Motorola Moto 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: each one gets recognised and works instantly - no hanging around for your phone to reboot like the LG G5. However, as we detailed in our review of the phone, there are drawbacks to both the main device and overall experience to accommodate this innovation.

We've now spent time with all of the first-wave Moto Mods – the Insta-Share Projector, Incipio offGRID Power Pack, JBL SoundBoost speaker and Hasselblad True Zoom – on both the Moto Z and chunkier, longer-lasting Moto Z Play.

Here's what we think of them all...

Hasselblad True Zoom

The True Zoom is one of the more costly Moto Mods out there right now, but really - what did you expect? The Hasselblad name has never found it’s way onto anything cheap.

It’s a bolt-on camera upgrade that outfits your Moto Z or Moto Z Play with a 10x zoom lens, physical shutter button and zoom controls, and a much brighter Xenon flash.

That zoom lens doesn’t just clip over the phone’s existing camera sensor, either. The True Zoom has its own 12MP, 1/2.3" CMOS sensor (with oversized 1.55 um pixels) that it uses instead. Oh, and built-in image stabilisation: optical (OIS) for still shots and electric (EIS) for video.

Once those strong magnetic terminals on the back of the phone are holding it firmly in place, the True Zoom turns your phone into a real heavyweight. In fact, there’s not a lot of difference between one of these and a traditional compact camera - hipsters are going to struggle to squeeze it into the pockets of their skinny jeans.

The grip is chunky and covered in a rubbery texture that should stop it slipping out of your hand, but everything else is plastic fantastic. Not exactly in keeping with Hasselblad”s “premium” ethos.

Still, it’s impossible to fault the looks - from the front it looks just like a compact camera, not a Frankenstein phone you’ve bolted an accessory onto the back of.

Connect the True Zoom to a Moto Z and it’ll pair automatically - no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth faffing required. Hold the power button down for a second and it’ll open Motorola’s camera app, which also gains some Hasselblad-specific modes like RAW shooting.

You can half-press the physical shutter button to focus and exposure lock, and the zoom rocker feels super snappy and responsive. No lag, no waiting - it just works.

You can really see the quality difference, too. At full 8x digital zoom, the Moto Z takes blurry photos that lack any real detail, but the True Zoom’s 10x optical lens makes everything look crisp. It's not hard to work out which is which in our sample shots above.

There’s just one problem. When you aren’t zooming in, the True Zoom doesn’t exactly have the edge in terms of quality. The Moto Z Play has a superior 16MP sensor, and even the Moto Z’s 12MP snapper holds its own.

There are a few other things missing, too. You can tap anywhere onscreen to focus, but there’s no manual focus ring on the zoom lens. It can’t shoot 4K video, only 1080p - and at just 30fps to boot. The electric stabilisation isn’t all that precise either, showing a bit of judder in fast panning shots.

With no tripod thread, you won’t be doing any fancy low shutter speed light painting, but that Xenon flash does a great job at illuminating gig photos and late-night club antics.

Seeing how the only killer feature here is that 10x optical zoom, we’re not convinced that’s worth paying RM1299 for unless you’re really, really into smartphone photography.