Android in Monochrome? | Blloc Zero 18 – exclusive first look

This video was sponsored by Skillshare.

This is the Zero 18.

It's the first phone from a Berlin based start-upcalled Blloc.

It's a minimalist smartphone built to getrid of distractions, and the team behind it decided to completely reinvent the smartphone interface.

I've spent a few days with two early prototypes, so let's take a look.

This is not just yet another standard Android phone.

The Blloc Zero 18 wants to cure your smartphoneaddiction, although you wouldn't know that it's unique from just looking at the deviceitself.

In fact the notch on the front and the iPhone-likeback actually make this a fairly standard midrange Android phone for 2018.

I like translucent back, but the hardwarecertainly feels fairly generic.

Makes sense.

Blloc is a small startup, so the hardwareis probably off-the-shelf stuff from China.

But as soon as you look at either the space-foodinspired packaging, or the company's fancy website, or as soon as you unlock the screen, you notice that something is different.

This phone and the company behind it is actuallyrather unique.

There are two modes on the phone that youcan switch between, and we will first start with the less extreme one that the companycalls “MNML (minimal) mode”.

It's basically just standard Android witha monochrome launcher and a skin applied to it.

If you open apps, they launch in monochromemode by default, because our monkey brains are apparently really easily distracted bycolors.

A cool trick here is that you can just tapthe fingerprint reader to toggle color on or off anywhere in the system whenever you need it, like when you want to take a photo.

It's pretty nifty, but that's pretty muchall there is to MNML mode as it's really only meant to be used when the other mode getsa little too restrictive.

Because Blloc mode is where the company wantsyou to spend your time.

This mode has 3 main screens, all in blackand white of course, and each one of them was designed with two goals in mind: to keep distractions in check as much as possible and to keep you from opening appsas much as possible.

By default, your notifications are shown onthe tiles as dots, and if an app annoys you, you can easily phase it out by hiding itsnotifications, muting it, or reducing its brightness because dark stuff apparently attractsyour eyes a lot less.

Oh, and you can also lock individual appsfrom here.

Of course this is a grid of icons so you canjust use it to launch your apps if you need, but the company is slowly building out functionalityso you won't have to.

After all, opening apps is usually the firststep to a user being sucked into an endless scrolling time waster.

And uh, pro tip here: binge watching TechAltarvideos or scrolling through TechAltar tweets is definitely not considered a time waster, so just keep watching.

Anyway, as a start, some apps like Spotify let you do basic controls from the tile without opening the app and I was told that Blloc wants to add similar controls to most common apps in the future too.

The screen on the right is called the treewhich wants to be a unified communication hub.

So the system automatically pulls out SMSmessages, phone calls, Whatsapp, Telegram, Messenger and other conversations from theapps and puts them all into this page.

You can then switch between channels likeWhatsapp or SMS per contact and have them all appear in one feed.

All without opening an app and without having to careor remember which service a person uses.

Similar solutions were available on Blackberry, with Blackberry Hub, as well as Windows Phone in the early days and as far as I knowneither of them ever really took off, but you know Blloc's solution is somewhatdifferent, so maybe this one will be a hit.

And by the way, you might have noticed thateven navigation buttons are hidden in the Blloc UI, as all you do here is swipe eitherto the right or to the left.

Very minimalistic.

To the left you have the last screen calledthe root.

Here you are supposed to type in commandsand have the phone serve you results.

So you can type “weather Berlin” to get theweather, you can type “news” and select your source to get the headlines, you canset up an alarm from here by typing in what you want and so on.

Once again, the idea is to avoid opening appsas much as possible.

Now, all of this software is definitely stilla work in progress.

Many of the integrations are pretty buggy, there just aren't enough integrations yet, and it's unclear if Blloc can keep up withall the changes in the future.

After all, Blloc is hacking these integrationsinto Android and into Android apps, so if those change the way they work, these integrations might just break.

I'm interested to see if the company managesto fix everything before they release the phone in November, but even until then, Ilike the ideas behind this phone and I just love how the software looks.

Little details like the awesome boot animationgive it a character, a kind of Berlin hipster design vibe that I really dig.

And if nothing else comes out of it, this phone will at least be a fantastic UI or UX design case study.

Anyway, the rest of the device is pretty mucha standard midrange Android experience.

The Helio P23 processor is not too excitingbut at least the phone comes with 4 gigs of RAM and 64 gigs of storage so it feels reasonablysnappy.

The screen is not an OLED which is definitelya missed opportunity given how dark the interface is, but at least the fullHD LCD screen ispretty good.

The 3000 mAh battery is also pretty averagein this category, and the camera, well, it's too early to say given that this is an earlyprototype, but so far it didn't seem too impressive.

But of course real camera tests will haveto wait until we get the final device.

Either way, this phone wasn't built to bethe best Android phone.

It was built with a specific goal in mind.

Blloc says your regular smartphones are functional, but too distracting and most specialized phones like the Light phone are distraction free, but not very functional.

Blloc tries to integrate the best of bothworlds by keeping all of the functionality, but still shielding you from distractionswhenever possible.

And if that's what you are looking for, thenthere aren't many alternatives on the market right now.

And at 359 Euros, also including a fullyear of insurance, I think it's pretty reasonably priced.

I actually got to hang out with the Bllocteam quite a lot for this video and I always find it inspiring when just a handful of people have the necessary skills to build something cool out of nothing.

If you have your own big ideas but don't knowhow to turn them into a reality, go to Skillshare to learn the necessary skills.

They have over 20, 000 courses on entrepreneurship, design, animation, photography or whatever you are interested in and right now I'm inlove with the design courses from Aaron Draplin.

Such a great teacher and a huge character.

There are tons of really great courses like this one so if you want to get access to all of them for free for 2 months.

There's a link in the description and using that link will really help my channel out as well.

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