If LG and Google's Ara didn't get you excited about modularized smartphones, perhaps Lenovo's new Moto Z line will. The Moto Z, which was announced today and will be available in two forms on Verizon this summer before heading to the rest of the world in the fall, has a new system for accessory add-ons called Moto Mods. The Mods attach to the back of the phone via magnets and provide a new look, improved audio, a projector, or other extra features.
The center of this new system is the Moto Z phone, which will come in a standard model and Moto Z Force version. The standard Z has a 5.5-inch, quad HD AMOLED display; Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM; 32 or 64GB of storage with SD card expansion; 13-megapixel camera with f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilization; fingerprint scanner; and 2600mAh battery. Moto is highlighting the fact that the phone is a scant 5.2mm thick without any Mod accessories attached and claims that it is the thinnest premium smartphone. One feature that's missing? A headphone jack, so you'll have to rely on Bluetooth or the included adapter to plug headphones into the USB-C port.
The Moto Z Force has many of the same features as the standard Z, but upgrades the camera to a 21-megapixel unit; the display to a shatterproof panel; and the battery to a 3,500mAh cell. As a result the Force is thicker than the Z, at a more pedestrian 7mm. Both phones will be exclusive to Verizon when they launch and will have Droid branding on them.
But what makes the Z line truly unique is the attachable accessories that Moto is releasing for it. The Moto Mods attach to the Z or Z Force via four magnets and communicate with the phone through a series of pins on the back of the device. The company is supplying a single Style Shell Mod with each phone, which can be had in a variety of materials or finishes, such as nylon, wood, or leather. (Moto tells me that the Moto Maker program will still be available and allow for customization of the phone's front color — black or white — and the color of its metal frame.) Moto says that it expects most customers to have at least a Style Shell Mod on their phone at all times, making the Moto Z's practical thickness a bit more than its naked frame leads you to believe.
Mods in various styles and capabilities will be available for separate purchase. The SoundBoost Mod, which was built in partnership with JBL, is a speaker that expands the output of the device with two three-watt drivers and adds an extra 1,000mAh of battery capacity. If you're not interested in a speaker, but want longer battery life, the Power Pack Mod adds a 2,220mAh cell to the back of the phone and comes in three different styles from Incipio, Kate Spade, and Tumi. The Insta-Share Mod adds a pico projector to the phone and lets you broadcast your phone's display up to 70 inches wide at 480p resolution.
The Mods are integrated into the phone's software, so when a battery mod is attached to the phone, you can monitor the charge status of both the internal battery and the mod's cell. The SoundBoost Mod requires no pairing or set up — once it's connected to the phone, sound just automatically pipes out of its speakers. Mods can also be attached or detached on the fly and don't require the phone to be rebooted in between.
Moto says that Mods announced today will work with future versions of Z phones and that it is committed to the overall size and shape of the Z for at least two generations to ensure future compatibility. It also says that it has a roadmap of Mods for future release, and is offering a development kit for third-party companies to build Mods themselves. Lenovo's Capital and Incubator Group is setting up a $1,000,000 fund for the individual or company that comes up with the best prototype Mod by March 31st, 2017.
Moto's modular phone is far less ambitious than Google or even LG's
Moto's take on the modular phone is far less ambitious than Google's Ara project or even LG's G5, and it's still not clear that it's an idea that the average person will buy into. The company isn't yet announcing pricing for the Mod accessories, but company representatives told me the pricing would be in line with similar smartphone accessories.
You'll be able to get into the system first from Verizon, which will sell the Moto Z Droid Edition, Moto Z Force Droid Edition, and Moto Mods this summer. In the fall, the Moto Z will be available for purchase unlocked in the US and other parts of the world. We'll have more on the Z and its accessory system once we've spent some time with a production unit.