A Raspberry Pi Phone For The Modern Era

While it might seem like mobile phones are special devices, both in their ease of use and in their ubiquity in the modern culture, they are essentially nothing more than small form-factor computers with an extra radio and a few specific pieces of software to run. In theory, as long as you can find that software (and you pay for a service plan of some sort) you can get any computer to work as a phone. So naturally, the Raspberry Pi was turned into one.

[asherdundas], the phone’s creator, actually found a prior build based around the Raspberry Pi before starting this one. The problem was that it was built nearly a decade ago, and hadn’t been updated since. This build brings some modernization to the antiquated Pi phone, and starts with a 3D printed case. It also houses a touchscreen and a GSM antenna to connect to the cell network. With some other odds and ends, like a speaker and microphone, plus a battery and the software to tie it all together, a modern functional Raspberry Pi phone was created, with some extra details available on the project page.

The phone has the expected features — including calling, texting, and even a camera. A small WiFi USB dongle allows it to connect to the Internet too, allowing it to do all of the internet browsing a modern smartphone might want to do. The only thing that it might be pretty difficult to do is install Android apps, and although there are ways to get Android apps working in Linux, it’s not always strictly necessary to have this functionality.

43 thoughts on “A Raspberry Pi Phone For The Modern Era

    1. The ruggedized Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro 6 is coming out in US on October 21. Replaceable battery, sd card slot, and headphone jack, while still IP68 (and MIL-STD-810H) rated. Apparently, when businesses demand phones with those features, the whole “we need to make the cases completely sealed for waterproofing” explanation from phone manufacturers ends up not being so hard to work around.

      1. I don’t think a paranoid person should use a Samsung phone.
        They were OK a few years ago when there were just a few bloat apps installed but nowadays a difference between a regular and a debloated Samsung are 2 additional days of battery life.

          1. And yet there’s a whole bunch of folks sitting in between the two extremes, who can choose what to be paranoid about and what to do about it, and when to sacrifice privacy for utility and vice versa. Almost as if the world isn’t black and white. Imagine that!

        1. In order for what you said to be true, these phones would at first need to reach even 2 days of battery life. The battery impact of bloatware nowadays is negligible.

          The bloatware can be uninstalled, so where’s the problem? At least you get 3 years of guaranteed OS Updates.

          Also – what android phones don’t have bloatware? Even the pixels come loaded with junk like YouTube or Google sheets.

      1. You don’t need a SBC to make a cellphone. You only need a GSM module that does all the communication, voice encoding and decoding, SIM card interface, etc. And a microcontroller that will operate the module via serial port and (IIRC) AT commands. I was going to stick one of those modems and an uC inside an old rotary phone to make a retro-phone, but modems here are a bit expensive here…

        1. Depends on where you are… GSM modules are a tad useless here as the last 2G networks shut down a few years ago… and it was a few months back, I got a SMS from Telstra that read:

          “Hi, it’s still a while a way but we’re preparing to improve the Telstra network and move to the next generation in mobile technology. This means we’ll be closing Telstra’s 3G network on 30 June 2024.…”

          So even 3G will be useless around here in a couple of years time. I’d be looking at 4G-compatible devices at a minimum. Maybe 5G too (although personally I don’t think 5G actually adds anything useful over 4G… and actually subtracts a lot of useful coverage area and reliability in the process of being “faster”).

          1. I used “GSM” as general name for all cellular networks. I was thinking about 5G module, but these cost here as much as a smartphone. At the same time 2G ones are cheap because 2G network is being phased out here, too…

      2. I’m not aware of anything nearly as capable as the recent Pi’s that are more open than the Pi’s, differently open perhaps, but the powerful(ish) ones all seem to be closed off somewhere.

        The only fully open stuff I am aware of is really quite terrible in performance, and last I looked for them even harder to find than Pi’s are now… However as Urgon points out the actual functionality of phone parts are all on the modules (which are definitely binary blob devices), so its plausible to use just about anything, as long as you don’t want the full smartphone performance that lets you use it almost like a desktop…

      3. The VisionFive 2 is coming out soon (just finished its kickstarter, I think some resellers snapped a bunch up, there are some available on Amazon), should actually be available and is around $65 dollars. It won’t be quite as fast as the Pi4, but in the same ballpark and driver support is already looking great (this is their third or fourth Risc-V consumer SBC/SOC, and much of its SOC design carries over from their last). I think most versions come w/ dual gigabit ethernet and 4GB RAM, though the one I’m seeing resold is the 8GB version (I think that version had one of its ethernet channels at a lower speed.

        It’s Risc-V, so the ISA is open source. I think their core design is also open-source,though I’m not positive. The actual silicon layout is definitely closed, as are likely many of the peripheral designs. I think most of the drivers will be open.

        Getting a fully open-source computer from silicon through drivers is impossible right now. I think Open FPGA is close to getting some open silicon FPGAs on the market, though, so it’s feasible you could roll your own FPGA-based design with VexRiscV and LiteX once that happens. You can already do that on, say, a tang nano 4k or larger, but the silicon itself isn’t open-source. An FPGA-based solution will never be as fast as an SOC, though. Maybe some open-source silicon project will eventually bring an application-level risc-V SOC to market.

      4. Polyhex & OKDO recently brought out a NXP i.MX 8M Plus-based SBC with a pretty similar layout (one they’re willing to customise for MOQ so with a large enough batch you could get it in a RPi3B+ or RPi4B form factor). Otherwise, Waveshare recently brought out a RPi CM4 to RPi3B+ adapter board (after having already released CM4 to RPi4B adapter boards) so if we see more OSHW compute modules in future, that could also be an option. I hope they’ll bring out similar adapter boards for the RPi CM3/4S because there are already some NXP i.MX8-based DDR2-SODIMM SOMs which could then also work.

    1. I think the most cost-effective route to 4G or 5G operation is via a USB dongle. That won’t give your voice over LTE natively, but it will give you voip with either a self-hosted or as-a-service options available.

      1. Yeah which I’m bummed about. Honest to pete I still use a Motorola V60s – the first digital flip phone that would even do AMPS. I love the phone – small, great audio, and I taught myself to work on it so rebuilds were a piece of cake for me. Battery life is around 5 days of light use and I keep a spare battery in a charger that I can swap out – no USB cable tethers needed. Heck, if I was any more disconnected I’d be Amish. I’m going to truly miss this phone because nothing compares to how small and easy it is to use.

      2. Lovely Verizon is shutting down ‘4G’ and only ‘4GVoLTE’ is going to work any more. Got a letter in the mail a month after getting my Ulefone armor 9. Oh well, it’s a little bit more functional than a standalone thermal camera and a little cheaper than one.

        1. Can you show a citation? I know they’re (finally) shutting down their 3G CDMA network at the end of this year but I hadn’t heard anything about shutting down a 4G network, unless they pulled an AT&T and renamed their 3G network to 4G before LTE came online.

          1. I have something like this, but a Pi Zero sized version. Haven’t had much of a chance to do anything with it yet, though, but it does seem to be able to connect to the network and send/receive, but only on AT&T’s network. With Verizon, it simply won’t connect to the tower, even though it sees it.

          2. I’ve got one of these. So far I’ve connected via USB to a Pi zero, pinged my local phone network and made a “hello world” call. It’s pretty good so far. I haven’t tested the GPS side yet. I’ve also noticed that some of the SMD power ICs get pretty hot, I think the small PCB is limiting their heatsinking. Something to think about it you’re planning to put it in a small box (like the aforementioned DIY phone)

    1. It’s tricky with VZ, because they require whitelisting devices that they don’t sell. I have, as I mentioned above, a Waveshare HAT for the Pi/Pi Zero with a SIM7600-something or other that is supposed to be certified for VZ and AT&T’s networks, but when I put an active VZ SIM in it, it wouldn’t connect to the network, so I couldn’t make or receive calls or SMS. (I didn’t take the effort to call them to see if they’d whitelist it.)

  1. The first link–I hadn’t clicked it before now–goes to a project that doesn’t have a cellular modem; it only works with wifi calling and a third-party internet call site.

  2. It would be nice to have a phone that I don’t have to hack and keep hacking to do basic automation stuff. Security breaks everything.

    But, too many stability, polish, incompatibility and missing functionality downsides to leaving either of the two mobile platforms. Going with a pi means having to “wire” everything up yourself and giving up smooth operation.

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