What is the Moto Z3 supposed to be? When Motorola had a bunch of journalists go out to Chicago earlier this month for a hyped product announcement, I figured we’d be seeing that rumored phone with a notch or something with top-tier hardware. The Moto Z3 is neither of those things. From every angle, it looks identical to the recently released Moto Z3 Play. Its specs are different (and better), but a couple rungs below today’s flagship smartphones.

Is the Z3 really supposed to be Motorola’s 2018 “flagship”? At $480, it’s definitely not priced like one, which might be welcome news for your wallet. Verizon and Motorola are marketing the Z3 as a device that will eventually be capable of blazing-fast 5G speeds. It’s impossible for me to review the Moto Z3 of the future today, but when it goes on sale this week exclusively at Verizon, the Moto Z3 will offer a big screen and powerful performance for a very reasonable price. However, it also comes with flaws that span its design, camera, and battery life.

7 Verge Score

Motorola Moto Z3

Good Stuff

  • Big, vibrant display
  • Fast performance
  • Very appealing price

Bad Stuff

  • Awkward, unergonomic design
  • Average camera and battery life
  • 5G promise requires a leap of faith
  • Exclusive to a single carrier
Buy for from Motorola Buy for from Verizon

The Moto Z3 has the exact same design as the Moto Z3 Play — right down to their identical dimensions and weight. The Z3 is black compared to the Play’s dark blue, but otherwise they’re impossible to tell apart. You get the same 6-inch, 1080p 18:9 OLED display, the same awkward-to-use fingerprint scanner on the side, the same single front-firing speaker, and the same thinness, which frankly makes the Z3 unpleasant to hold without a MotoMod attached. I also find the volume buttons to be oddly high on the right side. Between that, the fingerprint sensor, and the power button by its lonesome on the left, you’ll be doing some hand gymnastics when using the Z3. There’s no headphone jack, but Motorola includes an adapter in the box.

Unfortunately, Motoroladoesn’tinclude anything in the box to snap onto the Moto Z3’s back. The Z3 Play comes with a free battery back (which also makes that phone easier to grip), but there’s not so much as a basic rear cover tossed in with the Z3. We’re in the dog days of summer, and this fingerprint-magnet glass back starts to feel slippery and greasy in no time at all. A simple style shell really would’ve made all the difference.

something YouTuber Michael Fisher said has really stuck with me: 5G will undoubtedly lead to some incredible mobile breakthroughs, but the Moto Z3 just isn’t the phone I’ll want to experience them on. By the time carriers have their 5G networks lit up and reaching millions of people, you’ll have several 5G phones to choose from. We don’t even know how much the 5G mod will cost, and I doubt it’ll come cheap.

And then there’s the murky future of MotoMods themselves. Lenovo and Motorola have supported the ecosystem of snap-on modular accessories for three generations now, but I can’t help but feel like we’re reaching the end of the runway. There’ve been novel ideas like the Hasselblad camera and a Polaroid instant film printer, but battery packs and music speakers are still the most useful, practical MotoMods today — just as they were when the original Moto Z launched. Promising concepts like the keyboard MotoMod have been delayed into infinity.

The outlook would be better if one of two things were true:

  1. Moto Z phones were great enough on their own to justify buying into these proprietary accessories.
  2. MotoMods were so irresistibly cool that they could sell you on a good-but-not-great smartphone.

It’s been over two years, and neither scenario has panned out. I read our comments, so I know existing Moto Z owners really love these modular gadgets. But the roadmap has petered out, and the Moto Z lineup itself seems to be getting less ambitious with time. There’s no Force version this year for those who were drawn to Motorola’s “shatterproof” screen, and the Play edition has lost its reputation for being a battery champ. I wouldn’t be surprised if Motorola rethinks MotoMods on a future phone or just moves on entirely.

All of that said, the Moto Z3 is an extremely decent phone for its price. If a nice screen and fast performance are your top priorities, this isn’t a bad option. But there’s no real reason to upgrade from a prior Moto Z besides the taller screen. Even then, I’d sooner save a bit extra and go for something like the OnePlus 6, which has a far nicer, modern design, provided you’re not committed to Verizon. If you are, it really comes down to this or the Essential Phone. The Moto Z3 comes off feeling like an odd mishmash of good value, recycled bits, and a far off, yet-to-be-realized promise of 5G. It’s a 2017 flagship in 2018, only with an improved display.

Hopefully Motorola has bigger plans for next year.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

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