We've seen and heard a lot about modular smartphones in the last couple of years, but we're finally getting a little bit closer to testing them in the wild. The Puzzlephone is one of the simplest modular designs we've seen, dividing into three parts only: a "brain" containing the processor, camera, RAM, and storage; a "spine" providing the central structure and screen; and a "heart" holding the battery and secondary electronics. (Numbered one, two, and three respectively in the first image below.) After unveiling the project last December, the Puzzlephone team has finally launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, seeking to raise $250,000 in flexible funding.
"Flexible funding" is Latin for caveat emptor
This last point is important. Flexible funding can be something of a warning sign on Indiegogo as it means that the campaign organizers will keep the money they raise no matter what happens. Obviously this doesn't mean that all flexibly funded campaigns are scams, but it's not always a good look. Puzzlephone says it was "forced" to go with flexible funding as Indiegogo only allows payment via PayPal for fixed funding campaigns. The company notes that it has also already raised funding for R&D, so the Indiegogo money is only for manufacture, shipping, and the product itself.
This caveat aside, the Puzzlephone is intriguing. The design looks neat and sturdy, the specs are respectable (full HD 5-inch display, 3GB of RAM, octa-core processor, up to 64GB of internal memory, Android 6.0), and the decision to simplify the modularity is probably smart: fewer modules means fewer complications when it comes to manufacturing. There's definitely an argument that this will lead to additional waste (after all, what's the point of a modular smartphone if you can't upgrade the storage without also upgrading the RAM, CPU, and camera), but in terms of getting the device shipped, it's good news.
That being said, the Puzzlephone's earliest estimated delivery date is September 2016, and if you want to try a modular smartphone before then you might be better off with the ethical (but far less handsome) Fairphone 2. Puzzlephone backers who are quick on the draw can reserve a 16GB device for just $333, with prices rising to $444 for 32GB of storage, and $777 for a limited edition handset for with copper detailing.
Update November 3rd, 9.45AM ET: Updated to include more information about Puzzlephone's decision to use flexible funding.