In a sea of similar Android smartphones, it’s refreshing to see some companies try new things to stand out from the pack. The current trend is device specific addon hardware likely inspired by initiatives like Google’s recently shelved Project Aria which was one of the first modular phone concepts. Earlier this year, LG also brought out their take on this modular idea with their LG G5 & Friends options.
Now it’s Motorola’s turn with their Moto Mods line of modular accessories that extend functionality of their phones, currently the super slim Moto Z and the lower tier, Moto Play. The Mods are available from Motorola with a growing list of 3rd party manufacturers.
Both the Play and Z are extremely capable and well appointed Android devices. I found it odd that both devices have USB-C ports (the Z has no headphone jack but includes a dongle) and came with ‘turbo-charge’ wall plugs but no USB cables. Seems like an oversight to not include that in the box.
I spent the most time with the Moto Z but want to focus on the Mods as I think they are really the star here.
The Moto Z is incredibly thin with no mods attached. Visibly thinner and more svelte than my iPhone 6s+ (on top) although the camera does protrude a bit but is a circular ‘island’ on the middle of the back of the Moto:
The Moto Mods attach via a small set of pins and magnets at the bottom of the phones – no cables or clips to deal with:
All of the mods (with the exception of the True Zoom) have a porthole that allow you to use the onboard camera while these mods are attached.
No Case Required
The simplest of Mods are the Style Shells which retail for around $30 each. These are different backs that click onto the back of the Moto phones. They simply protect the back of the devices and allow you to change up your phone’s look really easily.
Go Off the Grid
Next up is the $89 Incipio Offgrid Power Pack mod.
As you’d expect, it’s a battery pack that adds a 2220 mAh battery to your Moto. It’s quite thin and has nice rounded edges so feels like a part of the phone.
Add a Boombox
Moving up the addon complexity (and cost) ladder is JBL Soundboost speaker.
There are few things that make this $99 speaker addon standout from a normal bluetooth speaker. First of all, it’s not bluetooth. No pairing is required as it just clicks onto the back of the Moto phones and auto adds itself as the output speaker. It does add a bit of bulk to the back of the phone but not much more than a battery pack would – which it also doubles as giving you up to 10 hours of additional playback time. There is also an integrated kickstand to prop up the phone and speaker. It also sounds great.
It’s a Hasselblad!
The next addon was a surprise collaboration between Motorola and Hasselblad – the $349 True Zoom 12mp camera mod
This thin mod adds little bulk while giving the Moto a true 10x optical zoom lens with a nice, grippy handle that makes the device feel like a real micro 4/3’s camera. It also adds a beefier xenon flash than you find on most smartphones. Here’s a few shots from a few recent trips. No filters or processing (click through for the full original image):
This mod is really interesting as it’s one of the first ‘true’ camera addons that feels like a real camera, works really well and even allows you to shoot in RAW format and a companion application, Phocus, for editing those photos. I was a little underwelmed by the photo quality compared to the onboard Moto Z’s sensor (zoom aside). I just wish it had a better aperture than f3.5-6.5 considering the Moto Z has a f1.8 by default. I also wish it had some kind of flat bottom, tripod mount or even a kickstand as there is no way to prop it up. I didn’t try experimenting with the RAW images and software which may have improved things.
The Best for Last
My favorite mod though, by far, was the Insta-Share projector.
This $400 addon is the most expensive in the line up that lets you clip a full fledged LED projector to the bottom of your phone to project anything you can view on your phone onto almost any surface. It’s listed as capable of projecting the equivalent of a 70″ screen but in my tests, I was able to fill a much larger wall without any major degradation of image quality.
It does require a fairly dark room. Here’s an example showing the Android desktop during the day and night:
It was pretty spectacular to simply put the phone on a dresser and project a movie or Youtube on the full wall in my bedroom. These photos don’t do the quality justice.
Like most of the other mods, this one also has an extra battery to ensure you can get through the whole movie without having to plug in. You can also specify in the settings if you want notifications to be projected or just appear on the phone screen which is nice touch. The projector also has a really solid hinged base that allows you to angle the projection anywhere and the mod will auto-adjust/keystone to just about any angle. There is also a focus dial to get things really sharp.
There are definitely cheaper options in the pico projector space that are compatible with more devices but the simplicity of these mods is what really sets things apart. Being able to easily switch from a phone call to projecting Star Wars in seconds is pretty hard to beat.
As I described above, these mods are a welcome addition to add functionality to your smartphone that are easy to use, don’t kill your battery and just work. The Hasselblad was the only real disappointment but I think the potential for it and the rest of the mods is definitely a refreshing change to the handset market.