Moto Z3 review

GSMArena team, 24 August 2018.

Android 8.1 with Moto Experiences

The Moto Z3 comes with Android 8.1 out of the box. Like all previous versions of the Moto Z, Moto's software is near-stock with added Moto Enhancements: Moto Actions, Moto Voice, and Moto Display.

Let's start with the fingerprint scanner, it's great. The sensor is quick and reliable and the its placement is right where the power button would be. However, the actual power key has been moved to the left side.

Moto Z3 review

It wasn't really any inconvenience to have it on the other side. It takes maybe a day or two to get used to - press the right side with your thumb to unlock, and then use your index or middle finger to reach behind the phone to press the sleep key. This is assuming you're right-handed, of course.

Although it isn't until Android 9.0 Pie that Android implemented an official gesture navigation solution, Motorola has been using gesture navigation since the Moto Z2. Of course, it used the front-mounted fingerprint sensor to do this. Since the scanner is no longer on the front, Moto's One Button Navigation is now on-screen and looks a lot like the iPhone X's Home "bar".

Standard Nav bar - Moto Z3 review One Button Nav - Moto Z3 review
Standard Nav bar • One Button Nav

It's simpler than Google's Android 9 Pie controls in that it emulates the original three on-screen navigation keys: Swipe left on the bar to go Back, tap the bar to go Home, swipe right for Recents, swipe right again to quickly switch between the last two apps, and tap-hold for Google Assistant. We're pretty glad there is no "swipe up" gesture that emulates the iPhone X.

How to use One Button Nav - Moto Z3 review How to use One Button Nav - Moto Z3 review How to use One Button Nav - Moto Z3 review
How to use One Button Nav

Aside from the change in navigation, not much has changed in the UI since the Z2. General navigation is the same: swipe up to access the app drawer, 5 dynamic app icons at the top of the drawer, and rotatable home-screens, all in a taller display. The taller display means it may be harder to reach the drawer, so you can swipe down from anywhere on the launcher to pull it down.

Rotated home screen - Moto Z3 review App drawer - Moto Z3 review Notification shade - Moto Z3 review
Rotated home screen • App drawer • Notification shade

The One Button Navigation feature is one of Moto's Experiences and can be controlled within the Moto App. The app has been updated with a new suggestions tab, which now shows a few cards of suggested tools like Night Display, a storage cleanup tool, and a power monitor tool to put power-chugging apps to sleep.

Moto app features - Moto Z3 review Suggestion cards in Moto App - Moto Z3 review Suggestion cards in Moto App - Moto Z3 review
Moto app features • Suggestion cards in Moto App

The list of Moto Actions has grown from the Z2. Media controls, Lift to unlock, Screenshot editor, and Three finger screenshot.

Moto Actions - Moto Z3 review Moto Actions - Moto Z3 review
Moto Actions

There's a new feature called Attentive display. This will keep the display turned on as long as you're looking at it by looking for your attention through the front-facing camera.

Moto Z3 review

Moto Display has been around since the original Moto X (formerly known as Active Display) and will briefly show you the time and date, along with any notifications you may have missed. The bezels are embedded with motion sensors that will active Moto Display when you give the display a quick wave.

Moto Display: features - Moto Z3 review Moto Display: Settings - Moto Z3 review Moto Display: How it works - Moto Z3 review Moto Display: How it works - Moto Z3 review Moto Display: How it works - Moto Z3 review
Moto Display: features • Settings • How it works

'Talk to me' is the feature that was first introduced with the original Moto X: when the phone detected it was in a moving vehicle. Text messages and incoming calls would be read aloud with prompts for the user to respond. This feature is still here and is a part of Moto Voice. Unfortunately, the feature is buried pretty deep in the Moto App.

Talk to me - Moto Z3 review Talk to me - Moto Z3 review
Talk to me

The Z2 used simpler Moto Voice commands so that its features wouldn't overlap too much with Google Assistant. Most of them started with "Show me..." and you could follow that with things like "the weather", "my calendar", or "Google Maps". More glanceable things like the weather or upcoming events would appear and then fade out.

This updated version of Moto Voice doesn't work with any of the "Show me" commands. The majority of what it can do now overlaps with Google Assistant, so why bother using Moto Voice at all? Well, there might be a couple of reasons.

Moto Voice setup - Moto Z3 review Moto Voice setup - Moto Z3 review Moto Voice setup - Moto Z3 review Moto Voice setup - Moto Z3 review
Moto Voice setup

Moto Voice can perform certain actions within apps. For example, you can ask Moto to "view my favorite places" and it will take you to the appropriate screen within the Google Maps app, or you can say "pull up my drafts" and it will open the Gmail app to the drafts screen. These are things that Google Assistant can't do.

Moto Voice commands - Moto Z3 review Moto Voice commands - Moto Z3 review Moto Voice commands - Moto Z3 review Moto Voice commands - Moto Z3 review
Moto Voice commands

Unfortunately, since the new Moto Voice is half-baked (it is in Beta, after all), not all apps queries worked for us properly. Also, the replies from Moto Voice use the old robotic-sounding synthesized voice, so after hearing two lengthy replies, we proceeded to disable audial replies from Moto Voice.

Moto Z3 review

Until Moto Voice is updated with something more useful that isn't already possible on Google Assistant, we'll just stick to the latter.

Of course, since this is a Verizon device, we found plenty of useless bloatware that was installed after setting up. There were five games, two extra apps (Weather Bug and SmartNews), and eight Verizon apps. In all honesty, we've seen worse than this.

Can you spot the bloatware? - Moto Z3 review Can you spot the bloatware? - Moto Z3 review
Can you spot the bloatware?

On the bright side, you can uninstall any unwanted apps.

Performance

The Moto Z3 is stuck with 2017's Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU. Motorola didn't even think the Z3 was worth an upgrade in RAM - it comes with 4GB of RAM, which gives it the exact same performance as the Z2. This reminds us of when LG released the G6 with the Snapdragon 821.

Motorola's decision to use the same processing hardware as last year is partly justified due to the asking retail price for the Moto Z3, which is $480 on Verizon. The Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM still go a long way even into 2019.

Moto Z3 review

On the performance front, you can expect the exact same performance out of the Z3, expect for a couple of factors that could affect real-world performance. One of these is the resolution - which went from QHD on the Z2 to FHD+ on the Z3. Less pixels means less rendering required and higher frame rates.

GeekBench scores in the mulit-core sector show a significant gap between the 2018 devices and the 2017 devices. The Moto Z3 sits among all 2017 devices in performance while last year's iPhone 8 with the A11 Bionic chip still topped charts in GeekBench's single and multi-core scores.

GeekBench 4.1 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi MIx 2S
    9158
  • OnePlus 6
    9011
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    8883
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon)
    8349
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
    6784
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    6738
  • Huawei P20
    6722
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    6629
  • Motorola Moto Z3
    6614
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 (SD 835)
    6590
  • Google Pixel 2
    6437
  • Apple iPhone 7
    5831
  • BlackBerry KEY2
    5830

The iPhone 8's A11 Bionic chip is still unmatched in single-core scores while the Exynos 9810 in the Galaxy S9+ is not far behind. The Snapdragon 835's single core score was roughly half that of the iPhone 8's.

GeekBench 4.1 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    3771
  • Apple iPhone 7
    3459
  • Xiaomi Mi MIx 2S
    2468
  • OnePlus 6
    2450
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon)
    2199
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
    1987
  • Motorola Moto Z3
    1924
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    1915
  • Google Pixel 2
    1912
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    1902
  • Huawei P20
    1897
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 (SD 835)
    1862
  • BlackBerry KEY2
    1628

Antutu 7 ranks the CPUs a bit differently. The devices with the Snapdragon 845 were at the top of the list with the Exynos-powered S9+ just behind them. Antutu puts the Kirin 970 from the Huawei P20 right at the same level as the Snapdragon 835 devices.

AnTuTu 7

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi MIx 2S
    270814
  • OnePlus 6
    264200
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon)
    264044
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    246660
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    212708
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    209779
  • Motorola Moto Z3
    207903
  • Huawei P20
    206906
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
    201065
  • BlackBerry KEY2
    140984

GFX lets us compare frame rates between devices since the rendering is leveled to 1080p resolution. Currently, the Snapdragon 845 dominates these frame rates, reaching past 60 frames with the Mi Mix 2S and the Galaxy S9+ in the Manhattan offscreen test.

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon)
    61
  • Xiaomi Mi MIx 2S
    61
  • OnePlus 6
    58
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    47
  • Apple iPhone 7
    43
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 (SD 835)
    43
  • Motorola Moto Z3
    42
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    42
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
    42
  • Google Pixel 2
    41
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    38
  • Huawei P20
    36
  • BlackBerry KEY2
    15
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Play
    6.5

GFX 3.1 Car scene (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon)
    35
  • OnePlus 6
    35
  • Xiaomi Mi MIx 2S
    35
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    28
  • Motorola Moto Z3
    25
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    25
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 (SD 835)
    25
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
    25
  • Google Pixel 2
    24
  • Huawei P20
    23
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    22
  • BlackBerry KEY2
    9
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Play
    3.5

Of course, on-screen rendering will depend on the display's native resolution. You'll notice here that the Moto Z3 gets better frame rates than the Z2 Force due to its lower pixel density. The Z2 Force was 1440p while the Z3 has a less-dense resolution of 1080p+.

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 7
    60
  • OnePlus 6
    55
  • Xiaomi Mi MIx 2S
    55
  • Google Pixel 2
    43
  • Huawei P20
    39
  • Motorola Moto Z3
    37
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    35
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon)
    34
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    24
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
    23
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    22
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 (SD 835)
    20
  • BlackBerry KEY2
    17
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Play
    6.9

GFX 3.1 Car scene (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi MIx 2S
    34
  • OnePlus 6
    33
  • Google Pixel 2
    26
  • Motorola Moto Z3
    23
  • Huawei P20
    23
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Snapdragon)
    20
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    20
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    15
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    14
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 (SD 835)
    13
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
    13
  • BlackBerry KEY2
    11
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Play
    3.8

You'd technically be getting improved performance on the Z3 over the Z2 since the latter has more pixels for the GPU to push around while the Z3's FHD+ display is not as graphic intensive.

Apart from the decrease in pixel density on the Z3, there is zero performance advantage to the Moto Z3 over the Moto Z2. The only true advantage for gaming is the taller display that will be able to show you a wider field-of-view of whatever game you are playing, assuming the game supports 2:1 displays.

Moto Z3 review

The back of the Moto Z is now glass, which affects how heat is transferred from within the phone's internals to the outside. The Z3's lower half of the phone is what gets warm under longer periods of use. Sweaty palms will be an enemy of this device - unless perhaps you use the Moto Mod Gamepad.

Reader comments

Coming back to this phone's review in 2022, I only noticed how impressive the battery endurance rating was. The 2016 Moto Z Force has a smaller and shorter 16:9 screen and an extra 500mAh of battery capacity, and yet the Z3 is only two hours beh...

Lol, I prefer to have the Moto Mods add-on instead of using a Bluetooth connection. No more BT lag when using the Moto Mods, especially for the Moto 360 camera and the Moto Gamepad, and that is a solid big win for me!

THIS.