Making modular phones – phones to which you can add functions and features by adding parts, in simple English – has always been a slippery slope for manufacturers. Modu had the first realistic go at it more than half a decade ago, with “jackets” which added functionality to a basic phone and earlier this year, LG too had a stab at the concept with the G5. And now it is the turn of Motorola to follow the modular path with the Moto Z and the Moto Z Play, both of which were formally introduced in India today.


And the difference between both phones is apparent at the very first glance. Yes, their sizes are markedly different, even though both sport 5.5-inch AMOLED displays – the Moto Z is 153.3 mm long and an amazing 5.2 mm thin, while the Moto Z Play is 156.4 mm long and 7 mm thin – but the main difference is in the feel. The Z is clearly more premium, feeling like a sleek sliver of metal (there was a super thin Moto phone called Sliver, incidentally – well, the new Moto Z makes that look obese in our opinions), while the metal frame and glass back of the Z Play make it appear just a tad less premium (some of our friends even felt it looked a little Samsung-y). In terms of sheer appearance, the Z is a winner with a more compact and sleek frame, while the Z Play is a tad more…well, human, and actually a tad on the heavier side (165 grammes as compared to the 136 grammes of the Z). Both come with water repellant coating but both we suspect will not be able to repel smudges and fingerprints quite as easily. That said, neither is an eyesore by any standards. Both phones have a very distinct appearance thanks to the protruding spherical camera units at the back as well as the mod connectors – no, the cameras do not protrude for a random reason: they actually help stabilise the mods that are connected to the devices.


And in terms of hardware too, the difference between the two phones is very evident – the Z is clearly the flagship with a quad HD display, 4 GB RAM and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor. The Z Play, on the other hand, comes with a more modest full HD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor and 3 GB RAM. Both phones have front facing cameras of 5.0-megapixels with LED flashes, but when it comes to the one on the rear, the Z scores on quality again, coming with a 13.0-megapixel camera with f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilisation, while the Z Play’s rear shooter has a higher megapixel count at 16 but has a f/2.0 aperture and does not have optical image stabilisation. Where the Z Play DOES pick up hardware brownie points over its sleeker counterpart is in battery – it has a larger 3510 mAh battery as compared to the 2600 mAh one on the Z (accounting perhaps for the difference in weight) – and in terms of a spec that has suddenly become very important: the Z Play has a 3.5 mm audio jack while the Z sacrifices it on the altar of slimness. Let’s be blunt: in terms of specs, the difference between the Moto Z and the Moto Z Play is that between a flagship and a warship. One is designed as a showcase, one is designed for work.


What both are however designed for are the Moto Mods – accessories that can be snapped onto the devices, adding new features to them. We tried a few of them, most notably the JBL SoundBoost Speaker, the Moto Insta-Share Projector, the Incipio offGrid Power Pack, and of course, the apple of everyone’s eye (perhaps even of the fruity named company in Cupertino – yes, the pun was so intended), the Hasselblad True Zoom. And based on about half an hour of tinkering, what we can say is this – they work beautifully. Using a Moto Mod is as simple as snapping it onto the back of the phone. This is followed by a notification from the device letting you know a mod is attached and well, you just go right ahead and start using it – no need to add any special apps (the default apps work just fine!), agree to pairing permissions, enter passcodes, or reboot the device. And at the time of speaking, we must confess to being most impressed by the Hasselblad True Zoom as it adds a Xenon flash, a 12.0-megapixel sensor with OIS and 10x optical zoom, a proper shutter button (you can use the onscreen button and volume buttons on the phone too, if you wish), and two microphones (although you cannot shoot 4K video from it – a trifle odd when you consider you can do the same from the phone’s own camera!). In simple terms, it converts your Moto device into something that is as close to a point and shoot camera we have seen on a phone. It did seem to show the odd sign of lags but is definitely better than anything most phones’ cameras can offer. The projector is very impressive too – snap it on and you can project on any surface, with the video resizing automatically as well. Most of the Mods do add a certain amount of weight to the Moto Z and Z Play, but do not bulk them up too much – you will be able to still slip the phones into your pockets without too much difficulty. This is easily the best implementation of the modular concept we have seen on a smartphone – and Motorola says the Mods will be compatible across generations of devices, making investing in them (and they do not come cheap, alas) a long-term affair.


But does all this make the Moto Z and the Z Play worth their price tags of Rs 39,999 and Rs 24,999, respectively? We will discover in our detailed reviews in the coming days, of hopefully both phones and some of their mods. But until then, we can safely say that with the Z and Z Play, Moto has got into Mod-ern Talking mode.

Hello, Moto. Hello, Moto Mods.

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Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.