Hackaday Prize Entry: The $50 Raspberry Pi Smartphone

The Hackaday Prize is a challenge to create hardware, and the ZeroPhone is quite possibly the most popular project entered in the Hackaday Prize. What is it? It’s a mobile phone built around the Raspberry Pi Zero that can be assembled for about $50 in parts. Already, it’s a finalist in the Hackaday Prize best product competition, a finalist for the grand prize of $50,000, and one of the most popular projects on Hackaday.io of all time.

We took a look at the ZeroPhone early this year, and while there have been significant advances in this project, the philosophy is still pretty much the same. This is a mobile phone with a numeric keypad and a 128 x 64 pixel OLED display — basically the same user interface as a Nokia brick. The brain of the phone is a Raspberry Pi Zero wrapped in a PCB sandwich, with options for WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI and audio outputs, a USB port, battery charging, and a ton of GPIOs that include ISM band radios, infrared receivers and transmitters, more flash storage, and anything else you can imagine. Basically, we’re looking at one of those modular, reconfigurable smartphone ideas, using a Raspberry Pi as the brains. Tech journos should be creaming themselves over this. We’re looking forward to [Arsenijs]’ cover story in Wired.

As with any Open Source / DIY cell phone, the big question surrounding the ZeroPhone is the cellular radio. 2G radios are cheap and plentiful, but the infrastructure is either coming down shortly, or already is down. A 3G radio is a must for a minimum viable product, and [Arsenijs] says there are provisions for replacing the 2G radio with a 3G module. Of course, 3G modules aren’t as capital-‘O’-Open as their technological predecessors, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Already the ZeroPhone is a huge success. There’s an actual team working on this project, the ZeroPhone subreddit is bigger than the Hackaday subreddit, there are newsletters, a wiki, and there will be a crowdfunding campaign ‘shortly’. This is one to look out for, and a very worthy project in the running for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

69 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: The $50 Raspberry Pi Smartphone

  1. $50 in parts? Yea, right. I keep on hearing about the $5 pi’s but most mortals have never seen one. Add in the sd card. Batteries, a display and a keyboard. Good luck.

    When you can show me a full parts list off of ebay with “buy it now” prices that are not sweetheart deals I will take you seriously.

        1. Ethnocentrism, amiright? :D

          Same situation here in Japan. The RasPi people piss me off. They are aware of the situation because I’ve contacted them about it, but they only offer lies in return.

          1. In India, unfortunately there’s no pi zero, but you can buy raspberry pi zero w at 10€ from silverlineelectronics.in
            In Japan there’s switchscience, but i’ve never seen it in stock here, probably becouse also with google traslator i don’t undarstand anything from that page. so, Good luck everyone.
            Feel free to send me an email if you’re locking for zero’s in other location. Maybe i can help you. contact@thepilocator.com

          1. Why would anyone be reselling pi-Zeros for $5 or less? If they bought it from a Pi distributor they paid $5. I doubt that many people bought a $5 Pi for their own use and then decided to re-sell it. So… these eBay and other resellers are clearly buying them to sell at a profit, betting on the idea that the official sellers will often be sold out and people will pay extra to them.

            Basically, they are scalpers.

            If you want a $5 Pi Zero then just quit whining and watch the official resellers and buy them when they are available! I got mine that way!

    1. Oh, and the list of parts is slowly coming together – it takes time, which I don’t have much on. Would you be interested in helping? =)

      BTW, which display and keyboard are you talking about? The HDMI display and a USB keyboard?

      1. hmm, microcenter is more then 250 miles so not an option, adafruit only has the pi zero in kits that start at $30ish in stock, no single boards for $5. you can get a zero w for $10 but an order limit of 1 so shipping goes up if you want 2 or more. Pishop.us is the same, They have plenty of kits but no single zero or zero w in stock. I’m in the US and it is difficult for me to lay my hands on one for the “$5” price, I understand why people are starting to go to the banana & orange Pi’s in countries not in the US or EU, they are available today and they are not up-charged into kits.

    1. I’ve been using those screens on ZeroPhones for months now – no fading noticed. This is a monochrome one, I imagine the technology is simpler and thus quality is easier to reach. Also, if it does fade, it’s only about $6-$7 to get a new one =)

      1. Oleds are crap. Rated 10k hours when operated at 50% of brightness specification. After 10k hours they are down to 50% maximum of original brightness specification.

        You’ve been warned.

        1. That’s a lot of hours for me, especially since it’s not like I’ll be watching Netflix on a monochrome OLED display. My phone’s power stats tells me I’ve had the screen on for just over an hour today.

  2. And were can you get a $5 pie for free shipping? (Canadian or U.S.A.)
    Show me and I will order right now. My wallet is open.
    Or will someone send me a $5 pie and I will send you a Canadian $5 dollar bill. Heck I will even go to the bank and get a USA Dollar bill and send it to you.

    There is no such thing as a PI for $5.

          1. I got mine Jack! Yeah… real human of you.

            Let’s just accept the general lie because every now and then it turns out to be true, right? If that’s the case, the google.com domain is only worth $12 because that’s what that one guy paid for it, right? I mean, it happened once!

    1. I’ve bought several Raspberry Pi Zeros for $5. Yes, I had to pay shipping on top of that. Just like I have to pay shipping for the LCDs I buy on eBay and the potentiometers I buy from RS components.

      Whether or not it’s $5 or $7 or $12 once you’re finished dealing in the real world, the fact is there isn’t another single board computer that comes close.

  3. What’s the point of shelling out money when you can get the network operator to give you the phone for free ? (in exchange for a contract to use their network in the first place – since that ain’t free to begin with !!). There are plenty of FREE smartphones being offered up for signing up with a carrier.

    More geek tunnel vision and a sore lack of common economic sense.

    1. Because many of those network operators (as you call them) have bloatware from the network operator and phone manufacturer on the phone that can’t be removed without a root kit and the risk of bricking the phone.

    2. Because that free smartphone isn’t truly yours, even. Not to mention that this phone is much more – it’s a computer in your pocket, allowing you to pick which software you want to run, and what you want to do with the hardware.

        1. My experience says otherwise – I’m listening to MP3s 24/7 on it, SSH’ing into it and developing software, doing rtl_sdr stuff from time to time and it’s not even breaking a sweat. You’re not going to be able to play Candy Crush, though, or scroll through menus at 120FPS – but I do hope this is not too much of a problem ;-P

  4. The pilocator shows here in Oz, the Pi Zero is available from PiAustralia for $7.45 plus $7.20 Post ($AU) limit 1 per order so it is still twice the price. From the US it is even worse as the postage is many time the Pi Zero cost. I’ve one Pi Zero and one PiZeroW as they have been added to Adafruit orders of other parts. There may be places where more than one at a time can be purchased and that would help. But just getting them one per order makes them cost a lot more, and other non Raspberry Pi devices can be obtained that look quite attractive just going on price, some post free or very low.
    After this amount of time one would expect the supply to be ramped up.

  5. The Raspi is based on talking the cheap available parts of a cellphone and turning it in a small hobby computer card.
    So I’m not too impressed when someone turns it back into the original as it were.
    And you can get a better phone for the same price all over the place.

    Now it would be more interesting if someone took an existing cheap smartphone and turned it into a raspi :)

    1. AFAIK it wasn’t used as a cellphone CPU – more like a set-top box CPU. I was under this misconception, too, but I don’t see any indication of a BCM2385 ever being used in phones. Can you get a better phone for that price? Well, that certainly depends on your definition of “better”.

      1. Well if your willing to stay with 2g then look on aliexpress for the ” Orange Pi 2G-IOT ” you can get it and a 3.5 touchscreen for ~$20 +shipping. They are not great but they are able to run Linux and even with shipping and a battery they are under $50.

    2. The benefit is that you can “own” it. If you bought the cellphone those parts were originally designed for it would probably be locked into running specific software including a bunch of carrier provided bloat.

        1. Yeah, that’s kinda sad – there’s some interesting functionality hidden behind those. Although I’m happy that, at least, these binary blobs aren’t kernel-dependent, so it’s not as bad as with other boards, where you basically have to have this specific kernel version or your hardware works only partially.

    3. This what I love about hacking. Someone took a phone chip board and a cell module and made part of a phone! Ever feel like you are watching Master Shake and Meatwad build something?

  6. Smartphone? I usually expect a big touch LCD and a common OS that already has a bunch of software available for it, probably by some sort of app store.

    This reminds me more of the old “Feature Phones” that came out just before smartphones. Don’t get me wrong, this is cooler than those. To write your own software for a feature phone (which hardly anyone did) you had to use Java MIDP. Python is more accessible.

    1. Now you are being unfair, there is a wide range of software for the raspi and plenty of it would even work with a small screen. So you got your software base already.
      It is a lot better than a feature phone in that sense, more options and user choice and tinkering possible.

  7. I dont know how hard it is to actually buy them or how suitable they would be for this project but the Neo900 project is using modem modules from Gemalto and those come with documentation for how to talk to them (they use AT style commands so that makes it easy). The Gemalto modules being used support GSM, 3G and even LTE.

  8. Looking at the usual comments we see for any interesting hackaday post. Lots of naysayers saying why bother with this. And I agree, they have some valid arguments. But the thing about a project like this one is the learning and experience gained by the budding hacker. We all have to start somewhere and for some the journey is as important as the destination. I think this project looks pretty cool.

  9. One little nitpik question Brian, Why do people always seem to use the phrase open source like you did “As with any Open Source / DIY cell phone” when discussing the raspberry pi? The RPI is not opensource, a lot of the software on the RPI is opensource but if the RPI was opensource like say the Arduino then we would be seeing lots of clones out there which would be compatible with the RPI. We do not see the compatible clones since the RPI is not opensource.

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