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The Moto Z's keyboard mod feels like an imperfect blast from the past

Get ready to relive the Droid days, for better or worse.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Motorola's first great Android phone had a physical keyboard, and when I stuck Livermorium's keyboard Moto Mod onto a Moto Z2 Play, waves of nostalgia started washing over me. After I started using the keyboard, though, I suddenly remembered why the smartphone world had moved on from these designs. You'll be able to pick up one of these Mods for $99 before the winter ends, but it's going to be a hard sell for anyone who didn't grow up pounding out texts on actual buttons.

To be clear, the version Livermorium and Lenovo showed off in Vegas isn't the final version that customers will be able to buy. That's a very good thing, too. The sliding mechanism in the model I played with didn't feel all that smooth, and because the combined package is top-heavy, you're liable to push the phone right off the weak magnets connecting it to the keyboard. And while the buttons are nice and clicky, they don't offer a particularly satisfying level of key travel. And if you're the sort who'd like to use a Moto Z as a very, very tiny laptop, you can -- just be aware that it'll tip over unless you get the hinge positioned just right.

The keyboard does have some nice flourishes, though. When closed, the Mod covers the camera entirely. Once you slide it open, however, the camera is revealed, and you can snap some photos by mashing the enter key. A bright-blue LED confirms that the keyboard is connected and drawing power, and next to that is a caps-lock light. A caps-lock light! There are discrete buttons for the question mark and the single quote, too, which actually made me slightly giddy upon discovery.

Livermorium deserves the benefit of the doubt -- it may well fix most of the issues I mentioned above before the final units start reaching its Indiegogo backers. For me, the keyboard's biggest drawback is more fundamental: There's a limit to how fast you can type on a keyboard this wide with two thumbs. That's why I was more than happy to give up my OG Droid in 2010, and it wasn't long before the rest of the industry moved on too from these designs, too. Still, who knows? BlackBerry is also bullish on the idea of physical keyboards, so maybe Livermorium is making something more valuable than we realize.

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