(Pocket-lint) - The smartphone industry is always seeking the next big thing. For Motorola that's Moto Mods (or Moto Snaps in some territories): clip-on Moto Z accessories - such as cameras, projectors, printers and more - that can transform a phone's functionality or style.
Lenovo launched the Moto Z in 2016, followed by big-battery Moto Z Play in the same year. For 2018 we're into Z3 and Z3 Play handsets, the former which will offer a 5G Mod from 2019 (Verizon exclusive, US only) for up to 5Gbps download speeds.
Here's a run-down of the Moto Mods available and a nod to the future of what to expect next.
Moto Mods: What are they and how do they work?
Each Mod attaches to the back of any Moto Z-series phone 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, no need to remove the battery, indeed no need to fuss at all - the Mods can be swapped "live" without the phone switching off.
The key to operation comes from the 16 golden contact points on the back of the phone, above a contact strip. These transmit data and power between the Mod and the phone. That means the USB port remains free and unused, regardless of which Mod you have clipped onto Z-series device.
Following the launch of the Z2 Play and Z2 Force in 2017, some Mods operate on second-generation hardware: they still fit just the same, but don't use all the connecting pins if not needed, in a bid to reduce cost. Simple.
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 one set up. Once Mods are connected they communicate with any Z-series phone, where a dedicated software area - accessible in the swipe-down Android shortcuts shade - details full info relative to the attached Mod.
Moto Mods: What's available?
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.
That Mod, the True Zoom, delivers a 10x optical zoom lens, from a 25-250mm equivalent. Unlike the digital zoom of a built-in phone camera, this unit can zoom in without losing any quality until you get to the 10x limit. Its f/3.5-f/6.5 aperture is modest, however, as is its highest resolution video capture which sits at 1080p30.
The Mod uses it own 12-megapixel sensor, not the one that's built-in to any Z-series phone. Capable of shooting up to ISO 3200, the Mod's built-in optical image stabilisation will help with keeping that figure down while keeping shots sharp.
Like any good camera, you can adjust any settings like shutter speed, manual focus, aperture, ISO sensitivity, white balance and exposure. JPEG and raw file capture are both available.
A Xenon flash is built-in for more even, brighter flash coverage.
JBL SoundBoost / SoundBoost 2
Motorola partnered with JBL to create the SoundBoost, a stereo loudspeaker with two three-watt drivers. For 2017 there's the SoundBoost 2, the fabric-covered, splashproof second-gen model with a better contoured design.
The Mod amplifies the phone's sound, looking to replace the need for a portable speaker. It has a built-in 1,000mAh battery to extend the host phone's battery life, too, and a kick-stand so that the audio isn't just firing upwards into the air, or downwards into whatever surface the device would be lying on.
The JBL SoundBoost is available to buy now, priced $80 in the States and £70 in the UK. The JBL SoundBoost 2 will be priced $80 and is due to launch alongside the Z2 Play, estimated to be August 2017 in the UK.
Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa
Yes, Alexa - Amazon's voice-controlled smart assistant - is taking over the world. And she's taking over your Moto Z, too.
This Mod is a speaker with integrated Alexa, so you can talk to your phone just as you would an Amazon smart speaker. She'll reply, play music on command, source information, control your smart home devices and more.
Moto Insta-Share projector
The Moto Insta-Share is a pico projector which can beam an image or video measuring up to 70-inches diagonally from any angle, onto any surface. It also has a built-in loudspeaker.
The sad part is that it only has 480p resolution, so the bigger you make your projection, the worse the detail is going to look. Brightness is also limited, as you might expect from a unit of this size.
This one is a really interesting prospect. A rigid cradle to position any Moto Z phone into, the GamePad comes with all the physical controls you could need to transform the phone into a gaming device.
Created by Lenovo - you can tell, given the illuminated red Legion symbol to the pad's rear (that's the gaming arm of Lenovo) - paired with an older-gen or second-hand phone and it's a great way to play Android games when on the go.
The GamePad is available now, priced $80 in the States and £75 in the UK. That's great value.
Moto 360 Camera
When one angle isn't enough, clip on the 360 camera to capture a full 4K quality video from all angles - perfect for outputting as VR headset imagery or immersive YouTube content. Even the directional sound capture gives a more immersive experience.
And if you don't want to capture recording images, then 150-degree ultra-wide stills images can be captured both front and back. That's like gnarly skateboard stuff from the 90s right there.
The Moto 360 Camera Mod is a pricey bit of kit though: at $300 in the States and £239 in the UK, you'll have to be super keen on 3D to buy one.
Polaroid Insta-Share Printer
Remember Polaroids? You know, the ability to take a photo on the fly and have it appear on paper right before your eyes without the need to process? Well, now you can re-live your past with the Insta-Share printer, which can print images on real papers so you can stick them onto your fridge rather than your Facebook page.
The printer uses Zink paper, which doesn't need any chemicals or use any ink in printing - it all happens by heat transfer. The results aren't the punchiest ever as a result, but the ability to print out such fun snaps does make this Mod one of the most fun in the range.
Priced at $200 (or $150 on offer), the Polaroid Moto Mod isn't mad-pricey, plus a new pack of paper costs around $15 for 20 sheets. It's hard to find outside of the US at present, but we can see worldwide appeal.
Moto Style Shells / with wireless charging
The first-generation Style Shells are simple covers, costing around £16 for a fabric Shell, or £20 for leather (wood - as pictured above - was planned, but has since been removed from the line-up, we believe due to its tendency to bend). When you order a Moto Z through Moto Maker you'll be able to choose which finish you'd like.
Version 2.0 of the Style Shells come with wireless charging, meaning you can chuck your Z-series phone on a charging pad and, boom, it'll begin to juice the battery. A great idea, but you'll need to buy a wireless charger separately as one is not included in the box of Mod nor any Moto Z-series device. Plus the wireless charging shells are pricier tha the originals, at $40 / £30.
Battery Power Packs
There are lots of power pack to choose from, listed below.
- Moto TurboPower Pack (3,490mAh battery), available summer 2017, $80
- Moto Power Pack (2,200mAh battery), available Z2 Play launch, $50
- Incipio Battery Case (2,200mAh battery), $80
- Incipio OffGrid wireless charging case (2,200mAh plus wireless charging), $90
- Tumi Wireless Charging Power Pack (2,200mAh plus wireless charging), $75
- Mophie Juice Pack (3,000mAh battery), $90
- Kate Spade (3,000mAh battery) US-only, $90
These battery packs can charge any Moto Z-series phone, so can be used for top-ups and then, say, left in your car so you needn't carry that additional weight around. The battery packs can also be charged independently of the phone, which is handy.
Incipio Vehicle Dock
If you're looking for a great way to clip your phone into your car then this in-car dock from Incipio can turn a Z-series phone into your wingman.
As soon as the phone clips into place it launches Android Auto, including full music control and more. There's an additional USB port for plugging into a car charger too. Perfect for navigation.
It's not available in all regions, due to various restrictions, but in the States the Vehicle Dock is priced $65. At present this won't be ranged in the UK.
Lenovo Vital Moto Mod
At first we thought the Vital Mod sounded a bit out there, to say the least. But, for the right customer, this health device can monitor five vital signs: heart rate, respiratory rate, Pulse Ox, core body temperature, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
If you need to frequently monitor your blood pressure, for example, this is a clever way to do so - all with the simple insertion of a finger, a few virtual button clicks on the attached Moto Z, and a 110 second wait. We hate having our pressure taken the conventional way (on the arm), so for those with white coat syndrome this is a great idea (and it got our readings almost exactly the same as a recent nurse appointment).
However, the $395 price tag might raise your blood pressure somewhat.
Moto Mods: The Future?
5G Moto Mod
Exclusively available for the Z3 and only on Verizon in the USA (it's unavailable elsewhere), the 5G Mod will go on sale in the first quarter of 2019. It does what it says on the tin: offers 5G connectivity with speeds up to 5Gbps thanks to the Qualcomm X50 modem on board. Price is TBC at present.
Livermorium Slider Keyboard Moto Mod
In theory the attachable QWERTY keyboard dock makes perfect sense. The way it clips on, slides out and angles at 60-degrees - all done by hand - is rather elegant.
But there are issues: the Moto Z is far heavier than the phone, so without the phone pinned down it slides around; the keys are so small that typing is difficult; a keyboard phone; the rear mechanism is exposed to the elements, which could be a problem for dirt; and why not just buy a BlackBerry KeyOne/Motion with far better key placement?
We're a fan of the idea, but the execution doesn't feel quite right just yet. But as it's an Indiegogo-funded campaign (through the Accelerator Program, more info below), there's still time to improve and refine the weighting and key feel prior to launch.
Motorola speaker Mod (name TBC)
We're a little surprised to see Motorola working against the strength of the JBL SoundBoost (further up the page), but that's what the company's own yet-to-be-named speaker Mod is here to do. It'll be more affordable than the JBL, too, so is one for price-conscious sound fans.
AR/VR Mod for Project Tango
At the 2016 Moto Unlocked event, the company's CEO, Aymar de Lencquesaing, quipped that there's likely to be "a Tango module to basically enable the Z to have Tango functionality". Straight from the horse's mouth. Augmented reality and virtual reality are incoming.
However, at a follow-up 2017 event, Motorola declined to comment further about the progress of this Mod, giving the impression that it may never see the light of day.
One upcoming Mod, according to HelloMotoHK, is the Adventure Mod. Said to offer waterproof sealing and seemingly transform the Moto Z phones into 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.
One concept on show back at the Moto launch was the OneCompute, a Windows Phone-style Continuum-like feature for Android, with the ability to turn Moto Z phones into a desktop computer of sorts. The phone attaches to the cradle Mod, which links to a hub containing various USB, HDMI and power ports to connects to a monitor.
Moto Mods Developer Program
Moto is also behind a developer drive. There's a Moto Mods developer programme to encourage hardware and software makers to come up with their own Mods. The sky really is the limit.
A $125 Mods package can be bought by developers, including a variety of pre-made sensors - such as temperature, camera and beyond - to remove the need for hardware development from day one.
We foresee all kinds of stuff coming to light, 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 colour.
Moto Mods: Do they make sense?
Do you really need a modular phone? Wouldn't it be easier to buy separate speaker/battery/projector/camera devices? Whether you see Mods as an essential or gimmick will be a key driver whether you want to buy a Moto Z-series phone.
What we can say for sure is that Motorola's modular approach is ultra simple to use. It's far less intrusive than, say, LG's now-defunct Friends modules. The simple magnetic clip-on approach works a treat.