Smartphone makers have to work hard to differentiate their handsets these days. Usually the clever features they come up with reside on the handset itself, but that's not always the case.
Last year we saw the LG G5 include add-on modules such as a camera grip with and extra battery, an audio booster and a battery expansion module. The new LG G6 doesn't support expansion, though, while Google has abandoned its modular Project Ara. So are modular smartphone fans left with just the well-intentioned and long-lived eco-friendly Fairphone 2?
Well, no. Lenovo, owner of the Motorola/Moto brand, thinks it can make a success of modular, and any phone in its Moto Z line can be expanded with what it calls Moto Mods. When I met with Lenovo recently to talk about the new Moto G5 handset, we also discussed Mods, which the company said it will support on future Z-series handsets.
There are several Mods available. The Incipio offGrid Power Pack (£59.99) adds up to 20 hours of battery life, the JBL SoundBoost Speaker (£69.98) improves sound output and has its own 10-hour battery pack, and the Hasselblad True Zoom (£199.99) is a 10x optical zoom camera. Top of the Mod range is the Moto Insta-Share Projector, which will set you back £249.98.
I was loaned all bar the camera to try, along with a Moto Z Play. My main interest is in the projector.
Like all the Moto Mods, the Insta-Share Projector connects to the back of a Moto Z using magnets. These are strong enough to keep it in place during use, and a bay of contact points caters for data sharing between the Mod and the handset.
The Insta-Share Projector is not a small unit: it measures 74mm by 153mm by 11mm and weighs 120g. The build is solid, however, and includes a metal kickstand. A drawstring bag is provided, which should help protect the projector screen and handset contact points in transit.
The projector incorporates a separate 1,100mAh battery that's rated for an hour of projection time. This is used before it starts draining the Moto Z handset's battery. There's a charge light on the flat face of the projector that fits to the back of the phone, which indicates charge level when the projector is being charged away from a handset. It can't be seen when handset and projector are joined, but the connectors support passthrough charging, and when this is taking place an on-screen notification reports the charge level.
This really is a 'plug and play' solution. Just attach the projector to the Moto Z and switch it on, and it works. The projector will cast an image measuring up to 70 inches across the diagonal onto any available surface. It isn't hugely bright, but its 50 lumens proved enough for my use cases. Output was acceptable in dimly lit rooms, and better still in dark rooms. Colours aren't particularly vibrant or bright -- but having said that, I've seen professional presentations with much worse image quality.
Focussing is easily adjusted via a wheel to one side of the projector, and the unit itself is turned on and off with its own switch. The fold-out kickstand is very sturdy indeed, holding the handset at the desired angle.
Sound output from the Moto X Play's speakers could be better, but that's a handset issue, not an issue with this Mod. The only real problem I had with the projector itself is that the only way to alter the size of what's being projected is to move the whole setup closer to, or further away from, the projecting surface. In some situations this could prove to be a hassle.
Still, I found it easy to share YouTube videos, images and web content with other people during the test period.
At £249.98 (inc. VAT) -- plus the cost of a Moto Z handset, of course -- the Insta-Share Projector is by no means a snip. But if you need to do regular presentations and don't want to carry a lot of kit around, the combined cost might be worth considering.
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