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First impressions of Lenovo’s Moto Z smartphones with add-on modules

LG tested the modular smartphone market with its G5 model earlier this year, with varying degrees of success. By swapping in additional parts, or modules, users can turn their device into an enhanced audio system or camera/video recorder.

While the industry lauded the South Korean mobile phone company for its innovation at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, have you actually seen anyone using it here in Hong Kong? No, neither have I.

That is partly because swapping parts in and out is a very clumsy experience with the G5; you have to pull the battery out of the phone, and push that into the module, before slotting the whole thing back into the phone. Not very user-friendly to say the least.

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The new Moto Z and the slightly cheaper Moto Z Play – the new flagship smartphones from Lenovo – are closer to what a modular phone should be. You only need to snap the module on the back of the phone and that’s it. The integrated magnets ensure the additional part is secured in place.

Both Moto Z models are compatible with a number of modules (Moto Mods), notably the JBL SoundBoost and the Hasselblad True Zoom, as well as the “Incipio off GRID”, which is basically a battery charger. And since both phones are extremely slim – 5.19mm for the Moto Z and 6.99mm for the Moto Z Play – these handsets don’t look bulky even after the module is added.

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Both models have black metal casings so they look and feel masculine and solid in the hand. Their specs are all respectable and worthy of their flagship status, especially the Moto Z. That comes with Android 6.0.1, runs on a Snapdragon 820 processor and has a built-in 2600 mAh battery. While the Moto Z Play is also on Android 6.0.1, it runs on the Snapdragon 625 processor and has a built-in 3510 mAh battery.

As one of the modules is a projector (Insta-Share), it’s reasonable to assume both models target professionals who need to do business presentations on the go.

After the initial novelty wears off, I find both the Moto Z and the Moto Z Play are very down-to-earth, functional phones with few surprises. One particular function I do find downright counterintuitive, though. With some of the latest smartphone models, after you’ve taken a photo or video, it immediately prompts you to share it on social media. Even on the Moto Z Play (which I assume is for the younger crowd), the story ends the minute you press the camera button and you need to dig around for the image/video. That is just not very sexy.

The Moto Z and the Moto Z Play are among the first major models Lenovo is giving a big push to since merging its smartphone division with Motorola Mobility last year. By going modular, the company has got off to a promising start; the relatively stagnant smartphone market sure could do with some diversity to stay healthy and interesting.

The retail price for the Moto Z is HK$4,999 and that for the Moto Z Play is HK$4,099. JBL SoundBoost costs an extra HK$999, Hasselbald True Zoon HK$3,399, Incipio offGRID HK$899. All are available from October 28. The Insta-Share module, price HK$2,599, will come on the market in November.