Modular phones you should know about
Posted: Sep 25, 2017
Modularity -- or the ability to switch out individual parts and pieces -- isn't as far-off of a concept for phones anymore. Thanks to big tech names like Google and Motorola (who threw their hats in a few years back), we became more used to the idea of a modular phone being a real product instead of a distant pipe dream.
Being able to swap your phone's hardware has many benefits. First, you can customize your handset to your preferences and needs. For instance, if you're going on vacation and you know you'll snap tons of photos, you can upgrade your phone's camera module with a better camera lens. It'll also let you hang onto your etradesupply longer. Instead of having to chuck the whole thing out whenever Company X releases a new flagship, you can replace and upgrade the parts you want at a cheaper price.
But just because the concept sounds great, doesn't mean the execution will be. Though some companies tinkered with the idea (either with modularity itself or modular accessories), not all succeeded. Here are the handful of phones and companies that are trying, or have tried, to make modular phones a mainstream feature.
The Essential Phone
Created by the father of Android Andy Rubin, the Essential Phone was hyped up long before its August launch. In addition to its thin bezels and luxurious design, the phone also has a magnetic backing that allows users to attach accessories, like a 360-degree camera. Unfortunately, the camera didn't always connect with the phone, and sometimes attaching it would crash the entire device. While the future of the phone is still unknown, we really hope this isn't the last we've seen of Essential. Read the Essential Phone review.
Motorola Moto Z2 Force and Moto Z2 Play
As the successors to last year's Moto Z Force and Z Play, this isn't Lenovo's first foray into modularity. The Z2 Force and Z2 Play still retain the magnetic pins on the back, which let them seamlessly connect to extra Moto Mod accessories. These Mods add extra functionality to the phone, like boosting its battery, adding a better camera or turning it into a video projector. The fact that Lenovo is continuing the concept is telling, and according to John Touvannas, director of the Moto Mods program, the line is considered a success with consumers. Read the Moto Z2 Force and Z2 Play review.
Google Project Ara
In early 2016, Google's highly anticipated modular phone initiative, known as Project Ara, appeared to be leaving development limbo. The company said it was going to be consumer-ready by 2017 and people were excited. The phone was unique and had mix-and-match hardware components that snapped on to an endoskeleton frame like Lego. Unfortunately, Ara never materialized. By September 2016, it was revealed that the project was put on hold, indefinitely. Womp womp.
In February 2016, LG launched the G5, which enabled users to remove the battery in an unorthodox way. The phone's bottom bezel slid out, along with the battery, allowing other accessories like a camera grip and a digital-to-audio converter to attach to the phone. Though it was unique, the phone company didn't continue with the design and released the more traditional G6 this year instead. Read the LG G5 review.
Though Fairphone isn't as well known as the other companies, it debuted in 2013 and is now on its second flagship handset. The company emphasizes social consciousness and ethical manufacturing, but what makes it truly unique is that the cell phone replacement opens up so the users can easily repair and upgrade individual parts. Despite being a small company though, the phone released its first upgrades to its camera modules earlier this August.
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