The ability to add features to a phone is a dream that many have dreamt of. Imagine having access to hardware that is constantly evolving and allows you the choice of upgrading only those specific features that you particularly care about. Moto Mods in all their shapes and sizes rank as some of the first serious steps towards enabling this future. We recently had a chance to get some hands on time with the new Mods alongside the Moto Z smartphone. Here’s what we thought about them.
While modularity in phones has been explored in multiple ways with some of the earliest commercial hardware being Modu devices, Moto takes a slightly safe gamble. Where the Modu-T offered a very basic core module wherein you couldn’t really do much without installing modules and the Project Ara hardware promised even more customizability, the Mods aim to add niche functionality. The Moto Z on it’s own is fully realized hardware that competes as a modern smartphone flagship. No, it does not depend on the Mods for any sort of computing power or functionality that you’ve come to expect from your phone. In that sense, the Moto Mods have been designed to enhance functionality.
16 gold pin connectors at the back of the Moto Z and the Moto Z Play are key factors in enabling the new Moto Mods ecosystem. While magnets in four corners hold the mods tightly to the phone, these connectors allow for two way communication between the phone and any additional mods applied to the device. Mods can also charge up the device using the gold pin connectors. What is interesting is that besides the regular data pipelines for audio and video, there’s a lot more that can be done here. The company is pushing it’s Mod development kit quite heavily and wants to spur a wide array of developers to work on it’s platform. To this end, there’s up to a million dollars in funding available for potential consumer level hardware in development.
Amongst the first crop of devices expected includes the JBL Soundboost Mod which as is rather obvious is a speaker attachment for your phone. In the race to make our phones consistently slimmer, we’ve come to a point where compromises are often made and usually it is via the likes of the speakers used. Gone are the days when stereo LOUD speakers were the norm. The JBL Soundboost aims to rectify that by offering dual 3W speakers that are louder than any phone you are likely to come across.
Like all other mods, attaching the Soundboost is a cinch and you simply have to bring the two devices close to each other, let the magnets do their job. The speaker bar does add a lot of girth to the handset but that’s something that was inevitable. The speakers themselves are loud enough to go up to 80 decibels while still maintaining crisp and clear audio as well as a fair amount of bass. Of course, the Soundboost also doubles up as a speakerphone or conference speaker and performs exceedingly well at that. The orange metallic bar with JBL emblazoned on top acts as a kickstand for the speaker system. All in all, the JBL Soundboost is a very functional mod that adds loud, crisp, clear stereo audio playback abilities to the Moto Z and Moto Z Play. The only tradeoff is the size and we don’t expect many users to keep this attached all the time.
Coming to the most intriguing mod announced so far, we have the Hasselblad True Zoom camera grip. And unlike the camera grips we’ve seen in the past for devices like the Lumia 1020 and others, this one adds a whole new camera sensor as well as a 10x optical zoom mechanism into the fray.
For all it’s capabilities, the Hasselblad camera mod isn’t all that hefty and adds a distinct camera like profile to the rear of your handset. The materials, even on the pre production hardware we tried out, seemed to be high quality. The Hasselblad name is silkscreened at the top while on the right hand side lies a grip. The 12MP 1/2.3″ sensor is hidden by a circular housing which also integrates the 10x optical zoom assembly. The aperture range is f3.5-6.5 so you most definitely are giving up on low light capabilities for the convenience of optical zoom.
We found the power button to be a bit fiddly and it needed a couple of presses to activate the camera module but this could be a result of the pre-production hardware. The toggle for the zooming mechanism is pretty smooth and corresponds well to the movement of the optical assembly. A common thread running through the great cameraphones like the Nokia N82, N8 and more was the presence of a Xenon flash for low light shots. The Hasselblad True Zoom mod brings that capability to the Moto Z & Moto Z Play as well. We’ll refrain from commenting on actual image quality till the time we get our hands on a retail unit and have a chance to put the camera through its paces in multiple lighting situations.
Motorola is also bringing along it’s Insta Share Projector Mod to India which attaches a pico projector to the back of your phone. A rather niche offering, it throws across up to a 70 inch screen and includes automatic keystone correction. With a maximum brightness of 50 lumens and a max resolution of 854×480 pixels, the Insta Share Projector could serve as a quick way to throw up videos while out and about. There’s a lot of potential here for use while traveling as well as for business users who no longer have to depend on finding a projector and connecting it to a laptop to run a presentation. The mod can run up to an hour on it’s built in battery. A kickstand is part of the design to adjust the projection angle, there’s also a small fan built into the hardware to keep the projector running cool.
There’s a lot more planned out where these Mods come from. The company has partnered with the likes of Incipio to introduce a battery mod. Moto will also bundle in a cosmetic mod that is in form of a wood finish back panel. You can buy extras in a range of colors and materials like ballistic nylon.
Efforts have been made to offer some sort of modularity in the recent past with the LG G5 being amongst the most high profile. Unfortunately, lack of compatibility across devices has all but killed interest in the product. With Moto Mods, the company is trying to create an ecosystem of sorts that already extends across the Moto Z and Moto Z Play. Over time as this extends further down the price category, there’s a lot of potential for Mods to pick up consumer interest as long as they remain compatible with the foreseeable generations of handsets. For now though, the initial offerings cover all the basic use cases and serve as perhaps the most approachable and consumer friendly approach towards enabling a modular future.
Pricing for Moto Mods
- Wooden and Ballistic nylon style shells: Rs. 1099 (Bundle price Rs. 899)
- Leather style shell: Rs. 1599 (Bundle price Rs. 1299)
- Incipio offGRID Power Pack – Rs. 5,999 (Bundle price Rs. 4999)
- JBL Soundboost speaker – Rs. 6999 (Bundle price Rs. 5999)
- Insta-share Projector – Rs. 19,999 (Bundle price Rs. 15,999)
- Hasselblad True Zoom Camera – Rs. 19,999 (Bundle price Rs. 14,999)