When Motorola announced its Moto Z3 last year, the company became the first in the world to debut a “5G-upgradable smartphone” — a feature Verizon said it would exclusively offer in “early 2019,” using a backpack-like accessory called the 5G Moto Mod. Today, Motorola is bringing the feature one step closer to reality by adding 5G software support to the Moto Z3, as well as updating the phone to Android 9 Pie.
Motorola has previously explained that the 5G Moto Mod features its own Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor, X50 5G Modem, X24 4G modem, and 10 new antennas, all designed to deliver 2 to 5 times the stock Moto Z3’s peak LTE data speed of 1Gbps. The newer chips promise up to 5Gbps speeds over 5G and 2Gbps speeds over a 4G LTE-Advanced connection, the latter a fallback when 5G towers aren’t available.
As one might expect given all the new hardware, some software-side wizardry is required to manage two Snapdragon systems-on-chips and three modems. Once the 5G Moto Mod attaches magnetically to the Moto Z3, the new chips take over all data transmitting functionality, leaving the Z3’s older chips to handle voice phone calls and other standard device IO. That’s a highly uncommon arrangement for any phone, and clearly required special custom code.
Today’s software update also brings the Moto Z3 into the small but growing collection of phones running Android 9 Pie, Google’s latest mobile operating system. Pie first rolled out for Google’s own Pixel phones in early August and has since trickled out for other devices. As of press time, Google has not updated Android adoption statistics since late October 2018, when it reported that fewer than 0.1 percent of all Android devices were running Pie. It appears that Pie uptake has been kept low by lengthy manufacturer update times, including individual device coding.
In our extended hands-on test of the Moto Z3, we noted that the device shipped in mid-August with Android 8.1 Oreo and delivered a competent, not-quite-flagship experience at a reasonable price point. Last year, Motorola promised to release Pie for three Moto G6 models, the Moto X4, two Moto Z2 models, and two Moto Z3 models. But, as of today, the company has apparently only released Pie for two devices — the standard Z3 and the Moto G6 Plus.
Pricing for the 5G Moto Mod and actual availability of a supporting mobile 5G service remain question marks. In an early January interview with VentureBeat, Verizon demurred when asked for specific launch dates or prices for its mobile offerings but said they will be coming “shortly.” We’ve requested further details on the Moto Z3 software release from Motorola and will update this article if we hear back.