Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa review

Motorola wants $150 to strap Alexa to your phone, and it's embarrassing

Alexa is everywhere. Amazon’s voice assistant, originally found on the Echo and Echo Dot, has continued to expand into various other products. The latest to be graced with Alexa are the Sonos One speaker, the HTC U11 Life budget smartphone, and most recently, a Moto Mod for Motorola’s Moto Z smartphones.

Moto Mods are designed specifically for the Moto Z line of phones, including the Moto Z Force, the Moto Z Play, the Moto Z2 Play, and the Moto Z2 Force. There are now over a dozen mods, and they magnetically snap to the back of the phone. There’s the 360-camera Moto Mod which lets you take 360-degree photos and videos, the Moto Gamepad mod lets you use a controller to play mobile games, and the JBL Soundboost 2 turns your phone into a loud boombox. The Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa is the newest to join the lineup, allowing you to call up Alexa whenever you want. While it has a lot of potential, in our review we found the mod to be priced far too high for it offers.

For testing purposes, we used the Alexa mod on the Moto Z2 Force.

Take it anywhere

First things first. This is not a Moto Mod you’ll want to carry attached to the phone in your pocket. The Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa is reasonably sized, like the JBL Soundboost 2 speaker mod, but it’s still chunky. You’ll want to leave it at home, or carry it with you in a bag.

Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa logo
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s wrapped in fabric, and the rear slopes down so the phone’s screen looks up at you at an angle. When on a table, the rear part of the mod has rubber padding that keeps the mod and phone from sliding around. As a nice touch, the rubberized padding doubles as a visual cue, because it lights up when you ask for Alexa like the Echo. All in all, the build quality is sturdy, the mod looks nice, and it feels like it’s worth the $150.

The Alexa mod isn’t just a speaker, it also boasts a pretty hefty battery. In testing, we were able to get several days of use on a single charge. The mod has a USB Type-C port on the back, and it can charge both the speaker and your phone when connected (though it will prioritize the speaker first — you can plug it into the phone to prioritize charging up your phone first).  What’s nice about having a battery is that you can move the Alexa mod anywhere in the house (or outdoors) whenever you want, making it more convenient than the Echo or Echo Dot.

Can you hear me now?

Both the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot have excellent microphones that can pick up your voice from across the room. Ambient noises and music typically do not pose a problem when trying to trigger Alexa on those devices either, but we wish we could say the same for the Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa.

In quiet environments, the mod lit up and listened to our query when we said “Alexa.” It wasn’t always a success, and it occasionally had a hard time picking up our voice more than a few feet away. If you have music playing even at a low volume, or if there are ambient noise like people talking, the device had a much tougher time picking up our voice. You’ll want to make sure you very loudly enunciate “Alexa” to the mod.

This is not a Moto Mod you’ll want to carry attached to the phone in your pocket.

Since it attaches to the back of a smartphone, the Alexa mod works on both Wi-Fi and cellular data. When you’re not connected to Wi-Fi, your phone’s data will pick up the slack and take care of your requests. Initially in our testing, we had intermittent problems with Alexa either ignoring our requests or giving us a “try later” message — both on Wi-FI and cellular connections. Disconnecting and reconnecting the Mod usually fixed the problem. We recently received an update on the mod, and we haven’t encountered the problem since.

Alexa doesn’t trigger as quickly as it does on the Echo or Echo Dot. Where you typically can say “Alexa” and follow it up with a command immediately, you’ll want to give the Moto Mod a second to light up before you ask Alexa to do perform an action.

After the recent update, Alexa has been answering our queries accurately, with a sprinkle of errors. The main highlight for the Moto Mod isn’t how well it can pick up the trigger word, or how fast it can respond, but the fact that you can take Alexa anywhere.

Average sound

Since sound is really what a speaker is about, we expected the Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa to deliver something similar to the JBL Soundboost 2 mod — it comes close. Initially, music sounded tinny and not much better than the $50 Echo Dot, but the recent software update seems to have improved the sound dramatically.

Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa profile
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Music easily gets loud enough to fill a room, and it didn’t sound tinny. The bass is the weakest link, as it underperforms and sounds muddled. We think most people will be satisfied with the sound the mod produces, but there are certainly better-sounding Bluetooth speakers you can go for at this price range.

You’re stuck using Amazon’s music and video services through voice with this Moto Mod. You can play YouTube videos, or play music through Google Play Music and Spotify on the phone — and it will come through the Moto Mod with Alexa — but you just can’t ask Alexa to use these services.

But the worst part really is how Alexa will almost never respond when you call for it while playing music.

Needs to use the screen more

The Amazon Echo Show is an Alexa-powered speaker that has a screen, allowing the assistant to show you more details about whatever you ask. While the Moto Mod does take advantage of the Moto Z2 Force’s screen, we would have liked to see more support.

You’re better off using Google Assistant.

Sure, you can ask for the weather and see the full forecast on the screen; or you can ask to play music and the screen will display who’s playing with playback controls. Ask who’s the president, and it will have an image with some text about President Donald Trump. But ask it to find the nearest Starbucks, and it won’t pull up directions or a list of nearby locations. Trying to buy something on Amazon? It won’t provide visual options when you’re shopping around.

Why not use Google Assistant?

Considering it’s used in tandem with a smartphone, it would be nice if there was some proper integration, like using Alexa to open apps, or toggle device settings, or even show your photos and emails. The Moto Mod was unable to send messages or initiate video calls which was strange since it’s powered by the very device you can use to make video calls and send messages.

Since it can’t do these things, you’re better off using Google Assistant, which is already enabled on the Z2 Force. In fact, the Moto Mod with Alexa may perform much better if you prioritize Google Assistant, and then use Alexa for Amazon-specific functions. You can ask Assistant to play YouTube videos or Netflix movies, music from a plethora of streaming services, you can control your phone’s settings like turn the Wi-Fi off, and more. It works just as well as Alexa, but Google Assistant gives you more options.

For its $150 price tag, we were expecting the Moto Mod with Amazon Alexa to have the same functionality as devices like the Echo Show or Echo. The more you use it, you’ll quickly find how limiting it is unless you’re completely on Amazon’s ecosystem.

This Moto Mod is targeted at a niche audience of people who own a Moto Z smartphone. If you have one and you exclusively use Amazon’s services, then this mod may be for you. Since we can’t imagine people taking this mod and using it Alexa a lot outside their homes, you may want to look into the cheaper Echo Dot, or spend the extra $50 for the Sonos One for superior sound. If you do want on-the-go access to Alexa and you have a Moto Z smartphone, then this Moto Mod is for you.

Otherwise, this mod is no reason to buy into the Moto Z lineup. It’s hard to justify spending $150 on a device that doesn’t offer all the features you can find on other Alexa devices, and it’s even harder when the hardware just doesn’t work as well.

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