Modular phones with swappable components and hardware parts have been a longtime fantasy. And while the interchangeable camera and processor dreams of Google's upcoming Project Ara represent the pinnacle of what a customizable modular phone can be, the first Ara phone is still many months away.
As a standalone device, the G5's superior camera and removable battery make it the better phone (if a removable battery is important to you). But as a modular phone, the Moto Z (like its US-only counterpart Moto Z Force) wins the day for its infinitely more polished execution.
Here's what the Moto Z gets right, and one thing it gets wrong.
1. The Moto Z's accessories are easier to use
Swapping out modules on the G5 isn't rocket science, but it's not particularly intuitive either. You have to click a button, pull out the battery and then yank the module off the battery. Smooth it is not, and the handset shuts down each time you want to change parts. (Watch CNET editors try it below.)
On the other hand, attaching accessories on the Moto Z is as easy as tacking on a refrigerator magnet. Just align the row of magnetic pins that's on each accessory (known as a Moto Mod) with the array of pins on the back of the phone. You'll know you're good to go after you hear a twinkly beep. There's little to no setup and the phone never has to power off.
2. There are more Moto Mods than G5 'Friends'
Right now, LG has only two accessories that work specifically with the G5's modular component: a Hi-Fi digital-to-analog converter (that the company partnered with Bang & Olufsen to create) and a Cam Plus camera grip that frankly isn't very good. LG is also working with drone manufacturer Parrot for a Smart Controller drone remote dock, but that's about all we know.
Compare that with the Moto Z's four types of Mods. One is a decorative back cover, which actually comes in a ton of styles (wood, leather, red plastic and so on). It also has a battery pack, an audio speaker and a portable image projector. Many companies are involved in creating these accessories too. JBL designed the speaker, while Incipio made battery packs in partnership with designer Kate Spade and luggage maker Tumi. Other companies are slated to join the party as well, like Mophie, which makes portable battery packs like this one here.
3. Moto's Mods are more practical
I just don't find LG's accessories very practical (though you may disagree). The camera grip solves a "problem" that never really existed, since camera phones are pretty easy and comfortable to use without adding an extra handhold. While the Hi-Fi digital-to-analog converter does what it says, it's very niche. Audiophiles may love the idea of having higher-quality audio, but I can't imagine many everyday users coughing up the money for it.
Moto Mods have more mainstream appeal. Battery packs and wireless speakers are some of the most popular mobile accessories, and though I don't see myself buying the projector, it seems like a fun device for a Netflix night.
But G5's accessories are easier to carry around
Design is one area where the Motorola Mods don't come out on top. The accessories take up the Moto Z's whole back surface and can be quite thick and bulky. The Moto Z with an audio speaker or projector attached won't fit comfortably in a pocket, and you can forget about carrying around all four Moto Mods, unless you like looking like this:
In turn, the G5's accessories are compact and portable. Because they're anchored on the handset's bottom edge, they're designed to be pretty small. The audio-boosting module is about as large as a pack of gum, and even though the camera grip adds some heft to the phone, you can still fit the whole thing in your pocket (though it won't be very comfortable).
Where can modules go from here?
We still have a long way to go when it comes to modular phones. For one thing, a truly modular phone means one where you can change up its core hardware components, like the processor, camera and ports. This is Project Ara's promise.
The Motorola Moto Z and LG G5 reach for the spirit of modularity by changing the way the phone behaves when you add a new part, but the phones themselves basically remain the same. You could achieve extra battery life by buying a charging case or plugging in a separate charging brick -- but you aren't permanently adding a bigger battery to the phone's basic structure.
In addition, the phones' modular possibilities are only as great as the number of accessories available. That means both companies need to have more partners making more great modules.
But for what the phones are today, Motorola's approach to the modular concept is more fully realized. Its Moto Mods are more useful and easier to swap out than the LG G5's accessories, and hopefully development will continue into the next iterations. While it's still unclear where modular phones will go in the future, Motorola's work on the Moto Z is helping the modular dream click into place.