When it comes to smartphone innovation, we often get stuck in a cycle of incremental innovation. Motorola, owned by Lenovo, has decided to change things up with some of the most disruptive smartphone innovation the industry has seen in years. I had the chance to attend Lenovo Tech World, where Ashton Kutcher and the CEO of Lenovo unveiled the new Moto Z and changed the smartphone game.
Let’s cut right to the chase. The Moto Z is not only the world’s thinnest premium smartphone, but it has a trick up its sleeve. The Moto Z can transform its hardware through the use of 16 magical dots on the rear, making it a modular smartphone. Users can snap on a variety of ‘MotoMods’ which range from a large JBL SoundBoost speaker for huge sound in a small package, or a portable projector and kickstand that projects video up to 70” on the wall or ceiling. When the device was announced at TechWorld, the energy in the room was profound. Myself and the 14 other MotoMakers (Motorola super fans) who attended the keynote in San Francisco were cheering as YY (Lenovo’s CEO) and Ashton Kutcher (brand advocate and Moto futurist) magnetically snapped a mod onto the Moto Z for the first time in public.
Moto Z Overview
The Moto Z is a new line of smartphone that is said to be one tier above the popular Moto X line of devices. Though there are different models, like the shatterproof Moto Z Force, I’ll be focusing on the flagship Moto Z (sometimes referred to as the Moto Z ‘Thin’) for this preview as this is the device coming to Canada. The Moto Z is an incredibly thin device, measuring only 5.2mm thin, with a 5.5” AMOLED display, and a top of the line Snapdragon 820 processor. The numbers don’t mean much until you really get this device in your hands and feel the difference. This phone is crazy thin. I’m very excited about the return for AMOLED screens for Motorola, as they produce the deepest black levels and work very well with the built-in Moto Display software. I compared the Moto Z to the current Moto X Pure and the thickness difference is astounding. I also applaud Motorola for shrinking the screen size by a few inches as I found the Moto X Pure a little big.
The device features an 13MP camera low-light camera, a front-facing flash, and a new fingerprint sensor on the front. My only complaints about this phone’s design are that the prominently-placed fingerprint sensor does not function as a home button, and that Moto has gone back to a single front-facing speaker vs. the amazing stereo speakers they put in the Moto X Pure and the Nexus 6.
The most interesting piece of hardware is the 16 magic dots on the back of the Moto Z. These dots enable the modular functionality of the device, acting as a means to transfer data and power between the mod and the phone, as well as magnetically hold all mods on the device.
The real excitement of the Moto Z comes from its modular functionality and compatibility with the new MotoMods. Find the battery life of the Moto Z is not living up to your on-the-go lifestyle? Buy the Incipio offGRID Power Pack MotoMod, which adds a whopping 22 hours of battery life to the device. Want to head to the beach without lugging a large Bluetooth speaker with you? Snap on the JBL SoundBoost mod before you head out. Mods can be purchased separately from the device, and provide a limitless number of additional features for the Moto Z. While Motorola will be creating their own first-party Mods for the Moto Z, I’m most excited about the MotoMods developer program, which allows third parties to create and sell their own Mods. We saw some examples of these at Lenovo TechWorld, such as a projector stand that creates a touchscreen keyboard on any tabletop, or a turbo-charging battery that can charge completely in 30 minutes. Case-makers such as Kate Spade and Tumi are also jumping on the MotoMods train, creating battery Mods and wireless charging mods that attach to the Moto Z in a snap.
Using these Mods could not be simpler. All you have to do is connect the mod to the Moto Z, and they attach using a set of strong magnets, securing the Mod to the device. It does take some force or a fingernail to remove the mod, which is great to see as I wouldn’t want the Mod to fall off easily if the phone was to drop. Plus, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that you wouldn’t want to invest money in accessories that will become obsolete after one year. Fortunately, Moto has publically announced that Mods will work with at least two generations (if not more) of the Moto Z. This means that your Mod collection will not go to waste.
The Modular Landscape
The idea of a modular phone is not an entirely new one. LG’s current G5 smartphone is modular, and has an available battery and camera mod. However, the execution of the G5’s modular system is less than ideal, with each mod requiring the phone to be powered off and the battery removed. With the Moto Z, attaching a mod is fool-proof, with no shut-down required. Project Ara is another interesting modular phone, though is currently a Google concept with no stated release date for consumers. With Ara, users can modularize everything from the amount of RAM in the device, to the speed of the processor. Ara was developed under Google back when Motorola was Google’s mobile unit, potentially influencing the just-announced Moto Z. Either way, Motorola’s attempt at a modular smartphone looks to be the most promising one yet.
Summary and Canadian Availability
The Moto Z represents a major step change compared to the incremental hardware innovation we’ve seen in the market in recent years. Each Apple or Samsung keynote seems to focus on software year after year, as the pace of hardware innovation seems to have stalled. With MotoMods and the Moto Z, that’s not the case. Innovation is alive and well and I can’t wait to get my hands on this device in the fall.
The Moto Z will be launching in Canada in Fall 2016, with carrier and pricing availability to be announced. The device will ship with one Style Mod. The JBL SoundBoost, Incipio Battery Pack, and Moto Insta-Share Projector available to purchase at launch.