ETel coverage: OpenMoko

by Matthew Gast

One of the biggest draws for me to attend ETel was the Neo1973 and OpenMoko. My dissatisfaction with Apple for the closed platform on the iPhone means that I'm looking for an alternative.

In addition to the "pure" interest I have in an open, customizable platform, I recently attended the Education Without Borders conference, where I had the opportunity to speak with several student delegates from the developing world. In most of the world, mobile phones take the place of computers; OpenMoko is an alternative way to spread mini-computers throughout the world and bring services to people for the first time.

Earlier this month, the OpenMoko project announced a delay. The delay seems to be due in part to the huge undertaking of the project. Linux could draw on an existing base of freely available source code to bootstrap the project, but the OpenMoko project needed to build a foundation before getting started. They found a nice field, imagined a grand castle, but then needed to start building shovels to dig the foundation. The team has had to write the tool chain almost completely from scratch while ensuring that it's legally permissible to redistribute everything.

Sean Moss-Pultz brought an early demonstration phone to the conference. It's a very early developer release. It still takes quite some time to boot, and has not been optimized at all. Even so, I still left drool all over the phone's case when I got to touch it.

Here's the phone itself, in my hand:


(I apologize for the bad resolution on these photos. I had to use a camera phone to get them, since my Nikon camera is not working.)

The form factor of the phone itself is comparable to my Nokia 6600. Here's a photo of the Neo1973 next to a Nintendo DS Lite for scale comparison:


Finally, I met up with a group of folks from the project and the Silicon Valley Mobile Homebrew group. They're trying to take the OpenMoko project and allow it to be further customized, even to the hardware level. It's a great idea for people like me, since my idea of a high-end phone is likely to be slightly different from somebody else's idea.

There whole point of HomeBrew Mobile is to make everything customizable, even down to the case design. Adrian Cockroft, the designer, brought along a 3D printout of the case for people to try out. Another person at the meeting had brought along the system board that's being used by the project, so here's what a Neo1973 looks like without the case:


On the hardware itself, there are two noteworthy points. The phone has an external antenna port, which should be beneficial if you live in an area with marginal reception. It also takes a "standard" Nokia battery. The software currently running on the Neo1973 doesn't have any power-saving optimizations built in to it yet, so battery life was very short. When the phone was passed around the table, the battery died. However, I was able to take my fully-charged Nokia BL-5C and put it into the Neo1973, so we all got a chance to poke at the software. It also means that you'll be able to use a large network of suppliers for spare batteries from day 1.

Now that I've seen the hardware and used the software, the wait hurts even more!


2007-09-19 12:28:44
I'm just an adverage "Joe" and not a techi. I'm looking forward to one I can use. What about carriers? will any carrier accept this? How does that work?