It’s clear from looking at the smartphone industry recently that there’s a growing interest in making our mobile devices more modular. LG launched the G5 with its ‘Friends’ that clip on to the bottom of the phone to add extra features, and Google’s upcoming Project Ara phone lets you swap out and replace up to 6 different modules with various purposes.
Lenovo, even more recently, launched the Moto Z and a big part of that launch was its new Moto Mods. These are a collection of accessories and covers that attach to the back of the phone to add more function, or make the phone look and feel nicer.
Moto Mods: What are they and how do they work?
The short answer is: with magnets and “magic”. Each Mod attaches to the back using the a collection of really strong built-in magnets. That means there’s no fiddling around with clumsy hinges or clips on the sides of the phone, and you don’t have to remove the battery. It just sticks on using the magnetic sections of the phone and Mod.
For the purely fashion-based Mods, or backplates, that’s all that’s needed. For the wood, leather and plastic backs, it’s basically just like putting on a rear shell but with them attaching magnetically rather than clipping to the phone, or around the edge, like a regular case or cover.
For the more feature-rich Mods, the key is in the 16 golden contact points on the back. These essentially connect the phone to each of the Mods and transmit data and power between the Mod and the phone. That means your USB port remains free and unused, regardless of which Mod you have applied to the back of the phone.
For some mods you may have to go through a couple of setup pages, but Lenovo promises it only takes a couple of quick taps to get each Mod set up.
Moto Mods: What is there?
The first Mods you’ll likely see and buy are the simple covers, called Style Shells. When you order a Moto Z through Moto Maker you’ll be able to choose which finish you’d like (if you want one at all). You’ll be able to choose between a number of different wood types, as well as different color leather and nylon finishes, and some more colorful plastic ones. Motorola hasn’t listed all the available options, but those will become clear in time. We expect many will match previous Moto X finishes and colors, with a few new ones thrown in for fun.
The Shells aren't available to buy yet, but they'll cost £16 if you want the fabric Shell, or £20 if you opt for wood or leather.
Hasselblad True Zoom
Long before the Moto Z was an actual product, rumours suggested we’d see a unique modular camera made by Hasselblad, the company better known for building hideously expensive studio quality cameras. Recently, that Moto Mod became real, and is named the Hasselblad True Zoom.
Its biggest draw is the 10x optical zoom lens on the front. Unlike the digital zoom on the phone, this can zoom in without losing any quality until you get to the 10x limit, and it zooms digitally after that. Its f/3.5-f/6.5 aperture is modest, as is its highest resolution video capture which sits at 1080p at 30 frames per second.
Its sensor boasts 12 million pixels, and is capable of ISO up to 3200, while the lens has built-in optical image stabilisation for still photography. Like any good camera, you can adjust any settings like shutter speed, manual focus, f-stop, ISO, white balance and exposure.
As you’d expect, you can save images in RAW format. Unlike most smartphone cameras however, it uses a Xenon flash for a more even, brighter and sharper image in low light.
Shooting modes include regular photo and video as well as panorama, night landscape, night portrait, sports, day landscape, backlit portrait and the professional mode which lets you adjust all the previously mentioned settings.
You can register your interest now, and when it hits the market, you’ll be able to buy them for around $300 USD in the States, or £199 in the UK.
Lenovo partnered with JBL to create the SoundBoost Mod, which is essentially a stereo loudspeaker with two three-watt drivers. It amplifies the phone’s sound, and looks to replace portable speakers on your days out. It has a built in 1,000mAh battery to to extend the phone’s battery life, and a kick-stand so that the audio isn’t just firing upwards into the air, or downwards in to whatever surface it’s lying on.
The JBL SoundBoost is available to buy now in the UK, and costs £69.98.
Moto Insta-Share projector
The Moto Insta-Share projector is certainly interesting, but hardly likely to be the most widely adopted of the Mods. It’s essentially a pico projector you attach to the phone which can beam an image or video measuring up to 70-inches diagonally from any angle, onto any surface. The sad part is that it only has 480p resolution, so the bigger you make your projection, the terrible-er it’s going to look. It also has a built in loudspeaker.
At £249.98, the Insta-Share projector is something of an investment. But, if you're planning on only using a Moto Z for the next three years (that's how many generations of Moto Z the Mods are committed to), then it might be worth it.
Lastly, there are Power Packs, which add a 2,200mAh battery to the phone. With the standard Moto Z, that’s almost doubling the built-in battery’s capacity. There are three different options to confirmed so far, including the offGRID version from Incipio, as well as a Kate Spade model and another by TUMI. Lenovo also mentioned that it’s working with Mophie on a Power Pack, and mentioned they’re also bringing wireless charging to some of them.
The battery pack costs £59.99, which is similar in price to the high-end battery pack cases you get for other devices.
One upcoming Mod, according to HelloMotoHK is the Adventure Mod, which is said to offer waterproof sealing and seemingly transform the phone in to an action camera of sorts. So you should be able to take your phone to swimming and take a bunch of cool underwater videos and pics.
Moto Mods Developer Program
Apart from those, it’s really up to developers what they develop. There’s a Moto Mods developer program to encourage hardware and software makers to come up with their own Mods. The sky really is the limit with these. We could see all kinds of stuff, from secondary displays and alternative speaker systems to computer docking solutions. It’s very likely we’ll also see a bunch of third party Style Shells, offering more variations in style and color to the ones being offered by the Moto team.
One concept on show at the Moto launch was called OneCompute which brings Windows Phone Continuum-like features to Android, turning it in to a desktop computer of sorts. It reminds us a lot of the old Motorola Atrix LapDock system. The Moto Z attaches to the Mod, which is then placed into a cradle and linked to a hub containing various USB, HDMI and power ports which connects to a monitor. The onscreen user interface is similar to regular Android, but not exactly the same. It looks a lot like three home screens on one display, and can be controlled by keyboard and mouse.
Moto Mods: Pricing and availability
Most of the Mods are available to buy with the phone now, direct from Motorola, and vary in price. The most expensive of the lot is the Insta-Share projector which weighs in at £249.98. Second on the most expensive list is the Hasselblad True Zoom, which will set you back £199. Style Shells aren't available yet, but those cost £16 or £20 depending on whether you want the cheaper fabric cover, or the more premium leather or wood Shells. Battery packs are understandably more expensive than the Shells, and cost just £59, that's £10 less than the JBL SoundBoost.
Is it worth it?
The modular approach to smartphones isn’t something that’s at all necessary, and in its current state, there’s a lot to work on. The advantage of Lenovo’s Moto Mod system is that the phone works perfectly fine without any mods and it’s still a solid metal unibody phone. The LG G5’s removable portion, on the other hand, feels a little flimsy and has forced the company to compromise on solid design.
Moto’s approach is far less intrusive and, the method of attaching a single Mod is easy and quick. The one downside is that you can only have one module attached at a time. You can’t have multiple Mods connected simultaneously.