The smartphone market is pretty saturated, as most of you probably know. Companies making smartphones release dozens of new models each year. At the end of the day, when all the launch events and announcements are over, we oftentimes find ourselves wondering whether anyone truly managed to innovate on the market. With Samsung, Apple and Google dominating sales with their massive marketing funds, it’s hard to find smartphones that are truly unique and unconventional and bring something entirely new to the smartphone market.
Since it’s so difficult to actually hear about unconventional smartphones and devices that innovate and change things, improving the user experience and making it difficult, we decided to make a list. Lists are fun to make and they’re pretty fun to read. Considering the flagship fatigue phenomena and the fact that it’s becoming increasingly hard to find a suitable smartphone for our personal tastes, we thought that picking out a few smartphones that are unique and unconventional would be a breather from the clones that we’ve been getting lately.
Don’t be surprised if most of the unconventional smartphones on this list don’t sound at all familiar to you. We’re bombarded with ads everywhere, and they mostly point us towards the same companies. Breaking out of the blinder marketing that’s going on now is a bit difficult, but we have to be open to new things and appreciate their value. So, without further ado, let’s see which unconventional smartphones have made it to our recommendation list.
YotaPhone 2 – two displays, limited availability, high price
The YotaPhone and YotaPhone 2 were and still are innovators in the smartphone market. The Russian smartphone market was first to launch one of the most unconventional smartphones at the time: one with two displays. The latest device they launched is the YotaPhone 2, which has a beautiful design, decent specs and a massive E-ink display on the rear of the device. Many of you have probably heard about the YotaPhone 2 thanks to crowdfunding and social media campaigns, but unfortunately, the phone is not widely avaialble. Nonetheless, the company behind the unconventional smartphone is planning on releasing a third model, with a different design, focusing on energy management and saving energy, as well as pertaining to an ecological construction that can be recycled. Until that becomes available, those of you who have the extra funds and want to upgrade to a unique smartphone with a weird design and quite a few benefits should check out the YotaPhone 2. Its price is a bit high, going for more than $700 depending on market and country. Considering the slightly outdated hardware, it’s a bit of a splurge, but that e-ink display is worth it.
You can use the E-ink display on the back of the handset for almost anything. It will display content in black and white, of course, consuming very little to no energy in the meantime. Nonetheless, you can even watch videos on it! Naturally, the e-ink display is made for reading more than anything else, as well as checking notifications without using up the handset’s battery life and autonomy. It’s a unique solution to the battery life problems everyone has been complaining about and while it’s future-proof to some degree, the YotaPhone 2 needs a bit of an improvement. Nonetheless, if you are a fan of unconventional smartphones and weird design elements, this could be for you.
The unique smartphone comes with a 5-inch FHD display on the front and the 4.7-inch 540 x 960 resolution E-ink display on the rear. Under the hood, the device runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop, backed by a Snapdragon 801 CPU, 2 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage. The device packs an 8 MP autofocus camera on the rear and a 2 MP selfie-cam on the front. The whole shebang is powered by a 2500 mAh battery, which makes for at least three days of regular use, given the user takes advantage of the e-ink display’s benefits to conserve energy. Although a very expensive option, the YotaPhone 2 is truly unconventional and will improve your self-esteem, that’s for sure. Jokes aside, its bang for buck is legit, after all. It has two screens!
Sharp Aquos XX – monster specs and no bezels
Sharp is a display company out of Japan who has entered the American smartphone market last year with the Sharp Aquos Crystal. The unconventional smartphone was a hit at launch, seeing as it had only one bezel on the bottom of the display and a bezelless look all around. There are no other smartphones on the market that adopt this look and while it has its downsides (like the front-camera being upside down), it has a truly unique design. After the official flagship was launched, the company launched another two devices, one with a mid-range configuration featuring the Snapdragon 400 CPU and another, the latest launch of July 2015, the Sharp Crystal XX.
The Aquos XX keeps the unusual design elements of the original model, but adds a buttload of processing power to turn the handset into a true flagship, and not just a mid-ranger. The Aquos XX is only available at Japanese carrier stores, and it’s quite an expensive handset, priced between $450 and $700, depending on market. The handset is currently sold out everywhere, as far as we can tell, so there’s no way of getting right now. Nonetheless, an international release is said to come up soon enough because the unconventional design of the smartphone has raised a lot of awareness among international Android fans.
The Aquos XX is a massive phone and it comes with massive specs, and with regard to that, the $450 price that we found for the handset is a steal, a gruesome steal. Unfortunately, those outside of Japan will probably pay at least double that amount for this phone, if they can actually get it unlocked, as in Japan, it’s hard to get a factory unlocked unit as most smartphones have carrier-contracts in place. Nonetheless, if you feel like splurging, you’ve got another option.
When it comes to what’s under the hood, the Aquos Crystal XX competes with everything on the market right now. It comes with a huge 5.7-inch display that has virtually no bezels surrounding it, with an FHD resolution panel. Powering the device is a Snapdragon 810 CPU backed by 3 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage, with a microSd card slot also available. On the rear, Sharp chose a beefy 13 MP camera with autofocus while on the front, the Aquos XX sports a 2 MP camera – upside down, of course. There’s also a 3000 mAh battery on board, alongside 4G LTE, NFC, Android 5.0 Lollipop and… a water-resistance certification.
How does that sound? The Aquos XX is one of the most unconventional smartphones of 2015 and only the Galaxy S6 Edge can compete with its design elements. With a metal body and a durable design, a large display and battery and a good processor backed by a neat amount of RAM make the Aquos XX a truly worthwhile handset. Too bad it’s so hard to get. Hopefully, the market will open up and we will be able to get our hands on this truly unique smartphone soon.
BlackBerry Priv – sliding QWERTY keyboard-touchpad, Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and BB security and privacy suite
BlackBerry is a Canadian company who was recently taken over by John Chen, who aims to turn things around for the struggling firm. The BlackBerry smartphone division has been dwindling, despite the positive reviews of another unconventional handset launched last year, the BlackBerry Passport. This year, the company is launching their first Android smartphone in an attempt to get a bigger user base and more revenue. Chen set a 5 million units sold goal for fiscal 2016 and if that’s not met, we can bid adieu to future BlackBerry smartphones.
With that in mind, saving up for the BlackBerry Priv seems like a good choice, because it might just be the last ever BlackBerry smartphone. Also, because it’s one of the most unconventional smartphones launched this year. Well, it’s not launched yet, but it’s up for pre-order so it’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it? Anyhow, the BlackBerry Priv is a powerhouse and an entirely new direction for BB and their fans, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
The BlackBerry Priv’s most interesting feature is the full QWERTY keyboard that’s placed under the display of the smartphone, on sliding tubes. The keyboard is also a touchpad, which means that the handset in its entirety is a very versatile and practical device, fit for power users and business users mostly. Casual users could also get a blast out of using actual keys to type on their phone, but the investment of at least $750, which is the speculated BlackBerry Priv price, might not be up the alley of every Android fan.
Nonetheless, the BlackBerry Priv has a lot to offer besides the sliding keyboard in terms of software and hardware, too. The design of the handset has its flaws, as it’s certainly a thick and heavy phone, but its metal construction give the handset an industrial feeling that will most likely be appealing to fans of the company as well as Android fans who want to change up their preferences a bit.
The hardware within the device isn’t anything to frown upon, the handset running on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with BlackBerry’s privacy and security features built-in. At the same time, the handset comes with extra encryption in the spirit of the company, keeping its fans happy, even though they might miss the BlackBerry user experience in the end. Under the hood, the handset comes with a Snapdragon 808 CPU, 3 GB RAM, 32 GB internal storage and a pretty big 3410 mAh battery.
The BlackBerry Priv camera on the rear measures 18 MP and features optical image stabilization, dual-tone LED flash and phase detection autofocus. The front camera a generic 2 MP one, but the back camera can go 4K in an instant, which is a neat feature to add. The camera experience on the handset is expected to be on par with that of the Galaxy Note 5 or Galaxy S6, which spells success for the handset – at least on paper. Thanks to its design, software, hardware and unique history, the BlackBerry Priv is definitely going to go down in history as one of the company’s most unconventional smartphones ever. Hopefully, it won’t be the last BlackBerry we review.
LG Aka – googly eyes, personalities, affordable price
Most of the unconventional smartphones that go viral or at least pick up some international popularity come out of Japan. Or are designed for the Japanese audience. For whatever reason, be it their anime culture or their advancement and fascination with tech, Japan has all the neat tech first – sometimes exclusively. The LG Aka smartphone line-up is an example of companies’ tendencies to keep Japanese releases exclusive. Although you might be able to get your hands on the LG Aka cute-phone, as many dub it, from third-party resellers, it’s not going to be as cheap as the handset should be.
The LG Aka family is made up of unconventional smartphones that aim to showcase character and personality, through the googly eyes that are emotive and react to your grimaces towards the front camera. The phones are truly unique and can be perfect for people who are simply tired of the same old, same old smartphone design. Although the devices don’t add much aside from the googly eyes and bubbly personalities associated with each phone, they’re just awesome and cute and perfect for wacky Android fans, such as myself.
There are four differently designed unconventional smartphones in the LG Aka line-up, all with their own distinct personality. LG aims to draw people closer to their smartphones – not that we need to be any closer than we are – by creating personalities around the smartphones. Evidently, these are designed for the younger crowds, teens, pre-teens and even children. But thanks to the truly sweet design and unique idea, adults seem to be more fascinated by the handsets than kids.
The four designs in the LG Aka line-up are: Eggy ,Wooky, YoYo and Soul. Obviously, yet again, these are made for the younger crowds. Nonetheless, they’re interesting smartphones that should be affordable enough and powerful enough to be the daily drivers of many Android fans out there. Add to that that each character has its own backstory and you’ve got one of the most unique consumer electronics product out there.
So how does it work? The LG Aka is essentially the same phone, but you can buy “personality-sleeves” or the sleeves that are colorful which contain identification chips for each character. Once you slap the sleeve of your choice onto the handset, it will take on the personality of the sleeve, if that makes any sense. Unfortunately, most of the accessories that make the experience worthwhile can’t be found outside of Japan.
The handset specs include a 5-inch 720p display, Snapdragon 400 CPU, 1.5 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD card slot, 8 MP camera on the rear with laser autofocus and LED flash, 2 MP camera up front, a 2610 mAh battery and Android 4.4.2 KitKat on board. With a sturdy polycarbonate body and matte grippy back panel, the LG Aka is quite an interesting and unconventional phone. It’s rather expensive, its price going up towards $400 for the unlocked model. Add the accessories and it’s a pretty pricey splurge. But it’s probably one of the funniest unconventional smartphones on this list, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
Nextbit Robin – privacy, security and a unique design
The Nextbit Robin smartphone took off through crowdfunding, where people picked up on the security and privacy features that the phone has to offer. Its main attraction is that it does most of its computing in the cloud, which is a new way of approaching smartphone user interface and experience engineering. The Nextbit Robin isn’t really one of the unconventional smartphones that stand out through design, but it has a few elements that are unique to its body that make it a futuristic phone.
With a streamlined design that is reminiscent of early Project Ara prototypes, the Nextbit Robin preaches simplicity and ease of use. The phone will automatically save apps and app data to cloud storage, freeing up physical storage space in the meantime. It will also back up any media that you choose it to, automatically, without interference.
While the Nextbit Robin doesn’t feature a unique design, it does however showcase a user experience that’s entirely different from what we’ve been used to. Still, it was designed by the man behind the acclaimed HTC One M7 and that shows. Its streamlined design, front-facing stereo speakers, polycarbonate body, five LED notification lights, four of which neatly placed under the cloud icon on the back of the phone and a minimalist design aesthetic make the Nextbit Robin a uniquely unconventional smartphone.
All that cloud processing is done by a Snapdragon 808 CPU backed by 3 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage with an extra 100 GB of cloud storage that the phone will make use of. Up front, the handset comes with a 5.2-inch IPS LCD display with an FHD resolution and a 5 MP camera. The rear camera is a 13 MP sensor with dual-tone LED flash and phase detection autofocus. The whole device is powered by a 2680 mAh battery, which is supposed to handle at least a day of regular use.
The constant use of data and cloud storage will definitely take a toll on battery life and autonomy, although the company behind the Nextbit Robin says they’ve done optimization in order to make the most of what resources the phone has. With that in mind, they added everything a phone could need, including a fingerprint sensor, NFC and quick charging.
So what’s the best part about the Nextbit Robin? Well, its price. The Nextbit Robin price is set at $400 and you can pre-order from the company. The estimated shipping date for the handset is February 2016, so you will have to wait a while until you can actually use it, but it’s totally worth the investment. With future-proof specs and design, the Nextbit Robin might dictate the way in which Android is going to go in the future.
Project Ara – modular smartphone, the future of customizability on Android
Google’s Project Ara is my favorite out of all these unconventional smartphones because it aims to bring true customizability to the consumer. Now, we can buy our phones readily made, maybe customize its design like you can on the Moto Maker platform for Motorola devices, but that’s about all you can do to customize a smartphone, aside from software. Project Ara aims to change that and wants to bring in the new era of smartphones and their relationship to consumers.
Project Ara is not just one unconventional smartphone, but a multitude of hardware modules that stick together to make for an unconventional user experience. The premise behind Google’s project is that users should be able to choose each bit and piece of their smartphone and customize it according to their own needs. As such, someone who wants a great camera but isn’t very keen on anything else will be able to choose a Sony or a Toshiba sensor for their smartphone, shelling out on that module, and choose cheaper, inferior hardware modules for the display, battery or other features.
Once the hardware of Project Ara, as it is constructed for the first time, becomes outdated or the user feels like customizing some more, they can easily switch out old modules with new ones. So if you want a bigger screen, you can keep all your smaller modules and just change the display and the frame of your Project Ara smartphone. Or, if you want better performance, you can switch the CPU and RAM modules out for newer, better, more expensive ones. This way, you can keep a phone forever, exchanging its modules – reselling the old ones or exchanging them for newer ones. An infinite world of possibilities.
Although availability and pricing for Project Ara is unknown, as Google is being very secretive about the project, the phone should become available next year. The company has not discussed protocols and procedures and has not yet offered insight into how many new module partners are on board with Project Ara. Nonetheless, it’s real and once it becomes official, it’s going to blow all the unconventional smartphones out of the water.