Motorola unveils plans to develop a modular smartphone

Google subsidiary, Motorola has unveiled its plans to revolutionise the smartphone market with modular phones that can be built from various different components.

project-ara-componentsThe aim of Motorola’s new research and development team, Project Ara, is “to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software” by opening up the hardware market and giving the consumer more choice over the make up of their handset.

Their vision is to produce a basic shell or “endoskeleton” to house a range of compatible components, designed by a range of different developers. Consumers can then choose those components which best suit their requirements and budget.

It’s certainly not a new concept. Phonebloks is a project to produce smartphones built from interchangeable ‘bloks’ that can be replaced and repaired individually, meaning that one faulty component will not render a handset useless. However, far from being in direct competition with Motorola, the founder of Phonebloks, Dave Hakkens, is working alongside Project Ara to develop a modular smartphone that could have commercial success. The designs that Motorola have unveiled certainly look like they could be commercially viable. 

Project Ara may come to nothing but it’s a great concept, which if successful, could change the future of the smartphone market for the better.

Motorola announced that its first Module Developer’s Kit would be available “sometime this winter”, which may suggest that their first modular smartphones could be on sale sometime in 2014. Watch this space…

Over to you…

What do you think of Motorola’s plans to launch a modular smartphone? Do you think it could be commercially viable?

Motorola Xoom Review

After months of saving and deliberating whether or not to buy an iPad, I didn’t. Let’s face it, you want a tablet to be your one-stop access point for all your Google searches, quick game plays and videos. Since I already own an iPod Touch (2nd Gen) and an iPhone 4, I really couldn’t see what I was going to gain by getting another iOS device. Sure, there are over 120,000 iPad specific apps, but big deal, it’s just a big iPod touch.

Motorola Xoom

Motorola Xoom

This left me with quite a dilemma. A load of cash burning a hole in my pocket and an aching need for new tech. My only option was to look around at Android tablets as they offer something different. More practical and customisable, with home screens and  widgets, letting you put everything you need right in front of you, displaying the info then and there, without loading separate apps.

After taking up nearly an hour of some poor blokes time in my local electronics store I came to a conclusion. Either the Acer Iconia A500 or the Motorola Xoom. I weighed up the pros and cons, and am now the proud owner of the Motorola Xoom.

My first impressions un-boxing it were that it was an incredibly well built device. Weighty enough that it feels like a quality piece of hardware, but not too heavy that its a chore to hold it in your hands. Now for some technical bits. It has a 10.1″ screen, which is bigger than the iPad, and a screen resolution of 800×1280. So it has a bigger screen than the iPad 2 and a better screen resolution. 1-0 Motorola.

So start up takes only a few seconds. It locates and connects to my home Wi-Fi with my password, and login into my Gmail account which fire up Mail and other applications. This is my first experience of actually owning and Android device, after testing several phones and slowly being persuaded towards those little green robots.

Out of the box, the Xoom ran Android 3.0 Honeycomb, which I immediately updated to 3.1 (Honeycomb). This was a simple task of going into “Settings” and going to “About Tablet” and “System updates” where it checked and installed the latest release from Motorola which also came packed with 3.1

The obligatory next steps are to set up all my other accounts. So straight to the market I went and downloaded TweetDeck, Twitter, Facebook and a few other choice social media apps. Logging in was a whiz and I could add the widgets to any of the 5 home screens giving me intstant feeds to each of these.

I was very impressed with the Android Market, which has a different design on tablets than the phones. Much simple and cleaner looking. Just better to be honest.

How I have both several work email accounts and personal accounts, and the Xoom copes with them all perfectly. Hotmail works perfectly, and Gmail accounts of course work, with more focus and attention to detail here, such as better layout and sorting options.

I’ve downloaded a few games to see how the Xoom performs with graphics and sound, being that this is a 1GHz dual-core device, with 1GB of RAM, I was expecting the results to be good. Angry Birds was downloaded, as was Air Control, both on a medium level for graphics, but with sound and heavy emphasis on touch control made them ideal choices. The Xoom suffered no lag or delayed loading times, and game play was smooth and fluid.

A big thing on my list of “must-haves” for a tablet is a good media player. Now I know the Xoom doesn’t have a decent video player built in, but there are several good options from the Market. More on that later. The music player is the most polished and advanced version Android have put out to date, with a really nice album cover view9 that scrolls diagonally across the screen, and tap to view album tracks and details. I was a little disappointed in the quality of the speakers, considering this has two on the back, playing in stereo. They sound great and deliver a really nice clean sound, they’re just nowhere near loud enough for my liking. I’m not expecting B&W Zeppelin quality, but a bit louder would have been nice. I travel a lot, so its not a major issue as I’ll most likely be using headphones anyway. All basic music controls are present, such as loop, shuffle, skip and pause etc, and there’s a really handy widget you can stick on a home screen so you don’t have to keep loading the app.

For a video player, I hit up the Market and chose MX Video Player, which seemed the best choice, and also downloaded and additional Codec (ARMv7) which optimises the player for the Xoom. I set both of these apps up for automatic downloading so I can keep them updated.  Watching films on the go is a big thing for me, and now you can now buy DVD ‘s which a bonus digital copy, it’s great to have a device which utilises this extra facility. Video playback is really good quality and capable of 720p files.

I must now take a moment to discuss it’s faults. Let’s face it, all gadgets have them and nothing is perfect. What we should be concerned about is the severity and the impact these faults have. After over a month of pretty solid use, and being thoroughly tested by tech-head friends and family, not to mention 6 and 10 year olds, its held up pretty well. Very minor screen lag, but I’ve only noticed this when web browsing, and put it down to slower internet connections.  The Market is where I have the biggest gripe, mainly due to its frequency to crash. This is a new look store for Honeycomb, so can only assume it’s almost a beta style version that’s offered up.

The brightness adjust on the screen is also an issue. Auto-brightness is just shocking, and really doesn’t do a decent job when outdoors, and you need to manually bump up the brightness. Not a massive issue, but just one of those things that stops the device from being brilliant.

In summary, I’m really happy with it. If the faults could be rectified, which I’m sure with the next OS update to 3.2 they will be, it will be the perfect device for me. It’s decent screen size and clarity make me reach for it more and more over my laptop, and it’s build quality and metal design justify its weighty feel. One month in, I can already see it has a place in my life as a gadget, toy and a utility. It is saving my phone battery as I make for the Xoom to browse the web and email more, instead of the phone, and have even taken Android in a way I never thought possible. As an Apple loyalist, I expect things to work, but as an Android tablet user I just shrug my shoulders if it doesn’t, without a care or a worry, because I know one day, after an update or two it will. It has instilled a different attitude for OS’s in me. And I like it.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend the Motorola Xoom enough. It’s ease of use and simplicity, coupled with it’s top line hardware make it hard to beat, and difficult to pass up in favour of something else. Chances are if you’re in the market for a tablet, you might be looking at this device, what I’m saying is look no further. This is the tablet you want, this is the tablet you need in your life.

I guess the only dilemma is there’s also a Motorola Xoom 2, which features similar specs but has a different processor, an ARM Cortex A9 instead of the Xoom’s NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core chip, and also comes out of the box with Android 3.2 instead of 3.0 (both Honeycomb) but can be updated, or even rooted to run Ice Cream Sandwich, and 2 HD cameras, front a rear as oppose to the standard Xoom which has HD rear and SD front facing camera. But if I’m honest, I don’t see the point in cameras on a tablet, its more of a web tool, and the £50 price difference for such tiny changes isn’t cost effective.

If you can’t quite stomach the prices of these tablets, but don’t want to lose out on what Android tablets have to offer, have a look at the Andy Pad, which is a really nice little device, and hell, it’s Android too so you know what you’re getting in terms of software before you even look at the hardware.

Happy tablet shopping :-)

– Gary (aka the Gadget-Geek) Cook 






Can jumping on the Android bandwagon save Motorola?

Motorola is to launch two Google Android smart-phones by the end of the year. This announcement would seem to be the last throw of the dice for Motorola’s struggling mobile phone division, but can it save the famous, innovative brand that brought us iconic handsets such as the StarTac and the RAZR?

Android LogoAdopting the Android operating system is a sensible move for Motorola. It gives them access to a reliable, easy to use touchscreen operating system, and more importantly it also grants them access to a growing community of developers and customers.

Motorola has consistently struggled to produce a nice to use operating system.  Moving to Android means they instantly achieve a degree of parity with the other phone manufacturers launching Android devices whilst benefiting from a massive ongoing global project.  No need to try and reinvent the wheel and burn a lot of cash trying to catch up with the market.  Motorola can focus on producing a stylish and sexy piece of hardware, hopefully returning to the form that inspired them to break the mould with the RAZR back in 2003.

The community around Android will help in several ways.  The launch of App stores for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry in the last year has sparked a huge and rapidly growing new market.  Apps not only provide manufacturers, developers and operators with a nice additional revenue stream, they also drive demand for the devices that support them.  Apple recently celebrated the download of their billionth App which is incredible when you think that the iPhone represents less than 1% of the phones in the world.  Plenty of room for growth.

Android is strategically important for the mobile operators who don’t currently offer the iPhone. It is arguably the most directly comparable rival to the iPhone with a similar user experience, the aforementioned growing App market and the ‘cool(ish)’ image of Google backing the proposition.  The marketing campaigns behind the T-Mobile G1 and Vodafone HTC Magic demonstrate how the operators are pitching these phones as iPhone challengers, putting their own cash behind advertising campaigns rather than leaving the manufacturers to promote their own handsets.

Another benefit for the operators is that Android isn’t a proprietary operating system tied to one manufacturer such as Blackberry so the operators wont be held to ransom by the cost of the devices.  Motorola could tap into this demand and add a strong brand that the operators will welcome.  This of course has a downside in that Motorola won’t be able to charge a huge premium for their Android devices.

Adopting Android is obviously not enough to single-handedly save Motorola, but it would seem to be one of a number of things they can do to give them a chance of recovery.  It would enable Motorola to quickly tap into the growing touchscreen smart-phone market, to benefit from the growing hunger for Apps and to produce a device that supports the operator’s strategies.

All Motorola needs to do now is deliver a fantastic handset design that beats anything LG, Samsung and HTC can come up with (gulp)!

Motorola Aura – Low spec, high fashion deja vu anyone?

Motorola have just announced the launch of the Aura.  It’s a rotator or swivel mobile phone that borrows heavily from the Motorola V70 which launched back in 2002 in a blaze of publicity.  I was one of the people responsible for launching the V70 in the UK in my role at one of the big operators.

Motorola Aura

Motorola Aura

At the time the V70 stood out as a completely new concept that impressed your mates down the pub with it’s rotating case and blue reverse monochrome display. Now, don’t forget that in those days colour screens were only just hitting the market and in very low resolution, touchscreens were confined to the PDA market and the mobile internet was confined to WAP, basically ‘monochrome teletext, but crapper’, as a friend once described it to me.

Whilst the V70 was a sexy phone it was very expensive for the relatively basic feature set and it quickly died in the market as people chose phones that did more, had better battery life and a screen big enough to read more than two lines of a text message at a time.

Motorola’s Aura looks set to make the same mistakes.  It boasts a world first in the 16 million colour, 300 dpi circular display and it’s fancy opening mechanism but it is missing so many features that are relevant to most mobile phone users today.

Motorola V70

Motorola V70

The Aura’s lack of 3G means any mobile internet surfing will be painful.  The poor spec camera and apparent lack of email client all point to a phone that sacrifices functionality for form. It’s only useful if you’re a pure talker texter who wants to look good.

I think that the Aura will fall into the same trap as the V70 and appeal to such a small part of the market that it makes too few sales to get stocked for more than a few months on the high street.  This is the first significant new phone annoucement from Motorola for a while, which is good news if you want to see a big manufacturer continue to keep the market innovative and competitive, but is the Aura really going to get Motorola out of the mire?