Two Nokia 1860 phones side by side - a Notkia-modded phone on the right, and an unmodified Nokia phone on the left

Notkia: Building An Open And Linux-Powered Numpad Phone

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!

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This Hackable Phone Makes WiFi Calls.

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?