Linux Cell Phone? Build OURPhone

[Evan] couldn’t find a phone he liked, so he decided to build his own. There are advantages and disadvantages, as you might expect. On the plus side, you have the ultimate control. On the negative side, it doesn’t quite have the curb appeal — at least to the average user — of a sleek new cell phone from a major manufacturer.

The phone uses a Raspberry Pi, along with a 4G modem and a 480×800 touchscreen. There’s a laser cut box that measures 90x160x30 mm. For reference, a Google Pixel 7 is about 73x156x9 mm, so a little easier on the pocket.

But not one the pocketbook. The OURPhone only costs about $200 USD to build. There are trade-offs. For example, the touchscreen is resistive, so you’ll want a stylus (there’s a slot for it in the case). On the other hand, if you don’t like something, it is all there for you to change.

Obviously, a better screen would help. Thinner batteries might be a good enhancement too. But that’s the beauty of an open project. You can do all these things and more.

We wondered if you could get one of the “mobile” Linux editions to run or even Android. It seems like the hardest part is coming up with a sophisticated enclosure.

30 thoughts on “Linux Cell Phone? Build OURPhone

  1. Bravo!
    As I recently bought a Motorola Edge @ Verizon, (my 2-3 year old Samsung was failing). I considered getting a PinePhone to avoid the Google tyranny, but time was of essence. It now seems Moto is deeper in the hellish pit of Google than Samsung. (Sigh!)

    1. My moto was okay, decently responsive for being $150. I had to buy one when Verizon threatened to cancel my line for an unsupported device (Armor 9). Was nice having a phone without all of the Samsung bloat (you know exactly what I’m talking about)

    2. I also bought a Motorola Edge (20) because I was happy with the mostly vanilla Android in my previous Motorola, but I also found that there is a lot of Google apps preinstalled than before. Maybe they can be uninstalled but haven’t tried yet. Having a DIY phone is definitely the bold way to avoid them :)

  2. For the creator: in case you are unfamiliar, the Librem 5 software stack may be useful to you. It’s a bit rough and ready, but it seems generally to be keeping with the direction *nix is trying to go and already has several niceties nike an on-screen keyboard courtesy GNOME mobile.

    Disclaimer: this post was sent from a Librem 5.

      1. I don’t think you really need entirely open hardware and you definitely don’t need to be able to fab them yourself. What you do need is the ability to verify and/or monitor the IC functions so you can ‘trust’ it.

        For instance I have a barcode scanner built into one of my old toughbook things, you read the data off it via a serial output but the thing itself is a blackbox. As long as that blackbox is only able to interact with the wider system when I want – which is easy to verify and monitor it doesn’t need to be a FOSS with FOSH underneath that you could then home-fab on your chip printer…

        NB I am however all for open hardware as a concept, and would love if practical custom IC’s could be printed at home sanely (though I think FPGA are probably the best equivalent you are going to get on that front for a long time to come). Just pointing out it doesn’t really need every little part to be entirely open for the whole to be ‘yours’ rather than ‘theirs’.

  3. You call it a phone, but does it actually contain the hardware necessary for connecting to GSM/3G/4G/5G networks, making calls, sending and receiving SMS…

    If it does then the “not yours” aspect of such cellular hardware is atleast partially mitigated as compared to a commercial phone, as you can design the system such that this risky proprietary hardware is fully isolated from the onboard operating system via wired communication buses over which you have total control. In a commercial smartphone (I don;t have one) I understand that the proprietary cellular hardware is often integrated with the main processor chip and has effective root level control over it?

    1. I think that is a simplistic view of modern smartphones and their modems, but there will certainly be a degree of modem having control over the CPU, likely access to memory directly etc, in many ways at least it will be comparable to most computer network hardware. And some of it is rather required for relatively basic functionality – to wake it from a sleep state on receipt of message/call for instance being rather required functionality.

      You can from a Linux computer usually access most if not all the modems features, though that isn’t a certainty as driver support, the firmware loading mechanism and configurations are wild. So I really should say if you can get it working at all you can usually access everything, though I would not say it is at all slick to make phone calls or read SMS last time I played with that. But then the desire to run stock Linux on phones has been growing so it might be much improved… However as long as you can get the mobile data in the modern world I doubt most folks care at all about the rest…

  4. * Why not use a Pi Zero ? It’s much more compact, but maybe it lacks one of the interfaces necessary (CSI, that could be replaced by a USB camera (small ones exist as spare parts for laptops) ).
    * You used proprietary formats for the documentation ?? 😡😡😡 /jk
    * Maybe drop the “less soldering” principle if you want to diminish size (or use custom PCBs)
    * 3D printed or cardboard-molded cases aren’t less DIY and would allow less gluing and weight.
    * But in all cases, good job for putting together a complete phone !

    1. Thanks for the comments and feedback. I couldn’t use a Pi Zero because the RAM is too little for doing anything meaningful with a browser, which to me is a requirement to be called a “smartphone”. I switched out the proprietary file formats, thanks. I didn’t use 3D printing for the case because cost was a factor, and here in SA it costs a lot more than laser cut MDF.

  5. I love my PinePhone Pro but keep in mind that it seems like NetworkManager + cell modem extensions don’t play nicely with all carriers. Telcel in Mexico never worked and I had to fall back on an old iPhone I had lying around for my trip.

  6. Nice! Exactly the kind of project that’s been on my mind lately. I’ve been thinking of using a 4G module directly instead of a 4G Hat but that would probably save me a little bit of trouble if if I could get my hands on one.

    1. Fair point, but I guess people worry about what they can change – or at least have an honest attempt at. The hardware and software can be tinkered with, the networks cannot.

      Then there’s those of us who’ve pretty much given up in the face of pragmatism and use normal phones, but it does taste bitter. Thank goodness at least we have android – for all its evils, and it has many, at least it isn’t an inescapable prison like Apple’s stuff.

    2. But if you are only using that network as a carrier for your encrypted data there is a limited but still meaningful amount of risk associated with them. Much like if you have to use hotel wifi or anything else there are many things you can obscure but not everything.

      And as Fallingwater says there are many things you can’t do anything about as an individual, deal with what you can.

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