Features

Project Ara’s story is all about wasted potential

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After rumors recently surfaced about the cancellation of Project Ara, we now have confirmation from Google that their highly ambitious modular phone will no longer reach the consumer market. Reasons were somewhat vague, but what we do know is that it’s being done to “streamline the company’s hardware efforts.”

It was only last May when we witnessed a revived desire from Google to push the product, complete with a cool trailer and announcement of a possible consumer launch next year. Progress before and after the unveiling was typically silent, and we’ve finally confirmed that it’s been an internal structure issue all along. Now, we think about what could have been a savior for the smartphone industry.

The beginning of the end

Imagine presenting a prototype of your company’s next big thing in front of a worldwide audience, only for it to freeze during bootup and fail to even reach the home screen. No, I’m not talking about an episode of Silicon Valley. That’s actually the nightmare Google experienced back in 2014 when it presented a “working” prototype of its first modular smartphone. Thinking about it now, the incident summarizes the current situation really well.

Project Ara (1)

In the most recent build of Project Ara, you had all the functions you’d expect from the modern-day smartphone you’re accustomed to, along with the ability to plug in your choice of modules to add greater functionality. Upgrades ranging from cameras to replaceable batteries stylishly fit into the main frame to create one unified pocket computer. If you think the process is as simple as playing with Lego blocks, you’re absolutely right.

An eternity in the tech world

What could this have meant for consumers had it become a commercial product? It would have been a possible game-changer in terms of phone upgrade cycles. With a smartphone having limitless module options to keep you busy, ordering that newly launched Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone wouldn’t be as tempting anymore.

However, it’s been a long two years since the initial reveal, and much has changed.

It’s important to take note that Project Ara was no longer a fully modular smartphone as of May 2016. The Google phone had its core components fixed into the main frame, meaning you couldn’t touch the processor, internal storage, RAM, and front display. This became a potential deal-breaker for enthusiasts wanting a PC-like handheld gadget they can fiddle around with on the go. The development led to disappointment from the community and the product’s eventual downfall, but it might have also been able to entice a more mainstream market wanting a simpler package.

Project Ara (2)

In exchange for the loss of complexity, the last build came with welcome refinements. Plug and play was possible with certain modules, wherein you could hot swap the unit while the phone was on and even share with other Ara users on the spot. If you wanted to get fancy, saying “Okay Google, eject the camera” commanded the phone to do as it’s told.

Google’s very own

Looking back, it’s easy to forget how big of a deal Project Ara was when it was first announced at Google I/O 2014. Modular phone schematics were tossed around brainstorming sessions prior to that, but it was only when Google unveiled a (partially) working prototype that this concept became closer to commercial reality. Still, the fact that it froze shortly after being turned on established how much of a pipe dream it was back then, and how it continues to be one now.

During Project Ara’s downtime, a couple of companies took a crack at modular designs in attempts to overshadow the hype Google built and lost. The Fairphone 2 was the first modular phone to officially hit the market, and the LG G5 garnered even bigger headlines as a totally revamped flagship device with modular Friends you could attach to its Magic Slot. Most recently, Lenovo launched the Moto Z series, which proves that even partial modularity is still alive and kicking.

And yet, the latest announcement from Google I/O 2016 was more than just about a potential date and a sweet new trailer for Project Ara. Google was finally going to release a smart device that’s truly theirs – free of any partnership from the likes of Huawei or HTC in their long-running Nexus program.

The company’s previous attempt at controlling the hardware process came when it acquired Motorola in 2012. Google then became a competitor for a long list of smartphone brands that rely on Android as their sole operating system. This didn’t fly well with major players such as LG and Samsung, who subsequently secured backups in WebOS and Tizen, respectively, in case Google would suddenly favor its own manufacturing process for the latest Android updates, ultimately discriminating against loyal associates.

It’s uncertain how Project Ara would have impacted the search giant’s relationship with hardware partners as an indirect competitor, since modular phones might create a category of their own some day.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves

Ironically, the highly customizable Project Ara proved that you didn’t have total control over the aesthetics and feel. While the dimensions and weight of the device vary depending on the components equipped, you’re going to end up with a bulky, blocky handset no matter what. LG saw through the weaknesses of a largely modular phone to produce the G5 we’re enjoying today. By allowing only partial modularity from the bottom end of its current flagship, the primary build remains largely intact, so there’s no need to worry about assembling a hideous product.

Our recent unboxing and hands-on review of the G5 and its add-ons showcased how much promise there is in upgrading your handset before committing to a completely different phone the following year or two. Lenovo followed shortly after with the Moto Z and its growing lineup, but it’s too early to gauge its success.

lg-g5-mwc-20160328-02

We’ve been wanting these possibilities for a while now. Smartphone technology in general has stagnated in the past years, with every manufacturer heavily focusing on simply improving on the touchscreen-optimized formula Apple established nearly a decade ago with the original iPhone. If your current smartphone already has a high-resolution display, fast-acting camera, accurate fingerprint scanner, and either a glass or metal physique, there isn’t much more you can ask for outside the realm of modularity. Well, probably better battery life, but we’ll never be satisfied with that, right?

Speaking of batteries, with news of entire Samsung Galaxy Note 7 units being recalled because of a single part, swappable components might be the solution to new-age manufacturing woes.

Or maybe, we simply aren’t ready yet for the complexity of a fully modular smartphone. Consumers have finally moved past DIY solutions for PCs in exchange for the simplicity of owning a razor-thin notebook or all-in-one laptop with as much, if not more, power. Complicating the everyday smartphone could just as easily backfire, and discriminate against users who aren’t that tech-savvy.

It’s not just about the modules anymore

Going back to Google I/O 2014, one of the presenters posed this question: Why choose a phone for its camera, when you could choose a camera for your phone? Project Ara’s vision remained the same until its demise, but we now have a more daunting question to ask: Since we’ve already reached the pinnacle of touchscreen-smartphone convenience, when will we be ready to embrace a more complex form factor?

Project Ara’s Twitter account once wondered if fans were still around after one of its long hiatuses. We, the consumers, haven’t left yet, and taking a look at the official website shows how the developers themselves haven’t let go of the project either.

[irp posts=”7634″ name=”Cancelled Project Ara prototype shows up, reveals specs”]

Image Credit: Maurizio Pesce

Explainers

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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Apple iPhone 13 and 13 mini Unboxing and Hands-on

Which iPhone 13 is your GadgetMatch?

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After we unboxed the Sierra Blue iPhone 13 Pro Max and gold iPhone 13 Pro, it’s time to do the same to these iPhone 13 babies.

Changes with the new iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini aren’t just about the “odd” camera placement. Other than the new wide camera sensor, there’s a more powerful A15 Bionic Chip, smaller notch, and more.

Watch our iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini Unboxing and Hands-on video now to find out more!

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Huawei nova 8i: Huawei’s awesome SUPER midranger

An awesome midrange comeback

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Midrange smartphones have been the middle ground for people who want the premium of a higher end smartphone but don’t want to burn their pockets. Huawei gives in to this demand and claims the title of midrange king as they dethrone all other midrangers with their new nova 8 series — the nova 8 and nova 8i.

Here, we’ll put the spotlight on the Huawei nova 8i.

Build and design

Inheriting the Huawei P Series’ signature stylish aesthetic, the Huawei nova 8i has a fancy and premium design. It is slim, sleek, and has exquisite curved edges, which makes it really easy to grip.

Checking out its back, you’ll definitely notice the quad camera setup that’s surprisingly not bulky at all. It also has a noticeable resemblance with the Huawei Mate 30. But we’ll talk more about the cameras later on.

What also caught our attention is the gradient finish of this Moonlight Silver variant that we have which is absolutely stunning.

Fantastic display

The Huawei nova 8i has an edgeless 6.67-inch display with ultra-narrow bezels around it. This results in an immersive viewing experience for browsing your social media pages or watching your favorite music videos.

The Huawei nova 8i also sports full HD+ resolution and DCI-P3 color gamut, giving us that rich and vibrant color reproduction. Once again, Huawei taps on Tuv Rheinland for certification on low blue light emittance to ensure eye comfort for long hours of work and play. It also has a natural tone feature which automatically adjusts the colors on the display depending on your surroundings.

Gaming

Just as you would expect from a midrange phone, gaming is also something you can do with the nova 8i. With its 180Hz touch sampling rate, your favorite mobile games feel very responsive, making the gaming experience really enjoyable.

When you’re deep into gaming, the last thing you want is to be interrupted by a call or message. Well, you don’t have to worry about that since the Huawei nova 8i has a gaming assistant. You can enable settings so you won’t be disrupted and you can indulge yourself fully to the game.

But the experience is not the only thing that’s fast with the nova 8i. The 66W Huawei SuperCharge can juice up this phone up to 68 percent in just 20 minutes and can fully charge it in just 38 minutes. You can literally stare at your phone as your battery indicator rises.

Cameras

Here’s where the fun part starts. Cameras: 64MP f/1.9 main, 8MP f/2.4 ultra-wide, 2MP f/2.4 macro, 2MP f/2.4 depth, 16MP f/2.0 selfie.

The nova 8i has a quad camera setup with a 64MP main camera which uses a big 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor. It means its camera sensor has the ability to let in more light. This results to a cleaner image and better low light performance.

And we’re telling you, this sensor is not messing around.

It lets you capture the highest resolution images you could probably ever need. Different from the usual software upscaled images typically seen on an ordinary smartphone. This gives you the capability to zoom in and crop your captured image yet still maintain a tremendous amount of details.

With the powerful cameras that the nova 8i has, you can definitely maximize its features to create your content whether just for leisure, a passion project, or social media content for your business.

EMUI and multitasking

As for its software, the Huawei nova 8i runs on EMUI 11 bringing in a bunch of convenient features that boosts your efficiency. For one, if you’re someone who loves multitasking, the multi-window feature is perfect as it lets you operate multiple apps on your screen.

Speaking of apps, Huawei’s app gallery is loaded with great ones from top shopping apps like Shopee and Lazada, to the most trending ones like TikTok.

And if in case you’re having trouble finding the app for you, Petal Search has got you covered. Just type in the app or whatever it is you’re looking for and Petal Search looks it up for you on different sources making sure you get the absolute best results.

Taking screenshots has never been this easy. You can do so by just swiping down using three fingers.

And for security, a new safe sharing feature has been included on the nova 8i. We now get the option to delete information of your phone and other details before sharing your photos or screenshots.

nova 8i — easy to recommend

Jam packed with features, the nova 8i just enables you to do so much. From capturing great photos and videos to having a seamless gaming and online experience, the nova 8i is an easy phone to recommend. At its price point, it is truly worthy of its crown.

The Huawei nova 8i retails for PhP 13,999. It’s available via online Huawei Store, Lazada, Shopee and Huawei experience stores.


This feature is a collaboration between GadgetMatch and Huawei Philippines.

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