By now, most smartphone users have probably heard of Motorola’s new Moto Z for $624 (and Force Z for $720) and their interchangeable Moto Mods, it’s essentially a traditional phone that can be equipped with different add-ons that give it more functionality. Motorola is about to take Smartphone into the much needed DIY space.
The phone itself is pretty standard in terms of a flagship phone — a Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820 quad-core CPU (two running at 2.15GHz and two at 1.6GHz), 5.5-inch AMOLED display (1440 X 2560), 4 GB of RAM, and 32 or 64 GB of internal storage. There’s also a micro SD slot that can handle up to 256 GB of additional storage as well. Fairly solid specs… But nothing to lose your mind over.
However, what makes the Moto Z different from other smartphones on the market is its ability to be upgraded with several different modules that magnetically snap into place on the back of the phone, as well as its ability to use the modules instantaneously without the need for activation or having to install any applications. Aside from the modular add-ons, the Moto Z also supports development of additional Mods through the use of a Moto Development Kits (MDK), consisting of a Perforated Board, reference Mod and example cover.
Additionally, the MDK offers support for further development using any number of Raspberry Pi HATs – more on that later. For now, let’s take a close look at the Mods and what they offer.
The most expensive Mod by far is the Insta-Share Projector, which retails for $299 (or can be financed for $25 a month), almost nearly half the cost of the Moto Z itself. According to Motorola’s spec-sheet for the projector, it features a DLP-based projector (most likely a Pico) with an image size of up to 70-inches at a resolution of 854 X 480 WVGA (480p). It has an aspect ratio of 16:9, contrast ratio of 1:400, throw ratio of 1.2 and a brightness of 50-lumens.
What’s more, it has a built-in 1100 mAh battery, giving it an hour of life before needing a recharge or switching over to the phone’s battery. On the side of the projector are two physical buttons that control power, settings and manual focus as well as a USB Type C port for charging. A built-in kickstand also allows users to project their media at almost any angle, providing more stability, especially on uneven surfaces.
The second Mod in this list is Motorola’s SoundBoost external stereo add-on, which was made by JBL. Like the Insta-Share projector, the Mod simply magnetically snaps into place over the phone’s connector plate and is instantly ready to go. The SoundBoost features a pair of 27mm drivers that deliver 3-watts of power each (6W total). To put that into perspective, it delivers 80 dBSPL @ 0.5 m — about as loud as some mid-range Bluetooth wireless speakers.
The SoundBoost also features a kickstand that leans at a 450 angle and features a rubberized casing to keep it from slipping while deployed. For those who like to take photos and video while rocking-out at the same time, the casing features a cutout hole for unobstructed viewing. It also packs a built-in 1000 mAh Battery that provides 10-hours of music before needing a recharge or switching over to the phone’s battery. While there is a USB Type C port for charging, it doesn’t feature any external buttons, rather users control the sound directly from the phone and favorite apps. The SoundBoost Mod is priced on the low-end of the Mod spectrum at $79.99.
The last Mod in Motorola’s current lineup is their Incipio offGRID Power Pack, which features a 2220 mAh battery that can provide up to 22-hours of battery life before needing a recharge. Of course, that’s just an estimation as it depends on the user’s mobile habits. Like the others, the pack simply snaps into place using the Moto Z’s strong internal magnets and is ready to go. The pack has ‘smart internals’ of sorts, meaning it doesn’t simply transfer over power instantly (unless the phone battery is completely dead), rather power will only flow to the phone when its internal battery is below 80%.
The offGRID also has to recharge options with the first being a rapid recharge over a USB Type C connection and the other wirelessly using a Qi-based charger, that incidentally can be purchase alongside the power pack, which runs $59.00.
While the Moto Z (and Force) is already outfitted with one of the best rated cameras around with a DxOMark Mobile score of 87, that hasn’t stopped Swedish camera maker Hasselblad from designing an add-on mod that may best it. At least that’s the rumor after a supposed leaked picture of their “True Zoom Camera” Mod surfaced on hellomotoHK earlier this month.
According to the leaked image, the Mod features a 10x optical zoom lens and a Xenon flash, both of which have never been featured on a smartphone before. The fact that it’s also purported to have physical buttons to control the camera rather than being strictly app-based is certainly a boon as well. Add to that an automatic backup function and the ability to shoot in RAW format and the Hasselblad Mod looks to be a great addition to the Moto Z. Still it’s only a rumor and nothing official (or otherwise) has been announced from either Motorola or Hasselblad, so only time will tell.
Staying on the rumor mill, Playfuldroid recently uploaded pictures of Motorola’s third installment of the Moto Z series dubbed Play, which is reportedly to be the ‘budget’ version of the line. With the Moto Z Force being the top of Motorola’s flagship line it packs the latest in hardware — including a Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820 quad-core CPU (running at 2×2.15 GHz Kryo and 2×1.6 GHz Kryo respectively), a 5.5-inch AMOLED display (with 535ppi), 4 GB of RAM, up to 64 GB of storage, along with up to 256 GB of additional storage via a microSD slot.
In contrast, the Moto Play will purportedly feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 quad-core CPU (running at 2.0 GHz), a 5.5-inch FHD AMOLED display, 3 GB of RAM and up to 64 GB of internal storage. While it might seem similar to the Moto Z and Force, it has a less powerful CPU and GPU (Adreno 506 vs. Adreno 530) as well as a lower resolution display (1920 × 1080 vs. 1440 × 2560). On the plus side (if the rumors are true), it will be able to use the same Moto Mods as its larger brothers, making it an attractive prospect for those looking for a midrange phone. There’s no word yet on on a price point for the Play or when it will become available, however chances are it will be sometime in late summer or early fall.
Sure, Motorola’s Moto Z line and Moto Mods will appeal to smartphone enthusiasts everywhere, especially those who want the aspect of modularity. Developers on the other hand, maybe interested in the Moto Z line as well, as Motorola has released an MDK (Moto Mods Development Kit) and several Personality Cards for them to develop their own Mods and bring them to market.
What’s more, the MDK can be used in conjunction with Raspberry Pi HATs through the HAT Adapter Board, which connects to the 80-pin connector that comes with the MDK Reference Mod. HATs are an add-on board for the Raspberry Pi that increases the functionality of the board for any number of different projects. One of the popular features of the HAT is its ability to auto-config the R-Pi’s GPIO and drivers when it’s connected, making it easy on the developers without having to adjust them manually.
On board is the 40-pin GPIO header, camera port, and a 15-pin display header. At the moment, however, using this board and the Pi HAT features will require some programming expertise. In the near future, all of this will become plug and play. Coming in at $40, this personality card can already be bought at element14.
On to the MDK… Where the personality cards get very interesting.
Motorola’s MDK is includes everything needed for developers to create their own Mods, including a reference Moto Mod, a Perforated Board and a back cover. The Perf Board is the primary card for development and features an 80-pin connector on the surface along with 26 rows of solder-points as well as power bus pins located on each side. The board is laid-out for easy access and connects and disconnects easily to the Reference Mod without fear of breaking.
How much room for components inside the Perforated Board back cover is still up in the air. Those two inch tall Nixie tubes better go back in the drawer for now.
The Reference Mod itself (lowest plate in the above picture) features several connection options for prototyping- including a µUSB-B port and a USB-C as well as an 80-pin connector. What’s more, it comes equipped with a MuC (Moto Mod Microprocessor — a Cortex-M4 based STML476) with 96k ROM as well as a Moto High-Speed Bridge for fast communication between the Perf Board and the Moto Z. Additionally, the MDK allows users to connect several Personality Cards based on the commercial Moto Mods, which serve as examples on prototyping similar Mods.
The Moto Mods Perforated Board can already be bought for $15 at element14. The price is right for making a handful of DIY mods.
For reference, the Battery Personality Card (above) is outfitted with a small 300 mAh Lithium Ion battery along with a fuel-gauge and charge IC and plugs directly to the MDK via the 80-pin connector. This is a great Card for those needing a battery connection for their projects. Motorola even provides the source code for the Moto Mod firmware as well as the Android companion application. This Personality Card is also available at element14 for $40, right now.
Motorola’s Temperature Sensor Personality Card (above) features an internal thermistor that displays real-time temperature via a companion Android app.
As stated above, Motorola’s Personality Cards are reference Mods that can be inserted into the MDK that help developer’s prototype their own Mods. Each is essentially a reference unit of the Mods that are commercially available (except for the Temp Sensor Personality Card) and demonstrate what each is capable of, which includes a Battery, Temperature Sensor, Audio and Display Card respectively.
The Temperature Sensor (shown above) is used as an example to highlight what can be done with sensors. In this case, it uses a thermistor and connects to the MDK via the same 80-pin connector as the Battery PC. It also has its own source code and Android companion app as well. Available at element14 for $40.
The Audio Personality Card provides a reference Mod for external Audio similar to the Moto Mod JBL SoundBoost. It includes a single speaker with a Class-D amplifier (controlled over an I2S interface) and the standard 80-pin connector. It should be noted that when the Card is attached to the Moto Z, it replaces the phone’s onboard sound and routs it through the Card — the same as the SoundBoost Mod. It also uses the same Android audio routing rules so any third party apps are not needed for development. Another $40 Personality Card at element14.
The final Card in Motorola’s inventory is their Display board (above), which serves as a reference for projects that require an external display. In particular, it shows users how to interface with the display (over a single-lane DSI connection) over the MDK’s High Speed Bridge (using an I2C Bus) as well as designing backlighting control options. As with the other Cards, it connects to the MDK via an 80-pin connector and the source code for the firmware and Android app are available as well. Coming soon to element14.
The Personality Cards are available now, and Motorola has collaborated with element14 to bring the Cards to market. They will run from $40 to $75, while the MDK will set you back $125 respectively (and $15 – $40 for the perfboard and Pi HAT adapter respectively).
Motorola wants you to create/make/build with their Moto Mods platform. They certainly have me interested in developing Moto Mods. Read even more about this effort on their site.