As microcontrollers become ever faster and cheaper, something we’ve been expecting has been an open source smartphone based not upon a high-end chip, but on a cheap commodity one. In the electronic badge arena we’ve come pretty close, but perhaps it’s left to [Gabriel Rochet] to deliver the first one that brings everything together. His Paxo phone is now on version 4, and while the French-language website link stubbornly resists translation with Google translate, English speakers can find a description of its capabilities along with the software in a GitHub repository.
The hardware is surprisingly straightforward, with a resistive touch screen and a PCB featuring power management, an ESP32 main processor, and a GSM module. The 2G connectivity may not be the fastest, or even available in your country, but otherwise the feature set looks more than reasonable for a basic mobile phone.
We like this project a lot, because as we said it starts to deliver on the promise of the 2018 EMF badge and the 2022 MCH badge. We think the former badge’s designers might find something of interest in it.
In short, the “e” stands for “embedded”, and the eSIM is a self-contained computer that virtualises everything that goes on inside your plain-old SIM card and more. All of the secrets that used to be in a SIM card are stored as data on an eSIM. This flexibility means that there are three different types of eSIM, for machine-to-machine, consumer, and IoT purposes. Because the secret data inside the eSIM is in the end just data, it needs to be cryptographically signed, and the relevant difference between the three flavors boils down to three different chains of trust.
Whichever eSIM you use, it has to be signed by the GSM Alliance at the end of the day, and that takes up the bulk of the talk time in the end, and in the excellent Q&A period at the end where the hackers who’ve obviously been listening hard start trying to poke holes in the authentication chain. If you’re into device security, or telephony, or both, this talk will open your eyes to a whole new, tremendously complex, playground.
The Nokia N-Gage might not have put up much of a fight against Nintendo’s handheld dynasty, but you can’t say it didn’t have some pretty impressive technology for the time. [BeardoGuy] happens to have a perfectly functional N-Gage QD, which he turned into a universal Bluetooth gamepad.
The handheld runs a program that makes it act as a gamepad, and a DIY Bluetooth dongle is required on the client side. The dongle consists of an ATtiny85-based development board and HC-06 Bluetooth module, and will be recognized as a USB gamepad by just about anything it plugs in to.
[BeardoGuy]’s custom GamepadBT program sends button events via Bluetooth to the dongle, and those events are then sent via USB and look just like those from any standard gamepad.
This project can be used as a resource for how to implement a USB gamepad, whether on a Nokia N-Gage or not. You can see all the details at the project’s GitHub repository, and watch it in action in the video embedded below.
[Jeff Lau]’s Mitsubishi 3000GT comes with all the essential features you’d expect in a fancy sports car from 1993: pop-up headlights, movable spoilers, and a fully-functional telephone handset in the center console. The phone was fully functional until North America’s first-generation AMPS cellular network was shut down back in 2008, since then, it hasn’t done much but show “NO SVC” on the display. That is, until [Jeff] decided to build a Bluetooth adapter that lets it connect to a modern smartphone.
The easy solution would have been to simply connect the handset’s speaker and microphone to a standard Bluetooth headset, but that would have destroyed the 1990s aesthetic it had going on. So what [Jeff] did instead was construct a plug-in module that hooks up to the phone’s base station in the trunk and communicates directly with all the existing systems. That way, the phone works in exactly the same way it always did: the radio is automatically muted during calls, the buttons on the steering column work as expected, and you can even dial and store numbers using the buttons on the handset.
It took a lot of reverse-engineering to figure out the technical details of the DiamondTel Model 92 that came with the car as a factory option. [Jeff] helpfully documented all of his findings on the project’s GitHub page, making it easy for anyone with a similar system to implement their own upgrades. The main components of the upgrade kit are a BM62 Bluetooth module that connects to a modern phone, a PIC18F27Q43 microcontroller to implement the car phone’s interface and menus, and several analog chips to process the audio. All of these are mounted on a piece of prototype board and housed in a standard plastic enclosure that neatly fits on top of the existing equipment in the trunk.
While the hardware mod is a pretty neat job already, the real strength of this project is in the software. [Jeff] worked hard to implement all relevant features and mimic the original interface as much as possible, even using 1G phone test equipment to simulate incoming calls from the long-gone network. He also added menu features to enable Bluetooth pairing, use voice assistants, and even play games including versions of Snake and Tetris stripped down to match the handset display’s constraints.
There are few devices that better exemplify the breakneck pace of modern technical advancement than the mobile phone. In the span of just a decade, we went from flip phones and polyphonic ringtones to full-fledged mobile computers with quad-core processors and gigabytes of memory.
While rapid advancements in computational power are of course nothing new, the evolution of mobile devices is something altogether different. The Razr V3 of 2003 and the Nexus 5 of 2013 are so vastly different that it’s hard to reconcile the fact they were (at least ostensibly) designed to serve the same purpose — with everything from their basic physical layout to the way the user interacts with them having undergone dramatic changes in the intervening years. Even the network technology they use to facilitate voice and data communication are different.
Yet, there’s at least one component they share: the lowly SIM card. In fact, if you don’t mind trimming a bit of unnecessary plastic away, you could pull the SIM out of the Razr and slap it into the Nexus 5 without a problem. It doesn’t matter that the latter phone wasn’t even a twinkling in Google’s eye when the card was made, the nature of the SIM card means compatibility is a given.
Indeed there’s every reason to believe that very same card, now 20 years old, could be installed in any number of phones on the market today. Although, once again, some minor surgery would be required to pare it down to size.
Such is the beauty of the SIM, or Subscriber Identity Module. It allows you to easily transfer your cellular service from one phone to another, with little regard to the age or manufacturer of the device, and generally without even having to inform your carrier of the swap. It’s a simple concept that has served us well for almost as long as cellular telephones have existed, and separates the phone from the phone contract.
So naturally, there’s mounting pressure in the industry to screw it up.
When looking at the specifications of smartphones that have been released over the past years, it’s remarkable to see how aspects like CPU cores, clockspeeds and GPU performance have improved during this time, with even new budget smartphones offering a lot of computing power, as well as a smattering of sensors. Perhaps even more remarkable is that of the approximately 1.5 billion smartphones sold each year, many will be discarded again after a mere two years of use. This seems rather wasteful, and a recent paper by Jennifer Switzer and colleagues proposes that a so-called Computational Carbon Intensity (CCI) metric should be used to determine when it makes more sense to recycle a device than to keep using it.
What complicates the decision of when it makes more sense to reuse than recycle is that there are many ways to define when a device is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. It could be argued that the average smartphone is still more than good enough after two years to be continued as a smartphone for another few years at least, or at least until the manufacturer stops supplying updates. Beyond the use as a smartphone, they’re still devices with a screen, WiFi connection and a capable processor, which should make it suitable for a myriad of roles.
Unfortunately, as we have seen with the disaster that was Samsung’s ‘upcycling’ concept a few years ago, or Google’s defunct Project Ara, as promising as the whole idea of ‘reuse, upcycle, recycle’ sounds, establishing an industry standard here is frustratingly complicated. Worse, over the years smartphones have become ever more sealed-up, glued-together devices that complicate the ‘reuse’ narrative.
Smartphones are amazing tools, but sometimes they can be an equally amazing time suck. In an effort to minimize how much precious time goes down the drain, [Lance Pan and Zeynep Kirmiziyesil] decided to make a functional and beautiful smartphone sleeve to keep you on task.
Most modern smartphones have some form of Do Not Disturb mode available, but having the phone visible can still be an invitation for distraction. By tucking the phone into an accessible but less visible sleeve, one can reduce the visual trigger to be on the phone while keeping it handy in the even of an emergency.
Once in the sleeve, the NFC tag sandwiched between the felt and wood veneer triggers an automation to put the phone into Do Not Disturb mode. This hack looks like something that you could easily pull off in an afternoon and looks great which is always a winning combination in our book.