Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
Motorola’s G6 Play and Z3 Play smartphones recently joined the Prime Exclusive family of unlocked phones. They come with a hefty discount and all the Amazon apps you could want pre-installed. If you love Amazon Prime, and you’re in the market for a mid-tier phone, you should consider both devices.
I spent about a month with these devices and came to the conclusion that they were both in the same class, mid-tier, but at the very polar ends of that spectrum. The Z3 Play feels like a solid middle of the pack phone that gives more than you’d expect from something that costs half as much as the iPhone X, and the G6 Play is a bargain-priced device that belongs nowhere near a bargain bin.
The units I reviewed were both Amazon Prime exclusive editions, but before I get into the features the devices share, let’s dive into what’s different about them.
The G6 Play
As a member of the ever-growing club of people who refuse to pay $1,000 for a phone I’m going to set next to my $700 PC and ignore all day, my initial impression of the G6 Play Amazon Prime exclusive was “the price is right.”
I don’t usually get into the dollars and cents of a product right up front, but in this case the $189 price tag is a huge reason why I like the G6 Play. It’s nearest competitor under $200 among Amazon Prime exclusives is the LG K30, which has much more modest specifications.
Moto G6 Play:
- 5.7-inch 720p display
- 18:9 aspect ratio
- Snapdragon 427
- 3 GB RAM
- 32 GB expandable storage
- 13MP rear / 5MP front
- 4000 mAh battery with micro USB charging
- Android 8.0
It doesn’t have anything special under the hood, but it’s good enough for the rabble among us who aren’t power users. I was able to open a dozen apps and still bring up the camera within 2-3 seconds of tapping the icon, and I played games like Fallout Shelter on it with no issue. The screen is bright and colorful, though the 720p HD resolution is a noticeable downgrade if you’re coming off a device with an FHD screen.
Aesthetically, I have to admit I was wowed. That’s not because it has a radical new design I’ve never seen, but because it looks like a premium phone, and I wasn’t expecting that. The G6 and the Z3 share a similar design, though the larger Z3 gives much less real estate to bezels. In favor of the G6 Play is the fact it doesn’t have a pointless glass back, it’s got a nice polycarbonate back that looks good, and is less likely to shatter the first time I drop it.
Moving right along, the G6 Play’s cameras, a 12MP rear facing and 5MP front facing setup, do a fair enough job. Motorola’s software brings some nice “pro” settings which allow you to set things like ISO and white balance. But the Play version doesn’t come with the built in AI features that the standard G6 does, so you’ll have to weigh that against the price difference.
However, the Play has a better battery than the regular G6. The 4000mAh one that my review unit came with provided more than three days of use between charges. I will point out that I didn’t stream video on it very often. Motorola says it has up to 36 hours of battery life and that actually sounds about right.
I do have a couple of gripes with the G6 Play. The built in speaker is fairly lackluster – it’s fine for watching a news video, but you don’t want to listen to music with it. Luckily, unlike the Z3 (I’m saying this now to prepare you for it) the G6 Play still has a headphone jack.
The other gripe is that the fingerprint sensor never works on the first try, no matter how many fingers I registered. Also, it’s weird having it on the back under the camera – at no other point do I hold my phone the way I have to when I unlock it with my fingerprint.
The G6 Play is a good phone with a great price. The Z3 Play is better in almost every way, but it costs more than twice as much.
The Z3 Play
The Z3 Play is one of those ‘almost premium’ devices that makes you question what you really need out of a phone. It has a good camera, a great look, and a nice set of specifications. But, to appreciate the Z3 Play, you have to be into the mods.
Moto Mods are the kind of gimmicky item I’d normally rip to shreds – telling me I have the privilege of paying an extra $50 bucks if I want more battery power isn’t a feature, it’s an inconvenience. But, then I found out that Polaroid makes a mod for the device, and I changed my tune like a violin in the rain. Also, the Z3 Play comes with the aforementioned battery pack mod at no extra cost, so it’s actually quite convenient.
Here’s the specifications you came to see:
Moto Z3 Play
- Snapdragon 636 1.8 GHz octa-core processor
- 850 MHz Adreno 509 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 64 GB storage (expandable)
- 6.01-inch AMOLED display
- 2160 x 1080 resolution
- Dual rear cameras: 12 MP F1.7 primary camera, 5MP depth camera
- 3000mAh battery (extra battery pack included)
- No headphone jack (adapter included)
The Z3 is fast and beautiful, like the BMW its named after (it’s not really named after a BMW). It bares a similar style to the G6 Play, but due to its bigger screen and almost bezel-free face, it’s gorgeous and holds its own next to phones twice its price – okay, so I had to bring cost into it, but Motorola is doing a good job of providing value in the market with the Play versions of these phones.
The only problem I had with its looks was that this thing is huge in all the wrong places. Even without the battery mod connected it’s a phat phone. But when you toss the extras on, it becomes a device Sir Mix Alot might rap about. What’s worse though, is that when you rock the phone without a mod it has a glass back and an exposed connector. It looks awful with the back off, and with a mod installed it’s pretty thick.
But, Once I got used to its size, I actually found myself rather enjoying it. It really uses its 6 inch screen to great advantage and the image is clear and bright all the way to the nearly bezel-free edges.
Unlike the G6 Play, Motorola decided to put the fingerprint sensor on the Z3 Play somewhere that I’d actually put my hand when I’m using my phone — and it works great. The sensor is on the right side beneath the volume rocker, so half the time it unlocked as soon as I picked it up because it’s where I grab it anyway.
I liked having it there, but I’m not too keen on having the power button on the left – it just seems weird, though I’ve no substance to my objection. Also, there’s no headphone jack, and I’m not sure why — it’s not waterproof (though it is splash resistant). It charges via USB-C, which I like, and it does come with a headphone adapter, so you can still plug your ancient wired headphones into it out of the box.
The Z3 Play also has a pretty nice dual rear camera setup featuring baked-in AI. It can shoot in a number of different modes, including portrait, and it also shoots slow motion video. I found myself consistently impressed with the results. It’s not quite on the level of the Pixel 2’s or iPhone’s, but it’s still pretty good.
My favorite thing about the Z3 Play however, was its time between charges. I used it for four days straight, playing games, watching videos, and doing what I normally do before I had to charge. Now, that of course relied on having the 2200mAh Power Pack, the Moto Mod that comes with it, attached. But, with it’s included 3000mAh battery you get a lot of juice with this thing.
It’s hard to overstate how impressed I was by the Z3 Play – it’s been a long time since I spent a month with a phone that wasn’t, at least at some point, a flagship. But I never found myself wanting for more than I had with this Moto. However, I will concede: if you’re not into Moto Mods, and you don’t mind spending a little more, there’s more powerful options like OnePlus 6 out there.
The Amazon Prime factor
In the past, marketplace-branded phones have been little more than the regular version of a device with a ton of bloatware added in. The standard procedure in these cases is typically to unbox the hardware and then uninstall or disable everything that isn’t stock Android. But, it looks like Motorola and Amazon thought about this prior to the launch of the G6 Play and the Z3 Play.
For Motorola’s part, the phones come skinned with, as my colleague Napier Lopez called it, “a nearly pristine version of Android.” What he means is that the skin is lean, with very little deviation from stock Android. And, even if you prefer stock, the Moto options are bearable.
Most of Motorola’s additions are grouped together in the Moto app that comes baked-in. Included is Moto Actions, simple gesture-based shortcuts like making a chopping motion with the phone to turn the flashlight on, and Moto Display, a few useful screen options.
Unlike some other manufacturer’s apps (looking at you Samsung) Motorola’s doesn’t have a bunch of extraneous fluff, advertisements, and links to storefronts. It contains options you’ll actually want to check out.
The Amazon Prime exclusive additions, aside from a price-break, aren’t much different. You will see an Amazon ad widget taking up a third of your home screen as soon as you unlock your phone, but you can move or remove it immediately if you like. Of course, nearly all of the Amazon apps are there too.
The Shopping, Prime Video, Kindle, and Music apps are front and center, and next to them is a folder containing the Photos, Audible, Drive, Prime Now, IMDb, and Goodreads apps. Surprisingly the Twitch app doesn’t make an appearance, but the rest are all there or in the app drawer. Both devices also come “Alexa-enabled,” and ship with a hardware shortcut to summon the virtual assistant.
You get the idea, these are Prime exclusives and that means they were designed for people who’ve bought into the Amazon universe. And, all of the Amazon-specific stuff can be removed or disabled, as far as I could tell, leaving you with an unlocked phone that you don’t have to root to rid of bloatware.
The bottom line
Don’t call them budget phones, but at $449.99 for the Z3 Play and $189.99 for the G6 Play they’re certainly value-priced. No matter which you choose, you’re getting a decent middle of the pack phone at a price that’s closer to something you might find hanging on a shelf next to the prepaid cards.
You can get the G6 Play Amazon Prime exclusive here, and the Z3 Play Amazon Prime exclusive here.
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