Modular marvel

The Moto Z, Moto Z Play and the companion Moto Mods give Motorola's latest offerings a USP that's all their own, says Tushar Kanwar

  • Published 30.10.16

It’s brutal out there for smartphone brands. Innovate or perish, reinvent the way we use our phones or risk being yesterday’s news. In this landscape, the Moto Z duo — the Z and the Z Play — are a brave new experiment in making supremely competent phones with an ace up their sleeve — modularity. Think modular like the LG G5 that preceded it, except that Motorola’s approach got the execution spot on, an impressive feat for the first generation of a radical rethink of phone design. Do the phones live up to the promise, though? Let’s find out.

Now, while both models launch under the Moto Z banner, there’s quite a bit that separates the two. The Z is a premium flagship contender, hence the use of glass and metal packed into an impossibly thin (and mildly sharp to the touch) 5.19mm frame. The design favours function over form, though and isn’t as slickly designed as some of the competition these days. It’s so slim, Motorola’s used USB Type-C for charging and, for the second week in a row, we have a phone with no headphone jack.

The Z Play isn’t as flashy as its pricier sibling, but it packs in a bigger battery and a proper 3.5mm headphone jack into its thicker, heavier frame. For the difference in price, you get a crisper 1440p quad-HD display, a top-shelf Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB/64GB of memory/storage as compared to the full HD, Snapdragon 625-toting 3GB on the Play.

Both phones have nano-coating for protection against moderate exposure to liquids, support fast charging and offer storage expansion at the cost of a second SIM. The cameras are both competent performers, but aren’t at the top of the pile for their respective price segments, that’s for sure. 

Battery life on the Z just about lasts a long day of moderate use, which is where the Play pulls ahead and lasts the better part of two days.

While on their own, performance on the near vanilla Android 6.0.1 is excellent for both the Z and the Z Play, this past year has seen several contenders, most notably the OnePlus 3 — that makes make me question why one should shell out that much more for a premium-priced flagship. Or, in the case of the Play, why not shell out a little more for a lot, lot more?

The answer to that lies in the 16 gold pin connectors on the rear, and in the well-thought-through add-on modules or “mods” ecosystem that Motorola has launched alongside these two phones. They snap on with zero effort and with magnets holding them in place, you need to exert just the slightest pressure to pry them off. Connect a mod and the phone automatically understands what’s connected and makes it available to use almost instantly, and with no user intervention.

This zero-effort approach distinguishes the Motos from the LG, and makes adding say the Hasselblad True Zoom camera mod a cinch when you want to quickly take better photos —and as easily, ditch the bulk when you need to. As the name suggests, the mod packs in true optical zoom into the default camera app, but strangely, you lose out on the ability to capture 4K and slow-motion, both of which are possible on the Z.

The 10x zoom, of course, gives you reach you just can’t match on the phone, and the images are a lot more vibrant in good light. The other mod I tried was the Moto InstaShare pico-projector, which allows you to project a 854x480 pixel resolution screen, up to 70-in large for as long as 60 minutes, on a wall nearby. The results are average, but it’s great fun.
Motorola truly has done justice to the modular concept with its mods, but at 20 grand each, they’re not one bit cheap — and if none of the mods appeal to you, is it worth paying that much just to add the ability to use them? I’d wager not

Moto Z

Moto Z Play

Smarter shelter

You know what’s worse than forgetting your umbrella at home when it’s expected to rain? Losing it someplace else! With Kisha, the world’s smartest umbrella, you can rest at ease. The sturdy umbrella pairs with a smartphone app which will alert you to take it on days when rain is expected, and it will even let you know if you’ve walked off and left it behind at home. If you do manage to leave it somewhere, you can track its location using the app and the umbrella’s built-in GPS.

On a nostalgia trip

Do you miss the days when typewriters went clickety-clack and words appeared, almost in slow motion, on a page in front of you? The QwerkyWriter is your fix — a mechanical-style aluminium-metal Bluetooth keyboard that connects to computers, tablets and phones and includes a handy stand that can prop up upto 12-in tablets. All the tactile and audible feedback of a typewriter, with the smarts to connect to devices of today!; follow me on twitter @2shar