Kite is a modular smartphone and/or computer kit that you assemble yourself. Since it features a modular design, you can decide what sensors, displays, or other components you want to use… although there are some limitations.
Developer Shree Kumar is positioning Kite as an open hardware platform. The design files will be available and editable. The computer will run Android Open Source Project software and the Linux kernel source will be available for users. And the system uses Raspberry Pi HAT-compatible connectors, allowing you to use off-the-shelf accessories.
We first reported on Kite in March, but since then Kumar has been preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign. It goes live today and you can reserve a Kite for a pledge of $274 or more. But there are a few important things to keep in mind before pulling out your wallet.
Update: The crowdfunding project failed to meet its goal.
First, Kumar plans to ship Kite as a DIY kit that includes all the components you need to get started… except the case. You’ll need to either 3D print your own case or send the designs to a 3D printing service.
On the one hand that’s kind of awesome, because Kite is completely designed to be customizable. You can modify the case designs to meet your needs. On the other hand, if you’re not comfortable with 3D printing, this might not be the project for you — although Kumar says that if the project is fully funded he’ll investigate the possibility of making pre-printed cases available.
Oh, and that’s another thing to keep in mind: Kumar is hoping to raise over $940,000 for this project. That’s not an unheard of amount for a Kickstarter campaign, but it’s not at all a sure thing that he will be able to meet that goal, so it’s not clear if he’ll actually be able to ship the Kite kits in January, 2019 as promised.
Caveats aside, Kumar says the plan it so ship a Kiteboard v2 featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of on-board storage (plus a microSD card slot), with a USB 3.0 OTG port, a speaker and 3.5mm audio jack, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, and LTE Cat 6 support.
The kit also includes a 12MP camera, a 3,000 mAh battery, a 5 inch, 720p touchscreen display, antennas, cables, and just about everything else you need to assemble a phone in about 5 minutes (assuming you have a case). No soldering is required.
Things get particularly interesting if you decide to modify the phone. For example, Kumar has demonstrated modifications including:
- External antenna for improved wireless performance
- Battery modification that lets you use standard AA batteries to power the phone
- Case with blinkined LED lights on the back of the phone
- Case with braille keypad on the back of the case for typing
- Case with a piano-style keyboard on the back
There’s also an HDMI board that will let you connect the phone to a monitor or TV, allowing you to use your phone as a desktop computer.
Kite isn’t the most powerful smartphone you’re likely to see in early 2019. And it’s certainly not the sleekest. But it could be one of the most versatile thanks to its made-to-be-modified design.
With Google killing its Project Ara modular smartphone platform and LG failing to follow up on its modular LG G5, the only two companies I’m aware of that currently offering any sort of smartphone modularity are Motorola and Fairphone. But the MotoMod system only lets you use one accessory at a time, and Fairphone’s modular design only really makes its phones easy to repair.
Kite is a platform that essentially lets you design your own phone case, accessories, and add-ons. Heck, if you want to use Kite as a tablet or a laptop you could probably just buy the Kiteboard, design your own case, buy a screen and/or keyboard, and assemble it yourself.
But like many crowdfunding projects, Kite is still a work in progress. Kumar notes that he’s still working on the camera, HDMI board, LTE antenna, and some other components.