Technology

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, Wi-Fi, 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!

When it comes to this phone’s physical form factor, reusing an existing shell is the most economical solution out there, and the Hackaday.io page describes a journey towards finding a shell that fits. In the end, Nokia 1680 series phones turned out to be the perfect candidate. These phones are small and fit easily in your hand, there’s plenty of space inside the shell, and replacement shells and batteries are easy to get nowadays — at least, the kind of phone that you might want to get, anyway.

This replacement motherboard packs quite a few features. The old and laggy 128×160 display is replaced with an IPS screen with visible area of ​​220×280 pixels. They couldn’t find a small enough 4G module, but Notkia uses a LoRa modules instead. There’s WiFi, Bluetooth, a Yamaha MA-3 music synthesizer, a USB Type-C port for charging and OtG, an RGB LED, an SHT20 sensor, and the 1680 version supports a 5MP camera. Such a feature set makes Notkia’s ambitious goal of producing a usable phone quite achievable.

Just like with the X1501 project we’ve covered, the Ingenic X1000 CPU has freely available and open datasheets. This phone runs Linux already – from here, software support work is ongoing, with an easy path to features like full disk encryption. There’s a series of demos: keypad input, LCD backlight dimming, LVGL music player, and of course BadApple – with a USB audio adapter through USB OtG. Drop tests were conducted, too. Interested in getting a Notkia board? [Reimu] aims to launch it on CrowdSupply – until then, there’s an email signup list to get project updates. If you’re interested in helping with one of the software priorities, it seems possible to get in early, too.

It’s reassuring to see a Linux phone with this much production potential. Projects to reuse old phone shells to get a viable feature phone have appeared every now and then. These Nokia 3310 and 3210 rebuilds have a few good ideas to borrow, and the WiPhone has successfully delivered on the ESP32 front with SIP calls. And if you’re looking to go even more DIY, you can always try to sandwich a Pi Zero between a few boards, or build an ATMega-powered phone with a PCB case!

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