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Future Tech: 

5 new smartphones that are trying to break the mold

New smartphones will be unveiled this week at Barcelona’s uldbile World Congress, where the likes of Samsung, HTC, Motorola and Blackberry will all be trying to convince us that they’ve struck upon the wining combination of design, features, proportions and megapixels. The margins for error are tiny – they might be measured quite literally in inches – and innovation can feel like a slow, gradual process. Baby steps, guys, baby steps.

With a steady stream of new devices released like clockwork every year, though, it’s easy to forget how fast technology is actually moving – remember, the iPhone is not yet 8 years old. But while we fully expect to see a batch of nearly-identical black rectangle phones dominate this year’s MWC, a few manufacturers are at least trying to push things forward – for better or worse. So, which are they?

1) Project Ara

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Most likely to make a genuine impact is Google’s Project Ara, a modular phone concept “designed exclusively for 6 billion people”. The idea behind Ara is that all of the hardware in your phone can be selected, replaced and upgraded, helping you to build a phone that is perfectly suited to your needs. Basically then, it’s a fully customisable Lego phone that you might actually want to use.

The concept for modular smartphones first popularised by Phonebloks in 2013 – the creator of which has since joined Google to help bring his vision to life. The problem with Phonebloks was that while the idea was neat (it’s promo video has been shared more than 21 million times), it lacked a working prototype, or the funding to create one. With Google’s backing that’s no longer a problem, and while a retail version might not be quite within touching distance, working prototypes do exist, and you can expect to hear lots more about Project Ara and competing modular phones in 2015.

2) Runcible

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Pictured nestling amongst leaves and wildlife, the press photography for Runcible isn’t a lot like other new smartphones. But then, that’s exactly the point, Runcible isn’t a lot like other smartphones. Not at all.

Essentially this is a pocket watch for the iPhone age, capable of most of the features you’d expect to see in a modern smartphone, but reimagined for a different, ‘earthier’ type of user – somebody who appreciates the finer things in life. As CNET notes, it doesn’t run apps, but it will allow you to make calls, send texts, surf the web and take photos. Unlike Project Ara, Runcible isn’t a smartphone solution designed for 6 million people, but for a certain niche audience, who knows, it might just find a loving home (most likely housed inside the drawer of some antique chest of drawers). Runcible is slated to debut at MWC this week, so watch this space.

3) Neptune Duo

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Buying a fancy new smartwatch is all well and good, but without a smartphone to go with it they’re pretty much useless. Neptune Duo attempts to reverse that relationship, sucking the power out of your smartphone and planting it on your wrist. With Neptune Duo, the wristband does all the clever stuff, while the smartphone-shaped display sits in your pocket, bag or sock drawer for when you need a larger screen.

The idea, we suppose, is that most smartphone functions could be conveniently incorporated into a wearable tech wristband. Regardless of whether or not we buy that idea though, the thought of carrying around a mostly-dormant display is hard to get our heads around. Even so, it’s an interesting concept nonetheless from a designer who is just 20-years-old, and the slick campaign and promotional video are well worth a closer look.

4) LG AKA

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Unlike the three new smartphone concepts above, LG’s playful AKA model is already available to buy – if you live in Korea, anyway. While far from the most high-tech device out there, LG is not selling these smartphones based on their spec, but their personality. Yeah.

Each coloured, boggle-eyed phone comes with it’s own character, name (meet Eggy, Wooky, YoYo and Soul) and even a backstory, reacting to activity through sounds and expressions. How do the phones express themselves? The eyes have it, of course, and by changing between different covers you can get to know all four of the phone’s distinct personalities. It’s a bit like tamagotchi made for 2015, and we can’t decide whether that’s a stupid idea or a really, really clever one. Korea, it’s down to you to decide.

5) YotaPhone 2

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Now on its second iteration, YotaPhone has also been around for a while, working on the principle that two screens are better than one. That might be true, but wait, two screens?

Essentially, YotaPhone is a regular Android smartphone, except that it’s got a second touch-sensitive E-ink screen on the back which helps you stay up-to-date with without rinsing your battery. YotaPhone 2 claims to last up to 5 days on a single charge, which in the age of the iPhone is a remarkable feat. While the initial YotaPhone was met with a mixed reaction, this one has fared much better, and for those who do a lot of reading on-the-move this might make for a smart alternative to Kindles and e-readers. Now, who will be the first to build a phone with three screens?

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