Exclusive: Project ARA hands-on Q&A


A week ago, we let you know that we managed to get our hands on Google’s Project ARA smartphone. Since then, we’ve shared everything we know about the phone’s specifications and an extensive photo gallery which shows off its design. Today, we’re answering the most popular questions you’ve asked us about the Project ARA phone.

Q. How did you get the ARA phone?
A. Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question. Revealing how the phone was obtained would put people’s jobs in jeopardy

Q. When is ARA coming to market?
A. Google canceled project ARA earlier this fall and currently has no plans to deliver a modular smartphone. That being said, recent reports claim that a handful of people from the ARA team are now working at Facebook’s secretive hardware division which means that some of ARA’s modular DNA may live on.

Q. Why was Google’s Project ARA discontinued?
A. Google didn’t give a specific reason. Google was reportedly working with partners to build third-party modules for the phone. Having used the phone extensively over the past week, there doesn’t seem to be any technical reason why ARA couldn’t work as a consumer product. That being said, the developer device I have is quite big and the mechanism for swapping out modules is cumbersome. Google may have realized that ARA, in its current form, isn’t well suited for public consumption.


Q. What are the specs?
A. We’ve already shared the full spec sheet of the ARA phone. The highlights include a 5.5-inch 1080p LCD display, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 3450 mAh of battery capacity (internal and removable), 2.1MP main camera, 5MP front-facing camera (both with fixed-focus lenses), a front-facing speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB Type-C charging and sync port.

Q. Does the phone work?
It sure does.

Q. What version of Android is the phone running?
A. The ARA (A8A01) that we have is running on Android 7.0 (NMR1) with the August 5th security patch installed.


Q. Can the phone be used as a daily driver?
A. It depends. The device is fully functional, but there’s no access to the SIM card slot. We’re assuming that it’s located below the “removable” battery, but we haven’t been able to remove that battery module from the device. This isn’t too surprising since the phone we have is intended for development purposes only. By not allowing developers to use the phone as their main device, Google was able to keep the phone hidden from the public.

Q. Can the CPU be swapped?
A. No, the CPU of the ARA is not swappable. The CPU is built into the endoskeleton of the phone which includes the internal storage, RAM, display, front-facing camera, internal battery, motherboard and all the phone’s main sensors.

Q. Can I buy the phone from you?
A. The phone is currently not for sale. That being said, the owner of the device may change their mind once I return it to them.


Q. How’s battery life?
A. Battery life is quite poor. Even though the battery capacity of the phone is quite high, the ARA typically only makes it 8-10 hours with 2 hours of screen-on time before needing a charge.

Q. Is ARA the future of smartphones or just a gimmick?
A. In its current state, ARA is not the future of smartphones. But that doesn’t mean modular phones don’t have a future. LG and Motorola are trying their best to make the concept work, but it might take 5-10 years before modular phones become a staple.

Q. How does the module swapping mechanism work?
A. Swapping modules on the ARA is simple. To remove a module you need to press the module release button on the side of the device. This pulls up the My ARA app and its module screen. Select the module you want to remove and you’ll then be instructed to flip the phone over. Once you do, the module is released and pops up from the back of the phone.


Q. Why the switch from slide-out modules to pop-out modules?
A. A while back, Google revealed that the slide-out module mechanism, which used electromagnets to hold the modules in place, failed during testing.  The new pop-out mechanism still uses electromagnets to secure the modules, but they are much larger and are placed at a 90-degree angle from the phone. It’s not as elegant as the original design, but it’s definitely strong.

Q. What do the swappable modules look like?
Modules come in two sizes: single (rectangular) and double wide (square). On the outside, they are covered with soft-touch plastic. The underside of the modules are plastic or aluminum with connection pins on one end and a slot for the electromagnet fastener.


Q. What modules do you have?
The only working module we have is the camera module. The other are dummy modules which serve no purpose.

Q. Can modules be swapped out while the phone is on?
A. Modules can only be removed while the phone is turned on. The software even allows the owner of the device to lock things down with a password so that modules cannot be removed until the password is entered.

Q. Can modules be used in any slot?
Yes. We’ve tested the working camera module that we have in multiple slots. However, module developers can designate an “optimal” module position. If the camera module is inserted anywhere besides the top-left slot, a message appears on the device, asking you to move the module for optimal performance.


Q. How many modules did Google have for ARA?
Google never gave any clues as to how many different modules were in development, but promo videos and photos showed that ARA’s module catalog would have been extensive.

Q. Are the back panels of the module removable?
A. They should be, but we haven’t managed to pry the protective panel from a module yet. Obviously, this was not a design priority for the developer model of ARA.


Q. Is the phone as thick as it looks?
It sure is. While the footprint of the phone is smaller than the new Huawei Mate 9, but ARA feels substantially larger and is more cumbersome to use.

That’s all I have for now. I’m planning a few more articles for later in the week. If you have any additional questiona sbout the phone, please leave them in the comments.

Nick Gray
I'm a life-long tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC. After writing about tech for more than a decade, I jumped at the opportunity to take on the role of Editor in Chief at Phandroid. Please contact me at [email protected].

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