Hacking Your Smartphone

Openmoko And The FIC Neo1973

OpenMoko’s developers seek nothing less than to design a completely open mobile device. Sometimes described as the anti-iPhone, it’s an ambitious project, with a surprising amount of support. FIC, one of the largest Taiwanese ODMs, finances the core development team and is the manufacturer for the Neo 1973. Named for the year of the first cellular mobile phone call, Neo 1973 developer hardware is already shipping, with consumer OpenMoko devices expected towards the end of 2008.

As part of its developer program, OpenMoko seeded what it called Phase 0 devices to leading Open Source developers. It’s now selling Phase 1 hardware to the rest of the developer community, aiming to build a complete suite of phone applications for the Phase 2 consumer devices. There are some hardware differences between Phase 1 and Phase 2 - among them the addition of Wi-Fi.

The Phase 1 Neo 1973 is a 2.5G device (with a quad-band radio for voice and GPRS), based on a 266-Mhz Samsung SOC ARM. The GSM hardware isn’t the only radio in the Neo, as it also comes with Bluetooth 2.0 and AGPS. The USB connection is only USB 1.1, but it has a relatively high-resolution screen, with a 2.8"VGA TFT color touchscreen display that works with both a stylus and finger touch. You can extend the internal storage of 128 MB RAM and 64 MB NAND Flash with an SDIO-capable microSD card.

Our Phase 1 hardware came with plenty of accessories. The touch screen stylus turned out to be a combination pen, stylus, laser pointer and torch. We were particularly impressed by the quality of the pouch and lanyard, as well as the headset/microphone combination. The developer hardware also comes with a 512 MB microSD card. There’s no SIM - so you can work with any GSM operator’s network. An advanced version adds hardware debugging tools, a PSU and a hefty case.

The FIC Neo 1973 is an unusual looking device. A curved rectangle, it shoehorns a VGA touch display into a PDA-sized device. With only two buttons, you’ll need to hook it up to a remote console for development and testing via the USB port and apps need to work well on a touchscreen. There’s no PSU with the Phase 1 hardware, but you can charge it over USB or use a third-party USB power supply (our test device worked well with a Blackberry USB PSU).

Charging is an issue - the built-in power management hardware will only draw 100mA when the device is powered off, meaning it can take up to 40 hours to fully charge the battery. You can speed up charging by connecting a powered-up device to a PC that recognizes the OpenMoko hardware (either using the community-developed Windows drivers or connecting to a Linux PC). This will allow the phone to draw 500mA, so it charges much more quickly.

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