Motorola Moto Z with Moto Mods: Daring Mods need dramatic improvement to justify the price

This is a detailed review of Motorola Moto Z with Moto Mods Hasselblad True Zoom and JBL SoundBoost.

Moto Z is the first attempt by Lenovo to take the trustworthy "Moto" brand and push out a radically different smartphone experience. It is the first modular smartphone where you can slap on any "Mod" (attachment) on the back of your Moto, and you are good to go.

The idea of the modular smartphone has long been a constant milestone for hardware companies in terms of technology and for the software companies to ensure that the software design facilitates the modular design of the device. This concept caught public imagination when most smartphone OEMs each year released a new smartphone with only minor improvements marketing them as completely new and a major improvement over the older flagships.

Consumers and developers wanted a solution where you can customise your smartphone according to your needs in terms of what specs you want in the phone. This includes the instance where people can swap the old part and add in the new improved part in their smartphone without the need to upgrade and investing in the entire smartphone which will be outdated in one year.

Motorola Moto Z with Moto Mods: Daring Mods need dramatic improvement to justify the price

Project Ara Concept

Moto Z, the latest smartphone by Lenovo brings out a great design and the first thing that you will notice while holding the device is how much slimmer the device is. Even though the smartphone has an unwanted camera hump on the back, the sleekness could not have been achieved without the hump. Despite the premium build quality, good hardware specs and sleekness, the back plate is a fingerprint magnet and you constantly have to clean the back to keep it spotless.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z

The idea of Mods is not new, but this is a different take than Google's attempts with the now cancelled Google Ara or the LG G5. The announcement of Moto Z at Lenovo World 2016, along with the Moto Mod platform where you can make your Mods is exciting and ambitious. It has the potential to change the game for Lenovo and smartphones in general.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z

Lenovo has announced that it will not change the display size of the Moto Z lineup and that the current mods will be compatible with future Moto Z smartphones. This will ensure that newer generation Mods are compatible with the first generation Moto Z smartphone. Considering how important the entire "Mod" experience is, we decided to put an in-depth review out of how successful the company has been with the current Moto Mods. We will also briefly look at what are the prospects of the Mod platform after the first wave of modular attachments.

Hasselblad True Zoom Mod

The Hasselblad True Zoom Mod is an all plastic attachment made to magnetically attach to the Moto Z as soon as you bring the two closer. The Mod itself is much thicker (more than double) than the phone itself and adds considerable bulk to the smartphone. It has a plastic grip towards the bottom, making it much easier to hold using your right hand while you use your left hand to compose shots and control the exposure.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

Regarding design, the Mod adds two buttons, the focus and shutter button along with the zooming knob around and the power button. These buttons are located on the lower left side of the Mod. The front side is dominated by the optical zoom lens housing in the centre and the huge Xenon Flash unit on the top left corner along with the 'H' Hasselblad branding logo on the bottom right. The optical zoom unit automatically retracts back inside soon after you close the camera app.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

Sometimes, manually removing the Mod while in the camera app can leave the optical lenses half open and you'll need to attach it back for the lens to retract back inside. This Mod does not come with the inbuilt battery and takes power from the Moto Z to power itself.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

The Mod also includes a focus illuminating assistant beside the optical zoom unit on the front which emits a red LED light to help the Mod focus during low lighting conditions. The Mod doesn't have much on the back side except the magnetic pin connectors to be attached on Moto Z along with a depression with a sponge lining to ensure the safety of the camera hump at the back of Moto Z. The back also has the "Hasselblad 1941-2016. Celebrating 75 years of inspiring creativity" written in the centre lower bottom area just above the Magnetic Pins.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

One major thing missing from the Hasselblad Mod is the fact that it does not provide any comfortable space for a camera or mobile mount. Apart from the sinful omission of a tripod mount built in the Mod or maybe as a separate accessory, the positioning of the auto focusing illumination light, speakers, camera grip, Moto Z Power and Volume buttons, it seems almost impossible for conventional camera or smartphone mounts to hold the phone.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

I use a Shoulderpod S1 and despite the accessory being compatible with all smartphones and tablets, it could barely latch on to Moto Z along with Hasselblad True Zoom Mod. One thing to note is that the Mod comes along with a maximum of 4 second exposure time which is criminal for a dedicated "Camera" Mod by a brand like Hasselblad. Also the lack of larger aperture despite a large sensor size is troubling. I don't know the specifics of the lens, but the company could have given an aperture range comparable to basic kit lens for DSLRs or Point and Shoot cameras.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

Another thing to note is that the Mod is not weather proof and dust can easily enter inside the Mod after an extended period of usage. Water or moisture can easily enter inside the zoom module as the glass elements move in or out depending on the zoom level selected. Dust, water and moisture can easily wreak havoc on the Mod.

The camera Mod has an aperture range of f/3.5 till f/6.5 depending on the zoom. The aperture range means that the camera performance will be slow and the quality of night shots will not be that stellar. It provides a 10x optical zoom along with 4x digital zoom and provides focal length ranging from 4.5mm to 45mm (35mm equivalent for the focal range is 25-250mm). You can shoot macro shots using the Mod with a distance ranging from 5cm to 1.5m depending on the zoom. The Mod includes two mics at the front surrounding the optical zoom housing for video recording.

The Mod has added the powerful Xenon flash on the top left the side of the Mod and is equipped with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) for photographs and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) for videos. True Zoom offers a range of 100-3200 for ISO and provides Photo, Panorama, Video, Professional, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Sports, Day Landscape and Back Light Portrait regarding capture modes.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

Manual focus option can be used from 'Professional' mode or half-press the shutter button to focus-lock the scene. The 'Professional' mode allows you to set the focus, white-balance, exposure compensation value (EV), ISO and exposure of the Mod. The Mod allows you to shoot photos in JPG or DNG along with Videos in MPEG4. It comes along with a carrying case and using the Moto Z battery to function.

The Moto Mod ecosystem seems to be governed by "Moto Mods" in the 'Settings' area, where it gives information about the Mod that is currently connected to the smartphone. During the test period, I received one update for the Hasselblad True Zoom. The update did not seem to include any changes to the entire experience.

Motorola Moto Z Camera Settings

Motorola Moto Z Camera Settings

The Hasselblad True Zoom mod is probably the most touted Mod by Motorola during its launch. After extensive testing and shooting hundreds of photographs using a dedicated tripod and holder and using all techniques at my disposal to push the mod to its maximum potential, I am sad to say that the Hasselblad did not live up to the expectations.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

To give you a perspective of why I am saddened to write this after detailed testing is because 'Hasselblad' is not some unreliable, unknown brand. What BMW, Ferrari or even Bugatti is for sports car enthusiasts, similarly, Hasselblad is one of the best-known camera brands including 'Leica', 'Kodak', Nikon, and Canon. The popularity of the brand can be understood by the fact that 'Hasselblad' camera was used on Apollo missions to shoot pictures.

Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod Camera UI with Face-Detection

Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod Camera UI With Digital Zoom Enabled and Face-Detection

The Mod takes much better pictures during any given condition in comparison to the rear camera. But the two should not be compared because a dedicated camera Mod is no match to a watered down, small camera module engineered to ensure the slimness of the device. The Mod takes good pictures and does good work in reducing the noise during low-light photos. I was surprised by the quality of images it took in the 10x zoom, and there is no comparison in the photos taken with optical zoom in comparison to the pictures taken using digital zoom.

Hasselblad-motoz-comparison-01

There is no comparison in terms of image quality in low light. Hasselblad has been shot with 4-second exposure at ISO 100 while Moto Z is using digital zoom on auto mode. Hasselblad has managed to eliminate the Noise while managing to not blow out the details or colours by locking the exposure according to the light available.

Hasselblad-motoz-comparison-08

Hasselblad image has been cropped to give the same image area, Moto Z has kicked HDR on. HDR does help make pictures look brighter but you have to hold the camera still for Moto Z to capture the HDR shot.

Hasselblad-motoz-comparison-03

The Mod captures better dynamic range and does not involve any post processing from algorithms to improve the photos.

Hasselblad-motoz-comparison-10

Zooming is one strength for the Mod but it takes quite a bit to lock focus on nearby images like miniature model of bikes on my collegues desk.

The camera app has a separate option to turn on the digital zoom while using the Hasselblad Mod but when used; it destroys the images. One thing to note is that the Mod is a battery sucker and it can die out from 100 percent in less than 4 hours of continuous shooting. The Mod can help you shoot approximately 160 photos before dying out. The Optical Image Stabilization works admirably in the Mod. The Xenon Flash is powerful, ensuring that you get ample light at night or can act as a strong balancing light while shooting against the light shots.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Mod

Different Errors I faced while using Hasselblad Mod and the option to turn on the Digital Zoom.

I faced a weird issue where while shooting images from the Mod as well as the rear camera and previewing the images. After shooting the photos in the camera app to preview the photos, the app showed sub-par quality photos inside the camera app while reviewing photos after swiping from the right. However, after opening the images in Google Photos or any other third party app on the phone, the photos seem to be of higher and improved quality. On digging deeper, it's apparent that Google Photos and the like have better-resizing algorithms that make the images look better on the smaller mobile display. Motorola's default camera app isn't as good. You can check the image samples from Moto Z below to see how it perfroms in the real world.

Motorola Moto Z

I encountered some unorthodox behaviour while using the Mod including the problem in focus locking in low light conditions. While shooting macro shots, you need to be a considerable distance (depending on the zoom in the camera) to focus on the subject. The camera only locks focus on subjects in the middle of the frame and tap to touch only locks the exposure according to the area you have tapped. Hasselblad gives you the option to shoot colour and black and white JPGs in addition to shooting colour JPG and RAW photos at the same time. The Mod offers a wider field of view than the rear camera of the Moto Z.

You can see the image vignette when the RAW .DNG file is opened in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Image vignette when the RAW .DNG file is opened in Photoshop or Lightroom along with barrel distortion.

One thing to note is that the photos shot at the widest (1x zoom) using the Mod when opened in Adobe Lightroom showed excessive barrel distortion. This is not visible in JPG images or when the RAW images are opened in the Hasselblad's RAW processing tool. I assume that Hasselblad's tool is automatically correcting for distortion. You can check the Hasselblad True Zoom images below to see how it performs in the real world.

Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

One thing to note is that the Mod gets heated very quickly around the lower right side of the phone (lower left side of the Mod). Other things that let down the Mod and the Hasselblad brand name which I have already mentioned include the lack of 30-second exposures in 'Professional' mode, lack of a Tripod screw or holder and the lack of tap to focus while using the Mod. Another thing which I found frustrating was the fact that half-pressing the shutter button while reviewing a photo did not automatically prep the camera for the next shot, as happens on any real camera.

It would be great if Lenovo offered this as an option in an upcoming software update.

JBL SoundBoost

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod

The JBL SoundBoost is made of plastic along with metal speaker grill and kickstand on the back. The Mod adds almost twice the bulk to the smartphone. There is nothing that stands out regarding the design.  The Mod includes a circular cut in the central portion towards the top to ensure that the Moto Z's own camera is not obstructed for camera operation during the services provided by the Mod.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod

The Mod has a Type-C charging port on the back side along with magnetic connectors in the bottom area. There is a button on the top of the magnetic connectors to check whether the Mod has power or not with the help of a small green LED-light.

JBL SoundBoost Mod, just like the Hasselblad True Zoom Mod does not seem to be weatherproof or dust proof. There is no mention of any resistance in specs, and I did not want to test out these parameters for myself for risk of damaging the phone. The Mod supports speakerphone support along with a 1000mAh integrated battery to power the Mod. Also, the Mod comes with a metal kickstand on the front with a 45-degree angle to ensure that the Mod isn't lying down face down either on the speaker side or the front display side.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod

One thing to note is that Lenovo removed the 3.5-mm headphone jack from the Moto Z but did not add that to the Mod. The addition of 3.5-mm headphone jack could have helped increase the feature set of the smartphone.

During the test period, I received about two updates for the JBL SoundBoost and the first update for the JBL didn't bring any significant changes. However, the second update added a battery bar beside the smartphone battery bar to indicate the battery level of the JBL SoundBoost Mod.

2016-11-15_124824

I thoroughly tested the JBL SoundBoost for over a week, and the Stereo sound quality of the Mod does stand out when compared to other audio devices at my place or in the office. The best part is that it does not suck out the battery from the Moto Z as it runs independently on its 1000mAh battery. The positives of the Mod end there, however. The design of the Mod is a problem as all the sound from the Mod is directed outwards, and you need to be in closed, confined rooms or spaces for the sound to bounce back and give you a surround sound experience.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod

The sound boost provided by the SoundBoost is not enough for large rooms or halls with noisy surroundings. The flaw in the sound going outwards arises only when you want to use the main screen for browsing of work while listening to the music.

Another problem with the Mod is the charging, even though the device has a 1000mAh independent battery but the battery takes an hour to charge as the charging takes place over 1A. Despite the 10 hours backup, the next generation of the Mod should have a quick charge capable, independent battery.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod

One thing to note is that you can't connect the Mod while charging as the charging adaptor is located on the backside of the Mod. Another issue is that for the price point and the brand, the performance and battery backup is not amazing. I spent my time listening to music on maximum volume for hours at length to judge the loudness and quality of bass but could not find it beating my Logitech X50 Bluetooth speakers regarding quality or loudness.

Even though they provide only 5 hours of music playback but they do provide usability while charging and connectivity options through the 3.5mm headphone jack or Bluetooth connection. The speakers also have a 750mAh battery, which is significantly less than the JBL SoundBoost while priced at less than half the rate.

Mods Verdict and Pricing in India: 6.5/10

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z

Hasselblad True Zoom has been a major disappointment in terms of the overall package. Even though the Mod gets some things right such as the amount of zoom provided to the smartphone users. This disappointment is evident because this was supposed to be the one mod which will bring DSLR quality to smartphones and change the market forever. But that clearly did not happen.

This obviously is the first attempt by Lenovo and Hasselblad to make such hardware. But despite that the overall final quality can be rivaled by top end smartphones like Google Pixel XL or the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the companies can't afford to give such excuses.

On the top of it all, the price point of Rs 19,999 is too much for something that does not impress with the overall photo quality as the mod is meant to push the photos to another level altogether. I can't recommend that you should spend Rs 60,000 to just use the Hasselblad with Moto Z priced at Rs 39,999 and the Mod for Rs 19,999.

Instead, I would ask you to go for some budget range phone and buy an entry level DSLR or Point-and-Shoot in place of investing that much amount. Otherwise, I would ask you to go for Google Pixel XL which provides much better imaging capabilities than both Motorola Moto Z and the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod.

Lenovo Motorola Moto Z JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod

JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod boasts a good audio quality with decent loudness but the design choice which pushes all the sound away from the user (when he is using the smartphone) and  the inability to use the screen if you focus on the sound quality is weird. During my testing, I found that other dedicated speakers by companies like Logitech or the JBL like the JBL Flip will provide a much better experience than the JBL Mod. The price point of Rs 6,999 defeats the purpose, along with limited battery inaccessible charging port and lack of 3.5-mm headphone jack.

Find our entire collection of stories, in-depth analysis, live updates, videos & more on Chandrayaan 2 Moon Mission on our dedicated #Chandrayaan2TheMoon domain.

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