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What is your dream Project Ara phone?

In this Friday Debate, we talk about Project Ara, Google's crazy modular phone concept that is rapidly turning into a real product. If you had the power to select the modules in your phone, what would you pick?
April 18, 2014
motorola project ara modular smartphone (1)

In this Friday Debate, we talk about Project Ara, Google’s crazy modular phone concept that is rapidly turning into a real product. Despite the skepticism, Google seems to have figured out solutions for some of the biggest problems facing Project Ara, and, if everything goes to plan, the first commercial devices could become available next year.

The promise of a modular phone is to make it possible for users to select the components they want, bringing true customization to the hardware level. So, if you had the power to select the modules in your phone, what would you pick? Would you go for more storage? The best possible camera? No camera at all and a larger battery? What components you couldn’t do without?

Join us in the comments and answer our poll!

Robert Triggs

The great thing about Project Ara is that I’d probably end up designing a couple of configurations depending on how I wanted to use the handset. I can see myself having at least two Ara setups, one energy efficient design for use as a smartphone, and a more powerful design for when I’m sitting at home nearer a charger.

If I was designing my ideal practical smartphone, I’d try to cram in as many battery and memory modules is as possible, for music playback, etc. I’d be tempted to grab the biggest skeleton size simply so that I could have access to the most module spaces, but I guess that would also require a larger and more expensive screen. Perhaps the medium 3×6 size would be the sweet spot for me.

For other components I’d be quite boring, a modest quad-core SoC would suit me fine and I’d probably opt for a 720p display over 1080p simply to save on power consumption. No QWERTY keyboards for me either. As awesome as QHD displays and high performance SoCs are, for a mobile device I really just want it to last as long as possible without me having to set it aside to charge. I’d essentially design my Ara around battery life first, with performance adequate enough to playback videos, some basic games, and run Android smoothly.

Depending on component prices, I’d be tempted to try out some more experimental stuff too. Hopefully Ara will work with dual rear camera configurations so that I can try out some 3D image and video capture. I can’t really say that I’m interested in heart rate or fingerprint scanner modules, but I’d love for someone to make a gamepad that slots into a front module instead of a keyboard. Perhaps I should enter that idea into the Project Ara challenge!

So I guess my second device would be more of a gaming and media oriented machine. I could swap out the camera module for some extra RAM, and maybe even change out the SoC for something with a bit more grunt in the GPU department. You know what, they should bring out a cheap tablet skeleton too, so I could just swap my stuff over from smartphone to tablet when I get home.

Gary Sims

For me it is all about battery and storage. I think I would go with the biggest skeleton, but with only a 720p screen and a modest quad-core processor. An 8MP camera would be just fine and the rest of the space I would use to squeeze in as much storage and battery as possible.

If the modules are truly hot-swappable it would be quite cool to have at least two battery segments and an external charging systems that allows me to charge the batteries modules separately. I could then have 4 to 6 battery modules which I charge and hot-swap as each one becomes depleted. Since the phone would always have at least one battery pack connected the other one can be replaced without having to shutdown the phone. You could even do it while on a call!

Andrew Grush

As many times as I’ve written articles and opinion pieces about Project Ara, I’d say I’m very excited about the project’s future. As for what my dream phone would look like? Honestly I like powerful phones even if they are overkill, so odds are I’d go with the most recent Qualcomm SoC avaliable and would load up on the RAM, probably settling around 3GB.

Another major area for me would be battery life, which somewhat conflicts with my interest in having a high-end phone. So basically, I’d shove as big of a battery as possible in there without adding too much bulk or weight. I’d also be sure to carry an extra battery module with me for on-the-fly switching.

For most of the rest of the specs, however, I’d be a bit more modest.

While I can appreciate the quality of the 1080p display on my Nexus 5, I feel that QHD has few real advantages and yet takes a hefty toll on battery life. So bottom-line, I’d opt for 1080p. Screen size? Somewhere around the 5 to 5.4-inch mark. I like big displays, but I still want my phone to be reasonably pocketable.

Storage would probably only need to be somewhere around the 16 to 32GB mark, since I rely heavily on the cloud for music and movies. I’d probably want microSD if at all possible though. Cameras would also be pretty ‘basic’, at least matching my Nexus 5. Honestly I just want image that look decent and can bring out my DSRL for those times when I want higher quality.

Of course, that’s just my dream phone. In reality, my Ara phone would probably be more akin in prowess to my Nexus 5 and I am most interested in Project Ara for one reason: I can slowly upgrade. As a family man, I have limited extra funds and so the idea of being able to upgrade key elements without getting a new phone every year or two is a big draw.