While Windows is best known as a desktop operating system, Microsoft’s big push with Windows 8 was to make both the internals and the user interface capable of running on a touch-based, ARM-powered device. This caused a massive rewrite of Windows Phone as it moved from version 7 to version 8 and broke app compatibility. Desktop and mobile operating systems have continued to move closer together, and the Windows 10 Mobiles Continuum feature has blurred the lines between desktop and mobile.
The hero of today’s story well the tragic hero but let’s not spoil the story is called NuAns Neo. Continuum plays a big part in its history as it was one of the highlights of the Kickstarter campaign.
For those unfamiliar with it, Continuum was a desktop mode for Windows 10 Mobile. It could pipe video through a USB-C port and could run mobile apps in windowed mode. Better still, it could run Win32 apps—that is, Windows applications written for 32-bit x86 processors (which were most apps at the time).
We immediately run into the problem with this plan. The Neo was powered by a Snapdragon 617, a late 2015 28nm chipset that featured an octa-core Cortex-A53 CPU (4+4 configuration, 1.5GHz + 1.2GHz) and had an Adreno 405 GPU , plus a Cat. 7 LTE modem (300 Mbps down/100 Mbps up).
To say it’s underpowered would be an understatement. NuAns wanted to launch the Neo in mid-2016, around the same time that ZTE unveiled the Zmax Pro, a $99 phone with 617 SD, 2GB RAM, and 32GB storage. storage space. For comparison, the Neo also had 2GB of RAM and just 16GB of internal storage (expandable with UHS-I microSD cards up to 128GB).
That’s very little computing power for a desktop replacement. For further context of the tech scene in 2016, you could pick up a Lumia 950 for just 250 and Microsoft would launch a free Display Dock to use with the Continuum feature. A Lumia 950 XL was 340. Microsoft was also giving out free Docks in the US and Canada.
Sure, the Snapdragon 808 and 810 chipsets inside those phones were deeply flawed, but they were still miles better than the 617. And you get 3GB of RAM plus 32GB of (expandable) storage.
Ok, to be fair, at the time Microsoft was having a fire sale of its Lumia inventory as it had lost faith in its smartphone business. And the NuAns Neo wasn’t an expensive phone, its market value was $400, but early backers could get it for $270.
Let’s take a look at the hardware and have more to say about the design later as this is by far the best feature of the phone. For now, let’s look at the hardware. There was the requisite USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The back was removable, as was the 3,350mAh battery, this also gave access to the SIM and microSD slots.
Interestingly, there was room for an NFC card under the back panel. NFC was already well established in 2016, but there is some merit in this approach, for example the iPhone 7 had it, but Apple only opened access to it in 2018 with iOS 12. NuAns allowed you to use, say, a transit card or a card that opens your office door, even though those may have used standards not supported by phones of the day.
The Neo had a 720p resolution 5-inch display, which was low for a $400 (even $270) phone of the day. By the way, the Zmax Pro had a 6 1080p display. There were two 13MP rear and 5MP front cameras on board, both with autofocus. The phone measured 141 x 74.2 x 11.3mm and weighed 150g.
Well, now let’s talk about the design. The back panel was removable, and there was a nice twist: There were actually two panels that could be switched individually. This has allowed users to mix and match panels to achieve a unique look with so many possible combinations. Here are the panels available for the TWOTONE look:
And now an animation to drive the point home. If you had several panels, you can have a different combination for each day of the week.
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The NuAns team has taken care to choose great quality materials offering a mix of wood, leather and suede. Those weren’t natural materials but instead specifically designed to handle the wear and tear of everyday use.
As an alternative to the TWOTONE cases, there were also the wallet-style FLIP cases. This covered the back with one piece and wrapped the leather around the front. A magnet kept the case closed (and was used to lock/unlock the phone) and inside there was a small pocket for credit cards. Also, the case could be used as a kickstand.
We don’t know about you, but we think the NuAns team has come up with some nice designs, although we wonder how wise it is to have a gap in the middle of the back. The Neo lacked any kind of water resistance, of course, but just dust ingress could have been an issue as well.
We weren’t the only ones who thought the Neo looks good, it won an iF Gold Award, here’s what the judging panel had to say:
This smartphone from the Japanese manufacturer Trinity represents a departure from most products in its class, combining complex technology with interesting tactile aspects. It has a fresh look thanks to the use of wood and other “warm” materials, and the curved shape of the body feels natural and well-balanced. Overall, a superbly executed product.
By now you must be eager to find out what happened to the NuAns Neo. The phone was unveiled in Japan in late 2015 and then was shown at CES in early 2016. The plan was to launch it globally through a Kickstarter campaign in June 2016.
The Kickstarter campaign had a modest goal, $725,000, but failed to garner any interest. Only 489 backers signed up with a monetary total of just $142,368. It’s better than Meizu’s portless phone, although nowhere near what was needed to bring the phone to the global market. It appears that the Neo has been sold in Japan, but we can’t find any sales figures.
It would be a shame to waste such a beautiful design, right? The NuAns team thought so too and this time they gave it another go with Android 7.1 Nougat instead of Windows. The new model was dubbed the NuAns Neo Reloaded (apparently the team were fans of the Matrix movies) and it was indeed a brand new model.
The Reloaded has been boosted with a Snapdragon 625 chipset, 3GB of RAM, and the screen has been upgraded to a 5.2-inch 1080p panel. This fixed all the major concerns about the original Neo. There were other upgrades too, like a fingerprint reader and Dragontrail Pro glass on the front.
The team even released CAD files to help people design and 3D print the back covers for the Neo Reloaded at home, which was pretty awesome of them.
The phone was scheduled to launch on May 31, 2017 in Japan with a price tag of JPY 49,800 (about $440 at the time).
History repeated itself as NuAns attempted a global rollout, this time through IndieGoGo. The campaign had an even lower goal, $370,000, but attracted even less interest with just 23 backers and $7,708 in the bag.
We were skeptical of post-PC designs at best, but trying to position a phone with a Snapdragon 617 and 2GB of RAM as a desktop replacement isn’t even a good time, never mind the best. However, there’s no denying that the NuAns Neo was a bold design, something rare in the last decade.
Would it have been successful if it had gone with Android from the start (and with a better chipset)? Android wasn’t ready for desktop mode at the time (nor is Android today, outside of vendor-exclusive implementations), so NuAns should have done away with that feature.
That would still leave the beautiful design customizable, but that alone may not have been enough. Moto Makers in the past and Samsung Bespoke Edition phones today offer some customization, albeit without the clever split design of NuAns. However, those Moto X and G models and the current Galaxy started with good hardware before focusing on looks. When it comes to the NuAns Neo, the beauty was only skin deep, the inside was a $100 phone.
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