Drowning in a sea of black and metallic rectangle sameness, mobile manufacturers sometimes take a chance on design: an uncommon color, unusual materials or maybe a curved screen here and there. Previous years brought us out-there designs like a totally round phone and a handset with eyeballs. But lately, "difference" takes the form of more subtle and hidden-away designs.
Editors' note: This article originally posted August 13, 2012, and updates periodically.
If you didn't know better, the two row of gold pins on the back of the Moto Z and Moto Z Force might seem like their only standout design. But these pins represent a world of possibility -- and personal expression -- when you magnetically connect any number of backplates, cases or modules.
These Moto Mods range from an effective (read: loud) JBL speaker with kickstand to a projector mod you might take on a trip or use in your living room. We go hands-on with the Moto Z here.
Leather, titanium, how about some crystal and carbon fiber? The Solarin phone from newcomer Sirin Labs dresses up an otherwise rather bulky and outrageously expensive Android handset with premium materials. But that isn't even the $14,000 phone's big draw (yes, I said $14,000 -- and that's the starting price).
That honor belongs to a switch on the back that turns on a super-secure privacy mode, one that Sirin Labs hopes will get celebrities and government officials flocking to the phone, secure with the knowledge that any questionable selfies won't find their way online. We go hands-on with the Solarin phone here.
Any phone in the Edge family already piques our interest for its two curved edges. Add a gold Batman logo and Batman Injustice theme to a version of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and now we're really paying attention. The phone itself operates identically to the excellent S7 Edge, and no, you can't beam the Bat-Signal by turning on the flashlight. But once your friends and strangers catch a glimpse of that iconic bat, you'll know you've arrived. We went hands-on with the Samsung "Batphone" here.
There's something deeply satisfying about pushing buttons on a phone, but that's only one of the reasons I like the S7 Active. The more rugged design appeals to me in a world of svelte, stylish phones, and its reinforced corners add practicality to the phone's shiny camouflage pattern (it also comes in gold and black). But my favorite part is the button on the side that brings up one app when you press it and a different app when you press and hold. You can fully customize this, too, which makes using the S7 Active a far more hands-on experience than usual. Read the full S7 Active review.
The pill-shaped LG G5 looks like your typical flagship phone, until you press a side button and jiggle off the phone's chin. Out comes the battery, still attached to the phone. You can pop it off and reattach the battery to a handful of other modules, like one that boosts audio and extends the phone's battery life. LG's take on the modular phone doesn't seem as natural as Motorola's with the Moto Z, but it still brings a breath of fresh air that proves LG is looking ahead. Read the full LG G5 review.
There's a lot about this phone out of California company Akyumen that doesn't make much practical sense. First, it's got a 7-inch screen, which pretty much makes the whole device fine for a tablet, but huge for a phone. Second, it has a big bump on its back, one that houses a projector unit. That's questionable enough as an add-on for the Moto Z and Z Force, but a pretty niche proposition considering the Holofone builds its projector right in (like the Samsung Galaxy Beam from 2012. Read about the Akyumen Holofone here.
Do you have any favorite phones with out-of-the-ordinary designs? Chime in below!