Most smartphones on the market seem to get their big push from the fast new processor, detailed new camera or some other typical feature that we've gotten used to, but Lenovo's new Moto Z line takes expectations one step further with Moto Mods. The Moto Z and Moto Z Force are the beginning of the modular revolution for the company, following in the footsteps of the LG G5, which was released just a few months ago. Lenovo's take on modular is a little different from LG's though, namely that Lenovo is set on keeping the phone as one whole piece and providing plates that magnetically snap onto the back instead. Among a few Moto Mods that are likely to be most popular is the JBL Soundboost speaker for the Moto Z and Moto Z Force. This stereo speaker setup includes a kickstand and significantly boost both volume and audio quality with a simple snap, but is it worth the price? Let's take a look.
Hardware and Design
As a Moto Mod the JBL Soundboost speaker is primarily designed to fit on your phone with as little obtrusion as possible, and it does a relatively good job of doing so given what it's trying to accomplish. Since the main task here is to provide users with significantly enhanced sound over what the phone alone can provide, some fairly heavy audio equipment has to fit inside the package. In addition to that the speaker has its own battery to keep the experience going without creating a significant drain on your phone's battery, adding further to the weight of the unit. To sum things up here, the JBL Soundboost turns the phone into a bit of a brick, something that's a bit of the opposite idea behind the Moto Z's design. In total the unit weighs 145g, or more than the Moto Z itself, effectively doubling the weight of either the Moto Z or Moto Z Force.
In defense of Harman International, who is the manufacturer and designer behind JBL products, the Soundboost speaker isn't intended to be put on the phone and walked around with. Rather it's pretty clear by the included kickstand on the back that the Soundboost is designed to sit on a desk or other flat surface and play your tunes louder and better than the phone can. This kickstand opens up to about 45 degrees and is the perfect angle for interacting with the Moto Z while it's sitting there in landscape mode. The small rubber strip on the end of the kickstand keeps the phone from sliding around when interacting with it too, which is good since you can not only easily interact with the phone while the kickstand is deployed, but it's ingeniously designed so that the power and volume buttons sit right at the top, ready to be pressed when ready.
The overall design is a rather attractive design too, and fits the bill of a high powered portable speaker solution. The stark red kickstand contrasts nicely with the black color of the speaker body, and both speaker grilles look great on the back of the phone. Aside from being a bit heavy and bulky in general though, the tapered edges and metal nature of the grilles make this one slippery, something that's definitely a bit worrying since there aren't any cases that seem to both be able to protect the phone and allow Moto Mods to snap on the back. This is obviously less of a worry if you've got the Moto Z Force with its unbreakable ShatterShield screen, but it still makes holding the phone rather difficult if you're trying to use it like that. Also worth noting is that there's a perfect sized hole for the camera to peer through, meaning all the regular functions of your Moto Z will not be impaired with this speaker on.
Attachment and Battery Life
Dropping the JBL Soundboost onto the Moto Z is completely effortless, as all Moto Mods are. The speaker magnetically attaches itself to the back of the Moto Z, automatically powers on and connects to the phone via the series of pins at the bottom of the back of each unit. Successfully attaching the speaker to the phone will result in a vibration as well as an audible chime. Removing the speaker takes a slight tug at the lip located at the bottom of the speaker, a reassuring feeling letting you know that it's not going to fall off your phone with ease.
Battery life is indicated via a dedicated notification that simply tells you how much percentage of the battery is left. JBL rates this at 10 hours of battery life, and I found that to be pretty spot on in my testing. Checking the battery is even possible without connecting it to the phone via the small button located on the back of the speaker just above the pins, lighting up an LED array to give you an approximate percentage left of battery. Charging is done via the USB Type-C port on the back and will work perfectly with the charger included with the Moto Z.
There is no additional charger in the speaker's box so you'll have to use the phone's charger or one of the many USB Type-C chargers on the market. As it accepts only 5v/1a (5W) charging the speaker will charge relatively slow, but since you'll not likely need to charge this every day it shouldn't be an issue, however don't expect 20 minute charging if you're in a bind. There's also no way to power the speaker via the phone's battery while it's connected, although you can charge it via the USB Type-C port on the phone by using a USB Type-C to Type-C cable and selecting charge in the notification shade. This will obviously drain your phone's battery but it's better than nothing if you really need the JBL speaker.
Lenovo's Moto Z comes with a built-in equalizer that will help tailor the sound for best performance of the JBL Soundboost Moto Mod. When attaching the speaker for the first time the EQ will automatically be set to "extreme bass" mode, highlighting one of the positives that the Soundboost provides over the phone's built-in single speaker. The design of the speaker itself inherently means that sound will normally be facing away from you, but this actually seems to enhance the sound quality overall rather than hurt it. Facing the speaker toward you seems to bring the treble up a little too high, while facing it backwards sounds like a much more balanced overall profile.
The range of the speaker itself is certainly better than the phone itself, and even many Bluetooth speakers in this price range. Bass isn't quite as good as some Bluetooth speakers in this range, but the smaller form factor of the JBL Soundboost and Moto Mods in general make that a little difficult given that it's got to fight with physics at this point to deliver something worthwhile in the bass department. You'll definitely hear and feel the bass, but it's not going to blow you away more than maybe being surprised that something this size can produce kicking bass at all. It definitely gets the range right though, and produces some superb audio that's better than any phone's built-in speaker without a doubt.
Sound quality will definitely depend on the room you're in though, and you'll find that the JBL Soundboost sounds best in a smaller room than a larger one. The volume of the speaker is truly stunning, offering plenty of levels of volume to hear even outdoors or at the beach. Because the inherent nature of the design faces backward from the screen, it works best in an environment where reverb will enhance the audio rather than detract from it. Outdoors will net you the worst quality, inside of a vehicle likely will not sound as good as any car stereo, but inside of a bedroom or small office will definitely sound excellent. Specs of the speakers certainly fit the bill of sound quality, including dual 3W speakers which produce audio within a range of 200Hz-20kHz.
While this doesn't come with the JBL Soundboost speaker, if you're getting more than one Moto Mod you might want to consider investing in the official carrying case, which retails for $29.99 at Verizon. It's definitely bulky without a doubt, but if you're looking for a surefire way to drop all those mods in a single place and not have to worry about where they went, with some additional storage for things like the phone itself and any other accessories, like the USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, this is definitely something to consider.
At around $75 or so the JBL Soundboost is certainly competitive in its pricing, and offers performance right at or better than the expected mark this price implies. In addition to that it's the perfect form factor for slapping on the back of your brand new Moto Z and rocking out with, requiring zero configuration or setup, no pairing or really anything at all. At this price range it's possible that you'll find better Bluetooth speakers, and even more so as you increase that price, but there's certainly something to be said for convenience of use given that it's competitive in sound quality. Battery life is also comparable to most Bluetooth speakers as a whole, and overall this is one seriously excellent package. If you're looking to boost your Moto Z's sound quality and volume and don't mind setting the phone on a table to play music, this is one fantastic product. If you're someone who would rather cast music to a device or play via a wireless solution, you might want to look elsewhere.