A gentle snap, a twinkly beep. The Moto Z now has a new function.

Suddenly phones have gone modular. It's like a throwback to the pre-smartphone days (anyone remember the Handspring?) Motorola's new flagship high-end phone, the Moto Z, has glass, a metal frame, top-end specs, and a slick look.

But it's the modular accessories, called Moto Mods, that make the Moto Z interesting by adding optional hardware to the Moto Z and its enhanced, longer-battery sibling, Moto Z Force -- like a projector and extended battery. Lenovo, which bought Motorola in 2014, is making its own accessories and partnering with third-party accessory makers to develop these Moto Mod extras. These phones are coming this summer via Verizon in the US, and the Moto Z (but not Force) is going global with unlocked models in September.

Unlike the modular parts in the LG G5 or the conceptual Google Project Ara phones, you can hot-swap the Moto Z's extra backs without turning off the phone. Popping one on or off takes seconds.

Thin, with flashy extras

The Moto Z is aiming to be Moto's high-end flagship. Its specs back that up, from a 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display to USB-C charging port, expandable SD card storage, a Snapdragon 820 processor and a fancy glass-and-metal frame. An even more upmarket version, the Moto Z Force, will be a US Verizon exclusive offering more battery life, a stepped-up 21MP camera, shatter-resistant glass, and faster fast charging.

There are customization options including rose gold (of course), and a variety of interchangeable snap-on backs that add some of the old Moto Maker design flair. Wood, fabric, even cork. Without a snap-on back, the Moto Z looks super-thin. But its large rear camera lens juts out a bit.

You don't need a Mod snapped on at all to enjoy the Moto Z. Without one, the phone has a sleek, attractive design. But it's almost too thin. With a snap-on back, the phone feels a little more finished -- and the rear lens lies flush.

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Want a projector? Snap it on!

James Martin/CNET

Meet the Mods

Moto Z's multipin magnetic connector port (gold-plated to protect against corrosion) can carry a large load, with 6Gbps data transfer. I tried a few different Mod accessories, and they snapped on and off easily, locking into place with strong magnets. But the mods only protect the Moto Z's back. I worried they'd snap apart if I dropped the phone, but it seemed to hold up in my pocket.

Moto has a few accessories ready to go. The JBL Sound Boost is a speaker snap-on with added battery life and a kickstand. It's seriously loud.

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JBL's speaker mod, attached.

James Martin/CNET

The Insta-Share Projector mod has an LED projector that throws a 70-inch screen onto a nearby wall, the same tech that was in the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro.

Incipio is another third-party accessory maker that's first out of the gate, making battery-pack snap-on back covers with built-in wireless charging (the Moto Z has lots of high-end specs, but no wireless charging in the phone itself.)

The Mods could be used for accessories like VR, or even cameras. Motorola executives have said the team is looking at other areas for expansion, including payment and health care, for different ways to use the accessory port.

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Mods could include cameras, VR accessories and more.

James Martin/CNET

Modding the future...with no headphone jack

The Moto Z's magnetic accessory port will only be as good as the accessories that are made for it, and how widely spread this unique port will be. Motorola/Lenovo representatives wouldn't commit to this port showing up on other Moto phones when I spoke to them, but did promise that the port would stick around in future Moto Z phones so that the Mod accessories could be used on future products. Of course, I'll believe that when I see it. The road to the future of modular phones is paved with discarded proprietary detritus.

But the idea of a quick-access, high-speed way to add accessories that make a phone do more sounds great...if the connection port can become a standard.

There's one reason, however, that I doubt Moto Mods would make much sense for the average person. On the bottom of the Moto Z, there is another even more powerful port that could help it do even more: USB-C. Which, by the way, is the only way you'll be able to listen to music. A USB-C-to-standard-headphone adapter comes in the Moto Z box, at least. Sounds like the iPhone 7 rumors aren't so crazy after all.

Specs

  • 5.5-inch AMOLED
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • Android Marshmallow with Moto-enhanced apps
  • 32/64GB storage
  • microSD card up to 2TB
  • 13MP rear camera, optical image stabilization, dual-LED flash
  • 5MP front-facing camera with flash
  • 2,600mAh battery
  • USB-C port
  • Fingerprint sensor