We know the pandemic has screwed with a lot of people’s sense of time, but we doubled checked, and it has indeed been more than two years since the Internet first laid eyes upon the incredible rotary cell phone put together by [Justine Haupt]. We’re happy to report that not only has she continued to develop and improve the phone since the last time it made the rounds, but that the kits for this open source marvel are currently available for preorder.
A lot has happened since this phone last graced the pages of Hackaday. For one thing, it’s now officially known as the Rotary Un-Smartphone. [Justine] has also spun up a small company for the express purposes of putting these kits into production, which clearly speaks to just how much attention the project picked up in mainstream circles.
In terms of hardware, while the phone might look more or less the same externally, [Justine] says that there’s not a single unchanged component from the previous version. The 3D printed case has given way to a beautiful injection molded enclosure offered in several retro colors, and the rather incongruous rubber ducky antenna has been replaced with an articulated aerial that serves as a kickstand.
Speaking of reception, the original 3G cellular modem has been upgraded to a LTE-compatible model from uBlox, so it should still get a signal for a decade or so before your carrier kicks it off the network. When ordering the kit you can choose between a global version using the TOBY-R200 modem, or a North American variant with the TOBY-R202.
Even the user interface has been spruced up — while the previous model featured a simple LED indicator on the front to show when you were in a call, the new version features an OLED display that will show you the currently dialed number as well as status information such as battery life and signal strength. Some may be disappointed to hear that the authentic Western Electric model 10A rotary dial has been deleted in favor of a custom designed mechanism that uses all modern components, but we can certainly understand why the change had to be made from a production standpoint.
Many of us hackers have a longing for numpad-adorned mobile phones. We also have a shared understanding that, nowadays, such a phone has to be open and Linux-powered. Today’s project, Notkia, is the most promising and realistic effort at building a keypad phone that fits our requirements. Notkia is a replacement board for Nokia 168x series phones, equipped with an improved display, USB-C, WiFi, Bluetooth, and LoRa — and [Reimu NotMoe] of [SudoMaker] tells us this project’s extensive story.
The Notkia effort started over two years ago, because of [Reimu]’s increasing dislike for modern smartphones — something every hacker is familiar with. Her first-hand experience with privacy violations and hackability limitations on Android phones is recounted in detail, leading to a strong belief that there are fundamental problems with phones available nowadays. Building new hardware from the ground up seems to be the way forward. Two years later, this is exactly what we got!
Over the years, we’ve seen dozens of projects that sell themselves as an ‘Open Source’ cellphone, a hackable cellphone, or some other confabulation of a microcontroller, screen, and a cellular module. The WiPhone is not one of these projects. That’s not to say it’s not an Open Source phone that’s intended to be hackable. No, this is a DIY phone that doesn’t make cellular calls, because this is a phone that only works with SIP and VoIP apps. It’s a WiPhone, and something a lot of us have been waiting for.
The hardware for this WiFi enabled phone is extremely minimal, but there are some interesting tricks up its sleeve. Instead of letting the main microcontroller handle capturing all the button presses, the team behind the WiPhone are using a SN7326 key-scan controller. This cheap part is able to scan 64 buttons, although there are only 25 buttons on the phone. The audio board is a WM8750BL, a cheap codec with a stereo microphone interface and a 400 mW speaker driver. The display is a simple SPI TFT, and apart from the microcontroller, that’s about it.
But it’s the microcontroller that makes it, and for that we turn to the incredible ESP-32. This chip has enough power to play Doom, be a Game Boy, and in this case, make and receive calls from a VoIP provider, scan and connect to WiFi networks, and yes, it can even play snake.
While this is just about the simplest phone you can imagine, and it only works where there’s a WiFi network, a device like this could be invaluable. And really, these days how far are you from a WiFi network you’re already connected to anyway?