Motorola slims down with the Moto Z, then fattens back up with snap-on Mods


The first flagship devices from Motorola under its new parent company Lenovo have been announced, and they leave behind the X brand for a new moniker — the Moto Z and the Moto Z Force.

But leaving behind the phones for a second, Lenovo’s biggest announcement for the new Moto line is the addition of Moto Mods, cool magnetic modules that you can slap on the back of your phone to give it super powers. The idea is likely taken from the remnants of Project Ara, a modular phone concept that came from Motorola’s old Advanced Technology and Projects lab. Google kept ATAP after it sold Motorola to Lenovo, and the project has been a part of its ATAP team ever since.

Related: Lenovo’s foldable phone prototype snaps onto your wrist like a slap bracelet

Moto Mods embrace the concept of modular phones, but rather than tampering with the phone’s internals like LG does, Motorola is making things simple by just having people “snap” the mods on the back of the phone with magnets. Motorola is betting big on the snap feature, as evident in their new motto: “Snapping is the new flipping.”

Before we get to the mods, let’s dive into what they’ll be snapping to — the phones. The Moto Z is being touted as the “world’s thinnest premium smartphones” at 5.2mm. It’s not the thinnest, there’s the Vivo X5 Max and the Oppo R5 that have gone below the 5mm mark, but for a flagship device, it’s still remarkable. How did Motorola shave off a few layers? By removing the headphone jack.

That sounds controversial and wrong, but it’s something even Apple is rumored to do for the next iPhone. That doesn’t mean you have to get a pair of Bluetooth headphones though — you simply play music via the USB Type-C port. The only problem is you won’t be able to charge your phone while listening to music. Motorola isn’t the first company to do this — LeEco removed the headphone jack for most of its flagship devices, opting to force users to switch to using the USB Type-C port.

Don’t worry, you’ll still get an adapter in the box that allows you to continue using your current earbuds or headphones.

Moto Z

Design wise, the Moto Z shifts from the Moto X form and opts for a more rectangular, but rounded device. On the back, you’ll find a large camera in the center, and 16 dots on the bottom. The dots come into play when you have a MotoMod to attach.

It also looks like the volume rocker buttons have been separated, and both, including the power buttons rest on the right side of the device. The front side features a fingerprint-sensor on the bottom. Naturally, the device is running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, but we’ll have to see if it will still be the near-stock Android experience we’ve seen in previous Motorola devices.

Related: Hands on: Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

The Z is powered by the same Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor that’s in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the LG G5. It’s got a 5.5-inch, Quad HD AMOLED screen (2,560 x 1440p), 4GB of RAM, and comes with either 32GB or 64GB of storage. Thankfully, there’s MicroSD card support and you can add up to a whopping 2 terabytes of additional storage.

The camera on the back is packed with 13-megapixels, and there’s optical-image stabilization to keep your shots and videos steady. You can film in 4K at 30 frames-per-second, and there’s a whole list of other functions such as the ability to scan QR codes and barcodes. The front camera only has 5-megapixels, but features a wide-angle lens to capture more content.

The Moto Z only has a 2,600mAh battery, but it features Motorola’s TurboPower technology, and a USB Type-C charging port that makes it charge faster — the company claims you can get up to 8 hours of power in 15 minutes of charging. We’ll have to wait and test it out to see if that rings true.

Moto Z Force

The Moto Z Force shares many of the same attributes as the standard Moto Z, but the camera packs 21-megapixels rather than 13, the battery is upgraded to 3,500mAh, and it boasts a shatterproof display — it uses same ShatterShield technology behind the Droid Turbo 2.

Everything else is more or less the same on the Force, from the fingerprint sensor on the front, to the colors that the devices will be available in: Black with a grey trim and black front lens; black with rose gold trim and black front lens; and “fine gold” and a while front lens.

Moto Mods

That brings us to Moto Maker — it still exists, and you’ll be able to customize the phone’s base color (white or black) and metal frame. But the options to change the back material and color will come through a Mod — the Style Shell Mod. Motorola is reportedly giving away a Style Shell with each device, so you’ll be able to attach a leather or wood back, or any other option that you choose.

Related: Lenovo: Motorola product transition was ‘not successful’ in North America

The Moto Mods attach to the back of the Moto Z and Z Force via the 16 dots on the back of the device, and they stay on thanks to four magnets. Right now, the company announced four mods including the Style Shell: JBL SoundBoost, Moto Insta-Share Projector, and Incipio OffGrid Power Pack. You can guess what most of those do based on the names.

  • The JBL SoundBoost has two speakers built-in, and the audio technology is powered by JBL. In layman terms, it makes your music sound a lot better, and louder. There’s also an additional 1,000mAh battery, and the mod will use that battery first before tapping into the phone.
  • The Moto Insta-Share Projector lets you turn any wall into a 70-inch screen — too bad the resolution will be a measly 854 x 480 pixels. There are some physical buttons on the mod that lets you control the power, settings, and adjust the focus. There’s also an additional 1,100mAh battery, which adds an additional hour of projection time.
  • Finally the Power Pack, as you can guess, houses a 2,220mAh battery, which Motorola claims adds an additional 22 hours of battery life. The best thing about this pack is that it supports wireless charging

Related: Lenovo Tangos with Google on its 6.4-inch Phab2 Pro

The Moto Z line certainly is exciting, as it brings the modular potential of smartphones to us now — and more mods are on the way. Motorola is opening up the mods via a developer kit, and Lenovo will awarding $1 million in equity funding for whoever, an individual or company, that creates the best Moto Mods by March 31, 2017.

The mods will be compatible with future Z-line phones, and the size and shape of the Z Mods will be the same for the next two generations.

But what’s probably the most disappointing news is that Motorola is going the exclusive route again for its smartphones. The Moto Z and Moto Z Force will be available unlocked globally in the fall, but in the U.S. only Verizon customers can get them earlier in the summer. The U.S. version will also feature the familiar “Droid” branding — the word will be etched on the glass of the rear camera.

The Moto Z Droid and the Moto Z Force Droid will be available through Verizon stores, as well as Best Buy and Moto’s website in the summer. The price of the devices and the Mods have not been announced yet. You can read all about the Mods here, the Moto Z here, and the Moto Z Force here on the company’s website.

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