Cellular carriers everywhere are hyping up the rollout of “5G” network technology in the coming years, and now it looks like the hype for the hardware side of things is starting to pick up, too. Verizon and Motorola are announcing what they’re calling “the world’s first 5G upgradable smartphone,” the Moto Z3 (not to be confused with the Moto Z3 Play). Verizon’s Nicola Palmer says, “5G will change the ways we live, work, learn, and play,” and that moderately faster Internet will “impact our economy in a profound way and dramatically improve our global society.”
OK, with Verizon’s ad copy out of the way, let’s spend the rest of the article poking holes in this publicity stunt. The Moto Z3 doesn’t have 5G now, but it will in the future, via a clip-on “MotoMod” accessory that will launch some time in “early 2019.” Motorola has been pushing these snap-on MotoMod accessories for a few years now, and, typically, any mod will work with any mod-compatible Motorola device. In what is probably the last year of Motorola’s failed modular ecosystem, though, the 5G mod is jumping the shark and will only work with the Moto Z3.
Even if you buy this phone and the 5G attachment, you’ll need to live in the handful of cities where Verizon will actually offer 5G mobile service. The latest 5G rollout news from Verizon says that it will launch “residential broadband service in four markets in the US – including Houston, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and one additional city, to be named – in the second half of 2018.” Keep in mind, that’s home Internet, not mobile Internet. Verizon only says it will have “a mobile 5G solution in 2019.”
“5G” changes up mobile connectivity technology from “4G” LTE to millimeter wave connectivity.Verizon’s 4G LTE uses the 700MHz spectrum to cover wide distances, but for 5G it will also use higher frequencies such as 28GHz. A higher frequency promises higher speeds and lower latency with the tradeoff of a smaller broadcast range and poorer penetration.
Inside the MotoMod is Qualcomm’s first 5G modem, the Snapdragon X50. If you have a network to support it, Qualcomm says the X50 is theoretically capable of 5 Gbps down, which is a big jump from Qualcomm’s LTE peak theoretical download speed of 1.2 Gbps. If you could actually achieve this speed in real life, you could burn through Verizon’s monthly “Unlimited” 22GB plan in 36 seconds!
The 5G Mod also contains a 2000mAh battery that will be used when 5G mode is on. If the switch from 3G to 4G is anything to go on, these first-generation modems eat up a huge amount of power, so this extra 2000mAh is a welcome addition. Verizon’s first 4G device, the HTC Thunderbolt, had a disastrous battery life, and one HTC employee even publicly apologized for the phone’s existence.
The Z3 itself has specs that oddly look like a flagship from 2017, with last year’s Snapdragon 835 instead of 2018’s Snapdragon 845. A 2017 chip in 2018 would be a tough sell normally, but remember the Z3 won’t reach its 5G potential until 2019. Other specs are a 6-inch 1080p 18:9 OLED display, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, dual 12MP rear cameras, a 300mAh battery, USB-C, and no headphone jack. Despite the old internals, the phone is still picking up Motorola’s design from this year, with a side-mounted fingerprint reader. The Z3 will retail at Verizon exclusively for $ 480, but the price of the 5G mod is currently unknown.