Motorola is on to something with their new Moto Mods system

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It was just over a week ago that I posted my Moto Z and Moto Z Play review, along with four Moto Mods reviews of the currently available mods for the pair of smartphones. I titled my Moto Z/Moto Z Play review “Innovation in a stagnant field,” and after continued use of the Moto Z and the Moto Mods this past week, I still firmly believe that.

Smartphone Burnout

A few of us have been discussing “smartphone burnout” in private hangouts recently, and Alex even wrote up an editorial covering some of those feelings a few weeks back. Sure there are many factors to smartphone burnout, but I personally think two factors come into play: lack of innovation and smartphone cost. Unless you’re a tech-head who’s after the latest and greatest and upgrade your phone every year, cost is no object usually. However, the average consumer likes to hang onto their phones as long as possible before having to pay another fee and get locked back into another 2-year contract with their service provider. So just how do you get people to be interested in phones again? Innovate.

Let’s take a look at the majority of flagship devices over the past couple years — for all intents and purposes, they’re pretty damn near identical. Rectangular in shape, similar processor speeds, similar amounts of RAM, higher screen resolutions, most now have non-removable batteries, and OEMs are even moving away from microSD card slots as well. Sure there have been “innovations” like fingerprint scanners, better flashes, dual cameras, and the like, but as a photographer I never really counted on — and maybe never will — my smartphone for “proper” photography. As far as faster processors, more RAM, and higher resolution screens, the AVERAGE consumer doesn’t really care about, or even NEED, those types of specs. There’s no question I’m a tech lover, and to be honest it’s pretty tough to tell the difference between the 1440p QHD display on the Moto Z over the 1080p FHD display on the Moto Z Play. Both boast the same screen size, so of course the Moto Z has a higher ppi than the Moto Z Play, but if you’re using a phone the way most people do, you’re going to be hard pressed to tell the difference. A lot of these “upgrades” are things the average consumer doesn’t need (in my opinion) and only serve to drive up the cost of these devices.

The Moto Z and Moto Z Play received one of our Top Picks of 2016 awards.

Enough of that, my basic point is most smartphones these days are way more than the average consumer needs, and I’d hazard a guess to say that the vast majority of average users use far less than the full processing power their current smartphone can provide.

Lack of Innovation

Take Google’s latest — the Pixel and Pixel XL. When it was officially unveiled a few weeks ago, the internet was rife with “iClone” comments, and when the price was revealed, it definitely ramped up those comments. Sure the camera is arguably the best camera on a smartphone that you can get, but is that enough for the average consumer to drop their current device and pay $800 or more outright for a new smartphone? I’m willing to bet that most of those people have a point and shoot camera they keep handy for most of the photography and use their smartphone for those quick snaps at the bar, or of their kids, latest meal, or what have you.

I’ve used Nexus devices for the past few years, from the Nexus 4 on up after moving over from Samsung Galaxy S products. Why? I made the move for a couple of reasons. As a tech lover, I loved the fact that I got a pure Android experience on them, no more need to root and flash ROMs to get an experience I wanted. Second, I loved the price point. With the Nexus line, there was finally a decent, affordable phone — or pair of phones — that I could buy off contract for a reasonable price. Even with the Nexus devices, and being a tech lover, I still upgraded every other year. My wife got the Nexus 4, I got the Nexus 5, and then this past spring we picked up the Nexus 5X and 6P respectively, but only because it was time for her to get a new phone and our telco was offering a great deal on devices. I was able to talk them into giving us the same deal for a 5X and 6P.


The Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P are great devices, but didn’t really have a compelling “must have” feature to upgrade to (image courtesy Google).

We upgraded, not because the 5X and 6P offered something great and fantastic over the Nexus 4 or Nexus 5, but because her Nexus 4 was getting a little “long in the tooth” and wasn’t operating as well as it should have been. I would have been fine with the Nexus 5 for another year, but because we got a good deal on a pair of phones, I upgraded. Not because the 6P offered anything “must have” over the Nexus 5.

Modular Smartphones

Over the past couple years, some manufacturers have tried to break out of the same stagnant formula that most OEMs follow these days. Project Ara looked like an interesting start to a modular phone system, but even from the outset I felt that it was too “techy” for the average consumer. Then came the LG G5 with their attachments dubbed “Friends.” I never had the opportunity to review the LG G5 or its attachments, but the only real “modular” components were the battery and the LG Cam Plus. Neither really “improved” the phone in my opinion. Sure the removable battery made it easy to swap in a fresh one, and the LG Cam Plus just moved camera controls from your phone screen to a physical button and wheel style, but neither actually built on the base phone to make it better. From the sound of it, LG isn’t convinced either as there are rumours that the LG G6 will be ditching the Friends system.

The LG G5 had the right idea, but wasn’t really all that modular…

Moto Mods

Enter the Moto Mods system from Motorola. I’ve been reviewing smartphones and other tech related devices for a couple years now here at Techaeris, and when I was offered the chance to review the Moto Z and Moto Mods, I actually got excited to be reviewing a smartphone. Don’t get me wrong here, I like reviewing the latest and greatest, and we do try and offer reviews from an average consumer view even if we might find a particular device bland and boring. If it’s functional and works as expected and will give the average consumer what they expect out of it, of course it will get a good rating score. We’ll point out what we wish was different, but to be honest for the most part a smartphone is a smartphone these days and it really comes down to personal style preference, although that’s becoming less of an option as OEMs and now Google are following a similar formula, especially with design.

After a couple days with the Moto Z and the Moto Mods, I felt like Motorola was on to something with their “modular” phone system in which you get to pick and choose what parts of the phone you want to augment. The biggest thing I noticed about the Moto Mods was that there was no fussing about getting them to work, simply remove the back Style Cover on the Moto Z/Moto Z Play, and slap on the battery pack, speaker, camera, or projector. Honestly, it really is that easy — and for something to be adoptable by the general public, it has to be easy for the average consumer to use.

JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod on the Moto Z Play.

Sure, if you get all the Mods you’re looking at roughly $1150 (CAD) for the Moto Z Play and roughly $1400 (CAD) for the Moto Z, but most people aren’t going to go out and do that — and that’s the beauty of the system. If you’re into photography, you’ll pick up the Hasselblad True Zoom. Want longer battery life? The Incipio offGRID Power Pack will be your Moto Mod of choice. The same goes with the JBL SoundBoost Speaker and the Moto Insta-Share Projector. I’ll admit, the Moto Mods aren’t perfect, but for a first iteration they’re all pretty decent and can only be improved upon.

Upon hearing about the Moto Mods, my initial thought was something along the lines of “who’s going to spend $1000 on a point and shoot camera?” — and, of course, the answer is no one. Yes, the Moto Z and the Hasselblad True Zoom will run you over $1000, but you’re not buying just a camera — you’re buying a smartphone AND a camera. While the Hasselblad True Zoom isn’t quite on par with some point and shoot cameras, it definitely does a better job than other point and shoot cameras and even produces better photos that a lot of smartphones out there. Yes, there are bigger power packs than the Incipio offGrid Power Pack and its 2220mAh capacity, and there are better-sounding Bluetooth speakers than the JBL SoundBoost Speaker, not to mention higher resolution mini-projectors than the 480p Moto Insta-Share Projector — but they’re all separate components and don’t attach and integrate as a single unit with your smartphone.

The Moto Insta-Share Projector projecting onto a wall.

After a month with the Moto Z and the Moto Mods, I’ve become accustomed to using, and really enjoyed the convenience of being able to slap on the JBL SoundBoost Speaker while working in the back yard or garage instead of having to lug out and pair to a Bluetooth speaker. Likewise, when going out and knowing I’ll be using the phone for some battery-intensive activities like Pokémon GO, it’s definitely more compact to be able to slap on that Incipio offGRID Power Pack instead of having to lug around an extra battery pack to stay charged up. The Hasselblad True Zoom is one of my favourite Moto Mods, and I’ve definitely snapped a few photos that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to take with a smartphone. I haven’t used the Moto Insta-Share Projector as much as I’d have liked, but I can definitely see the use for boardroom meetings or even for watching a movie or show in the trailer on a rainy day while camping.

Moto Mods are a great start to something fantastic, new, and fresh when it comes to smartphones.

Final Thoughts

It’d definitely be interesting to see how much it could bring the cost of a Moto Z smartphone down by removing the camera if one decided they just wanted to use the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod to take pictures. I know that I kept the camera mod handy, and took the extra few seconds to slap it on when I wanted to take a photo with the Moto Z or Moto Z Play, depending which phone I was using that week. I’m definitely curious to see what Moto Mods are on the horizon, the sky really is the limit here: printers, higher resolution projectors, hard drives, e-Ink display, stackable Moto Mods — you name it, it’s quite possible that we could see it at some point.

I only hope that the Moto Z line and Moto Mods get noticed by the average consumer. Everyone I showed them to was blown away by pretty much each of the mods, but the problem with any new product is getting the word out there. Motorola is definitely on the right track with Moto Mods. It’s an innovative system that is easy to use and they have some decent brand name backing like JBL, Hasselblad, and Incipio — and the initial variety of Moto Mods available is a good start.

Have you tried out the Moto Z/Moto Z Play and Moto Mods yet? What did you think? What Moto Mods would you like to see in the future? Let us know in the comments below or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.


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