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Phonebloks Looks Like a Kid’s LEGO Phone, But It’s a Great Idea

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The makers of Phonebloks bring up an excellent point in their introduction video. When a cellphone reaches its end of life, it is usually due to a single component within the phone. Maybe the screen has died or the processor simply gave out. No matter what the issue is, if the phone was made of interchangeable blocks, including the display, we could just fix the issue and not resort to throwing away a whole phone.

With Phonebloks, each component of a device is built into blocks. These blocks then connect to a “base,” which houses all of the blocks. You can even upgrade blocks depending on how you use your phone. If you don’t want a camera block, then you can have a bigger battery block. It’s a very graspable idea, but it’s going to take a lot more than just a nice video and some word of mouth to get this idea off the ground.

To support the idea, all you have to do is sign up through the service Thunderclap. Through a coordinated effort on their part, they will blast the entire social media world with a demand for Phonebloks. The hope is that CEOs, entrepreneurs and basically anybody with enough money will want to support this idea if they see enough demand for it.

While the design of the phone isn’t exactly our cup of tea, we could actually see this being pretty awesome in terms of customization and what fun it would be to build a Lego-like phone.

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Via: Phonebloks
  • Phonebloks
  • Brendon-James Feak

    My dream phone! Please let this grand idea happen! eco friendly and practical!

  • mike

    It is a great idea does need improvments but engineers can come together to help the idea work out.

  • RandomName

    From an engineering stand point it IS possible, but there’s a catch: you’re going to need a
    standard interface between all the blocks. Also, the blocks will all
    need a controller that speaks this interface. Then you’re going to have
    to shield the crap out of everything because you can’t predict where the noise sources will be. The connectorization is a pain, but could probably be worked around. It’d probably be terrible for shock and vibration, but maybe.

    So,
    now what you’ve done is made the camera more expensive, every radio
    more expensive. Where you used to have a DAC for the headphones? Has
    to have its own integrated controller now. Sure, if you want to throw a
    CPU in every block and run it like a network in your pocket for for
    it. It’ll be more expensive, slower, waste battery on the extra
    protocol layers, and more fragile. It’d be a cute proof of concept, but
    as a consumer product it’s a massive joke.

  • C—C

    They deleted my post -
    I saw them playing with a working prototype over a year ago – not exactly as the one described in the Video.
    They had developed new technology that allowed them to do all sorts of stuff.
    The name of the inventor is Stan Petrov, and his companies are Inteli, Corp. and INOVATZIA.

    They are very secretive company and until recently wouldn’t update their web sites.

    However if you doubt it – give them a call pretending you are looking for a Job as software and hardware engineer.
    They are also recruiting 3D designers.

    If you are lucky you made be able to meet Stan and See his gadgets.

  • C__C

    There is a friend of mine that started two companies Inovatzia and Inteli, Corp.
    I believe they are based in CA .

    I personally saw them working on a similar phone and other devices.

    They were actually at the stage of testing them in his garage over a year ago !

    The device they played with looked thiner and there where no pins or screws also the materials they used looked something like from space – light as plastic but had the look and feel of metal – when put together was similar to Iphone but much lighter and slightly thiner.
    Interestingly I couldn’t see any openings on the components (like for mic or speakers)

    As far as I know they came up with some sort of new radical approach that enabled them to do all kind of stuff.

    However they are extremely secretive company and till recently wouldn’t even update their website

    The name of the actual inventor that made it possible is Stan Petrov – He was a former electrician and mechanic.

    ” I am a medical student/inventor who enjoys electronics, mechanics, invention and repair of medical instruments. After immigrating to the USA at 20, I became an American citizen and am now in medical school. I have submitted several articles to professional peer-reviewed journals, have acted as a consultant to a biomedical device company, have submitted several patent applications and have many others in the works. I am CTO and co-founder of both Inteli, Corp. and Inovatzia, Inc., companies founded to develop and market my inventions.”

    Last time I talk to him he was playing at his office in Irvine with this crazy vintage 1930′s phone they modified for a joke.

    It acted as HD sound system (super powerful -The sound quality was comparable to good size stereo -however I couldn’t see any speakers ) it also worked as a regular phone dialing etc, It was cordless and could connect to any phone or PC.
    He told me that it lasted 150+ hours playing/talking ?

    I hope whoever reads this has a chance to meet him and with bit of luck see some of the stuff they came up with -he is truly the next Steve Jobs.

    My opinion is based on what I saw while working with him and his team.

  • VENAXIS

    FFS engineering goes into the equation! You can’t just throw an idea like that before studying if it’s possible to make.

    What about its weight? Are all blocks going to have the same exact weight?

    The idea looks great, like building a PC, but I doubt it will be as customizable as the one in the video.

  • Jared

    Has anyone considered what they will do with an old block after they replace it? Other than thowing it away – which would defeat the purpose.

    • Sarith

      They most definitely wouldn’t throw it away because as you said it would defeat the purpose since it is in a confined cube like contraption the fixes can be applied to that component if it gets ruined. Bloks are made in such a way that fixing and replacing them is easy, imagine you don’t need to remove anything else, you just need to remove the ruined or outdated component and replace with a good one, you don’t need to go buy another phone just because the component is too deep under another important component to fix.

      • Jared

        And what do you do with the older component when it, like an old phone, becomes outdated? You avoided the question. The only part of this thing that isn’t immediately waste like a normal phone is the breadboard which will also become waste when it fails due to normal wear. So now instead of thousands of phones as waste, we have millions of blocks. and thousands of breadboards.

        So what do we do with the blocks when they are no longer needed?

        • Lauren

          It states the answer to your question in the video…
          When the bloks are no longer needed, you send them to their company and they will take care of the materials.

          • Duder

            Why not just make new phones and send them in for recycling, or donate them to a mobile phone charity?

  • youweremadefunofinhighschoolHa

    everome saying how stupid this is because of its simplicity and its so comical.. you cant possibly be against an ACTUALengineer coming up with an apropriate design. god forbid someone makes things easier for the consumer with an idea and not a ready to use exaple. its pathetic that you sat there and wrote how stupid this person was and using technical terms that most arent familiar with ifnyour so fn smart offer ideas to make it better not atepmt to bash it becauee of its faults. arrogance should have been hitlers target instead. this world would be a much better palce

    • Jared

      And the guy who made this video is an actual engineer because…why?

  • http://twitter.com/jdrch jdrch

    This is probably a hoax

    • Jordan Pt

      And how could this possibly be a hoax? A hoax requires some kind of deception.

      Example: Markets miracle invention as if it were to be made, even to the point of maybe asking for preorders or saying “coming soon”.

      Phonebloks has no such angle. The whole thing is flat out an idea, and the guy that came up with the idea wants to get his idea out in the world. He knows he has zero chance of getting the idea into fruition so he wants to spread it around to see if it makes anybody else’s lightbulbs turn on. There is no asking of donations, no Kickstarter, just a social media campaign with the singular goal of spreading the message. And that goal is completely feasible. Just go to the Thunderclap page and say that it isn’t.

      So no this ain’t a hoax. Anybody that takes the time to think will realize it’s not. Will the device ever get made? Odds aren’t favorable. Will hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people hear of the idea and start dreaming about it? 120% guaranteed YES!

  • Pakmann2k

    As a former PC “builder” guy, I used to build my own PC’s for gaming and while it was neat to be on top at times, at other times it was a huge crutch. You find yourself tinkering all the time and buying and replacing parts. With the money I spent on constantly upgrading hardware, I should have just bought a new PC every other year. (which I do now)
    With that being said, I will say that I do wish that these guys (Moto, Sammy, LG, etc) would openly sell spare parts for their phones. Don’t care if it voids my warranty, let me fix my own phone if it breaks. It sucks having to scour the planet to find a parts phone or ridiculously priced parts from some dealer just to fix a minute problem like a microphone.

  • Sporttster

    This has got to be a joke…..has to…..it’s the most absurd thing I’ve heard on this site yet.

  • Al

    Stoooooooooopid.

  • Daeshaun Griffiths

    I see this making a change in how much people wanted to spend on devices. This could be expensive but you can make something…cheap-er

  • NIGHTSCOUT

    It sounds like a Really good idea! But I doubt OEM’s would want this, they will make less money off devices this way. Take into consideration, that a Snapdragon 600 costs $24. If someone wants to upgrade to a better CPU, that’s all they would pay. But with the current marketing tactic, you have to buy a brand new device when you want a new CPU.

  • mgamerz

    Yeah if you could just teach the masses how to compile a kernel, that’d be Grrreeeaaatttt.

  • Flat_Stanley

    This is terrible. Please quit spreading this nonsense.

  • Lee Mclaurin

    I hate when people comment that it could NEVER work because of this and that. Most inventions we have today would never have been invented if the creative people had listened to the people who told them they couldn’t do something. The person who thinks outside of the box is able to visualize his/her idea outside of the technology available to him NOW.

    • zurginator

      This isn’t thinking outside the box though – EVERYONE has had this idea. The problem comes down to the consistency of connections required combined with the size restrictions of the platform. Same reason laptops have exponentially fewer customization options compared to a desktop, but on a more extreme level.

      These guys obviously have no engineering nor design background. They are “idea guys”, and in this (or any other) field, they’re worthless.

      • Lee

        The only thing is it’s impossible until it isn’t. I like “ideas guys”. I go back to a song from when I was a child; “Impossible things are happening everyday”.

        • zurginator

          I don’t think you understand basic engineering, or physics. This might be possible in 10 years – but it’s more likely they’ll use the new tech to make different devices entirely.

          And the reason nobody likes “idea guys” is because everyone is one. Everyone has ideas.

          I had this idea in excess of 10 years ago, but the question was why aren’t laptops like this. The answer is because space.

          • Lee Mclaurin

            Please don’t think you understand what it takes to imagine.

          • zurginator

            I beg to differ – it’s my job. I’m the visuals guy for films and games.

            This doesn’t take imagination though, as any guy who has ever built a computer has had this idea. Unfortunately ideas can only carry you to the engineering phase, and that’s where this falls flat.

      • Sarith

        Comparing desktops to phones is slightly unreasonable considering the Pc has more processing power. Maybe the idea has faults sure, but giving the guy a chance will at least give the idea a chance to receive development.

  • http://people.ign.com/mrfrodo24 Mr Frodo24

    Love the idea, but probably only feasible in a prehistoric Star Wars era.

  • Xavier_NYC

    This is a cool idea and concept but will never happen. Major carriers wouldn’t make as much money. Replacing one piece may cost like $50-$100, selling a completely new phone $550-$700

    • RebelwithoutaClue

      Dunno, if you buy a ferrari in parts, it would cost you twice as much as to buying it in one piece at the dealer. And they can close the part of foxconn that assembles most smartphones.

    • Alex Frazier

      But OEMs have to buy the parts they don’t make . . . it could be easier for them to make one expensive part as opposed to one expensive part combined with expensive parts, put it together and sell the whole thing . . .

  • GoBlue

    What if instead you had a connector “spine” in the middle back of the phone and these features would all just plug in to that? I don’t see the deal with the “base” full of circuitry. The features would never be able to recognize each other.

  • Josh Shaw

    I swear I’ve seen this idea before, just not implemented the same way.

  • sk3litor

    No way. This is way too radical. If it even could be done it would literally change everything about the mobile world and considering the billions invested in the industry NO ONE would go for it. This actually looks like an early concept from the 50s of how a modern smart phone might look.

  • fauxshizzl

    I don’t know guys, I think they are onto something. The video portrayed hipster indie music, minimalist design choices, AND a guy with an accent telling you all about it. Those are apparently the key things needed to sell phones to iDiots, so they should be flying of the shelves soon!

  • Doug Meredith

    Increased integration isn’t a conspiracy to prevent repairs and upgrades, it’s the way that costs and size are driven down. This phone idea will never happen.

  • Captain_Doug

    This is a great idea but there’s just no way it can compete with phones being made so compact. With desktop computers, space isn’t an issue so modular components is easy. Phones are the complete opposite end of the spectrum where space makes or breaks these products.

  • Tyler

    Attachable slide-out keyboard would make a lot of people really happer around here.

  • RoadsterHD1

    This is a great idea. It needs to take off.

  • PolarBear

    Careful with Apple stealing this idea and then patenting it. Just saying.

    • RebelwithoutaClue

      Would be difficult because of prior art

      • PolarBear

        Conspiracy Theory: Apple is paying the US patent office just for getting patents that belongs to any original creator and at the same time the original creator not able to use it.
        Remember: Apple owns more than 100 billion dollars.

  • JermaineFerrell

    Or just go to a local CPR Cell Phone Repair and get it fixed thus also avoiding the throw away issue.

    • Mike

      So your telling me that if your WiFi or CPU goes in your phone you can take it to a cell phone repair shop and get it fixed? I don’t think you understand the point of the video, it’s to have a phone that can be either fixed or upgraded at the users will, easily, and without having other humans involved in the process.

      • jared

        Until landfills are overcrowed with blocks because users will get the new camera every year instead of waiting 2 years for a new device.

  • jcampbell474

    Great idea! For all the haters who think it would be an exact replica of the illustration, big blocks and all, technology and engineering can pull off some pretty hefty feats. A year or two (if not more) before the Razr, the same people probably said that there is no way a phone can be that thin and/or contain all of those features. Look at Nokia’s 41 MP 1/1.2″ sensor crammed into a small phone housing. Give it a few years and I think this could be an absolute reality. Companies would figure out how to charge more for each removable/replacable module which would be available ala carte with low to high performance options. Manufacturers might find that their profit margins would increase using this model.
    Just think it’s definitely a possibility…

    • http://www.droid-life.com/ Tim-o-tato

      Just by thinking about it and getting the idea out there is a step in the right direction.

      • Qwahchees

        Exactly, optimism goes a long way. Plus this project would be a big game changer in phone technology. I hope this happens.

  • http://www.vgchartz.com SuperChunk

    Anyone who builds their on PCs and has rom’d their phones knows a system like this is not feasible. There’s too much to account for to at the very least have a reliable OS build for this potential phone with nearly infinite options. Unless base tech (cpu/gpu/mem/radio) wasn’t changeable, but then what’s the point?

  • Tony Byatt

    Nice concept, Far ahead of its time…

    • Doug Meredith

      I’d say that it’s a decade or two past it’s time.

  • Benjamin Mackie

    From reading comments on Reddit, the motherboard would be a engineers nightmare

  • Andy

    Saw this on reddit last night. Read some interesting things and read that it wouldn’t work. Swapping out parts isn’t as easy as taking out blocks. You can’t just take out a 1 ghz processor and put in a 2 ghz. The phone wouldn’t be programmed to it and it might fry the phone. And other stuff I read that I can’t remember. Not “realistic” would sum it up. Their website was also sloppy spelling ” their ” with “there”

    • RebelwithoutaClue

      Why wouldnt it be possible? People are overclocking their smartphones as we speak. And it would be the task of the OS to cope with that. Still the entire idea is not very feasible.
      Ps the guys are Dutch hence the grammar errors, still sloppy though.

  • Detonation

    Even if this was feasible from a technical standpoint, it would never happen – carriers would lose a fortune They rely on people upgrading phone as frequently as possible and locking them into contracts. It’s the same reason why the US will never be like the Europe/Asia market where there are no contracts and everyone just buys there own phone.

    • zurginator

      Carriers would gain (no more subsidies). HTC and maybe Apple would die though, as part OEMs would sell direct.

      Assuming it was possible. It’s not.

  • storm33x

    Apple will probably try and Sue over this also, like they do for everything else

    • Blue Sun

      Who is Sue?

      • RebelwithoutaClue

        Quite a bitch, so I’ve heard ;)

      • zurginator

        She’s a girl that I once knew…
        She took my love, and ran around…
        With every single guy in town.

  • j__h

    Never going to happen:

    It would have to be huge, there is much benefit from fitting it all onto a small circuit board as is done currently.

    It would cost a fortune, blocks and good connectors are not cheap as well as each needing its own PCB.

    Each device would need to have connectors, connectors need to be high quality as they are a huge source of problems in electrical design.

    Electrical design is compromised, having all the pieces on a single PCB allows for better signal handling.

    There is not driver support for many different devices, and also not across SOC vendors.

    How do things fit?

    How does the electrical wiring change when you get new blocks? Custom designs are expensive.

    Phones degrade in more than one aspect over time, Ram,CPU, GPU, Battery all become outdated fairly quickly and should be replaced, outdate is different than broken but outdated will give a bad user experience.

    • Jordan Webb

      I was going to respond with this, especially since a guy from work just showed up in my office to show me the idea. He left a little sad, and I felt bad, but this really just is not happening. Phones would be much much larger and probably not work half the time.

    • psuturtle

      I’ve got some experience in motherboard design, and I agree with much of this statement.

      It’s not like you’re going to plop a new CPU on a “base” and connect it with 5 pins.
      I would think to have a working concept, some of the complex “blocks” like CPU or GPU would not be allowed to be user changeable…but simpler things like batteries, camera, wifi, might be.

      • DoctorJB

        ^This, we need to get manufacturers to adopt standardized batteries and screens. Those are the two things most likely to need replacement on a phone (screen by breakage, battery by wear/age). I have no faith that they will do it because they make too much money on new devices.

        • Flat_Stanley

          and screen technology seemingly changes faster than any other component. Just look at what happens with CPU sockets. I’ve never upgraded a single CPU on any of my computer because, by the time I’m ready, the socket has changed.

      • michael arazan

        How about giving this guy some credit for being innovative?

        Maybe this is the step forward that we need that could lead to an idea on how ti simplify connectors to motherboards or maybe a redesign to how motherboards work and send signals and how parts could be redesigned to be swappable similar to like a car engine.

        Instead of beating down an innovative idea how about a little praise for innovation. This may be the i=dea that inspires someone else to figure out a way for it to work by using another material that redesigns mother boards and chipsets all together.

        There are engineers now that are developing whole new computers that use quantum computing and actually stores data in energy and completely goes beyond the way computers work right now.

        http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/tech/innovation/are-computer-chips-verge-quantum/index.html

    • Luke Skaff

      Exactly, I am getting tired seeing this posted around, obviously these people never talked to an engineer. You can not just have pogo pins to communicate with modules, this is so oversimplified it is comical to think this would ever work. Come on people you have taken apart phones, you see the insane amount of work the board designers have to do to make all the ICs properly talk to each other while dealing with EMC issues; metal cages around components, thousands of signal paths of multiple layers of the PCB, packing signal lines between power planes, running signals lines in zigzags to produce equidistant signal paths. I love all these people thinking they have such great big ideas but have put basicly no engineering work put into seeing if they are feasible which this is not.

    • zurginator

      I love how it’s all the engineers arguing it can’t be done vs normal people saying “this is just an idea it can happen”.

      Stop and think people.

      • courte

        i never thought i’d see four people in one day all texting while doing 30 over the speed limit in two lanes of traffic, switching lanes without signaling. Never. And then it happened.

        I never thought people would ever be so excited about VR.

        And i never though things would be as close to Batman Beyond as they are now. I’ve been proven wrong on all accounts. I’d like to watch someone else be wrong as human ingenuity steps up to the plate. We’re living in an age populated by a million never going to happens

        • zurginator

          But none of those things are a technical limitation. None of those things defy the laws of physics.

          A cpu needs to be incredibly reliable on connections (that’s why they get soldered in). A desktop CPU can bypass this because they can make each of the connecting tabs more than a mm in size. A desktop CPU also isn’t jiggling around while you use it.

          The only way to overcome this is to create a new type of material to create a more stable connection – but that will just end up being used to create even smaller devices.

          In addition to this, Phones/Tablets at their core are engineered differently than a desktop. The CPU/GPU/RAM/etc are a single piece of silicon. Things are placed in specific areas because electronics don’t like interference. The overall complexity of a phone just doesn’t lend itself to modularity.

          And yes, we do live in a world of millions of never going to happens – the reason for this is we raise kids saying ‘if you can dream it it can happen’, and then we get people thinking impossible things are possible. Most of those things never happen because of the fact that they can’t be done.

          • squirrel

            The idea has many issues. Here’s how I’d address them:

            1) connector — the grid idea is just silly.. I’d adjust the size and position of the holes so that there is only one orientation that a blok can be inserted with, thus assuring the proper alignment of power and data connectors.
            2) integration — today, the CPU on a phone is almost always a SoC, with PoP RAM soldered on top. Your ‘processor’ blok would then contain the CPU, GPU, modem(3g/4g/etc), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (all on the SoC silicon), with the RAM and whatever power management and conversion circuitry the processor needs.
            3) motherboard interface — for everything but the camera,I feel like having the motherboard be some kind of USB hub would work. Cameras these days are heading towards 60fps 4k, which has a raw data rate approaching 8Gb/s. USB or PCI-E are simply not fast enough. The bus used in most phones is a CSI bus. So there would need to be dedicated spots for the CPU and camera to go to properly route that bus

            I think the idea has some merit (an interchangeable parts phone is a valid idea, but above ideas are only the tip of the technical challenges iceberg), however it will always be bulkier and more expensive than a comparable phone with today’s tech.

          • zurginator

            Realistically speaking, I think there are 4 possible components that could be swappable, with mentioned extra bulk, expense, and probably slightly slower than hardwired stuff:
            “Speed Block” – CPU/GPU/RAM/Modem
            Camera
            Battery
            Storage

            The caveat with all this of course is that neither batteries nor storage are advancing at any meaningful rate when it comes to smartphone turnover rates.

          • courte

            thank you for laying it all out

            not gonna lie, now that it’s been laid out in great detail, i’m a little disappointed to find out this is never going to happen. ever. i thought a hundred or even a thousand years from now, technology would be on a level that i could never comprehend, considering how far we’ve come in the past few decades. i guess that’s why things like gestural, fingerprint voice and retinal activated things are going towards smartphones nowadays. this peak is depressing considering how a majority of it is used by the public…

            but i’m not going to drop out of school until i get my doctorate in being a time traveling martian dinosaur.

          • zurginator

            Always dream big – just always know how to fail with class.

            Dream of being a time traveling martian dinosaur – when you fail, you just might figure out how to teleport from earth to mars or something like that. Then take that as what it is – a success.

    • Justin W

      Tim says “HA!”.

  • LoganLopez

    If they worked on the design, i am all for this. I don’t know how well this would work with android apps because i am not a developer, but seems cool enough. Could even include something to turn your phone into a tablet with ease. Have the “Base” increased by buying a bigger screen with a base already on it. Then you take the screen off your phone and attach it to the missing part of the base on the screen. Add other things to the base like a second much bigger batter and anything else you want on your tablet. The design just needs a lot of work.

  • Jackson

    I truly love this idea

  • 2_4_16_256

    This idea will never work due to needing to have all of the pathways defined for each component. There is a reason why people have to buy new motherboards for desktops instead of just changing components

    • http://igg.me/at/pushpullcardio/x/3911135 PPC

      Not true

      • DoctorJB

        Eh, you can change out components but typically only for components of the same generation. Many modern components will not fit on a 5-year old PC (and the phone cycle is much faster).

  • bigdav1178

    Everybody wants these ultra thin phones; this concept would never work. Modular design (such as this) requires much more space than the cramming OEM’s do to give you your skinny phone.

    • Alex Frazier

      I think people would happily trade a slim phone for one that can have all the new features without an upgrade.

      • zurginator

        You’d just have to buy a $50 CPU from Samsung, a $150 screen from Sharp, and a $100 battery from LG. Then make sure those components fit together, and update your drivers, and hope for no app incompatibilities. Nobody would go for it.

        It somewhat works for Windows because that’s all people know – and even then 99% of the market buys prebuilt systems.

      • bigdav1178

        I don’t know… How many phones still come with a removable battery? How many phones easily last more than a day on a single charge? How many phones still have hardware keyboards? These are all things that add bulk to a phone, and though there’s lots of people out there (I’m one of them) that would gladly trade some skinniness for these things, you can easily see form beats function in the marketplace.

  • prestone1

    neat concept but not even close to realistic. manufacturers like their product cycles and making lots of money from each.

    • http://igg.me/at/pushpullcardio/x/3911135 PPC

      Yeah, getting everybody to place nice will be extremely difficult. They can’t even stop suing each other. Apple will patent the word block and the shape and then everyone will have to pay to even create something for it.

    • hkklife

      Agreed. With even the hardcore CPU market turning towards increasingly consolidated/embedded/whitelisting/everything on-chip, there is no hope for this, no matter how novel the concept is.

  • Michael Hammond

    I guess? Kinda really seems silly. You’re all fine and dandy until it falls apart in your pocket. “Uh hold on guys, hold that pose – I have to put my phone back together”

    • http://igg.me/at/pushpullcardio/x/3911135 PPC

      I guess you missed the part where everything is secured by screws

    • JoshGroff

      That would be a great selling point. Adds some excitement to your mobile life.