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Essential vs Moto Mods - two very different takes the same modular idea

In the modular world, today it is Essential vs. Moto Mods. Which flavor of modularity is the better one? It's beauty versus the beast.

Published onSeptember 15, 2017

Last year, the word “modular” was injected into the mainstream vocabulary of smartphone enthusiasts. Sure, it had been there for a while as a kind of aspirational idea, but never really real. Then, suddenly within a span of a couple of months, we had two mainstream smartphones pushing out the concept. The LG G5 and the Moto Z both stood up and seemingly went all in on the idea. “Awesome!” the nerds (myself included) cheered.

Then, almost as suddenly, the LG G5 … well, let’s not talk about it. But the Moto Z hit the streets and suddenly we had something. I’m not saying that the Moto Z was a hot seller or anything – but Lenovo-rola kept mods and modular design in the conversation. Plus, it doubled down in 2017 with more phones and more mods.

Essential Phone

But was it essential?

2017 also saw the debut of the Essential phone, which also incorporates a modular accessory design. While the Motorola design uses the entire back of the phone to house and attach its mods, Essential uses two small connectors to attach its lone accessory – the 360 degree camera. So, we wanted to take a look at both ideas and discuss which one could theoretically be the most successful.

...Motorola has an entire ecosystem of mods that have been available from day one

Of course, we have to say “theoretically” because in the case of Essential, much of the discussion is still theoretical. As mentioned, Essential is bringing a single accessory to its phone. In the meantime, Motorola has an entire ecosystem of mods that have been available from day one. But we’re not just talking about numbers here. We’re talking about support, and that is something Motorola has thrown behind its concept.

Motorola has introduced contests and partnerships to endorse the continued development of its Moto Mods ecosystem. It has also promised that Moto Mods would continue to work with new hardware for at least three years. That’s quite a promise for an idea that is barely one year old.

Essential Phone review: Maximum hardware, minimum software

Out of the gate

From a design standpoint, the Moto Z and Essential phone are night and day.

On the other side, we have Essential, which has been very strong with its own push of its accessory concept. Essential plans to work with third party developers to utilize the magnetic connectors and wireless data transfer protocols the phone uses to push out accessory after accessory. In fact, we’ve even speculated on some of those accessories that we’d like to see.  But, unlike Motorola, Essential has only developed a single accessory – a proof of concept, if you will.

From a design standpoint, the Moto Z and Essential phone are night and day. The Moto Z almost looks like an incomplete phone when it isn’t toting a mod. It’s for that reason that I generally leave the 360 degree camera attached to my Moto Z2 Force, even though I don’t use it all that often. The gold pins on the back of the Moto Z2 Force, along with the protruding cameras make the phone look like it’s missing pieces. On the plus side though, it sells mods.

The E

Keeping it subtle

On the other side Essential is using a very subdued dual pin magnetic connector on the back of its phone. Two small dots are the only indication that anything is missing on the back of that phone. From a strictly design standpoint, Essential is definitely leading the pack here. Essential’s design is not only more subtle and attractive, but it’s far more versatile for future versions of the phone. Motorola is pretty much locked into the design of the Moto Z for as long as it wants to support mods. There isn’t really much wiggle room there.

From a strictly design standpoint, Essential is definitely leading the pack here.

That being said, Motorola is using a physical connector for data transfer while Essential is wireless. Both Moto Mods and Essential accessories are capable of up to USB 2.0 speeds at 480 Mbps, with Essential making use of Wireless USB. Moto Mods adds in faster USB 3.1 connectivity option, which is a bonus. But call me an old fuddy duddy – I much prefer physical connections in my devices, headphones, external speakers, etc. This is a little funny coming from a webOS-wireless-charging fanatic, but there you go.

In theory…

Of course, this is all still very highly theoretical. It’s hard to point at either concept and say definitively “Yes this will be great” or the opposite. But, now that there are once again two competitors on the field, it was worth a look to see how the two ideas measured up. As always, the market will determine the winner. Motorola has more than a year advantage in this arena, which may also factor into the health of the concept entirely. But for now, this is how we see things.

What about you? Which of these concepts excites you? If you’re in Vegas, which concept are you putting your money on? Perhaps you’re drawn to the healthy ecosystem of the Moto Mods. Perhaps you’re more attracted to Essential’s minimal look and feel? Let us know what you think down below.

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