OpenMoko and Neo1973 update

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November 19, 2007

The geekiest of my friends know that I’ve had a Neo1973 phone from FIC running OpenMoko for a few months now. Sadly, there have been numerous roadblocks that keep me from using my insomnia to develop some killer app for the phone.

For starters, the development platform is a bit of a chore to set up. Hey, it’s a developer’s phone, I should just bite the bullet and get it rolling. I actually had it all set up and working, and then I dumped Gentoo to put Ubuntu on my desktop instead since I wasn’t too worried about the hard-core performance issues any more that Gentoo so fabulously allows.

Secondly, they have a well-documented bug in the Texas Instruments modem chipset on the phone that keeps most 3G SIM cards from working. Since the USA has a whopping two major carriers who support 3G (at the time, AT&T and TMobile), I figured I was in luck ‘cause my wife and I have cell phones from AT&T (previously Cingular), but sadly my SIM card matches a serial number range that’s known not to work. So I shell out $100 to buy a pre-paid SIM from TMobile only to find that it too doesn’t work in the phone. Happily, it was announced about a week ago that if we ship our phone to a guy in San Francisco, he’ll patch the firmware on the modem for us, we just have to pay shipping there and back. Since I already shelled out some money for this phone, I wasn’t about to let go of $65 in each direction for over-night shipping, so it’s going the slow 3-day ground option. I’m hoping that I can at least use the thing as a phone when I get it back, since the modem is also needed to do GPS applications from what I understand, and I’m hoping to get something rolling that’s GPS-related.

Thirdly, they announced the Neo1973 GTA01 and GTA02 models (and possibly the GTA03) are NOT quad-band phones, which means I’ve just lost half of my bandwidth with AT&T since the Neo doesn’t support the 850MHz range. Between a hardware implementation issue, firmware issue, and FCC licensing, they just didn’t get all 4 bands. So I think I get to use 900, 1800 and 1900, and from what I understand, TMobile uses the 9001900 pair while AT&T was 8501800 (I might have reversed the 18001900 uses). So provided the modem firmware upgrade works, I should at LEAST get to use TMobile.

Overall, the interface is pretty slick. The screen has a crazy 640x480 resolution in such a small factor (2.8” VGA TFT) that it gives something ridiculous like 283dpi which is awesomely clear for a small screen. My 22” widescreen LCD monitor is only 100dpi. I’m excited to do more with the software once I rebuild the development platform.

I currently have the GTA01 revision of the hardware, and while the GTA02 hardware due out Dec/Jan will have a faster CPU, graphics acceleration, and two accelerometers for crazy stuff like detecting movement, I doubt I’ll upgrade to the -02 version. If I’m going to upgrade the phone at all, I’ll wait for the -03 version IF they fix the should-have-been-quad-band issue. Since they’re not even hinting at release dates for the -03 version yet, I’m guessing it’d be at summer/fall 2008 before the -03 is ready for us to hack away at.