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Going modular

Going modular
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First Published: Fri, Nov 12 2010. 08 54 PM IST

Piece by piece: (clockwise from left) The Modu T, with the Qwerty, Camera and Sport jackets.
Piece by piece: (clockwise from left) The Modu T, with the Qwerty, Camera and Sport jackets.
Updated: Fri, Nov 12 2010. 08 54 PM IST
Micromax seems to love a good gimmick. In the early days, there was the “motion sensor” in its Gamolution G4, immortalized by actor Akshay Kumar’s raspy laugh. Then came the square-shaped phone with Swarovski elements encrusted in it. Now there’s even a phone with a “gravity sensor”, which switches SIMs depending on how you hold the device.
But its new Modu T is the most intriguing of all. It’s the “world’s lightest 3G enabled touch-screen phone”, engineered by Modu Mobile, an Israeli handset company.
Piece by piece: (clockwise from left) The Modu T, with the Qwerty, Camera and Sport jackets.
Modu was founded by Dov Moran, whose previous company M-Systems invented the USB flash drive. Their idea is simple—why not make a phone that changes functionality depending on what you connect it to? A phone that can morph into what you want it to do at any particular point in time. The idea came out of Moran’s exasperation with the size of today’s smartphones. The challenge, he felt, was to get all of that functionality in a size that you could even carry while jogging.
The Modu T is, therefore, a “modular” cellphone—a basic handset that you can plug into other devices or “jackets” to get added functionality. Slide it into the provided “Camera” jacket, and it becomes a 5-megapixel camera. Strap it to the “Sport” armband, and it tracks workout data.
What makes the concept alluring is how fantastic the Modu T looks. It is unbelievably tiny, smaller than a credit card, and weighs just 55g. It doesn’t so much fit as disappear into your pocket, leading to frequent bursts of panic to check if it’s still there.
And, it is surprisingly powerful for its size—packing in Bluetooth, FM radio and GPRS functionality. It understandably eschews a keypad in favour of a 2.2-inch resistive touch screen, which is serviceable but nowhere near as responsive as today’s smartphones.
The jackets also work as advertised—the “Sport” jacket managed to hold the phone securely through particularly bumpy cycle rides, and the “Camera” jacket took decent photos even in challenging light conditions.
The biggest problem with the Modu T, and the Modu concept, is the same one that breaks so many smartphone ideas—the software. It is slow and buggy, and the interface is maddeningly obtuse. Finding your way around contacts and messages on the tiny screen is frequently frustrating. Typing messages is even worse, but Micromax promises the imminent availability of a Qwerty keyboard jacket.
That’s another problem—in this day and age of standardized accessories and open platforms, the Modu is asking you to lock yourself into a proprietary web of devices. The app possibilities of the Modu are many, but it runs an operating system called Brew—which is open, but hardly has a developer base like Android or iOS. Using the Modu T as your primary phone isn’t a comfortable experience. We faced a number of basic problems—the phone froze on occasion, and the SIM card refused to pop up from its slot on the side, making us resort to the use of advanced engineering equipment (tweezers).
The price is another issue. At Rs 12,500, it goes head-to-head with a number of tried-and-trusted smartphones— among them the Samsung Galaxy 3, the Nokia E71 and the BlackBerry Curve 8520. The Modu T is the prettiest phone you can buy for that price, but its gimmick doesn’t quite hold up to the scrutiny of daily functionality.
krish.r@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Nov 12 2010. 08 54 PM IST