For a decade or two I’ve periodically wanted an Open Source Phone with real privacy and security. From time to time various companies or groups would announce a project and I’d get interested again. Only to watch it whither and die.
I really don’t understand why. It isn’t all that hard to make a simple mobile phone OS. My best guess is that everyone wants to put way too much into the product “up front” and so mission creep and bloat kills the budget and the project. IMHO we need a KISS approach first, then flowery it up later. For that reason, I’m leaning toward making a Pi Phone first. It’s simple and well attested even if not very feature rich and phyiscally a bit clunky.
Here’s my latest DIY project, a smartphone based on a Raspberry Pi. It’s called – wait for it – the PiPhone. It makes use an Adafruit touchscreen interface and a Sim900 GSM/GPRS module to make phone calls. It’s more of a proof of concept to see what could be done with a relatively small form factor with off-the-shelf (cheap) components. I don’t expect everyone to be rushing out to build this one, but I had great fun in doing it, as it builds quite nicely on my previous projects, especially the Lapse Pi, a touchscreen time-lapse controller, and uses most of the same hardware.
What makes this different from the Timelapse controller is the addition of a a SIM900 GSM module, which is connected via UART to the Raspberry Pi. Also, I got myself a LiPo battery that would fit nicely between the TFT screen and the Raspberry Pi, so it could be used standalone, without any wires hanging off it whatsoever. Here’s the finished PiPhone.
Nice straight forward approach. COTS parts ( Common Off The Shelf ). Shown to work. Looks like a great first step into the roll-your-own-phone area.
There is also a port of the Devuan distribution to the Nokia 900 that is an interesting possible smartphone choice, but it isn’t clear how stable it is at present or how much of the phone parts are working. A big “Dig Here!” on that one just waiting for time…
The Nokia N900 is a smartphone made by Nokia. It supersedes the Nokia N810. Its default operating system, Maemo 5, is a Linux-based OS originally developed for the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. It is the first Nokia device based upon the Texas Instruments OMAP3 microprocessor with the ARM Cortex-A8 core. Unlike the three Nokia Internet tablets preceding it, the Nokia N900 is the first Maemo device to include phone functionality (quad-band GSM and 3G UMTS/HSDPA).
The N900 functions as a mobile Internet device, and includes e-mail, web browsing and access to online services, a 5-megapixel digital camera for still or video photography, a portable media player for music and video, calculator, games console and word processor, SMS, as well as mobile telephony using either a mobile network or VoIP via Internet (mobile or Wi-Fi). Maemo provides an X-terminal interface for interacting with the core operating system.
Experiences getting it installed and running, but not looking particularly “easy”…
This article looks at several options, and covers the slightly dismal history of false starts and promising efforts up in flames or sinking in the swamp.
This wiki looks at several different (mostly commercial) phone OS choices, but is a good ‘feature list’. It also lists Tizen (Samsung), Sailfish (originally a Nokia / Intel project now community driven), and Ubuntu Touch:
Of them, I like SailfishOS the most (on first glance).
The OS is shipped with the Jolla smartphone and tablet (the latter has been discontinued) and from other vendors licensing the OS. More or less unofficially the OS is being ported by community enthusiasts to third-party mobile devices including smartphones and tablets. The Sailfish OS can be used for many kinds of devices such as smartphones and tablets.
So another Dig Here! to find out just how well it works and is it ready for prime time (or even just to Phone Home!)
There are others “out there” too. Lost at the moment is an article that mentioned an Alpine Linux on a cell phone. If I can find it again, I like the idea of a very small router hardened Linux as the base operating system.
Then there is LineageOS:
How To Install Lineage OS On Any Android Phone – Root & Google Assistant
February 16, 2017
Cyanogen Inc announced the shutdown of CynogenMod build service in December 2016. It was a sad news for all those people whose life were depended on custom ROMs. Hopefully, CyanogenMod is not dead but it will continue as Lineage OS.
LineageOS is available for most of the device which already had CM14.1 or CM13 ROM for them. There are many phones for which Lineage OS is still not available but hopefully will be available soon.
We will guide through everything you need to do to install LineageOS so, even if you are doing this for the first time you don’t need to worry.
The method explained here is a universal method to install a Custom ROM so it should work for any device out there having a custom recovery installed.
We will also guide you on how to upgrade to Lineage OS without loosing your data, Root Lineage OS and Install Google Assitant on the go.
That kind of story is repeated often. Someone gets it running, then walks away. It rolls to community based and carries on, though the length of the carry-on can be limited.
It makes no sense to me. It only takes a few people to develop and maintain a Linux fork (provided you don’t try to do a complete do-over on it). All the technical phone stuff is largely handled by a glue on hardware module. But there must be some dragon in the woods, given so many scorched and maimed knights laying around…
This is just a first blush look at options. Not even a full search of the names to investigate. I’m mostly posting it as a place to keep track of what I’ve already seen as I find other options to put in comments. Eventually this gathering of the list stage will enter a weeding stage and get cut down to a few final candidates. Then I can proceed to a roll-my-own-phone (at last).
Why do this? Because my old “flip phone” is finally reaching EOL. The battery is holding a charge for maybe 3/4 of a day unless you use it ;-) and some of the buttons are getting hard to read. I’d not mind having some smart phone features, but the astounding intrusiveness of snooping on my Android Tablet make it clear that Android is NOT my friend (and I’m unwilling to pay up for an iPhone). It does look like once again the only choice for real privacy and security is a DIY run. Though there is some hope. From that Sailfish wiki:
Cooperation and OS support
Jolla staff met with members of the Russian technology community to break ground on the new software and promote Sailfish OS, as part of Jolla’s BRICS strategy. As a result of those efforts, on 18 May 2015 the Russian minister of communications Nikolai Nikiforov announced plans to replace Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms with new software based on Sailfish. He intends it to cover 50% of Russian needs in this area during next ten years, in comparison to the 95% currently covered with western technology.
That’s a huge win and indicates it will likely survive. Russia knows they are buying pre-hacked people trackers when they get Android (and perhaps iOS phones) and also know they can review the SailfishOS code for security and privacy (and, unfortunately, to add their own intrusions into the version released inside Russia).
But still, that large a ‘downstream’ community will assure survival and growth.
So I’m still hopeful folks will ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ on privacy and security and we’ll be able to buy products that are clean and secure. But until that day, it looks like DIY is the only path open.
With that, any other candidates for review, or suggestions on preferences welcome! Anyone wants to try making an exemplar of one of the already done projects, feel free to post your experiences. I’m going to slog through the list of OS names (and add any more I run into along the way) and make a first cut triage, then pick a few finalists, then build something to test. While I’d rather just click and install a known working OS on a store available phone, it looks like that path does not yet exist; so a hacking we will go, a hacking we will go, high hoe…