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June 10, 2016

Moto Mods: Everything you need to know about the Moto Z’s snap-on accessories

by John_A

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.

Motorola

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?

Lenovo

Style Shells

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.

Lenovo

JBL SoundBoost

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.

Lenovo

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.

Lenovo

Power Packs

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.

Evan Blass (Twitter)

Future Mods

Right up until launch there were images floating around showing off a Hasselblad-branded camera Mod. This hasn’t been confirmed by Lenovo yet, but we still expect it will eventually make an appearance in the future. It looked as though it covered the built-in camera on the Moto Z, replacing it with a much better one, with manual controls.

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.

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.

Tom’s Hardware

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.

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. Likewise, Ara has all these modules on the back that, when removed, leave a grid of empty spaces behind.

Moto’s approach is far less intrusive and, the method of attaching a single Mod is easy and quick. The one downside is that, unlike Ara, you can only have one module attached at a time. You can’t have multiple Mods connected simultaneously.

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