Tuesday, September 04, 2007

First experiences Neo 1973 open source Linux smart phone

Neo 1973 Open Source PhoneThese are some initial impressions of the Neo 1973 smart phone. The ANU has two for research purposes. This is the phone which Shayne Flint gave a presentation about a few weeks ago. The phone uses the OpenMoko Open Source implementation of Linux.

Physical Design

The materials and manufacture of the phone case look good, it feels solid and well made. But the design of the phone looks more like a prototype than a finished product.

The phone has curves where it should be flat and flat where it should be curved. The semicircular top and bottom corners make the phone bit harder to pick up than it need be and also make it difficult to see and feel if the phone is the right way up. The flat back makes it hard to pick up off a flat surface. A case with a more rectangular top and bottom would be easier to hold. A different shape to the top and bottom would make it easer to tell you had the phone the right way up. A curved back would make the phone easier to pick up and also easier to fit in the hand.

Opentec ruggedised PDAI have proposed that engineering students at ANU design a ruggedized replacement case for the phone,
similar to those produced by the Australian company OpenTec for military and outdoor applications. Industrial designers around the world might also like to design alternate cases. Apart from making the phone easier to hold, there might be provision for a larger battery or for accessories, such as a keyboard combined with a protective screen cover.


The phone with prerelease "pre-alpha" software took an unacceptable 90 seconds to booth Linux. No doubt this will reduce with later versions. During the boot, the phone shows typical Linux text logs. But the text is so small I could not read it. The screen's VGA resolution makes this problem worse. FIC may have been better off installing a lower resolution, lower power and lower cost, QVGA screen.

The screen can be operated using a finger or stylus and works well. The graphical user interface added over Linux provides big button for dialing and a contacts database. To enter names in the contacts diary a screen keyboard is displayed, this is too small to use a finger on but works well with a pointed object. In the absence of the clumsy stylist which came with the unit, I found the end of the arm of my spectacles worked well (I have to take my glasses off to read the screen anyway).

The Neo has one standard USB socket, used to charge the battery as well as provide commucnations. When I connected this to my Windows XP laptop, the Neo was recognized as a "RNDIS/Ethernet Gadget", but Windows XP was unable to find suitable software to drive it.


First impressions are that the physical design of the unit needs to be improved to compete with other phones. The Linux software is close to being usable as a phone and the potential of being able to run standard applications is enticing enough for early adopters to be willing to put up with the glitches which will still be there when the first commercial units are released in October.

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