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Moto missed a giant Mod opportunity

Execs raced us through five Mods for the Moto Z phones, and showed off zero.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It could have been Moto's show.

With Samsung's Galaxy S8 out of the picture, LG, Sony and Huawei were left to fight it out on the high end. But if we learned anything at this year's Mobile World Congress conference, it's that high-end doesn't always win the day. For example, this year's breakout surprise was the Nokia 3310 throwback, which isn't even a smartphone and won't work in every country. In other words, Moto had as much opportunity as anyone else to grab the spotlight.

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And there was a lot going on. Lenovo (which is apparently reviving the Motorola brand) unveiled the Moto G5 Plus, which has higher-end features than you'd expect for its price, including a metal design, a proven camera lens and a good amount of storage. Based on Moto's track record, the G5 Plus could wind up being a top budget buy for 2017.

Then there was the frenzy of Moto Mods. Making a dent on its promise to release 12 new Mods in 2017, execs announced five of them in quick succession. Boom boom boom boom boom. They range from a bunch of battery packs to a super intriguing gaming accessory that reminds us of the Nintendo Switch, reviews of which are just starting to surface.

A gaming Mod would be the riskiest and most complicated Moto Z add-on attempted. That's part of what makes it interesting and incredibly timely. But the only Mods we on prominent display were last year's models. Without being able to play around with the gaming pad, the news quickly faded into the background.

Had it had even a prototype, Moto would have been able to put some tangible energy behind its infinitely accessorizable Moto Z line without having to release a new phone.

The Moto team disagrees. "We don't believe we missed an opportunity at all," said a Motorola spokesperson, noting that most of the new Mods will come out in the next two quarters. "We continue to see momentum and interest in the innovation."

I can't argue with that. But I do think that a little more information, even a schematic of the game controller module, would have better tapped into the Nintendo Switch zeitgeist and given us something to chew over. Something a whole lot meatier than a $50 handset that can't even compose an email.

Article updated at 5:06 pm CET with Motorola's comment.

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