Build Your Own Android Smartphone

Let’s get this out of the way first – this project isn’t meant to be a replacement for your regular smartphone. Although, at the very least, you can use it as one if you’d like to. But [Shree Kumar]’s Hackaday Prize 2018 entry, the Kite : Open Hardware Android Smartphone aims to be an Open platform for hackers and everyone else, enabling them to dig into the innards of a smartphone and use it as a base platform to build a variety of hardware.

When talking about modular smartphones, Google’s Project Ara and the Phonebloks project immediately spring to mind. Kite is similar in concept. It lets you interface hacker friendly modules and break out boards – for example, sensors or displays – to create your own customized solutions. And since the OS isn’t tied to any particular brand flavor, you can customize and tweak Android to suit specific requirements as well. There are no carrier locks or services to worry about and the bootloader is unlocked.

Hackaday Show-n-Tell in Bangalore

At the core of the project is the KiteBoard – populated with all the elements that are usually stuffed inside a smartphone package – Memory, LTE/3G/2G radios, micro SIM socket, GPS, WiFi, BT, FM, battery charging, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and a micro SD slot. The first version of  KiteBoard was based around the Snapdragon 410. After some subtle prodding at a gathering of hackers in Bangalore, [Shree] moved over to the light side, and decided to make the KiteBoard V2 Open Source. The new board will feature a Snapdragon 450 processor among many other upgrades. The second PCB in the Kite Project is a display board which interfaces the 5″ touchscreen LCD to the main KiteBoard. Of Hacker interest is the addition of a 1080p HDMI output on this board that lets you hook it up to external monitors easily and also allows access to the MIPI DSI display interface.

Finally, there’s the Expansion Board which provides all the exciting hacking possibilities. It has a Raspberry Pi compatible HAT connector with GPIO’s referenced to 3.3 V (the KiteBoard works at 1.8 V). But the GPIO’s can also be referenced to 5 V instead of 3.3 V if you need to make connections to an Arduino, for example. All of the other phone interfaces are accessible via the expansion board such as the speaker, mic, earpiece, power, volume up / down for hacking convenience. The Expansion board also provides access to all the usual bus interfaces such as SPI, UART, I²C and I²S.

To showcase the capabilities of the Kite project, [Shree] and his team have built a few phone and gadget variants. Build instructions and design files for 3D printing enclosures and other parts have been documented in several of his project logs. A large part of the BoM consists of off-the-shelf components, other than the three Kite board modules. If you have feature requests, the Kite team is looking to hear from you.

When it comes to smartphone design, Quantity is the name of the game. Whether you’re talking to Qualcomm for the Snapdragon’s, or other vendors for memory, radios, displays and other critical items, you need to be toeing their line on MOQ’s. Add to this the need to certify the Kite board for various standards around the world, and one realizes that building such a phone isn’t a technical challenge as much as a financial one. The only way the Kite team could manage to achieve their goal is to drum up support and pledges via a Kickstarter campaign to ensure they have the required numbers to bring this project to fruition. Check them out and show them some love. The Judges of the Hackaday Prize have already shown theirs by picking this project among the 20 from the first round that move to the final round.

28 thoughts on “Build Your Own Android Smartphone

  1. Only partially opensource. The GPU firmware and drivers of every current smartphone chipset are closed-source. Yes, for a while you can use ref board blobs with AOSP, but eventually, the SoC gets end-of-lifed and the blobs are no longer updated for newer versions of Android. Hacking in backwards compatibility is a major headache (this is where a large amount of the effort by projects such as CyanogenMod, Omni, Paranoid Android, etc. is spent), and eventually gets to the point where you have a newer version of Android only partially functional because the drivers are missing too much functionality.

    1. IMHO, the “partially opensource” part of the story will not change in the case of mainstream phone sillicon.

      The key feature of Kite is it’s hardware extension capabilities that anyone can easily use with Android.

      Kite v2 will be based on Snapdragon 450 – which has at-least two more software upgrades provided by Qualcomm. That is about the best any phone manufacturer does (Google included).

  2. Looking forward to Librem’s offering in a similar vein. Right now you can preorder their phone as a pile of components and assemble however you like. And no google-butchered-linux OS needed. I wonder when they ship, though, and how enthusiastic the community will be. I suppose I should be the change and get one.

        1. Well, there’s USB 3.0 OTG there… so again, doable, provided you can accept plugging into a USB host OR into the HackRF.

          Alternatively, you might be able to modify the HackRF to act as an SPI slave, in which case it could talk to the SPI bus on the GPIO pin headers.

  3. I’m throwing money at the screen flight now and hope something will come back. I’ve been using legacyos in a 2012 tablet and it works better than my 2016 nexus tablet running Google’s official release.

  4. Can you run normal linux distro on it with proper use of power management? This is usually the biggest problem with all of theese single board computers that looks like perfect heart of battery powered device but it ends up with big power bank lasting for 5 hours.

  5. Although its not as ‘clean’ as project ara’s idea’s, look up ‘Essential’ if you want a modular phone, they’re selling them right now, not at a still undisclosed date way in the future.

  6. I find smartphone terribly impractical (privacy matters aside) therefore I don’t use them, but should that platform grow into an open tablet with bigger screen (10”+) while keeping the openness and expansion capabilities then it could seriously become a must-buy for me. Keep the excellent work guys!

  7. Maybe ZTE can use it s a trick, make a ‘DIY’ phone, let people install android themselves so it’s not part of their official business.
    Like those libraries and encryption modules you sometimes have to get separately because of oppressive rules.

  8. This is one of the stupider projects that has come along the pipe. This is the guy who’s asking for 1 Mil on kickstarter, right? I’ve seen way cooler projects on way tighter budgets. Why is this phone better than the other thousand android phones I can get for $30 on eBay, Walmart, Best Buy, or any thousand other stores and online retailers? This is just another “Big Idea, Small Motivation” projects that’s been plaguing hackaday.io lately. Anybody remember that guy who legit thought he could make a space plane? Or the “iron man armor” that’s so far just the gauntlet? Still haven’t seen where he’s getting the money for a “arc reactor” or “titanium alloy armor” (Maybe he’s too tied up with his “hulk buster or his “halo armor”). As far as I can tell, this project is going to disappear along with the rest of the projects like it when all the hack a day prize money is gone. I can do the same thing with a raspberry pi and a little display. Then it would run Linux and be a whole lot more useful too.

    1. I am the guy. Not sure which 30$ phones you are talking about – please share a link if you can. A phone comparable to the spec I am proposing costs at-least 130-150$. And those are made by big names in the smartphone industry.

      You can’t do the same thing with a raspberry pi and a little display. There are nice projects like that , but those can’t be compared to a full smartphone experience that we provide.

  9. Thats a cool project but I think you can’t get 1M dolars for that. Maybe if you make a raspberry pi module with a screen and 4G you can touch some hearts. I never tested usb 4G modems. They can make calls too, send sms or it is only for data?

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