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Moto Mods Review: Blast, Power and Project in a snap

Modularity is the name of the game and Josh takes a closer look at the Moto Mods - great ways to add more capabilities to the Moto Z range... at a price.

Published onJuly 27, 2016

Modularity is the name of the game in 2016 and following on from LG’s attempt with the LG G5 and Friends, Lenovo-backed Motorola announced the Moto Z range and Moto Mods. Yet modularity comes in many forms and sizes so what do the Moto Mods offers and is this how modularity should be done?

We’ve spent time with the Moto Mods – well, the ones that are available right now, anyway – and have come to a rather simple conclusion: the mod system is fresh, well executed, and fun; however, they do come at quite a price. See why in our full review of the Moto Mods made for the Moto Z and the Moto Z Force.

JBL SoundBoost Speaker

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We start off with the SoundBoost speaker, made by JBL. As is the case with all Moto Mods, there are magnets on the top and bottom of the device and all of the connectors let it interface with the Moto Z line. A large cut out for the camera optics keep the shooter from getting obstructed – and don’t worry, it doesn’t put a vignette on when using the Moto Camera.

The rest of the outer part of the unit is the speaker, sporting some large areas that are divided by a red kickstand – there are more reasons why the kickstand is a brilliant idea for the speaker but the simple fact that the device is propped up for easy viewing already makes it a very useful tool.

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The inner portion of the speaker that attaches to the phones has a few more bits and pieces. An arrow design is found throughout, there are the already aforementioned magnets and connectors, and finally there are a couple of bits pertaining to the unit’s battery.

The SoundBoost speaker comes with a 1000mAh battery that can be charged through the USB-C port, while checking the battery level is as simple as hitting a button to see a green or red light. 1000mAh doesn’t sound like too much, but Moto claims that the speaker can go for up to 10 hours. In our testing, we found the SoundBoost to actually go for a very long time. 10 hours is a long duration to test a speaker, but we’re certain that it can go the distance especially if kept below full volume. After a good three hours of playing the speaker in this state, we were only down to 78%.

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Which brings us to how it sounds – it should come as no surprise that this makes the sound experience on the Moto Z incredibly different. The front facing speaker on the Moto phones is decent, though it lacks a lot of richness and bass. But slap on the JBL and it all changes – there’s a great deal of volume coming from this small unit, and the kickstand points the drivers downward so that the bounce back of the audio really adds some body.

Comparisons to standalone Bluetooth speakers are inevitable, and the answer isn’t all that surprising – you’ll get a better overall soundstage from a larger unit, even ones that are around the same price of $79.99. But it’s hard not to like having such a convenient way of upping the Moto Z sound game. Especially considering its battery life, the JBL SoundBoost speaker can be one of the most sought after add-ons to the Moto Z line.

Inicipio OffGrid Power Pack

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But not as much as simply having more power – and that’s where the Inicipio OffGrid Power Pack comes in handy. Simply put, this is probably the mod that Moto Z users will be clamoring for, if not for the better battery life overall, but for the wireless charging that it adds to the whole package.

The Power Pack will come in a variety of looks, thanks to Incipio, but ours was a bright white unit with a matte finish, helping to add to the phone’s grip aside from just adding a sheer amount of weight. The inner portion of the pack has a battery level check button just above the connector pins, but no USB-C port for charging.

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And that’s because the Power Pack has wireless charging built-in. Not only is it the only way to charge the pack, it is also a feature then added onto the phone. Thanks to the Power Pack, one of the few features missing from the Moto Z can be added on. It would have been nice to have a USB-C fast charging port here, in case waiting around for a wireless charging pad just don’t do. But when the phone is sitting on a wireless pad most of the day, that isn’t too much of an issue.

The Power Pack works in a couple different ways – it can straight charge the phone or work in an efficiency mode that will only work to keep the phone at 80%. I used the mod as backup power when the Moto Z Force got down to single digits, and it allowed me to get back up to almost 60 percent when left alone. Under moderate to moderately heavy usage, I was able to get up to another 90 minutes of screen on time.

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Incipio Power Packs will come in a number of different styles and will range in price from $59.99 to $89.99. Though we would like to say that the higher price means higher capacities, that hasn’t been confirmed yet. But this version is the $60 edition, which makes it fairly affordable for backup power and the addition of wireless charging.

Moto Insta-Share Projector

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Finally, there is the Insta-Share Projector. Anyone familiar with Lenovo’s Yoga tablets might see shades of it. The projector, when slapped onto the Moto Z, emits its image out of the side and has a stiff folding stand that can angle the image to any surface. One button is found to the side of the optics, which has to be held to turn it on. The back portion has a matted finish to it, but the grills are there to allow for airflow – there are indeed fans inside to prevent overheating and it isn’t hard to hear when the unit is running.

The inner portion of the projector has the battery level button and indicator, as well as the USB-C port used to charge the 1100mAh battery. Considering the 50 lumen projection power that it outputs, an hour of battery life is understandable. It isn’t particularly ideal for long viewing sessions of even two or three Netflix episodes, but for presentations and business applications it provides just enough use.

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Working the projector is as simple as slapping it onto the back of the Moto Z and holding the power button. The entire screen will then be outputted through the projector, but there are a few extra settings that can be tinkered with. Keystoning, thankfully, is done automatically so even if the projector is at a certain angle, it will be fixed to make the image easier to view. The other settings are for focus, which can be changed via a wheel on the other side of the lens, overall brightness, and finally to keep notifications only showing up on the phone’s screen and not on the projected screen. To access this menu requires just a single press of the power button.

The image that is projected can be up to 70 inches in size but is only 480p resolution. That’s 854×480, which is actually somewhat common for cheaper Pico projectors, but there are plenty of standalone units that have hit the 720p mark and beyond. And though Pico projectors are often lacking in color output, it’s very apparent when the AMOLED screen of the Moto Z is plainly in view and compared to the washed out projection.

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That said, having a projector so easily accessible and effective (for particular applications) on a phone is an experience that only the Moto Z can provide – but it does come at a very high price. The Insta-Share Projector is a whopping $300, making it the most expensive of the currently available Moto Mods. That’s an incredible amount of money to put down for a peripheral that only lasts an hour and outputs the bare minimum image resolution and quality. Other Pico projectors are available for around the same price that last longer and output at least 720p resolution.



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There you have it – the Moto Mods. It’s great to see that the Moto Z’s new idea is actually executed very well. Though the most unique of them is also the most expensive, it’s hard not to enjoy the fact that big sound and extra battery life are available with simple snap to the back of the phone.

That brings to light one issue – these mods are only compatible with the Moto Z line, which limits their usage. Though the mods are done very well, they are not particularly required to define the Moto Z and Moto Z Force experience, and it may be easier (and more cost-effective) to get wireless or Bluetooth solutions that can be used with any device. Here’s to hoping, then, that the Moto Mods are not forever relegated to just the Moto Z – but until then, we have a good example of a step forward in smartphone technology.

What do you think of the Moto Mods and Motorola’s implementation of modularity? Do you plan to buy any of them for your Moto Z or Moto Z Force? Let us know your views in the comments below!

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