Moto Z3 hands-on: Getting ready for 5G

Earlier today in Chicago, Motorola took the stage to announce a phone that is instantly familiar: the Moto Z3. You've seen this phone before, or at least most of it, as it's almost exactly the same as the Moto Z3 Play, which launched back in June. The major difference between the two is yet to come, but when it arrives next year, it will indeed be quite the differentiator.

For now, however, the Moto Z3 is essentially just a souped up Moto Z3 Play. When I say that the two phones are similar, I mean it: the biggest difference between the two phones is that the Moto Z3 Play is built around a Snapdragon 636, while the Z3 that was revealed today is equipped with a Snapdragon 835. Other than that, the Z3 also features a slightly more capable dual camera, with a second 12 MP sensor replacing the Z3 Play's 5 MP one. That new processor represents a fairly significant jump in power, but those looking elsewhere for new hardware are going to be disappointed.

The Z3 has the same 6.01-inch Super AMOLED display that we saw on the Z3 Play and, as far as I can tell, the same battery, resolution, internal storage (64 GB) and RAM (4 GB). The Z3 even shares some of the Z3 Play's once-unique features as well, like the side-mounted fingerprint scanner that's easily accessible with your thumb or your index finger.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing if you liked what the Z3 Play had to offer. Personally, I like the look of the Z3 Play, so seeing what is basically the same design in the Z3 isn't really upsetting. The extra power afforded by that Snapdragon 835 is immediately clear, though – in my short time with the phone, I've noticed that opening apps and transitions between homescreens are very smooth and satisfying.

Aside from that, this isn't going to offer a whole lot for people who already own a Z3 Play, at least not until next year. It's then that Motorola will launch its 5G Moto Mod – arguably the true star of today's event – making this, by Motorola's claims, the first upgradeable 5G phone. I was told today that the Moto Mod will be able to reach speeds of up to 5 Gbps, which is definitely a massive increase over what 4G LTE is capable of reaching.

Obviously, the 5 Gbps speeds Verizon, Motorola, and Qualcomm were touting today will only be achievable under optimal circumstances, but even if you never top out with the Moto Mod, you'll still be going a lot faster that you were on 4G LTE.

Here's the major kicker, and what ends up making the Moto Z3 a necessary device for people who want to be on the cutting edge of mobile internet: Motorola told me today that while it's looking into backward compatibility with its 5G Moto Mod, the Moto Z3 is the only phone with confirmed compatibility at the time of this writing. In other words, it's possible that the Z3 Play will one day work with the 5G Moto Mod, but for now, the Z3 is the only phone that's guaranteed to work with it.

What's preventing out-of-the-box compatibility for all phones that support Moto Mods is unclear at this point, and beyond that, the accessory's release is still months off. For the time being, the focus is on the capabilities of the Moto Z3 as they exist in August 2018, and not what they may be at some point next year. My full review will be ready to go in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.