back to article Mods I have known, Mods I have loved, Mods I have hated: Motorola's failed experiment is now a savvy techie's dream

Smartphone makers are touting cameras with 5x and even 10x lossless zoom on some very expensive new gadgets. Huawei's lossless 5x costs around £900. However, on a recent weekend family escape, I grabbed a smartphone and took some wonderful, truly lossless 10x photos on a rig set up that will cost you, dear reader, less than £300 …

  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    It's sad to see an enthusiastic article about a dying product range. I can't recall seeing a Reg article about the Moto Mod system since its launch.

    I've suspected from the beginning that unless Moto licensed out their physical connector to other phone vendors the critical mass of developers and users ( to share development and tooling costs) just wouldn't be there.

    Project Ara was to time, LG's modular system was just daft, but the Moto Mod system seemed ideal - offering genuine usefulness (especially hot swappable batteries) with no big downsides. For sure, it means that once you'd invested in a few Mods you'd be tied to phones of a certain size, but many users have already settled in a phone size that suits them.

    If Moto had sold all the Mod phone range in the UK and every commented here who stated they just want a phone with swappable battery had bought one, they might still be a growing concern.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      The mods were covered quite extensively at the time. The problems with the approach are fairly obvious: speakers, cameras, etc. can be connected wirelessly; bigger batteries built-in are preferable, otherwise just get a powerbank. And the lock-in to Motorola risked being dropped by Motorola leaving you with potentially useless kit.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        I agree that the Motorola lock in was a huge turn off - to the extent that I could never see the system taking off unless Moto licenced it to other phone vendors. Of course doing so wouldn't do much for Motorola, but that's where we are now anyway.

        I disagree that a bigger built in battery is preferable, because you'll never find that one size that fits all users (people never far from a car or desk have no need for a two day battery and they don't want the bulk). With battery back packs, power users can stow a spare or two without the unwieldiness of a conventional power bank, and they don't need to power cycle their phone to swap an internal battery like phones of old.

        Cameras can be connected wirelessly, and indeed the Sony QX10 and QX100 (large sensors and lenses that use a phone for screen and storage) are holding their value after several years, despite the original criticism that their use of Bluetooth as opposed to a direct bus connection hampered their performance.

        Wireless headsets could also make use of a shap on connection to a phone to recharge from a phone's battery.

        1. tipso_calipso

          Agree that Motorola's strategy was bad. From my point of view they made no effort in year one, with buying the phone off Amazon just about the only option. Year 2 they finally partnered with a carrier but they also offered finance in the USA for buying the phone outright and did not in the UK. And year 3 they dropped the carrier again whilst reducing the availability of the phones and mods. I've been waiting eagerly for it since 2 years before they first launched this phone. The idea is the best one out there, but their execution has always been p*ss poor in the UK. The whole reason I've wanted this phone since 2016 was for the battery mod (which is now impossible to find in the UK, nearest I can find is in Chicago for more than £80) so I can play Pokemon Go un-tethered. So the suggestion to "just get a battery pack" is not ideal and goes against the whole idea of this phone.

          There's still a lot of good ideas, but as suggested Motorola hasn't done a good enough job with this phone's promotion and availability.

          p.s. if the author can suggest where he saw any of the battery mods for £25 I'd snap them up.

  2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
    Trollface

    Is there a mod with a 1/8" stereo jack?

    1. short

      Not that I could find, Seems like it would have been an easy thing to add to one of the audio mods, maybe with a luxury amp, since there's the space and power budget.

      Edit: Nowt stopping you building such a thing, of course. That's kind of the point.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        You could rewire a USB C audio dongle - some good quality ones are available for not much.

    2. juice Silver badge

      > Is there a mod with a 1/8" stereo jack?

      Is there any technical benefit to having something like that? A 3.5mm - 6.35mm adapter can generally be picked up for around a quid, and I'm guessing any signal degredation is unlikely to be noticable to anyone who doesn't believe that gold-plated SATA cables make their MP3s sound richer...

  3. Dangermouse 1

    500 Wh Battery?

    That's a hell of a battery!

    1. elkster88
      Flame

      Re: 500 Wh Battery?

      Beat me to it.

      Obviously the Insta-Share also doubles as a plasma cutter if you know how to trigger the Easter egg.

  4. short

    I love my Z with the camera mod - but now the phone battery's starting to fade, the camera craps out if the phone battery is at less than 70%, and sometimes the phone crashes too. I've dismantled a previous camera (met a sticky end when I rammed it into a tree), and there's nowhere easy to stick a big power smoothing cap.

    Replacing the battery in the phone looks non-trivial on youtube, but I'll probably bother, as the combination is really nice. Seamless bolt-up to google photos if you don't mind google having your photos.

    The speaker mod (with its own battery) is great, runs for many hours, plays audiobooks or radio while I'm working. You really know when an SMS has come in, though.

    I've also got the development mods, but have done nothing but fetch the toolkit and run the demos. Anything that I want to build, would probably be better connected over USB or Bluetooth. An oscilloscope back would make me very, very happy. Sort of bolt a Red Pitaya or whatever on, but use the fast camera data lanes to dump a screen buffer onto the phone.

    It's a shame there's not a sandwich battery mod, so I could run the camera forever. An extra 4mm thickness would be a massive capacity boost.

    Anyway, mods = gods, etc. And the phone, without mods, isn't too shabby.

    1. petur

      AAAARGH you shouldn't have mentioned an oscilloscope back

    2. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

      Software defined radio back

      That would rock.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: Software defined radio back

        I have zero need for one, but feel I must now have it.

      2. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: Software defined radio back

        "That would rock."

        Actually virtually all GSM phones (and of course later 3G and 4G phones) are essentially SDRs... just with a locked down "baseband" processor which has full control over your application processor.

  5. Anonymous IV
    Unhappy

    Mods I have known...

    When I read the headline I thought, "Oh goody! Andrew is going to do an article about the inimitable and irreplaceable (and irreplaced) Sarah Bee, former Moderatrix of this parish, and greatly missed." But sadly no, and even more sadly he, too, is going.

    Royal Baby guff can never compete with these exponents of the keyboard.

  6. genghis_uk

    I often wonder how some of our more SHOUTY brethren would have got on with the lovely Moderatrix of old.

    She had some great put downs in her time

  7. Christian Berger Silver badge

    The main problem with such ideas is...

    ... that on a mobile device you want light, smal, cheap and durable. However connectors have a magic triangle of light/small, cheap and durable. You can reach 2 of them, but not all 3.

    1. short

      Re: The main problem with such ideas is...

      Why do you want small? There's oodles of space on the back of a phone for some thickly gold plated contacts and a location pin. You _shall_ go to the ball, Cinders.

      (Seriously, the connector is quite nicely done, and not a limiting factor. It'd be better if it had a raw USB channel in it, as well as the CSI, DSI and sidechannel /control gubbins, but if it does, I haven't seen a way to use it in my minimal rummaging)

  8. John Watts

    I think that coastal defence in the distance is this: https://www.worldwar2heritage.com/en/page/9069/198/Mulberry-Harbour-Phoenix-Caisson-Thorpe-Bay-Southend-on-Sea

  9. Pete 2

    Phones for the 0.1%

    > truly lossless 10x photos

    Yeah, great for selfies ..... of your nose hair.

    But nobody except the photo aficionados will care about this. And those 1-in-a-thousand would never admit to using a phone camera for their version of perfectly framed, light-balanced and fully metered happy snaps

    So this is neither fish nor fowl. It doesn't provide the vast majority with anything they would want or ever use. Neither does it fulfill the needs of those who would bore the balls off a buffalo with all the technical descriptions that (inevitably) accompany each proudly shown photo.

    1. short

      Re: Phones for the 0.1%

      >Yeah, great for selfies ..... of your nose hair.

      The zoom doesn't work for closeups, can't focus. There's a tolerable macro mode, but you do have to hold the lens close...

      People have become very accepting of non-zoomable (and otherwise deeply compromised) phone cameras. Sticking the Hasselblad mod onto a phone is a pleasure. A fair number of my photos are of various animals, at distances where a regular phone camera, no matter how good, would just show a blob. Maybe not your use case, but I'm enjoying it, and the photos are keepers. You can go (relatively) full manual if you want. Sometimes it's nice to force things.

      Having it in my pocket at all times - in a way that I don't for real cameras, means it gets a lot of use, and the results aren't as disappointing as they tend to be with phone cameras. Google Photos integration means the photos get pushed to reliable storage without hassle.

      It's not the best camera in the world, but it's a set of compromises that fits me nicely, especially at the price point that AO points out. I've got no particular bone to pick.

      When I use the native camera on the phone, or my (works) iphone8, I remember why I like the mod. I got here via N95 and N8, both of which had notable cameras for the time - maybe I just like that sort of thing.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Phones for the 0.1%

        I've been really missing a zoom lens this spring, to the extent that I've considered picking up a 'travel zoom' camera. Pocket sized travel zoom cameras - a very popular segment when people still bought discrete cameras - can usually zoom up to around 30x. The trade off is that this requires a small sensor, though that's not the end of the world in good daylight when I'm spotting various birds along the canal.

        My phone camera is good enough that I rarely go to the faff (find the charger, find an empty SD card, carry the dammed thing, worry about its lens sucking in dust, transfer photos) of using my other discrete camera, one designed for lower light (so bigger sensor, only a 5x zoom lens)

        1. Chris Miller

          Re: Phones for the 0.1%

          I've been using Nikon 'super-zoom' compacts for many years (and the missus has a 15x Canon pocket model for when even that's too much of a faff). The current models go up to 60x which is just about usable in good light with a steadyish hand. Very good for bird identification.

          The best camera in the world is the one you have with you - right now.

    2. Slow Joe Crow

      Re: Phones for the 0.1%

      A surprising number of "serious" photographers admit to using phones for photography. For example the proprietor of Leicaphilia.com uses his iPhone regularly http://leicaphilia.com/a-day-in-paris/.

      If I had an add on module like the Hasselblad mod I'd seriously consider a phone add on to replace my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot. That said, I would prefer a Fuji or Ricoh module since they are less pretentious and more technically astute than Hasselblad.

  10. Steve Cooper

    I still love my Z2 Play - the wireless charging back is the one that's normally on, but if I'm going to be out all day/night I'll put on the extra battery in efficiency mode and won't worry that I'll be too drunk to remember to charge the phone the next morning. The phone's showing its age now though with its built in battery not what it used to be, and the USB C connector rather choosy on what cables it'll accept.

    I wish they did a more of a jump in spec to the Z3 Play, I might be quite tempted by a Z4!

  11. BinkyTheHorse
    Windows

    So the promised article finally materialized...

    ...shame about the circumstances :/.

    Since that wasn't elaborated on in the text, the keyboard mod was called Livermorium. As you can see, it was a horizontal slide-out physical keyboard, which, AFAIK, is an object of great desire of many commentards in these trying phablet times.

    Sadly, supposedly due to fabber shenanigans and lack of support from Moto, the project was ultimately cancelled, with only a part of the original backer order shipped.

    The team behind it went on to working on a dedicated slide-out modern Android phone. Backers for Livermorium who haven't received their unit had the option to either get a full refund or get credit towards the new phone.

    Overall, somewhat of a sad story, and it would be interesting to hear how it went from the Moto side of things.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: So the promised article finally materialized...

      A shame. Given that keypads can sometimes fail* and that some users won't need the keyboard all the time, having a snap-on keyboard is in some respects more desirable than an a keyboard integrated into the phone. The phone can be updated whilst retaining the keyboard, or a jammed keyboard can be swapped out without losing the use of the phone, or the keyboard can be removed after a working day and the user is going down the pub.

      *even on old Nokias. If the 5 key failed a work around to entering a new contact was to duplicate an existing contact with 5s in it and then edit it.

  12. NTwoO

    For just about the last 2 years I've had a Moto Z as a daily driver. The first unit I had was the Z2 play. It was a very reliable phone with the right specifications for the price point. The price of the Z2 force dopped fast enough that after 9 months I upgraded and the play was the birhtday gift for my son. We own a decent selection of the mods. It really works well and I'm happy that Moto is committing (it seems) to a 4th generation. That means that I can buy a new unit i n a year or two and get a decent run out of my investment of mods. The investment was limited, since the most were purchased on eBay for reasonably low prices. The projector was a measly 80 euro's and in an unopened box.

    As for the mods themselves, I can agree that the battery mod is an absolute winner. Finding second hand units are virtually impossible. What a pity that is. It works well and is non intrusive. After a heavy day of use one can simply slap it on the back if the power is running low during a Netflix show. My son also has a battery and he uses it profusely. Guess he games more in the breaks at school.

    The second great mod is the car dock. It is not mentioned in the article, but it is fantastic. The design is flimsy and the back mount broke during first use, but I fixed it and now it works perfectly. The docking and undocking is very elegant. Pity the design is so flimsy. Most people don't have the skills to fix it themselves.

    The projector is the third unit that gets mileage in our home. We enjoy camping, but we do watch movies at night in the tent. We have a white sheet glued to two aluminium poles. This results in a relatively taught screen without creases. This in combination with the bluetooth speaker makes for a nice nightly film. It is a pity there is not a speaker mod that clicks between the projector and the phone to produce sound during the film. The projector is built beautifully with a fan that is so quiet it is not audible in a film.

    The camera is the next unit I use regularly. The seamless integration with the storage and social media sinks for photos is the way it should be. In order to make the decision whether the camera is worth it, I compared it to a similarly priced Canon. The picture quality was virtually the same. The Canon had a longer zoom range, but the integration with the telephone was painful and cumbersome. The Camera mod received plenty of poor reviews for the image quality, but compared to a point and shoot with the same sensor size it is much of a muchness. The light balance selection is often a little dodgy and requires manual mode and upping the light balance. This is especially the case with low light photos. Videos are quite good with a stereo mic, but the zoom Is very loud. Using a fixed zoom is the solution.

    With the game mod there are a few games that are worth it. I played Abes Oddesey New and Tasty. The interface via the on screen buttons are terrible, but with the game controller it is Tasty!

    The mod I most desire is a oscilloscope/multimeter unit. It is a pity that there are not more business solutions such as this. Another option would be a snap between speaker for the projector. This would result in having a movie with sound. Now the choice is movie or sound... At first I also thought a quad DAC solution would be cool, but the internal DAC in the telephone is an HD dac with 224kHz sampling. It is limited by the android configuration to 48kHz, but the capabilities are in the phone. The thing I think that would've slaughtered it, was if Moto brought out the concept for the cheaper phones. Adults are too long term conscious to adopt this tech. Kids however would hapilly snach it up. If they made a cheap version (Mods lite) where a battery and a speaker would be about the price 2 of your friends could pay for 1 birthday gift together, then it would work. All the kids want more sound out of their phones. Parents give the phone and the kids save some money to get a speaker click on. (like the battery free speaker that came out near the end).

    I'm looking forward to many more years of this increasingly rare thechological gem. Thankfully I snatched up enough of the hardware before it disappears completely. It is a great pity that this didn't become what it could have become. The only way this kind of tech would survive is if the idea is not a lock in and other brands could adopt it.

  13. Gussler

    I love my Moto Mods. Sure they are a bit clunky and they don't get used all that often, but I carry them on all trips and just knowing that I can use them is a benefit in itself.

    The Hasselblad camera was panned in some reviews but I find it excellent - how on earth can a 10x optical zoom not be an enhancement even before considering the flash. It doesn't take up much space in the little adapted hard drive case I use to carry it round and my only regret (and reason I don't use it more) is the fact that there is no bespoke case for storing it on the phone, nor anywhere to attach a wriststrap to make it more secure from being dropped.

    I have a battery pack which doubles up as an induction charger as well as JBL speaker which is great when travelling and using my phone as an internet radio, but the best really (even if TBH it gets least use) is the projector. OK it is not exactly home cinema standard, but it is amazingly good for the size and funcionality and I can happily watch a movie at the same size as most large TVs as long as the room is darkened. And while it is not really up to conference presentations, it does stand in when there is a problem with the tech set up in smaller meetings.

    So, yes, the biggest problem is low sales and a virtual halt on development of new mods, both of which mean that accessories like cases are never likely to appear on the market. A pity, this is the best modular system so far and a good attempt by Motorola (Lenovo).

  14. juice Silver badge

    I briefly dabbled with an LG G5...

    But quickly came to the conclusion that the mods weren't worth the hassle.

    Admittedly, this was partly because you had to switch the phone off to switch between them, but the key reason was that I couldn't put a case on it while a mod was attached. And thanks to the educational medium of bitter experience, I have a standing policy of always having a case and screen protector on my phones.

    Motorola's implementation was a lot more sane, and a lot of the mods effectively acted as a case, but that'd mean keeping the mod permanently attached, which wouldn't be ideal for things like the camera mod.

    Equally, scanning through the list of available mods (https://www.androidcentral.com/moto-mods), there doesn't look to be that much of interest apart from the Hasselblad True Zoom - barring the projector mod, they're pretty much all variations on speakers and battery packs.

    And therein lies the issue - for the same price as a given mod, you can generally buy a standalone equivalent, either for less money or with better features. And as an added bonus, the standalone item will be usable with other devices.

    E.g. the projector mod is listed at £200 on Amazon. And on the very same page, there's a pico projector advertised for the same price, which runs Android, has a built in battery and claims to throw up to 130 inches, or nearly double the Projector Mod's 70 inches.

    And I'd still be able to use my phone while streaming media, to boot.

    Admittedly, the value proposition is a bit different now that the mods are being cleared out, but even so, you're buying into a dying eco-system, and while the Z3 is still a pretty shiny piece of kit, you'll probably have to throw the mods away if/when you decide to upgrade in a year or two.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...and the marketers tried really, really hard. "

    Not hard enough - I've never heard of Motorola Mods until reading this article.

    1. Chris 239

      Same here

      first time I've heard of the Mod.

  16. MarcLevy

    I have all the mods I have wanted, most purchased new for 50% off on Black Friday deals, except the glass screen case backing. I bought the original Z Force and definitely plan to upgrade to the Z4 or Z4 Force. My battery is so shot I don't use mods except on vacation now, but as others have noted, that is where it really shines. I can meet someone new, take and print a picture of them. I can zoom into the details of an interesting frame, though not at night. I can project a movie anywhere I want. I can make sure to have a great speaker with me that I otherwise would not bring. I can top up my battery towards the end of a tour on a boat when I wasn't sure I would need to. I can even go an extra day without electricity. The one mod I don't use enough would probably be the gaming mod. As the author noted, the software compatibility just isn't there even though it's a fantastic hardware interface. Oh, and the 360 camera is underrated. Sure, it occasionally blows out highlights and is ironically terrible in anything resembling low light, but to this day, no other image I have captures the 360 degree view of Having Bay at its best point that I have got. By far the best part of the mods is that most of them work with the phone on full airplane mode, which helps you conserve battery a lot while using them. This is particularly useful in foreign countries where you don't yet have a SIM card or are traveling someplace with nearly no service, such as the Casamance in Senegal or the mountains of northern Vietnam. I realize it's a bit more niche, but when you are traveling in those kinds of places, it's very helpful to maximize your battery life without needing an outlet for as long as possible. Anyway, I just wish Moto followed through on keyboard support for the Livermorium!

  17. GlasshalfHull

    Sale price Mods

    Anyone looking for mods should try their local John Lewis during the current sale. I found a Turbopower mod for £5, a Gamepad and JBL (2nd version) for £10 each. I bought two mods for myself and left a good few still on the clearance shelf. They don't tend to advertise them on the website so it's in store only.

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