back to article Motorola's modular Moto Z: A fine phone for a weekend away

Motorola's modular Android, the Moto Z, offers something genuinely new in the increasingly dull world of smartphones. That something is a range of “Moto mods” that click onto the phone with magnets and a few conductive contacts. The four mods The Register tested – a Hasselblad camera, JBL speaker, projector and battery – mean …

  1. Phil Kingston Silver badge

    When I first read about the Moto mods concept and Hasselblad name was dropped in, I too was dead excited. But all the reviews I've seen come back to the device being annoyingly thin and the Hasselblad mod being just a licencing exercise largely irrelevant because the very good onboard snapper is pretty good. And all at a flagship price.

    I hope it doesn't go the way of the G5 and they do second round of device and mods - I might revisit then.

    Or, if they ditch it, I might pick myself up a bargain.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "the Hasselblad mod being just a licencing exercise largely irrelevant because the very good onboard snapper is pretty good."

      The real use case here would be if the add-on camera were the only camera. I'm sure there are plenty people here who visit clients where phones with cameras aren't allowed*. It would be very handy to be able to remove the camera and have an allowable phone.

      *I have visited one such site with a colleague. They checked our phones but forgot to ask if we were carrying cameras. My colleague had one in his pocket.

  2. jamesb2147

    Battery life

    Since the manufacturers insist on sealing the batteries in the case, this would be a nice way of working around that to get larger batteries. Here's to hoping for a smaller, thicker version with crazy long battery life (with attachment, natch)!

    1. djstardust Silver badge

      Re: Battery life

      There is a version with a bigger battery, but it's not going to be sold in the UK apparently.

      I love the concept and it is a lovely phone .... but just too thin and the standard battery life is crap apparently.

      Why do they have such an obsession with making the worlds thinnest phone. Another couple of mm would make it easier to hold and probably squeeze in a 3500 mah battery which would be perfect.

      Personally I find the JBL speaker quite good, perfectly fine for a room.

      Close but no cigar!

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Battery life

        > I love the concept and it is a lovely phone .... but just too thin and the standard battery life is crap apparently.

        So why not use it with the external battery module semi-permenantly?

        The other modules are just place-holders for the module concept. If Moto were brave enough to open it out to other phone vendors, certain Reg readers could Kickstart the physical keyboard they keep telling us they want.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Battery life

          I might even argue that a snap on external battery is a superior solution to a swappable main battery. Why? Because you can continue using the phone without turning it off and on again. In both scenarios you have to carry a spare battery anyway.

          You could use the battery pack to avoid deep cycling the main battery, which really shortens the lifespan of Li-ion batteries.

          1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: Battery life

            I might even argue that a snap on external battery is a superior solution to a swappable main battery.

            Yeah, but generic battery packs are dirt cheap and universally usable.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: Battery life

              Ug? There are no universal main batteries for mobile phones because most don't have removable batteries.

              You can still use a generic USB power bank - this Moto system just gives you an extra option. I would imagine that the people who use their phone so much that they deplete their battery daily are largely the same people who don't want to be offline / uncontactable for a couple of minutes when swapping the phone's battery.

              1. tiggity Silver badge

                Re: Battery life

                Some apps burn through battery at an amazing rate.

                AR games e.g. Ingress, Pokemon Go are a good example

                Ask the folk playing those on their phone how many hours of gaming they get on a single charge - not much, there is no way they could fit in a 8 hour gaming session without external charger or swapping batteries.

          2. Ledswinger Silver badge

            Re: Battery life

            I might even argue that a snap on external battery is a superior solution to a swappable main battery.

            Depends on your concern. For me, I want a user-replaceable battery not because I routinely swap it, but simply because I tend to buy and keep phones for longer than the reliable battery life. Sometimes the cells last, sometimes they don't, but at least my handset allows me to throw away a faulty battery and stick a new one in for ten-fifteen quid.

        2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Battery life - So why not use it with the external battery module semi-permenantly?

          That's exactly how my first mobile phone worked.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Battery life

      As a future seer (or trying to be one) this is one area I've flagged up.

      In general smartphone innovation has flatlined - (what is the iPhone 8 going to add to the 7 ?). It'w a mature market, and for now there's nothing on the horizon to drive a massive turnover of what's out there.

      So with that, the only thing to improve is battery life, and mechanical sturdiness. The former is being tackled - albeit slowly - by the materials guys with a little help from Android/iOS in power management. And the latter by the rise in non-mechanical (magnetic) couplings for USB connections. Which will prolong the phones life.

      I predict the most popular add-on module by far will be the battery.

      Incidentally, the near-universal adoption of the MicroUSB port for modern phones has also mitigated battery life problems. Now you can charge them anywhere someone has a cable ....

      E2A: As if to prove me right, Fillipo below nails it !!!!

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Battery life

        Incidentally, the near-universal adoption of the MicroUSB port for modern phones has also mitigated battery life problems.

        Aaah but USB-C is coming through on phones now, which means you can charge anywhere but your phone might explode because someone is using some pound shop quality cable.

  3. Filippo

    Wait, does this mean that if I just get the battery mod and leave it on, I'll end up with a phone that is reasonably thick and has awesome battery life? 'cause that sounds more interesting than mods.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Yep. And of course the internal battery will be subject to fewer and shallower charge/discharge cycles so it will last longer. Basically, it allows for the most elegant external battery solution available.

    2. quxinot

      Some options do that already. I've got a S4, for example, with $13 worth of chinesium battery that supposedly supplies 6200mAh, and not only makes it weighty but also reasonably thick (~14.5mm on my calipers). No reason to charge it but every fourth day or so, which is nice. There's other issues (lack of CM support with this firmware, a pinch slowish, 32gb max card size allowed, etc), but it's nice to have the option to replace a wonky battery with a larger or stock one.

      Sick to death of the "as thin as possible" malarkey. Having a removable battery and an account with the usual suspects (ebay, aliwhatever, etc) means you have options, and that's great. Now if only we had even more options, such as full @#$@# control over the software....

  4. djstardust Silver badge

    Oh ....

    And there's no 3.5mm headphone jack either. That may be a deal breaker for some.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Oh ....

      Fixed for 99p from eBay. MicroUSB > 3.5mm adaptor.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Oh ....

        If it is an issue for some, it is far cheaper and easier to fix than, say, no microSD slot or too little RAM.

        Really, a little dongle will save strain on the 3.5mm plug end of my headphone cable, which is often where they fail.

  5. Martin an gof Silver badge

    "Best" -v- "Good Enough"

    I think the "no pressing need" argument is the problem here. Those of us who want photographs a bit better than standard phone cameras - in particular optical zoom and a decent flash - are quite happy to carry around a camera for that purpose, whether that be a full-blown SLR or something small and compact.

    Everyone else is happy with what their phones offer. I mean, it's only eleven or twelve years ago that I was carrying disposable film cameras around in my coat pocket, for those opportunistic snaps when I didn't have the SLR handy, and many (most?) phone cameras now match the (daylight) quality I got from those.

    My wife has a Canon Ixus, a 160 I think, or a 165, which isn't any more bulky to carry around than the camera back for this phone, takes reasonably good pictures (bit grainy at times), doesn't rely on the phone's battery and has its own memory card. It's the work of a moment to swap a dead battery for the charged spare which sits next to the camera in her bag.

    There's even an alpha version of CHDK for it, so you can shoot RAW should you want to.

    On the other hand, how about pushing the snap-on module concept to the corporate sector? You could quite easily think of a range of add-ons that would help in (for example) stock control or warehouse management; things like ticket printers or barcode scanners...

    M.

  6. LDS Silver badge

    Add-ons become obsolete with the phone... and if they're not very cheap....

    In my experience, this kind of add-ons become obsolete together the only device that can use them - thereby very quickly. Even if they were better ones, their useful life is too short for the money.

    Unless they become a true system like, for example, DSLRs are, where compatibility among old and new models is much, much higher. You can buy a lens today, and, unless there is some of those big changes that luckily happens rarely (i.e. when Canon moved from the mechanical FD mount to the fully electronic EF one in 1986, fully breaking compatibility), you can use them on future cameras, and vice-versa. But even in this market there are some add-ons which are specific to a model (i.e. grips), and unless you really need them, they could turn out to be just a waste of money (although the useful life of a good camera is much longer than a phone).

    But since the phone industry is fully built on obsoleting products as fast as it can to sell new ones, I wouldn't bet on it, and I will simply stay away from any add-on.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Add-ons become obsolete with the phone... and if they're not very cheap....

      > In my experience, this kind of add-ons become obsolete together the only device that can use them - thereby very quickly

      Indeed. This is why it would be great if Moto 'grew the pie' and opened their module system to other phone vendors.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Add-ons become obsolete with the phone... and if they're not very cheap....

        The electronic bits of the Moto Mod system are the open Greybus standard - it is only the physical bits of Moto’s implementation that are proprietary. Android largely sees Moto addons as an intrinsic part of the host phone, though the system allows for weird stuff that requires a custom app.

        As an aside, it was rumoured that the iPhone 7 would include the same 3 pin magnetic connector that the iPad Pro uses for keyboards, but Apple decided against it.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Add-ons become obsolete with the phone... and if they're not very cheap....

        It would be enough it they were supported and compatible within the same brand - outside true industry standards you rarely see add-ons interoperability across brands.

        Just these are mostly gadgets in attempt to get maybe some more sales, and make some more money selling yhem, while add-ons support in different models will put some design constraints I guess they don't really want.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Add-ons become obsolete with the phone... and if they're not very cheap....

          > outside true industry standards you rarely see add-ons interoperability across brands.

          Too true... I mean, there isn't even a standard for Android-compatible wired headset microphones and remote transport controls. Even within the same brand (Sony would use a different value of resistor in the headset between one generation of Xperia and another - and this is just the one I know of because I researched it). Meanwhile, every supermarket in the land stocks a choice of headphones with mic and transport controls that will work with all but the newest iPhone.

          This lack of full headphone interoperability doesn't help Android brands steal customers from each other, but if they did knock their heads together they would erode one reason some people go with Apple.

          Ironically for a 'closed' system, iDevices have always been well supported by third party peripheral vendors, from Sennhieser to Logitech - chiefly because they can be confident that Apple will sell X million units of a certain model for a couple of years. If Apple made iPhones with a similar module connector to Moto's, there would likely be more modules available than the few that Moto currently offers.

          On that note, Moto's website says they have set aside $1 million to help people develop new modules, with the most promising developers winning a trip to Chicago. I wouldn't sniff at that, but can't help thinking I'd rather go somewhere warmer!

          [ The only brand-specific 'module' I have ever bought for a phone - ignoring cases - is a stereo microphone for my Xperia Z3 Compact, using Sony's 3.5mm TRRRS port. It was made for the Z2, and wasn't recognised by name by the Z3C's software, though it did work. Now that my Z3C is awaiting anew screen that it probably will never receive, I've lent the microphone to friend indefinitely. ]

  7. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    "There's 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and the chance to add more in a micro-SD card slot. The 5.5in screen offers 2560 x 1440 resolution"

    Sigh, better than most laptops...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Better than my laptop, but it's a laptop I've had no urgent need to upgrade for many years.

      I guess I have a great treat in store when I do eventually take the plunge - I'm still on spinning rust, FFS!

      Because I'm in no hurry, I can sit back and wait for current interesting trends to mature, gain adoption and become more polished. When the time comes, it might well be a USC-C only laptop with external GPU... the awkard 'in between’ period will have passed me by.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        I'm still on spinning rust, FFS!

        Me too with my ~3 month old laptop. Unfortunately for my work I need ~500GB of data sets on it and just can't afford/justify the resulting SSD price tag.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Today just the "size" number don't tell everything - the underlying technology used will dictate the speed and other performance parameters - which also need to be adjusted taking into account the power available.

      Hope anyway most laptops today have more than 64GB of storage...

  8. Mage Silver badge

    Stupid

    Should be fatter

    Should have 2x or 3x battery life

    Should have 3.5mm jack

    I could go on.

    It's not Motorola either.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Stupid

      If you want it to be fatter and with more battery, put a battery pack on it.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Stupid

        If you want it to be fatter and with more battery, put a battery pack on it.

        If I know I want better battery life from the get go, I'll buy a phone with a bigger battery.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Stupid

          > If I know I want better battery life from the get go, I'll buy a phone with a bigger battery.

          What advantage would that bring you Charlie? Genuine question.

          Lots of Reg readers have expressed a desire for a phone with swappable battery,and here it is but better (phone doesn't restart during battery swap)

    2. GingerOne

      Re: Stupid

      "Should be fatter"

      Did you not notice the add-ons? The whole point is that the phone is as thin as possible so that the attachments don't make it too ridiculously huge.

      "Should have 2x or 3x battery life"

      Keep the battery pack on day to day (will also make it fatter).

      "Should have 3.5mm jack"

      So there's this great new technology called Bluetooth...

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Stupid

        Bluetooth, which uses more power

        Which needs Bluetooth headphones ..

        3.5 jack allows cheap as chips crap headphones that do the job of keeping out the noise on bus / train commutes where sound quality is not the key factor, just a get away from the hubbub need

  9. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Shame these modules seem to be limited to connecting one at a time, because the speaker and projector would compliment each other. Would be cool if the battery pack connected to the speaker, and the speaker worked over BT, so it could be placed under the projection target.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      You're right,it is a shame... You could assemble yourself a 1980s style Gordon Gecko brick of a phone just by adding more battery modules! :)

  10. GingerOne

    All I see here is gimmickery. What's the odds that within 12 months this model will have been replaced and none of the add-ons will work on the new model? If there was some gaurantee that these would be forwards compatible with the next two or three or four iterations of the phone then I might be tempted. Otherwise I'm sticking with my standard smartphone.

    And whats with still using micro-USB? Get with the times granddad, USB-C is where it's at!

  11. airbrush

    Futureproof?

    I still have my Atrix lapdock and desk dock in a drawer somewhere, well made but ultimately too expensive for disposable extras (bought with a hefty discount). If they nail that they can lock in users for the next upgrade in the same way as apple.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Futureproof?

      The interface for the lapdock was supposed to remain the same for several phone generations (allowing one to reuse accessories for a while). It lasted only as long as the Atrix because the next phone generation flipped the USB connector 180 degrees.

      MotoMods also had a goal to freeze the interface but until the second generation phone ships and the mods work with the new phone, I wouldn't hold my breath!

      1. airbrush

        Re: Futureproof?

        Yeah that's the problem with Motorola, they innovate first but shoot themselves in the foot.

  12. Snowy

    The device runs Android 6.01 Marshmallow, out of date already.

    1. SMOKEING

      7.0 is already here

      Typing this on a Moto Z which runs on 7.0, been updated a month ago or thereabout.

  13. SMOKEING

    3.5 jack, usb-c

    Much as I find the 3.5mm jack in no need to be replaced with anything else, I still do see the improvement the whole deal gets from the USB-C port replacing microUSB. Over the years, death to three of my phones came in the form of the USB socket countersunk by countless cable insertions and the mechanical wear. I do hope the new USB-C socket is designed and built to withstand more.

  14. quxinot

    A great phone for the weekend away needs but one feature.

    "Off"

  15. MR J

    Lets call it by its real name.

    Lenovo Moto Z

  16. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Add a FLIR camera

    ..as a module, similar to the Caterpillar phone. That would be a nice module. Or perhaps for industrial or government use, a radio transceiver module. That said, I'd consider buying one of these and just always use it with the extra battery module for some serious battery life. Or get two battery modules and swap them when one gets low. Instant full charge. Hopefully the battery modules offer a way of charging them when off the phone though.

    A nice concept overall, and with an SD card slot--not having one is a deal breaker for me. If they don't drop the ball on the available modules, I'd like to see it thrive.

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