Amazon Alexa Moto Mod review: A decent product in a bulky package

Amazon’s Alexa might not be the best digital assistant, but it sure seems to be the most widespread. It doesn’t care if you’re using Android or iOS, and it works on a wide variety of devices. Android phones, iPhones, Fire TV, Fire Tablets, Echo devices, Sonos One and more. Now we have a Moto Mod speaker with Alexa that’s compatible with the modular Moto Z line of smartphones. It’s a decent product that (mostly) delivers, but in a rather bulky package. Is it worth the $149 retail price? Well, let’s take a closer look.

The first question that popped into my head was, “Why do I need this when I can just use Google Assistant?” For starters, the Moto Mod adds very respectable stereo speakers that blow away the phone’s integrated single speaker. The sound is both loud and rich, with excellent low and high end output (although bass is a little weak). It’s definitely a worthy substitute to a separate Bluetooth portable speaker, although some at this price will sound better. If all you’re after is better sound on your Moto Z, a JBL SoundBoost 2 Moto Mod speaker can be found for less than half the price and with less bulk, and Google Assistant will work seamlessly with it.

The Alexa Moto Mod also acts as a battery dock, kind of, bringing its own 1,530mAh battery that will minimize the impact on the phone’s battery. Motorola says that it’s good for 15 hours of use per charge and I easily got several days out of it. For such a large attachment, however, I expected a larger battery that could also double as a charger, because that bulk is the biggest downside. It’s just not something that you’ll want to attempt to carry in anything but the largest of pockets. Even then, it’ll feel like you’re carrying a small brick around at 168 grams (just for the Mod). And if this is primarily for use at home, why not buy an Echo Dot for only $49 (or three) or pre-order an Echo Spot with a screen for $129?

Charging is done via a USB Type-C port on the left side and it will also charge the phone if attached, but prioritize the speaker. The opposite can be accomplished by plugging the charger into the phone. There are four LED lights on the underside that indicate the Mod’s battery level (when not attached to the phone). At 45%, mine showed two lights. The round button above will illuminate them for a couple of seconds. When attached, you can check the battery level on the phone’s screen.

A light ring on the top glows blue when Alexa is activated, just like some Echo devices. If there’s a problem or you don’t have a SIM card installed, it will glow red. It also doubles as an angled rubber foot when placed on a table.

Activating Alexa is predictably easy. Simply say “Alexa” and the Moto Alexa app launches, showing that Alexa is listening on the screen. The shape of the Mod tilts the screen towards you, but if it’s facing away or face down on a table, the glowing blue ring indicates that it’s active.

Unlike the Echo and Echo Dot, you have the benefit of both Alexa’s voice and visual information on the screen. It’s similar to the Echo Spot and Echo Show. Simply ask about the weather and Alexa will voice a detailed summary while also displaying a future forecast on the screen. And is it really going to be 90 degrees on Thanksgiving!?

It generally works as advertised and if you’re a fan of Amazon’s ecosystem and have a Moto Z phone, this is a solid product. It does have some issues, though, as Google Assistant is simply more accurate at interpreting questions and providing results. For example, I once asked Alexa about “Virginia” and got a result for actress Virginia Madsen, not the state. The information displayed on the screen is also not as robust as what you get from Google Assistant. I asked which NFL team had the best record so far this year and all I got was a partial recap of the week. All that was displayed on the screen was a transcript of her answer. I can forgive occasional hiccups and weak responses as Google Assistant isn’t perfect, but it is a lot more consistent.

If you’re using your voice with the Alexa Mod, you can only play video with Amazon Video, although there are a couple of options for music. Spotify can be set as a default music player and iHeartRadio or Pandora can be set as stations.

You can play YouTube videos or choose another music service and it will play through the Mod’s speaker, but you have to manually do that on the phone. And even though the Mod is attached via a million metal pins, it doesn’t fully integrate with its host smartphone. Alexa can’t change phone settings or open apps, for example, while Google Assistant can do all of those things. Alexa can’t even send a text message. You do have the option to use Google Assistant via voice through the speaker (powered by the phone), so you actually have both assistants available when the Mod is attached (Alexa is in the speaker itself). That flexibility saves this product from being frustratingly niche and it’s cool to have both onboard. Oh, but the camera is fully covered while the Mod is attached, so no picture taking while using it.

The Alexa Moto Mod is a cool product. It’s one of those things that I really want to like. After the fun factor of initial use wore off, though, its limitations unfortunately started to shine through the cracks. I should be able to dictate a text message for Alexa to send or have her turn on/off Wi-Fi on my phone. Google Assistant does that with ease and I found myself using that as much when the Mod was attached. Even trying to shop on Amazon was a frustrating experience. If you’re not an Amazon Prime member, you’re apparently out of luck.

For those that are fully invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, this could be the smart speaker you’ve been looking for. You just really have to be fully invested unless you want both assistants on one phone, which is admittedly cool (if not redundant).

I used a Moto Z2 Force for this review, but all Moto Z smartphones will work with the Alexa Moto Mod. And be sure to check out our Moto Z2 Force review if you want to learn more. If you’re looking for another Android phone as a gift this year, also check out our smartphone Holiday Guide for some great ideas.

About the Author: Erik Slaven

He was born and raised in Virginia, but escaped to Southern CA. Started out as a BlackBerry addict until he bought HTC’s Droid Eris and never looked back. He's owned dozens of Android devices and can rarely settle on a daily driver for more than a few months. He's currently using a Galaxy S8 and BlackBerry KEYone. He rides motorcycles for fun and would live on the beach if it was legal. Marketing and freelance pr help keep the lights on.