Have a hard time finding a smartphone with just the features you need and none of the ones you don’t? If you could build your own phone then you might have a bit more control over choosing the hardware you do and don’t need… and that’s sort of what the upcoming Kite phone could let you do.
Kite is basically a kit that lets you assemble your own phone by selecting the display, camera, battery, antennas, and other features you want and assembling them in a 3D printed case.
At the core is a single-board computer called the KiteBoard. The developer of the KiteBoard and Kite kits plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in April.
While you can probably find hundreds of phones with better specs, more attractive designs, and sturdier build quality, there’s something appealing about building your own custom, quirky phone. You will need a bit of tech know-how though… not to mention around $299 to spend on the kit.
That’s because assembling a Kite phone from a kit does involve connecting a bunch of electronics components. And while you don’t need a soldering iron to assemble the basic kit, you will need to do some soldering if you want to connect additional electronic components.
The Kit also comes with all the electronic parts you need to assemble a phone, but you’ll have to 3D print your own case using Kite’s downloadable designs.
If there’s enough demand for pre-printed cases, Kite might offer those through its Kickstarter campaign too… but it kind of says something about this project that the target audience is the sort of person who probably already has a 3D printer.
The KiteBoard shown in the demo videos measures about 2.8″ x 2″ and features a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor ARM Cortex-A53 quad-core processor with Adreno 306 graphics, 1GB of LPDDR3-533 MHz RAM, and 16GB of eMMC storage (although you can upgrade to 2GB).
For now it looks like it only supports Android 5.1 due to the limited amount of RAM.
But Developer Shree Kumar says that’s Kite v1.0, which was developed for demonstration purposes. The plan is to actually ship v2.0 after a Kickstarter campaign.
That new board would feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor with Adreno 506 graphics, 2GB of RAM, USB3.0 support, and support for dual cameras and dual 1080p displays.
The Kite phone kit also includes a 5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel toucshscreen display, a 12MP camera, 4G LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS antennas, pogo pins for a battery connector, and an expansion board that gives you a Raspberry Pi compatible 40-pin HAT connector, audio interfaces for the speaker, mic, earpiece, and 3.5mm headphone jack, and volume and power buttons.
The kit will also include a 3,000 mAh battery and it’ll likely ship with Android Nougat software, although Kumar is exploring the possibility of switching to Android Oreo.
Since everything is designed to be customizable, you can do nifty things like modify the case and battery connector to run the phone off a pack of AA batteries or add an external antenna for better wireless performance. You can also add a secondary display to the back of the phone, along with gaming or keyboard buttons. And those are just a few of the modifications shown off in the demo video.
Thanks to the open hardware and software designs and support for off-the-shelf hardware components, you could theoretically alter just about any feature… assuming you’re willing to take the time to find compatible components and hack your phone to support them.
There have been a few high-profile modular smartphone platforms in the past few years. Google put a lot of time and effort into developing its Project Ara platform for a modular smartphone that could be customized with a series of plug-and-play modules, but the company eventually scrapped that project.
LG’s G5 smartphone was sort of modular, thanks to a “magic slot” that could accept a single modular add-on at a time. But the company discontinued the feature when it launched the LG G6.
The most successful modular phone line may be Motorola’s Moto Z lineup, which supports a series of Moto Mod accessories that attach to the phone’s back. But you can still only use one at a time.
Kite is one of the most complete solutions I’ve seen to date. But it’s also one of the least user friendly. It’s a step above some of the one-off DIY phones hackers have been assembling in their free time for years. But it still requires a bit more technical know-how than most other phones on the market… and what you end up with is a phone that’s a lot more customizable than the latest Samsung, Apple, Motorola, or LG device… but which is also probably a lot uglier and less powerful.
I suspect there’s a market for this type of device… but I’m not sure how big that market is. It’ll be interesting to see how well Kite performs during its Kickstarter campaign.
If you’d asked me 6 years ago, I would have said there’s no way Raspberry Pi would eventually sell 19 million single-board computers. But here we are.
Maybe there’s demand for low-power, highly customizable hardware. Or maybe that only works if you charge $35 or less for the hardware, as Raspberry Pi has done.
The Kite open hardware phone kit is expected to go for around $275 and up during the upcoming crowdfunding campaign.
Update: Kite has introduced an HDMI board that would let you hook up a kiteboard to a monitor or TV.
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