Phones

Modular (and modular-like) phones you should know about

Phones that have swappable hardware parts and accessories are becoming the feature du jour.

James Martin/CNET
Now Playing: Watch this: Project Ara: Google's vision for the future of the smartphone
2:59

Modularity -- or the ability to switch out individual parts and pieces -- isn't a far-off reality for phones anymore. Thanks to big tech names like Google and Motorola throwing their hats in (acquiring small companies and patents around 2011-2012 in mobile modular technology), what started out as distant pipe dream has steadily expanded its presence into mainstream products.

Being able to swap your phone's hardware has many benefits. First, you can customize your handset to your preferences and needs. For instance, if you're going on vacation and you know you'll snap tons of photos, you can upgrade your phone's camera module with a better camera lens. If you're more of a gamer, changing out your handset's graphics processor will beef up your gaming experience.

It'll also let you hang onto your phone longer. Instead of having to chuck the whole thing out whenever Company X releases a new flagship, you can replace and upgrade the parts you want at a cheaper price.

At this point, there's a mixture of modular phones and modular accessories -- the latter being accessories that attach onto your handset, which increase its functionality in some way (but the device's core hardware remains the same). Though the industry has a ways to go, here are the four key players you should know about that are making moves in this field.


google-project-ara-2016-crop.jpg

The current prototype of the upcoming Project Ara Developer Edition.

Google

Google Project Ara

It seems like Google's highly anticipated modular phone initiative, known as Project Ara, has been stuck in developer limbo since forever. But the company will ship out an early-edition version of the handset to developers this year, and is expected to be consumer-ready by 2017. Though no official specs are known, Ara is considered to be truly modular. Its individual hardware parts snap onto an "endoskeleton" (similar to a PC's motherboard) that users can mix and match different components.


moto-1951.jpg

Add on the video projector module to the Moto Z and you can view your photos and movies against a larger surface for an impromptu movie night.

James Martin/CNET

Motorola Moto Z and Z Force

Motorola's latest pair of flagship phones, the Moto Z and Z Force, are thin for a reason: their backs have magnetic pins that attach onto extra accessories. One is a battery pack for more juice, but there are others that add to the handsets' functionality altogether, like an audio speaker and an image projector.


lg-g5-6173.jpg

With the G5's camera grip, you can snap photos in a more easy and comfortable manner.

James Martin/CNET

LG G5

Featuring a 5.3-inch display, a Snapdragon 820 processor and two rear cameras (a standard 16-megapixel shooter and a wide-angle 8-megapixel one), the G5 also has a battery that you can remove in an unorthodox way. The phone's bottom bezel slides out, along with the battery, which you can then attach other accessories like a camera grip and a digital-to-audio converter.


row-2-2-3a.jpg

The Fairphone 2 is meant to be easy to upgrade and repair.

Fairphone

Fairphone 2

Though Fairphone isn't as well known as the other companies, it debuted in 2013 and is now on its second flagship handset. The company emphasizes social consciousness and ethical manufacturing, but what makes it truly unique is that the phone opens up so the users can easily repair and upgrade individual parts. Its core specs include a Snapdragon 801 processor, an 8-megapixel camera and it runs Google Android Lollipop.