Lenovo's Moto Z Mods tested: upgrades worth making?

The verdict on all of Moto's snap-on perks released so far

As the first flagship-level Moto phone under the Lenovo banner, the Moto Z is something different: a device with optional, modular upgrades that snap right onto the back via magnets.

It's a great concept, especially since they're recognized and usable instantly, and the approach is a bit different in execution than this year's LG G5. However, as we detailed in our review of the phone (the U.S. "Droid" edition for Verizon), there are drawbacks to both the main device and overall experience to accommodate this innovative shift.

We've now spent time with all three of the first-wave Moto Mods – the Insta-Share Projector, Incipio offGRID Power Pack, and JBL SoundBoost speaker – here's what we think of them...

Moto Insta-Share Projector

Moto Insta-Share Projector

The Moto Insta-Share Projector is easily the most exciting Moto Mod in the initial pack, as it snaps onto the Moto Z and gives you a portable pico projector that you can take anywhere.

With absolutely minimal effort, you can project up to a 70in image on a wall, whether you're running streaming video or playing locally saved media, or enjoying a game. If your room is dark enough, it's solidly bright at max settings, and the keystone correction for auto-adjusting to your wall tends to work well, although you may need to fiddle with the angle a bit.

The built-in kickstand helps make the Insta-Share Projector effective, as it's super strong and can help you toss the image on any wall or ceiling with ease. There are drawbacks, however, starting with the meager 480p resolution. That's fine for a TV show from Netflix, and it's on par with most standalone pico projectors, but it's a big drop from the phone's Quad HD screen.

Moto Insta-Share Projector

Also, the battery life isn't awesome. The 1,100mAh battery within the Mod helps supplement the phone's battery, adding about an hour of extra playback – but with a fully charged phone and Mod together, I barely got to 2.5 hours in a rundown test streaming from Netflix. Even if you can get through a full movie, your phone will be nearly tapped out.

And with no headphone jack on the Moto Z, you'll need a Bluetooth or USB-C-connectible speaker if you're planning to entertain a crowd. The phone's speaker is fine if you're watching in a quiet room, but the larger the group, the less likely you'll be able to hear it well enough.

While the Insta-Share Projector is a very handy thing to be able to pull out of your bag, the US$300 price point – nearly half the price of the phone itself – makes it difficult to justify, given the slim battery life and low resolution. Found at half the price in a bargain bin in a few months, however, it might be worth a cheaper pickup.

Buy the Moto Insta-Share Projector here from Motorola

Incipio offGRID Power Pack

Moto Z Power Pack

Luckily, the other Mods are more reasonably priced. Incipio's offGRID Power Pack is the one that seems like the biggest necessity of the bunch, as slapping one onto the back of the Moto Z adds 2,220mAh of battery power to the 2,600mAh cell already in the phone.

That's a sizeable upgrade: a total of 4,820mAh is enough to last the average user two full days, or let you power through a long day of Pokémon Go hunting, streaming video, and calls without a mid-day charge. And the phone shows you the battery life remaining on the internal battery and Power Pack separately, as well.

There is a visual drawback, however. While the Moto Z itself is sleek and relatively stylish, the Power Pack is a rubberized clump that adds thickness and takes some of the visual appeal out of the equation. Luckily, the Moto Z is easier to grip with the Power Pack attached.

And there's a helpful bonus hidden underneath that plastic: the US$70 version comes with wireless charging capabilities, which were curiously left off of the Moto Z itself. There's a US$60 version that's purely a battery pack, but for $10 more, you might as well get wireless charging for your Android flagship.

Either way, the Power Pack isn't flashy – but it is a very helpful boost, plus the snap-on design is less obtrusive than an oversized battery case and less of a hassle than plugging in an external battery pack when you're on the go. It's well worth picking up if you're worried about having enough juice when out and about.

Buy the Incipio offGRID Power Pack here from Motorola

JBL SoundBoost

JBL SoundBoost

Unfortunately, the front-facing stereo speakers of past Moto X models are gone, now replaced with a single speaker up top. However, the Moto Z offers the option to add much larger speakers on the back thanks to the JBL SoundBoost Mod.

It's a bulkier Mod than the Power Pack, but the SoundBoost packs a solid punch for the still relatively compact size: they're each 3W speakers with output ranging between 200Hz and 20kHz. The SoundBoost doesn't produce massive sound, but it also doesn't seem canned or overly contained. It'll do the trick for a beach party or backyard, in other words.

The built-in kickstand is a nice touch, letting you prop up the phone while the speakers are in use – that way, you don't have to lay your screen flat on a surface, or prop the Moto Z up against a wall. And the 1,000mAh battery within means the SoundBoost won't start sucking up your phone's internal battery for upwards of 10 hours of playback.

Buy the JBL SoundBoost here from Motorola

JBL SoundBoost

For US$80, it's a fair offering, albeit not one we'd want to keep snapped on at all times due to the extra bulk. And that brings us to the next question: in that case, why not just go for a more powerful Bluetooth speaker that can connect to any wireless devices that you or your friends have, rather than limiting it to the Moto Z?

In fact, JBL has some strong portable speaker options (like the Charge 2 or 3), and while you might spend a little more than the US$80 here for something good, you'll probably get higher-end hardware in the process alongside wider device compatibility. It's your call, but give some thought to the lifespan of the speaker you're considering.

What's ahead?

Moto Z and Moto Mods

More Moto Mods are promised - in fact, we got a sneak peak at (and fondle of) the Hasselblad-built camera attachment at IFA this week. That wasn't long enough to make a final judgement, though, so for now the Power Pack is the only one we'd say is incredibly useful for nearly any buyer.

The Insta-Share Projector is neat, but the price and drawbacks are both significant, while we'd recommend a portable Bluetooth speaker over the JBL SoundBoost, even if it's a solid option. All told, much as we're impressed by how the Moto Mods work, we're not yet convinced that it's worth picking the Moto Z over the Galaxy S7 or OnePlus 3 just to accommodate these modular perks. Maybe the next wave will do the trick.

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