Play, offering a Qualcomm SD636 and SD626 respectively. That brings little difference between the two.
- Moto Z3 & Z2 Force: Dual cameras, 12-megapixels (colour and monochrome), f/2.0 apertures, 1.25um pixel size
- Moto Z3 Play: Dual cameras, 12- and 5-megapixel, f/1.7 apertures
- Moto Z2 Play: Single camera, 12-megapixels, f/2.0 aperture
Cameras are always a big part of any phone these days. The Z3 Play pulls its dual camera arrangement from the G6 Plus handset, also in the company's range, which works perfectly well - but doesn't compete with the top-end flagships of the moment.
That's an improvement over the single camera in the Z2 Play, though, as the dual lenses mean depth effects and other features are possible. The Z3 Play also adds YouTube Live, Google Lens and Cinemagraph (GIF recording and editing) to the solution.
The Z3 has the very same cameras as the Z2 Force: dual cameras, both of which are at the 12MP resolution, with one colour and one monochrome.
Price and conclusion
- Z3: $480 on Motorola US | Motorola UK
- Z3 Play: $499.99 on Motorola US | Motorola UK
- Z2 Play: $299 on Motorola US | Amazon UK
- Z2 Force: $299 on Motorola US | Amazon UK
And so to the pricing. The Z3 is priced at just $480, which is an exceptional price for a Snapdragon 835 device. That's down to it being available on Verizon only, thus the price is subsidised. The 5G Mod price is unknown at present, but we suspect it'll add another $120 to the phone to bring it into a flagship price point.
So what to make of the Z series overall? Well, Moto had committed to three generations of Mods support, which it has honored, and the 5G Mod (which will likely be backwards compatible with other Z series handsets, a Moto representative told us) shows yet further commitment.
Whether all that's enough to make the Z series the most viable on the market is another question. After all there are more powerful, more conventional and better designed handsets out there for (what we expect to be) the same price or less.