This week, Motorola announced the next version of its flagship smartphone, which is being rebranded as the Moto Z. It clearly builds off of its wonderful Moto X predecessor, and adds some much-needed features, like a fingerprint sensor. But the big news here is a new modular expansion system called Moto Mods that I think will really differentiate these devices from the me-too masses.
In other words, this is big news.
To rewind a bit, you may recall from my article Android for the Windows Guy: Choose the Right Smartphone that I strongly recommend going with an unlocked device if you choose the Android ecosystem. That limits the field dramatically, and my top choices today are the Google Nexus 6P and 5X, followed by Motorola’s current flagship, the Moto X Pure Edition.
Today, the Moto X falls short of the Nexus 6P and 5X in just a few key areas, including most notably that it lacks a fingerprint reader. But it also has some nice advantages, such as the incredible Moto Maker online configurator that lets you build the phone of your dreams, complete with a range of storage choices, different case colors, exciting soft grip, real wood, and genuine leather back choices, and more. It’s amazing.
With the Moto Z—which will ship first this summer on Verizon only as the Moto Z Droid, to be followed by the unlocked Moto Z Pure Edition a few months later—Motorola is fixing all the problems with the Moto X, as you’d expect. But it is also taking this new device in a completely different direction than the rest of the industry. And this is the smartest strategy I’ve seen in smartphones since, well, the original iPhone.
Strong words, I know. Bear with me.
As the iPhone has matured, and as its Android competitors have followed suit, we’ve been stuck on a same old/same old treadmill. Today, virtually all flagships offer the same thin, sealed, and metal design, and we’ve just come to accept the limitations that accompany this design choice: No way to expand battery life sans third party clip-on devices, and no way to improve any of the device’s built-in features. You get what you get.
Google has been talking about a modular phone system called Ara for a while now, and though the first devices could appear as soon as late 2016, this design is horribly flawed because the resulting phones are big, bulky and ugly. The underlying idea is solid—being able to upgrade individual phone components is very interesting—but the implementation just isn’t there yet.
So Motorola is providing a solution that I think makes more sense. No, you can’t replace the CPU, RAM or internal storage. But thanks to the Moto Mods program, which formalizes how its Moto Z handset can be extended via Motorola and third party add-ons, the smart phone is more future-proof and, more important, more useful.
What we’re talking about here is a system where the customer can clip on new backs to the device. These backs can be as simple (and slim) as a literal back panel, which is of course how the phone ships normally. But they can also include such things as a mini-projector that can broadcast movies and other content up on a wall, a big speaker for filling a room with sound, a power pack for up to 22 hours of battery life, and more.
Motorola is making all the right moves with Moto Mods. They snap on easy and stay securely in place. They will work with future generation Moto Z phones, so they’re not locked to one device. They transform your phone into something else.
At a time when the rest of the industry is pushing a dull sameness, Moto has rethought how the smartphone looks and works, and has added … extensibility. This is smart. This is brilliant. And assuming the rest of this phone shakes down as I expect—the fingerprint readers works as well as parent company Lenovo’s ThinkPad-based readers, for example—this could be my next phone as well.
I can’t wait to get my hands on one.