The coming of 5G
Motorola recently told me that Moto Mods will remain part of its hardware plans for the foreseeable future, and the Moto Z3 is uniquely positioned to benefit from what might be the most ambitious Mod of all: an external 5G radio. It is, as Verizon and Motorola have proclaimed, the first "5G upgradeable" phone. The idea of giving an existing phone the ability to tap into superfast 5G data networks is a fascinating one, and I'm told the second LTE modem inside should eventually bring improved data speeds to older Moto Z phones as well. Great.
Here's the rub, though: We don't know how much the Mod will cost when it launches, or even when it'll happen -- all the companies involved would say is that it's coming in "early 2019." And a conversation in Chicago with Nicola Palmer, Verizon's head of wireless networks, proved similarly unenlightening: She wouldn't confirm which of the carrier's 5G test cities would be the first to go live with mobile 5G service.
In the meantime, we know that a handful of companies have embraced the very same Qualcomm X50 modem that 5G Mod uses and that carriers around the world are preparing to light up 5G networks next year. For all its compromises, the Moto Z3 may well be the first easily accessible device that benefits from 5G, but that next-gen network will be live in only a handful of markets in the US to start. In other words, the best thing about this device won't be of use to most Z3 owners for quite some time.
Were the Moto Z3 more widely available, it would be a pretty bad deal. As I've already mentioned, devices like the OnePlus 6 ($529-plus) pack faster processors, more RAM, bigger screens and better cameras. Since the Moto Z3 is available only to Verizon customers, though, the stable of competitors -- especially at that price -- is limited. That said, carrier installment plans without big upfront costs take some of the sting out of buying better phones. A fairly recent promotion made Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, two proper 2018 flagships, only marginally more expensive than the $480 Moto Z3. Then again, if you're enamored with the idea of adding features to your phone -- and don't mind the idea of plunking cash into Moto's Mod ecosystem -- you won't find a better modular phone than this.