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Monohm's circular 'anti smartphone' is up for pre-order

Engadget Engadget 15/06/2016 Nick Summers

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Back in 2015, while I was trawling the halls of Mobile World Congress, I stumbled upon a device known as the Runcible. It was a strangle, pebble-like object with limited functionality -- its creator, Aubrey Anderson, described it as a "quieter" gadget to help people relax and live slightly more disconnected lives. Since then I've heard almost nothing about the project, but that's all changing today -- Anderson and his company, Monohm, have announced that the Runcible is now available to pre-order, starting at $399 for the base model and $499 for the premium "adventure" version.

The biggest change is the software. The Runcible no longer runs on Firefox OS, which is understandable given that Mozilla has abandoned its plans to build a smartphone operating system (Firefox OS lives on as a platform for TVs and other "connected devices," however.) Now, the little puck runs on BuniOS, a platform built by Monohm using the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). It leverages The Crosswalk Project, an open source web application runtime, as well as a more "traditional" runtime based on Android 5.1, which can be used to install and run native apps.

The Runcible is roughly the size off a coffee coaster. It has a 2.5-inch display with a 640x640 resolution, which works out at 256 pixels per inch (PPI). Under the surface you'll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor, a Qualcomm Adreno 306 GPU, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. Not the most impressive specs, but then the Runcible isn't a traditional smartphone. Its basic features include an analog clock, a compass and what appears to be a photo viewer. Monohm says it'll "never beep, alert of other interrupt you," in order to help you focus on the real world.

That's not to say you can't stay connected. The so-called "anti smartphone" has a 7-megapixel rear-facing camera and supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth out of the box. Anderson says the final version could also come with LTE -- if there are enough pre-orders to "sway the operators," that is.

The $399 model comes with a back made from recycled ocean plastic. A limited number will also be available for $499 with sustainably harvested madrone wood. These prices might sound expensive -- they probably are -- but Anderson is committed to quality. Like a watch or family memento, he wants the Runcible to last "decades." That's why the device is also highly customisable -- Monohm wants users to replace and augment the internals.

"When you take your Runcible apart, you'll find exposed GPIO (general-purpose input/output) you can add components to," Anderson explains. "You'll find end points for audio, USB host, SPI (serial peripheral interface) and UART (universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter)."

The Runcible is weirdly wonderful. It's trying to tackle an emerging problem with smartphones and how people live with technology -- increasingly connected and staring at a screen. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but for those that want a different life balance -- one where they're encouraged to look at the world a little more often -- there's now the Runcible. Much will depend on its software and the support it receives both from Monohm and the developer community. Regardless, we're just happy to see a startup trying something so odd and different.


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