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.
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.
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.
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
Stranger Things 3: What exactly is an ignition cable?
Possessed Billy knew what he was doing
By now, you’ve probably seen the third and newest season of Stranger Things on Netflix. If you still haven’t, it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead and you should stay away from this article.
Seeing a pop culture reference such as Stranger Things together with the seemingly unrelated world of automotive in one writeup such as this could be strange (pun intended) for some. We really don’t mind and thought it would be a fun and unique way to talk about the show and learn a few things from it, as well.
So we ask the question: What exactly is an ignition cable?
The ignition cable is part of a vehicle’s ignition system. In simplest terms, it’s a mechanism that starts the engine. By generating a high voltage from the car’s battery to the spark plugs in its engine, it causes them to ignite the engine’s combustion chambers and get it up and running.
And in order to transfer that voltage from the source to the engine, you’ll need an ignition cable as it’s like a subway system that acts as pathways for the voltage to pass through. So if the ignition cable is not present, there’s no way to start the car.
Back to Stranger Things, Billy (although already possessed by the Mind Flayer) obviously still had his knowledge on cars so he took away the ignition cable trapping our favorite gang at Starcourt Mall’s parking lot.
Just to further stress the importance of an ignition cable and the whole ignition system for that matter, we’d like to visit other possibilities and ask, “What if Billy didn’t take it away?”
Well, the plan was for Eleven and her group to go to Bauman’s secret place and stay safe while Joyce, Hopper, and the rest try to close the portal and render the Mind Flayer powerless. If their ignition cable was intact, they’d be a lot safer away from the Mind Flayer although we wouldn’t be able to see that amazing fireworks scene inside the mall.
Through this, we see the importance of that one small part under the hood of the car. In real life, it really pays to make sure that everything is in good working condition and that one faulty cable could mean trouble for you if remained unaddressed — unless there’s a car on display inside a mall somewhere that you can take spare parts from!
Is this the chip for the ROG Phone 2? [Weekend Rewind]
Reports say yes!
Here are the top stories on GadgetMatch this week.
1. Is this the chip for the ROG Phone 2?
We’re entering the second wave of smartphone flagships for 2019. What better way to do so than news on the chip that will power all these new phones.
Enter the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 plus. It’s not quite the chip we were expecting but it’ll still provide significant performance boosts.
The chip promises a 15 percent improvement on overall graphic performance. That’s perfect for gaming which is why reports of the chip debuting on the ROG Phone 2 is a welcome development. The chip should also provide improvements on AR, VR, and AI features.
2. Huawei firing hundreds of workers
The latest chapter in the US vs Huawei saga sees the Chinese company in panic mode.
A report from the Wall Street Journal says the company will fire hundreds of employees from a pool of 850 workers. Most of which will come from their research and development division called Futurewei Technologies.
China-born employees have the option to go back to their home country and still be employed by Huawei. The same is not the case though for their American employees.
The layoffs come from the continued pressure by the US government. This, despite the optimism created by the earlier ban’s lifting.
3. Sony’s A7R IV has a massive 61MP sensor
This wasn’t the announcement we were hoping for, but it still has plenty going for it.
Sony just launched the latest on the R-series of their full-frame mirrorless cameras – The Sony A7R IV. It has the world’s first 61MP sensor on a full-frame camera. This helps you capture images that don’t lose detail even when you zoom in.
Other improvements include, a 15-stop dynamic range, five-axis optical in-body image stabilization, as well as 10FPS shooting with continuous autofocus. The real-time eye-tracking autofocus also makes its way to video recording for the first time.
The A7R IV also comes with new tech that captures digital audio signal. To take advantage, Sony also introduced a shotgun mic and an XLR mic adapter kit to pair with the camera.
This was a serious flex by Sony. Following the release of the Canon EOS R as well as the Nikon Z6 and Z7 — both of which are mirrorless cameras — the A7R IV is Sony sending a message that they still hold the crown when it comes to full-frame mirrorless cameras.
4. The Galaxy S8 is a lifesaver
Smartphones saving lives is a headline we didn’t expect to see this week but here we are.
A boat in Cebu in the Philippines that was transporting local and foreign divers to a diving spot capsized. Emergency responders were quick to respond to a call saving the lives of all the passengers and crew members.
The call was made using a Samsung Galaxy S8 — but not just any S8 — it’s one that has been submerged in seawater for 30 minutes.
“Only my S8 was able to connect… and worked all the way until we made it to land. It stayed alive for much longer than I thought possible and it really made the difference,” said the phone’s owner
In case you were wondering, the Samsung Galaxy S8 sports an IP68 rating. Typically, it can survive five feet underwater for up to 30 minutes. We hope to hear more good news like this!
5. FaceApp goes viral again, raises security concerns
If you’re seeing a lot of your friends’ aged faces on social media, well, you’re not alone.
The FaceApp, for some reason, has gone viral again with celebrities, YouTubers, and NBA stars joining in on the fun posting what they’ll look like if they ever make it past 60 years old.
Using the app is pretty straightforward. Just pick a photo and apply whatever filter you like that’s anywhere from beauty filters to gender swaps, and of course, the old age filter.
While it’s all fun and games on social media, this has actually raised security concerns. A report on Fast Company indicates the Russian company behind the app saves the photos uploaded by transmitting it to their servers. The US government takes it even further saying it poses some security threat and ordered the FBI to investigate the Russian startup.
FaceApp has denied the allegations saying that images are deleted from their servers within 48 hours from the upload date.
It’s worth noting though that this is not that different from Google and Facebook taking more information than we realize. But if you’re still concerned, the best option is to steer clear of these photo editing apps.
Weekend Rewind is our roundup of top news and features you might have missed for the week. We know the world of technology can be overwhelming and not everyone has the time to get up to speed with everything — and that includes us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewind.
2019 Honda Brio RS: The sporty baby Jazz
A fun ride through and through
For millennials and young professionals, choosing which car to buy could be a tough choice to make. For some, it has to pass certain requirements like fuel efficiency, ride comfort, space, if it looks good, and more importantly if it fits the budget. This is what first came to my mind when we got to test the 2019 Honda Brio RS. I think it has all the criteria most of us need for our daily commute and I’ll tell you why.
At first glance, it will give you the impression of a baby Jazz as it follows traditional Honda design cues. It looks far better than its competing compact hatchbacks and is definitely a big design upgrade than the previous generation Brio. From the front, this car looks aggressive and masculine for its size. The rear, however, still leans on the conservative side. Together with its sporty side skirts, the side profile is sleek with forward-tilting character lines giving it a sense of action and speed.
Being an RS variant, there are additional design upgrades which include the black roof, blacked-out honeycomb grille, a rear spoiler with mounted third brake light, 15-inch RS design alloy rims, and of course, the bright red RS badges plastered all over. These positively add to the sportiness of the vehicle.
Hopping in, you will immediately notice the orange accents running through the air vents, glove box, and side panels, plus the orange stitching and patterns on the seats. Next, we see the 7-inch touch-enabled infotainment system at the center of the dash which is connected to six speakers. Although that’s the case, we still weren’t impressed with the sound quality as it felt a bit short on bass.
Whether as the driver or passenger, you are seated in a low orientation and feel very close and planted to the ground. The height of the steering wheel and dashboard takes some getting used to if you always drive tall cars. But don’t get the idea that it’s cramped up inside. The seats up front are spacious with plenty of headroom to spare while at the back we have a decent amount of legroom for the average Asian. The trunk was large enough to carry our equipment along with other stuff. It was impressively spacious for a car this size.
We drove to our favorite scenic route of the Sierra Madre mountains, putting the car through its paces. The Brio is powered by a 1.2-liter SOHC i-VTEC engine which I think is sufficient enough for a car this small. It is then mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with sport mode and the company’s Earth Dreams Technology.
This car gives you a smooth and quiet ride even at high speeds. The cabin is astonishingly quiet with very minimal wind noise and vibrations. Thanks to its CVT implementation, this car is so smooth that I didn’t realize I was already going 90 on a 50kph road.
You cannot ask it to drive like its more spirited cousins, though. It is not the fastest accelerating car and pushing down the gas pedal when overtaking or driving up a steep road takes the CVT some time to adjust and you won’t get that instant punch you were expecting.
The Brio also lacks traction control and other basic features like rear sensors and reverse camera. It doesn’t even have a center console box and an armrest, but these are things we can brush aside. In terms of fuel efficiency, we were able to average 11.1km/liter which is not bad considering we drove it aggressively through the winding and steep roads of Tanay, Rizal. Steering was light and handled tight corners remarkably. Overall, this car gets the job done. It gets you where you need to go and is reliable, economical, safe, and don’t forget that it’s such a looker.
Will I recommend the Brio RS? In the city, this car would be perfect. Although it’s not the most powerful more so for long drives. I can tell you one thing, though, it sure is fun to drive. I’m actually not a big fan of small hatchbacks but it all boils down to the company’s target market. The Brio is tuned to be sporty and modernly stylish so it might appeal to those looking for something that looks fun and doesn’t break the bank.
With those, I could confidently say that the Brio RS has the edge over its small hatchback competitors in terms of performance and design. You won’t go wrong with this car.
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