PuzzlePhone Aims to Entice Smartphone Buyers With Modular Design

 
 
By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2015-11-09
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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    PuzzlePhone Aims to Entice Smartphone Buyers With Modular Design
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    PuzzlePhone Aims to Entice Smartphone Buyers With Modular Design

    Google's Project Ara has competition in the modular smartphone space. Here's a look at the PuzzlePhone, whose goal is to "future-proof" consumers.
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    Let's First Understand What Modularity Is
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    Let's First Understand What Modularity Is

    The modular smartphone is a concept that hasn't caught on yet in the mobile market. A modular design would allow smartphone owners to update their handsets simply by plugging in new components rather than replacing the entire device. The proponents of modularity, such as PuzzlePhone, believe modularity is the future. Others, such as Apple, do not.
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    PuzzlePhone Has Three Basic Modules
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    PuzzlePhone Has Three Basic Modules

    The PuzzlePhone has three basic components that the company calls the "brain, heart and spine." The brain module contains the "main electronics," including the CPU, GPU, RAM and camera. The spine keeps the device's screen in place, which means a cracked display can be easily swapped out. The heart comprises the battery and other components such as sensors and other options that consumers may desire.
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    The Handset Runs on Android
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    The Handset Runs on Android

    While the hardware built into the PuzzlePhone can be upgraded without much trouble, it comes with the standard build of Android Marshmallow. It's unclear how well PuzzlePhone will perform operating system upgrades as patches and updates are made available, but considering the company's endorsement of modularity, it would seem that it would be diligent about providing timely software updates.
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    Externally PuzzlePhone's Design Looks Dated
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    Externally PuzzlePhone's Design Looks Dated

    The PuzzlePhone's design is arguably its weakest point. The device comes with a rather stale design that makes it feel like an older device than it really is. Part of the problem is its size, but the basic issue is that the handset is a typical flat rectangle with no embellishments to catch the eye.
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    The Brain Is an ARM Octa-Core Processor
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    The Brain Is an ARM Octa-Core Processor

    Since the CPU can be upgraded with future plug-in components, it's important to note that the processor the PuzzlePhone will ship with won't necessarily be its last. The device comes with an octa-core, 64-bit processor built with ARM architecture. PuzzlePhone hasn't provided much insight into its power or clock speed, but it sounds like a suitable option for most customers.
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    This Won't Be the Thinnest Device Available
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    This Won't Be the Thinnest Device Available

    One of the drawbacks of modular devices is that they tend to be thicker than the latest smartphones. Users need to be able to plug in components, and those components tend to be a bit thicker. The PuzzlePhone is 8.9mm thick, which is notably thicker than current smartphones on the market. The iPhone 6s, for example, is 7.1mm thick and the larger iPhone 6s Plus is 7.3mm thick.
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    The Connectivity Options Are Solid
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    The Connectivity Options Are Solid

    PuzzlePhone says that the smartphone will "future-proof" consumers who decide to buy it. Whether that's true will ultimately depend on the components that the company will deliver after the initial sale. If PuzzlePhone does well, it'll start to sell upgraded components to plug in. If the company fails to grow steadily, however, it's unlikely that the company will develop many (if any) components, leaving the PuzzlePhone in its original state.
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    PuzzlePhone Claims Its Design Is 'Future-Proofed'
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    PuzzlePhone Claims Its Design Is 'Future-Proofed'

    PuzzlePhone says that the smartphone will "future-proof" consumers who decide to buy it. Whether that's true will ultimately depend on the components that the company will deliver after the initial sale. If PuzzlePhone does well, it'll start to sell upgraded components to plug in. If the company fails to grow steadily, however, it's unlikely that the company will develop many (if any) components, leaving the PuzzlePhone in its original state.
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    PuzzlePhone Gets the Indiegogo Funding No Matter What
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    PuzzlePhone Gets the Indiegogo Funding No Matter What

    In many crowd-funding campaigns, the only way for the company to actually get the cash donated by fans is to collect the desired amount in donations. PuzzlePhone, however, is using what's called a "flexible funding" campaign. That means the company will collect every dime that is donated, regardless of whether it hits its $250,000 goal. That would also mean that all donors who contribute to the campaign should get a device, as long as PuzzlePhone is initially successful in producing enough devices.
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    What Does It Cost and When Will It Ship?
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    What Does It Cost and When Will It Ship?

    The PuzzlePhone's pricing will vary, depending on the storage size customers choose. The 32GB option, for instance, will sell for $667, while the 64GB version will be available for $779. Those who back the device, however, will get a discount, depending on the version they choose. The smallest version goes for $333. PuzzlePhone hopes to launch the device in September 2016, but that assumes it raises the funds to start production.
 

When Google sold Motorola to Lenovo last year for nearly $3 billion, there was one component that was notably missing from the deal—Project Ara. Rather than sell off the modular smartphone project to Lenovo, Google decided to hold onto it and is continuing to work on the technology, although there is no telling if, or when, it will produce a market-ready phone. Now, though, it has a competitor in the form of PuzzlePhone's developers, based in Finland, who have gone to the Indiegogo crowd-funding site seeking $250,000 in venture funding. The PuzzlePhone has a modular design, although it doesn't appear to have the same level of modularity as Project Ara. The main benefit of modularity is it allows smartphone owners to upgrade their handsets by swapping in new modules with improved features and performance. Whether smartphone users will favor this approach rather than just buying an entirely new phone is uncertain. This slide show takes a look at the PuzzlePhone modular concept to help people decide whether it is worth backing on Indiegogo with the goal of taking delivery of the handset in 2016.

 
 
 
 
 
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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