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Moto Z3 Play vs. Moto Z2 Play vs. Moto Z Play: Should you upgrade?

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By Mark Jansen


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moto z3 play home bottom
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Motorola’s newest phone is here, and it’s the midrange Moto Z3 Play. The Z Play series isn’t just known as the cheaper Motorola phones that work with Moto Mods—they have traditionally also had excellent battery life.

If you have an original Moto Z Play or a Moto Z2 Play, is it worth upgrading? It’s a good idea, especially if you have a few Moto Mods lying around, since they’ll still work with the new phone, but we’ve put all three phones head-to-head in a specs comparison to find out.

Specs

Moto Z3 PlayMoto Z2 PlayMoto Z Play
Size

156.5 x 76.5 x 6.75 mm (6.16 x 3.01 x 0.27 inches)

156.2 x 76.2 x 6 mm (6.15 x 3.00 x 0.24 inches)156.4 x 76.4 x 7 mm (6.16 x 3.01 x 0.28 inches)
Weight156 grams (5.50 ounces)145 grams (5.11 ounces)165 grams (5.82 ounces)
Screen size6.01-inch Super AMOLED display5.5-inch Super AMOLED display5.5-inch Super AMOLED display
Screen resolution2,160 x 1,080 pixels (402 pixels per inch)1,920 x 1,080 pixels (401 pixels per inch)1,920 x 1,080 pixels (403 pixels per inch)
Operating systemAndroid 8.1 OreoAndroid 7.1.1 Nougat (Oreo in certain markets)Android 8.0 Oreo
Storage space32GB, 64GB32GB (with 3GB RAM), 64GB (with 4GB RAM)32GB
MicroSD card slotYes, up to 2TBYes, up to 2TBYes, up to 2TB
Tap-to-pay servicesGoogle PayGoogle PayGoogle Pay
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 636Qualcomm Snapdragon 626Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
RAM4GB3GB (with 32GB storage), 4GB (with 64GB storage)3GB
CameraDual 12MP and 5MP rear, 8MP front12MP rear, 5MP front16MP rear, 5MP front
VideoUp to 4K @ 30 frames per second, 720p @ 120 fpsUp to 4K @ 30 frames per second, 720p @ 120 fpsUp to 4K @ 30 frames per second, 720p @ 120 fps
Bluetooth versionBluetooth 5Bluetooth 4.2Bluetooth 4.0
PortsUSB-C3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C
Fingerprint sensorYesYes (front)Yes (front)
Water resistanceSplash-resistant coatingSplash-resistant coatingSplash-resistant coating
Battery3,000mAh

TurboPower charging

3,000mAh

TurboPower charging

3,510mAh

TurboPower charging

App marketplaceGoogle Play StoreGoogle Play StoreGoogle Play Store
Network supportSprint, U.S. CellularMost major carriersMost major carriers
ColorsDeep IndigoLunar Grey, Fine GoldBlack/Silver/Black Slate, White/Fine Gold/Sugar White
Price$500 (with battery mod)$500$400
Buy fromMotorola, AmazonMotorola, Amazon, VerizonMotorola, Amazon
Review scoreHands-on review3.5 out of 5 starsHands-on review

Performance, battery life, and charging

moto z3 play usb c port
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

As befits the price, you’re not going to find the world’s top hardware in these phones. But the Snapdragon 600-series chips are nothing to be sneezed at, and the Z Play range has a fine history of snappy performance. We haven’t had chance to properly test the Z3 Play yet, but we’re confident the Snapdragon 636will eclipse the capabilities of the older Snapdragon 626 and 625 in the Z2 Play and Z Play, respectively. Motorola said it should offer a 30 percent boost in performance over the Z2 Play.

It’s the Moto Z Play that wins the battery capacity test on paper, with a larger 3,510mAh battery, compared to the 3,000mAh on both the Z2 and Z3 Play. And the results are the same in real-life testing — the Moto Z Play has fantastic battery life that can easily go for two days. The Z2 Play performs well too, though not to the same extent. Motorola said we should see the same battery life as the Z2 Play on the Z3 Play, though we’ll have to test it ourselves to see if that claim rings true. In terms of charging, you’ll find Motorola’s TurboPower fast charging on each of these phones, though there’s no wireless charging without a Moto Mod.

The original Moto Z Play takes the cake for battery life, but the newer Z3 Play should obliterate it with performance, and still keep the lights running for quite a while. It takes the win.

Winner: Moto Z3 Play

Design and durability

lenovo moto z play droid hands on and hasselblad mod 9

With all three of these phones being compatible with the same Moto Mods, Motorola’s scope for redesign is somewhat limited, and that’s probably why these three phones are fairly similar in dimensions and general build. The Z Play and Z2 Play are definitely examples from their own time, with fairly hefty bezels surrounding the screen. Of the three, we think the Z3 Play easily takes the win for best design. It’s quite different from its predecessors, and the bezel-less design makes it look oh-so-2018. There is one major difference, though, and that’s the fingerprint sensor. It’s now on the side of the Z3 Play, instead of sitting on the front, which means it should still be accessible when the phone is on a flat surface.

Glass is fragile, and the Z Play and Z3 Play suffer in this regard — they’re just not going be as durable as the Z2 Play’s metal back. None of these phones have any significant water-resistance — a splash-resistant coating is all you’re going to get. In a major turn of events, the Z3 Play will be the first phone in the Z Play-range to come without a headphone jack, so that’s something to keep in mind if you don’t have a pair of wired headphones, or don’t want to fuss with dongles.

Despite winning some serious points for style, the Z3 Play’s fingerprint sensor isn’t as convenient as if it was on the front, its use of Gorilla Glass 3 makes it less durable than its metal predecessor, and the lack of a headphone jack can turn it into a deal-breaker for some people. This one’s a draw, especially since some of these pain points are subjective.

Winner: Tie

Display

moto z3 play front against blue
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Midrange phones may require some cost-cutting in areas, but Motorola has never skimped on screen tech in its Z Play-range. Each of these phones has a massive Super AMOLED display, and they’re sharp and vibrant.The Z3 Play has an advantage thanks to the shrinking of the bezels, allowing for a longer and larger 6.01-inch display in a similar-sized body. It also has a slightly higher resolution at 2,160 x 1,080, though it’s unlikely you’ll notice a difference in sharpness between the three phones.

The 18:9 aspect ratio simply means there’s more screen to be had, and it’s enough for us to award the Z3 Play the win here.

Winner: Moto Z3 Play

Camera

moto z3 play lens
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Motorola’s Z Play-range has always been something of a mixed bag where cameras are concerned. The Z Play and Z2 Play’s cameras were capable but nothing special, and both struggled to perform well in low lighting. The Z3 Play will be equipped with the Z Play range’s first-ever dual camera suite, the same 12-megapixel lens from the Z2 Play coupled with a 5-megapixel lens that’s there mostly for adding the sought-after “bokeh” effect. We expect more or less of the same in general camera performance — capable daytime photos, with less than stellar low-light images.

The Portrait Mode on the Z3 Play is available on both the front and rear camera, and the phone has a neat feature called Cinemagraph, which lets you create a GIF with one specified part of it in motion, and the other static. It’s a little gimmicky, but it is a fun feature.Google Lens is also now built right into the Z3 Play’s camera.

On the front of the Z3 Play is an 8-megapixel lens — an improvement over the 5-megapixel lenses on the other phones. All three are capable of recording 4K video at 30 frames per second, as well as slow-motion video at 120 fps with a 720p resolution.

The Moto Z3 Play has the stronger specifications, and we’re confident it’ll be superior here.

Winner: Moto Z3 Play

Special features

Moto Z2 Play mods on table
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you’re thinking of buying a Moto Z phone, it’s likely you’re aware of Moto Mods. Each Moto Mod adds new functionality, whether that be the speaker-boosting JBL Soundboost, the Hasselblad camera mod, or the Moto TurboPower battery pack. They’re incredibly easy to use, and they differentiate the Moto Z-range from other phones — but they can be expensive additions.

You’ll find much the same software additions across all three phones too. Moto Actions allows users to access features on their phones with specific gestures — double chop your hand to trigger the flash, or twist your wrist to quickly to open the camera. Moto Voice allows users to access device-specific features with just their voice — and Google Assistant does everything else. Moto Display saves power by fading in notifications onto your lock screen, and removes blue light from your display at night.

All of these cool special features are present on each of these phones, so it’s a tie.

Winner: Tie

Software and updates

While Motorola packs special features into its phones, the visual interface of all three phones is remarkably close to stock Android, which keeps performance snappy and familiar. It starts getting peculiar when you look at the update schedule though — while the Z3 Play will launch on Android 8.1 Oreo, the Z2 Play is currently languishing in Android 7.1.1 Nougat(it has Oreo in some markets). What makes this weird is the Z Play has received an update to Android 8.0 Oreo — effectively updating it past the newer Z2 Play.

Motorola confirmed with Digital Trends that the Z3 Play will get two version updates of Android, and we’ll have to take the company’s word for it. It will certainly get Android P when it comes out later this year. The Moto Z3 Play wins simply because it’ll be supported for longer — though it’s tough to say this with certainty.

Winner: Moto Z3 Play

Price

The Moto Z3 Play will be coming unlocked this summer from a variety of retailers, and it will also be available on Sprint and U.S. Cellular. It will cost $500, but that includes the Motorola battery Moto Mod. The company hasn’t shared the price of the phone itself yet, without a mod.

The Moto Z2 Play is currently available from $500 from Amazon, Motorola, and Verizon. If you buy it unlocked from Motorola, you’ll also get a free Moto Mod projector. You can also get the Moto Z Play from Motorola now, with a free Moto Mod, or from Amazon, with prices starting from $400.

Overall winner: Moto Z3 Play

While Moto Mods are cool, they’re something of a shackle on future phone development, since no Moto Z can deviate from the general design without breaking functionality of old mods. Thankfully, the Moto Z3 Play avoids seeming stale with a new and fun design, an update to the camera suite, and some impressive new specs. The Z3 Play is definitely a worthy upgrade, though we’ll need to test the battery to see if it comes close to the original Moto Z Play.


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