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Hands-on with Modu

Modu offers a cell phone for playing dress up. CNET gets the story on a new kind of cell phone from the GSMA World Congress.

The diminutive Modu phone.
Kent German/CNET Networks

Modu has generated a lot of buzz for itself at the GSMA World Congress. The Israeli company has developed a concept for a modular cell phone that can be placed into "jackets" that change the both the appearance and the functionality of the handset. I got the chance to check out the Modu phone today, and I admit it's an intriguing concept that could prove to be successful if it evolves as Modu promises.

The overall concept is quite simple. The primary device is a small black cell phone, aka a Modu (clever name, huh?), that's smaller than a credit card and weighs only 1.5 grams. There's only a tiny display, a couple of controls, a mini-USB port, and a charger jack. So what's so exciting about that? Well, there's more than meets the eye with this one. Though call can be made on the Modu, it's really designed to be inserted into one of the jackets, which basically are the shells of a candy bar phone. The Modu slides easily into the top of the jacket and once it clicks into place, the jacket's display will activate and the phone can be used. The role of the jacket, which is about the size of a standard candy bar phone, is multifold. Not only does it give users a normal-sized color screen, a keyboard, and a full set of navigation controls, but it also activates certain functions on the Modu. Of course, the jacket makes the Modu look like an actual cell phone with a bright color skin (several designs will be available).

Just slide the Modiu into the jacket. Kent German/CNET Networks

The jacket I saw was music themed and included a speaker for broadcasting the Modu's tunes. There's no working parts inside the jacket, so all functionality comes from the Modu itself. As my colleague Andrew Lim said, users can think of the Modu as a big SIM/memory card. Though Modu does not offer camera functionality at this time, it does come with Bluetooth and the aforementioned music player. The memory size is an impressive 1GB, and the Modu is quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) with GPRS.

In essence the Modu is similar to Curiel's Identity phone from a couple years ago. Yet Modu goes a few steps further than the Identity. The company has several design concepts where the Modu phone could be inserted into a car stereo to play music, or combined to make a gaming, or GPS device. That's where I think it's true appeal lies. While Modu says the jackets as fashion accessories, I'm not really certain many people would do that. But if the phone's functionally could be used in different devices, then that has potential.

The Modu is inserted and the jacket is activated. Kent German/CNET Networks

The best thing about Modu is that it isn't vaporware. In Barcelona, the company announced it had secured carriers in Italy, Russia, and Israel. The Modu is sold in a package with two jackets for 200 euros (about $291). Users'll be able to buy additional jackets individually.