Google’s Project Ara has been targeted for creating low-cost, modular phones, which are usually referred to as “grey phones,” due to their plain nature. However, currently, Motorola-buyer Lenovo has a pair of flagship phones they are introducting— the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, which is a beefed up version of a technology that’s similar. Think of the Moto Z as a flagship version of the modular Grey Phone.
Rather than using its modularity to decrease costs, or as a trade off between system components, the Moto Mods snap-together architecture is created to let a range of peripherals quickly and easily attaching to a phone that’s already fully-featured — this is a bit like docking connectors on some laptops.
Moto Z versions
There are two versions of the Moto Z and both feature an all-metal chassis. The base model has a SnapDragon 820, a 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display, 4GB of memory, 32 or 64GB of storage, a microSD slot, optical image stabilization for the main camera, and a water-repellant coating. With no sign of selfie popularity diminishing, the Z even has a separate flash for the camera that’s front-facing.
The Force version beefs the battery up by 1/3rd, upgrades the camera from 13MP to 21MP, faster charging — 50% in 20 minutes, adds a shatterproof screen, and adds a phase-detect autofocus. This summer the Z and Z Force are going to be arriving as Droid-branded exclusives with Verizon, becoming more available in the fall.
Lenovo displayed a number of accessories that use this new capability. The Insta-Share is the most interesting, which is basically a pico projector with kickstand massaged into a phone back form factor. One of the cool features of Insta-Share is makes use of the phone’s accelerometer to do auto-keystoning. It assumes your projection surface is vertical. At 6’ it projects a 70” diagonal display, viewable in a dark environment. 2 or 3 feet is more practical if there’s lots of light.
JBL created a-sounding audio accessory called SoundBoost that’s very impressive, with the ability to play up to 10-hours of music with its own battery through its speakers. The JBL speakers, like the projector, feature a small kickstand to prop your phone up. It also doubles as a speakerphone. There are some battery add-on products that will be on the market soon, and Lenovo showed the concept for an accessory that supports HDMI output. We would expect nothing less from Motorola – they are offering a number of backs made from materials that can be snapped onto the phone. That includes a wood one.
The extremely thin Z is only 5.2mm, but because of this slim design it means you give up the headphone jack. This is part of the push by Intel to have USB-C replacing traditional audio jacks – to save space and allow for digital audio. Lenovo makes possible this change shipping a USB-C to headphone jack adapter. This ultra-slim design is the impressive 13MP rear-facing camera that sticks out on the phone. If you’ve snapped an accessory or rear cover on it’s not an issue, but it could be annoying if you use the phone without attachments.
This technology is described by Lenovo execs as game changing. However, that seems like a bold claim for what is a programmable magnetic connector. Lenovo is helping to make the Moto Mod spec become more popular. Both hardware and software are going to be open sourced, so support might extend to other operating systems and/or hardware. They will be out first or at least they will be when the developer kit ships this fall, and we can expect more innovation around the growing in popularity USB-C Connector, and possibly additional competitive modular interconnects from other smartphone vendors.