The WiFi Phone That Respects Your Right To Repair

Phones are getting increasingly more complex, more difficult to repair, and phone manufacturers don’t like you tinkering with their stuff. It’s a portable version of a John Deere tractor in your pocket, and Apple doesn’t want you replacing a battery by yourself. What if there was a phone that respected your freedom? That’s the idea behind the WiPhone, and soon it’s going to be be a crowdfunding campaign. Yes, you will soon be able to buy a phone that respects your freedom.

We took a look at the WiPhone a few months ago, and the idea was solid: make a simple, cheap, handheld device based on the ESP32 WiFi/Bluetooth wonder microcontroller. There are a few other various bits of electronic ephemera for scanning the buttons, an audio codec, and a speaker driver, but the basics of the build are just an LCD and ESP32. The entire idea of this phone is to make calls through WiFi, and given the state of VoIP, it’s a marketable product.

Astute readers may notice that the WiPhone doesn’t have a cellular modem. Yes, this is true, but putting a baseband in a small, low-volume project is incredibly hard. You’re limited to 2G if you don’t want to deal with Broadcom or Qualcomm, and they’re not going to be interested in you if you’re not moving a hundred thousand units, anyway. Also, you’ve got service plans to deal with, multi-country radios, and you’re probably next to a trusted WiFi network right now, anyway.

The WiPhone is designed to be hackable, with daughter boards that turn it into a rainbow or RC car, and easy to assemble. It’s also going to be a crowdfunding campaign at the end of the month. If you want a phone that respects your right to repair, this is the project to look at, even if you don’t need a cellular modem all the time.

46 thoughts on “The WiFi Phone That Respects Your Right To Repair

    1. It’s easy putting a cellular radio in a prototype or proof of concept.

      It’s a completely different situation when you are making a device that, if it’s wildly successful, will sell in the low 10’s of thousands of units. At that level it’s impossible to find something that’s cheap enough hackers will actually buy it, available in variants that work with carriers across the globe, can be programmed and designed against without restrictive NDAs, anywhere near a current generation chip, etc., etc., etc.

      This HAD article goes into more detail if you’re interested:
      https://hackaday.com/2019/01/04/finding-the-goldilocks-cell-module/

      Have a look at how much the makerphone had to increase the price once they offered 4G instead of 2G. And what everyone complaining on their crowdfunding page doesn’t understand is there really isn’t much useful they can do once they have 4G… it’s not like that sort of phone is going to be downloading videos or something. They just want it because the big phone companies have convinced them their phone isn’t cool unless it has 4G.

      (Also, see the recent AT&T 5G scandal if you still aren’t convinced. AT&T branded their phones with a fake 5G badge purely because they knew 99% of consumers would jump on the name but wouldn’t really need or be affected by the lack of an actual performance gain.

      Or displaying the strength bars for the highest reception of any type service the phone can receive, regardless of which signal the phone is using. People rate those phones higher purely because the little icon being full makes them feel happy. Regardless that the performance is exactly the same, the lie tastes better.)

      The WiPhone is not a phone. It’s a device that lets hackers do many of the sort of things we always wanted to do with phones, but can’t because phones aren’t designed with us in mind. If it helps you get around your reaction as a typical consumer, try thinking about it in terms of what you can modify it to do, not as an under-featured phone. It’s not for everyone, but it scratches an itch many of us have.

  1. Yeeeeah, I think I’ll stick to an actual phone. Right to repair is a stupid concept that needs to die. You totally have the right to repair your iPhone etc, it’s just difficult because things are getting smaller and more compact, especially in addition to waterproofing efforts, etc. I still love electronics, but repairing a phone in 20ish years or so? Ha! I hope they’re directly etching display, electronics and battery onto a slab of glass by that point…

    1. I suspect the movement is mostly consumers, who rightly feel chestef, yet don’t have the background to understand.

      When something new comes along, it’s expensive. But it’d probably very solid mechanically, and the parts will be mostly of the shelf. I’ve bought early cellphones at garage sales, the big clunky kind. A great source of parts, almost all with through hole leads. And very identifiable parts, NE570 companders and common 8bit cpus. Takes up lots of space, but most parts could easily be found. It was expensive, so paying for repairs was mandatory.

      Then open up a recent cellphone, the tiny handheld ones. Very few parts, all surface mount. They’ve made it cheap, which all those consumers want. But no off the shelf parts, you can’t even see sections ofbtge circuitry by looking at the board. It’s designed to be assembled by a machine, so repair may not be so easy. The IC’s are very dense, though maybe that’s a good thing, just replace them and hope. But likely the only source is the company that made the phone, either they designed it or it was custom made. Given the need for new features, why not make a run of the IC’s to match the production run of the phone? When they need to make more phones, they can make new IC’s with the new features.

      Besides all this, labor costs are a significant part of repair costs, and it never goes down.

      Consumers are mesmerized by a few by rote repairs, change the battery, change the LCD screen, not actual troubleshooting. They might even tackle it themselves, rather than take it to some guy, because they can find specific instructions and those few replacement parts, on the internet. It’s not really different from Apple swapping boards on a Mac Plus almost thirty years ago.

      And all these open source phones and the like, are they sustainable? How long is the window when the parts are available? This isn’t a broad tutorial, it’s about specific parts that may not be there later.

      Most electronics just keeps on running. But when it becomes a consumer thing, it’s not so much bad electronics, but phones dropped or soda spilled on them, which has nothing to do with the reliability of the unit.

      Michael

      1. It’s stupid because it’s very quickly becoming unachievable. If we want technology to match forward then self repair of devices becomes an impossibility. The device would have to be designed for self repair and make an immense number of sacrifices to achieve that. This project is literally an example of this.

        I agree that consumers should have the right to seek repair or attempt to repair something themselves, but I don’t agree with sacrificing feature and technology progression to make repairs “easier”.

        1. “Becoming unachievable”??? I just replaced the broken screen and broken USB port in my Moto X4, a brand new phone. I had little difficulty, despite the clear and obvious fact that Motorola made ZERO attempt to make it repairable I have also repaired glued-in batteries in MacBooks with little difficulty, again it was clear that I was not “supposed” to be mucking around in there. You say that Apple made no sacrifices to “achieve repairability” and yet I was able to fix them. Your argument makes no sense, their devices must be repairable by their own service people so clearly it can be done in a reliable manner.

        2. “It’s stupid because it’s very quickly becoming unachievable.”

          Really? then why do apple and other manufacturers offer repair? there are plenty of things that apple itself can repair on all of their electronics, the difference is because they are the only ones with the access to genuine parts and the written instructions on how to do it. Because of this access to parts and instructions they then can charge enough for the repair to prompt the owner to just buy a new device. Then they take the old device and fix it and sell it in the refurbished section of their site. If repair was becoming impossible then there wouldn’t be a refurbished section on their website. The right to repair is about fighting monopolistic behavior not forcing companies to design things differently.

          For example If apple was not able to offer any repairs on their devices then the right to repair would not be an issue for them, but Apple does offer repairs and as such should thus provide parts and manuals in case someone either wants to do it themselves or take it to a third party.

          You are truly mistaken on how things are made, if things are designed to be assembled then they can be disassembled. Instead of using screws now they just use glue which can be released with heat (i just replaced an ipad screen, a heat gun and a suction cup popped that sucker open very easily). Please stop drinking the corporate coolaid in thinking that the modern design choices are made for progress, because if they were then there wouldn’t be issues of certain products bending just from removing it from the packaging. Thinner and lighter designs are fostered upon us because they make phones fragile and prone to damage and replacement as well as driving accessory purchases of cases and screen protectors.

          “If we want technology to match forward then self repair of devices becomes an impossibility.”
          This is an argument based on false pretenses, that is, you are assuming that the idea of technology moving forward requires it to be smaller and thinner and lighter rather than actually doing a better job of fulfilling the customers needs. It is also falsely based on the idea that the right to repair means that companies would be required to design things to be repaired. As stated before, the right to repair is the fight to stop the companies using their power and funds to specifically stop third party repairs.

          TLDR: Specifically, the right to repair is the fight to get manufacturers to provide some sort of access to the repair procedures that they provide to customers as well as access to genuine parts in order to stop the jacking up of repair prices in order to drive new product sales.

          No one is asking companies to design things differently, and your continuing arguments as such lead me to believe that you are either being intentional (and thus a corporate shill) or unintentional (and a troll who is unwilling to actually investigate the issue)

          1. just a thought, but maybe its only repairable by the manufacturer because it requires specialized tooling in order to properly repair it?

            I’d personally rather my phone be the right size, and have all the features i’m used to than some zack morris phone just so I can potentially repair it, which I probably wouldnt do anyway, because it’ll be out of date by then anyway.

            My JD tractor, vehicles etc though, I strongly believe it should be my prerogative who fixes it, and i’ll vote with my wallet if any of those things were limited. (my JD is a small non DRM tractor…) This is because I have a chance of effecting a reliable repair with common tools, my smart phone, i’m probably gonna fuck up the screen if I attempt it and I’m pretty good around the electronics bench. I’ve done down to 0402’s…

    2. “Right to repair is a stupid concept that needs to die.”
      I respect your freedom to say what you want and troll people. No matter, if you’re a troll or just plan stupid, please be that somewhere else.

    3. What will you say when all “repair” parts are confiscated at customs as “counterfeit”? What good is the right to repair if you can’t get parts? And why can’t we consumers also get microscopes and tiny tweezers to fix our smaller stuff? Do you have a problem with that? Are you saying that I can’t be allowed to fix my phone because I can’t bring it back to the waterproof state it used to have but never really needed anyway? “right to repair” is the only thing that makes any repair at all worthwhile. If you had no right to repair, then manufacturers would refuse to repair anything at all for any reason at all, and force you to buy a new item, just because they could.

      1. Yup. And that goes along with this wacko bizarre idea that every new phone has to have a slightly new screen with slightly different quirks and capabilities. But unfortunately, crap like that changes the *look* of the phone, which makes people want them more, I guess. Hell if I understand why people go gaga over getting an extra 1/8″ of screen.

    4. “Right to repair is a stupid concept that needs to die. You totally have the right to repair your iPhone etc, it’s just difficult because things are getting smaller and more compact, especially in addition to waterproofing efforts, etc. ”

      No, i think you need to slow down and take a look at the actual issues surrounding right to repair. The main issue at heart is that the corporations are exhibiting monopolistic behavior in regards to repairs. Sure you can repair your iphone and other devices, no one is going to stop you, but the major problem comes when you need access to parts or the instructions to do so. When manufacturers start using the legal system to try and stop other people from providing repair instructions and/or parts then there is a big issue and that is what the right to repair is all about. Its not about getting companies to design products that are easier to repair, its about getting those companies to stop bothering people who are trying to repair those products.

      Your argument about the right to repair needing to die pretty much enforces the monopolistic behavior that these manufacturers are engaged in. This means that not only are these manufacturers allowed too force less knowledgeable consumers to spend more money than they would need to, it also means an increase in E-waste as people with the knowledge and ability to repair things are unable to for lack of parts.

      If right to repair dies, it is a slippery slope before manufacturers start using software to brick your devices and force you to pay them for the privilege of a new device. Right to repair is a battle in the larger war of corporations VS the people so the question is: Have you already conceded defeat to your corporate overlords?

    5. “You totally have the right to repair your iPhone etc, it’s just difficult because things are getting smaller and more compact, especially in addition to waterproofing efforts, etc. ”

      Yeah… no. At least for me, right to repair isn’t about being able to fix any component on a device. Duh. I know that most of the time if a phone gets dropped in water, it’s toast. There’s just too much that can go wrong. It’s about being able to fix components that are *likely* to die (or *will* eventually die). And there aren’t that many of them on a phone: the screen, the LCD, the battery, and flash storage. Those are likely to die way before anything else in the phone dies.

      Not only would it be trivial to make those components replaceable/repairable, it’s also easy to tell when they *need* to be replaced, and modern phones barely even do that, which is insane.

      1. if you bother to look up your phone on ifixit.com you will probably find that all of those things are relatively easy to repair. Hint: If the clods at the Apple store can fix your phone, you can fix your own phone.

    6. … I’m not sure you’ve actually been keeping up with the right to repair movement. Companies (looking at you, Apple and John Deere) are trying to make it illegal for anyone but the manufacturer to service the device, or to get/sell parts.

    7. What are you, a frog? So easily surrendering to corporate BS. So what exactly does this site offer you? Cause i don’t think they sell any ready made, sterile, eboxy filled devices here.

      We’ll cross the electronics on etched glass-bridge when we come to it. Right now it is just made difficult for nothing more than making sure when something trivial breaks, that the customer has to buy it again. That’s plain greed.

  2. Recently bought a used espresso machine, a Silvia, and was surprised to see four screws clearly accessible on the top cover. Philips head screws. Not torx. Not security torx. Takes 30 seconds to get the cover off and have full access to all internal stuff. It was designed to be easy to work on. How refreshing! Now if only my HP48 calculators were as easy to crack open…

  3. Right to repair and such aside this would make a good kid phone..maybe bake in a tracert function so that the parent can see where the child is calling from and such. if the cost is low enough it would be a great alternative to having to sign up on a ridiculously expensive family plan just to get check ins and such.

  4. “Phones are getting increasingly more complex, more difficult to repair, and phone manufacturers don’t like you tinkering with their stuff.”

    I think I’ve found the problem. An extraneous “their”.

  5. Anybody see the price for this? I dont need another mailing list sending me project updates just to decide if the price is good or not. The idea sounds good but I’ve already got several older android phones loaded up as voip phones and other apps like haven that give plenty of function but no easy way to add hardware except through wifi/bt/otg.

  6. ESP32?

    This is far from being the first open phone. Why is it though that they all seemed to be based on things like Arduino and ESP32. At best they end up being like 1990s feature phones not modern smart phones because that’s all that hardware can manage. Even the PiPhone project although it uses the capable Raspberry Pi is really just a plain old phone implemented as a python script.

    Please don’t get me wrong, these are good projects for the sake of being projects. And I am sure there are some people who would like a simple, plain phone. There also might be a price and battery life benefit.

    Most of us want modern smartphones though. We want full-featured pocket computers that can be extended through some extensive app market. That means that if your goal is to show those big baddies at the cellphone manufacturing companies that they need to respect the right to repair or open their marketplaces or bootloaders or anything like that.. I can’t even say they are laughing at you because it’s more likely they haven’t even noticed.

    Ideally I would like to see a phone based on a Pi or something similar. It would run an open operating system with the phone features fully integrated just like a commercially produced phone. For WiFi only versions a VoIP app would fully integrate as in place of the regular dialer app. LTE modules are a thing though so those who want to spring for it could still have cellular service. There would also be a fully featured app store that also functions as a repository kind of like Apt mixed with Google Play. A full build environment would be available in that repository so if you want to build on the device you can.

    If you haven’t guessed I was a Sharp Zaurus user and want a modernized version of that crossed with a cellphone.

    But.. maybe we have gone to far the other way. There is such a huge collection of Android apps already out there and still a lot of work to make Linux desktop applications small screen/touch friendly. So.. Android on a Pi is good enough. Lets just do that.

  7. “It’s a portable version of a John Deere tractor in your pocket, and Apple doesn’t want you replacing a battery by yourself.”

    No, John Deere claimed you were not legally allowed to repair your tractor as DMCA violation. Apple simply makes it difficult to do so; and they’re not even doing so intentionally; any difficulty is merely a side effect of the design.

    VAST difference.

  8. Right to Repair goes well beyond high-integration personal electronics. The John Deere tractors mentioned will not fit in anyone’s pocket, yet farmers are at the fore of the RtR movement because they used to be able to repair their own equipment and now, strictly due to manufacturer lockdown, and for no other reason, that ability is being taken away from them.

  9. This “phone” is WiFi only. That makes it 100% useless to me.
    Why didn’t they include a GSM module at least? I know it’s being phased out in some parts of the world, but many countries still use it extensively, and it’s dirt cheap: a SIM800 module costs like $2 on Ebay for 1x puchase. I would have ordered a phone NOW if it had a GSM module, but this way it’s completely unusable to me.

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