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Hands on with Moto Z and Moto Z Force: Not all modular smartphones are bad ideas

Florence Ion | June 13, 2016
Motorola's new flagship phones have renewed our faith in mobile modularity. It also helps that they're incredibly stylish devices.

Because the phones are so thin, Motorola had to sacrifice headphone jacks. The upshot is you’ll have to invest in Bluetooth headphones to listen to tunes, or buy a separate USB Type-C adapter to plug in your antiquated analog headphones. This is a major annoyance. And while it’s been funny to joke about Apple killing the headphone jack on the iPhone, it’s not as funny when you realize it’s coming to Android.

The upshot is you’ll have to keep your Bluetooth headphones charged at all times if you want to listen to music in the spur of the moment.

Put a MotoMod on it

Move over, LG. It looks like Motorola has figured out how to make a proper modular smartphone. Both the Moto Z and Moto Z Force are compatible with the company’s new Moto Mods, which are sold separately.

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This is one of the Moto Z’s Moto Mods: a fancy bamboo backplate that snaps on with magnets. Credit: Florence Ion

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What it looks like with the bamboo shell snapped on. Credit: Florence Ion

Relative to LG’s modular Friends approach, this is a very different concept. With the LG system, you have to shut down your G5, and basically disassemble and reassemble its chassis to add a module. But with the Moto Z, you simply tack on a module to the back of the phone via several strong magnets and connector pins. No power-off/power-on routine is required. What’s more, Motorola has promised that the modules will be “forward compatible” with phones that come over the two Moto Zs.

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Here we have the JBL module with pop-out kickstand (top), a bamboo back cover (middle), and the Tumi rechargeable Power Pack (bottom). Credit: Florence Ion

I was impressed by how well the Moto Zs’ magnets and pin connectors could hold even the heaviest Moto Mods, like the Insta-Share Projector and JBL SoundBoost Speaker. And I couldn’t even tell that the backplate modules weren’t actually a part of the phone when they were snapped on.

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This Moto Mod by Tumi is a stylish case and an extra battery pack. Credit: Florence Ion

What’s more: The modules look like they’ll be actually useful. For instance, I can see using the Insta-Share Projector to project online yoga classes on my wall. Then there are the stylish battery packs from the likes of Kate Spade and Tumi. They look good, they deliver much appreciated extra battery life, and they give Motorola some major branding support. This helps elevate the Moto name beyond the tech space, and into a more mainstream lifestyle conversation.

 

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