Prelude: This post was started a year and a half ago when I was shedding off my SamsungC110 but could never be completed. I am revisiting it again now that I have moved on from my Sony Ericsson as well.
But just to keep the sanctity of my previous post, I would keep a chronological order and divide the post in 2 parts.
Reluctantly and with a blessing of a minor accident, I had to let go my Samsung C100. I had been using this phone for some 2-3 years and had grown an impression that this phone was all I need. After all this phone allowed me to make phone calls, send/receive sms, had phonebook features, a 16bit color display with 128×128 reso, gprs capability, IR port, basic java support. It could show me basic wap based websites and I thought internet on phone is unnecessary anyways.
But then I got my hands on my new phone Sony Ericsson w830i. This phone has all the feature of my previous phone except IR which was substituted by a better way–bluetooth. It flaunts of 262,144 colors with 240x320reso, awesome speaker set (well known for the w-series), first time slider from Sony (and hence the bulk as compared their later releases of the same), FM, 2MP camera with video recording, better java support.
This phone shattered my closed perspective of device convergence. I now just keep on listening to songs that I have loaded onto it (I am not too fond of FM)…I prefer this over television. With better java support I got Opera mini and an unlimited data plan for my connection…to get internet on my fingertips at all times.
Although, I am still of the opinion that sometimes manufacturers try to push too many unrelated things onto phone, but if we apply our needs and available models, we can definitely get something which is not just phone but a device worth carrying at all times as well.
I am still fond of my Sony Ericsson, but a couple of months back I got to know about Openmoko Freerunner. This phone would lose hands down in terms of stability and usability to any phone currently on the market. But what is awesome about this phone is its hardware.
To tell in few lines this is computer powered with AMDv4 processor @400MHz, 128 MB RAM, 256 MB Flash based non-volatile storage. Along with all this it has got, 640×480 touchscreen, 2 push buttons, a pair of 3D accelerometers, GPS (AGPS) chip, Wifi, bluetooth, minimalistic 3D acceleration card, SDHC enabled µSD card slot, and of course a GSM modem with GPRS (no EDGE or 3G). (btw, you might have noticed the absence of camera and FM….but I guess I can live without it).
Thats not all, its just not that it has got all this harware. The best part about all this is that the whole design/schematics of the phone are open. The CAD files are available freely and anyone can (and is invited to) change the model and create a phone of their own. I think Koolu is working on the same model.
Moreover, all the chips except glamo (graphics card) and ti’s gsm modem have completely open specification. Glamo seems like a closed case and that they might not open their chip ever. Although, it seems that they are ready to share their doc under NDA and those NDA’ed guys can publish the doc under their name (Glamo won’t take any responsibility for the doc). With TI, they won’t open the chip’s spec but we do have it respond to standard AT commands and that should be nice. Moreover, TI has agreed to allow the end-user to flash the modem’s firmware to fix the issues.
Whoa, did you really read the last sentence. Did you notice that I just said ‘end-user’ can ‘flash’ ‘modem firmware’. Yeah, I know some of you would say that this should just not be necessary and I am sure it won’t be for later releases. But the main point is the end-user (I) CAN flash modem’s firmware.
To sum up the hardware, I guess we can see the analogy with opensource software working with propritary drivers. In fact freerunner is really about bringing open-source to hardware (Is it the first to do so??? I don’t know).
That was about the hardware, but it just doesn’t end there. The software feel is also cool. Do you remember that I said Freerunner is a computer. Well it is so, and like any other computer I can install other OS (apart from the ones that it shipped with or the ones provided by OEM), I can make it dual-boot. The OS that currently runs on it is of course Linux (current version is 2.6.24…so you see its the real mainline version). There are multiple distributions/sw-stack available and I can choose to get anyone. Did you see one of them is Android. Yes, I can be using Android without shelling $ for T-Mobile connection (that too if I was in US….for me, Freerunner is the only option).
Now, let me come back to the losing-hands-down-on-stability-and-usability part. The hardware for this phone is wonderful. But the software is still heavily under development. The development is so much in progress that sometimes the stable marked images (flashable OS) fail to register to the network. But the developers are not to be blamed for everything there. It rather an outcome of closely developed implementations of the GSM standard by the network providers. The software work fine where the developers are, but it fails to the job everywhere.
Nevertheless, since its all software that causes the stress mostly, it can be easily fixed. I am really optimistic of getting a neighbour’s-envy-owner’s-pride class image soon. In fact Openmoko recent initiative (FSO) have just released their 4th milestone and the community discussion suggest that its really promising. I would spend this weekend on it and see if it really holds for true.
To end up, I guess Freerunner is not really a product that can go on the shelf of a shop so as to be used out-of-the-box. But Openmoko has really convered a lot given its just their second released model.
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