A few modular smartphone projects may have come and gone, but Motorola is holding strong with the snappable Moto Mods on its Moto Z smartphone family. There’s a good collection of Motorola handsets that support these mods — from the midrange Moto Z2 Play to the flagship Moto Z2 Force smartphones — and two new Moto Mods announced at CES 2018 mean there are now more than 15 mods available.
The latest additions are Vital Inc.’s Vital Moto Mod, which measures five metrics including heart rate, blood pressure, and core body temperature; and Livermorium’s Keyboard Mod, which adds a physical keyboard to the attached Moto Z phone. In our Vital Moto Mod and Livermorium Keyboard Moto Mod hands-on review, we see if it’s worth swapping to the Moto Z family to try these mods out.
Vital Moto Mod
The Vital Moto Mod is a glimpse of a future that’s much closer than you may realize. It’s a health-focused device that doesn’t really need to be a Moto Mod, but it’s easier for Vital USA Inc. to bring the product to market with the help of Lenovo and Motorola. The Moto Mod tracks five vitals: heart rate; pulse oximetry (SpO2), or the amount of oxygen in the blood; respiratory rate, or the number of breaths you take per minute; core body temperature; and blood pressure.
The reason why it stands alone as its own product is because it connects to a Moto Z phone via Bluetooth — most mods usually secure a connection through pogo pins. You can still slap the Vital Moto Mod to the back of a Moto Z smartphone and it will connect magnetically, but it also works when it’s off the phone. Naturally, the Vital Moto Mod works exclusively with Moto Z phones, but you can imagine — and Vital Inc. confirmed this — that a product down the line would be available for just about any smartphone on the market.
Vital Inc. said the data is incredibly accurate, but the mod doesn’t replace your doctor.
The mod is ridiculously chunky, but it’s not a problem because it doesn’t need to be attached to your phone all the time. To track all your vitals, simply insert your left index finger through the blood pressure monitor on the back, and hold your hand and the mod up close to your chest. The hole your finger is in contracts just like a normal blood pressure monitor on your arm.
You have to keep still for about 110 seconds to let it track several things, and when you’re done, you can lift the mod up to your forehead and stay still for a few seconds just to get your core body temperature. The process is dead simple, and largely involves just a few minutes of your time — like a visit to the doctor. It worked without a hitch for me, and my vitals are surprisingly in a healthy range.
Vital Inc. said the data is incredibly accurate, but the mod doesn’t replace your doctor. It’s meant more to help keep track of your health, and see when your vitals change based on the level of your daily activity — you can even share this data with your physician. In the app, you can see the readings as well as graphs that show you if your health is above or below average. There’s room for improvement here, though, as we think the app could benefit from a coach or more tools to help you understand what some of these numbers mean.
The data stored by Vital is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which means you’re in charge of who has access to your medical information. The ability to track all these vitals within a matter of minutes, and store this data for historical record, is impressive. We can’t wait for this device to work with various smartphones, as it provides a real benefit.
The Vital Moto Mod is expected to launch early this year, and price hasn’t been confirmed, but it’s likely to cost somewhere in the $300 to $400 range.
Livermorium Moto Mod
The Livermorium Moto Mod spawned from Motorola’s “Transform the Smartphone” Indiegogo campaign that challenged people to come up with unique and useful Moto Mods. Livermorium raised the most funds for its Keyboard Moto Mod. It does exactly what the name suggests — add a keyboard to your Moto Z smartphone.
If you’re longing for phones like the T-Mobile Sidekick, then this is a mod for you. Magnetically attach the mod to the back of a compatible Moto Z phone, and simply slide out the back to reveal a full, backlit QWERTY keyboard. You can angle the keyboard toward you so it’s more comfortable to hold, and you can easily turn off the backlight.
It felt comfortable to use, with satisfying buttons and enough room between the keys — it didn’t feel cramped. You’ll find Android navigation keys on the keyboard itself, and while it could activate the native Android split-screen mode, it did not activate Google Assistant — you’ll have to use the touchscreen or your voice.
The Indiegogo campaign model featured a battery in the mod to add even more value, but it looks like the first batches the company is shipping do not have a battery. That’s a shame, because the mod is already incredibly thick. That’s the biggest downside of the Keyboard Moto Mod, because it feels like you’re holding a brick when it’s attached to a phone.
Die-hard physical keyboard fans will certainly be interested, but considering the mod costs $100 and the fact that Moto Z phones aren’t exactly cheap, we recommend finding a phone with an embedded physical keyboard. Did you hear? BlackBerry’s doing well — or opt for Samsung’s smart QWERTY keyboard cover.