The Auspicious Machine is a pocket-sized computer that bears a more than passing resemblance to a classic BlackBerry smartphone thanks to a 3.5 inch, 640 x 480 display positioned above a backlit QWERTY keyboard.

But this little device isn’t a phone. It’s a modular portable computer with built-in game controller keys and support for GNU/Linux software. It’s up for pre-order in China for RMB 1656 (about $240) and the developer is hoping to begin shipping the Auspicious Machine to customers in June.

The handheld measures 137 x 84 x 12.6mm and weighs about 300 grams. It has an aluminum frame and a carbon fiber back plate.

In between the keyboard and display you’ll find a mini trackball, a D-Pad, and A, X, B, and Y buttons. There are no analog sticks or shoulder buttons, so it’s clear that while the developer has gaming in mind, you should probably think of this as a system for old-school games.

Under the hood there’s a modular system that allows the Auspicious Machine to work with a variety of computer-on-a-module solutions based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 form factor, including:

While the Bigtreetech CB1 doesn’t appear to have any built-in storage, the Auspicious Machine does have a microSD card reader, which means you should be able to boot from a removable card.

Each of these boards should be capable of supporting a variety of GNU/Linux distributions. The keyboard + game controller design opens the possibility of using the device to emulate classic game consoles or play old PC games using DOSBox or ScummVM. But you could also use the keyboard to tap out email or text messages, surf the web, or use the device as a pocket computer.

There’s no word on if or when the Auspicious Machine will be available outside of China.

via Retrododo, Neon Bunny (Bilbili), and Taki Udon’s Discord

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  1. now THATS look like something we’ve been waiting for!. it just me but touchpad might be better than a trackball

  2. I like a laptop form factor with that feature of change your compute module, there are one of that on the market?

  3. The overall concept of this product is something I’d absolutely buy. Brad was reading my mind when he suggested Dosbox and ScummVM, that’s exactly what I’d be using it for.

    If someone made something with a really nice 4:3 IPS screen, and a decent SOC, I would buy it. Something with a design and construction similar to the Analogue Pocket would be neat.

    I’m not so interested in the computer-on-a-module concept. I have my doubts that enough space is left over for a reasonable sized battery, etc. Computer-on-a-module designs are very wasteful of space, and they often don’t have sufficient cooling solutions for the SOC (you can’t add a heatsink of any decent size).

    1. I think this is absolutely the best design that has been released for a portable computer with just the right input controls to make it versatile for different purposes. I really like that mini trackball and have not seen it implemented before but that is killer. If they can cram in a GSM modem and nano sim reader for another $50 in the next revision, I would be all over it.

      Their decision to use a compute module is also a bonus in my opinion instead of a con. The biggest advantage is upgradability. When the CM5 is released in 2 years, you can pop off the back, pull out the battery and snap in the new CM5 to get instant newer specs. Not sure why simply using a module board dictates automatically having to use a heat sink though. For the past 10+ years millions of iphones, android phones, tablets, and similar handhelds, some also with multiple boards inside, have been functioning without any sink, so why would that be a new requirement.

      1. Many phones have metal cases to substitute for a heatsink and have been designed to dump thermal energy. This may have some kind of thermal solution as well, but I don’t know that yet. Also, most phone processors generate less heat than this will. One reason is that mobile CPUs tend to be manufactured using more modern and expensive fabrication systems that create chips that use less power and generate less heat. Chips intended for SBCs tend to be manufactured on cheaper, older fabs, which is why they’re more power hungry, run hotter, run slower, and cost less per unit than phone chips. Another reason is that, depending on the OS in use, this chip probably gets to be in sleep mode less than the average smartphone and it will be generating heat all that time.

        1. A lot of smartphones uses plastic body, no aluminum body. Aluminum is used on more expensive models, although a lot of them use/used glass back instead of aluminum.

      2. Why wait for two years to get a RPi CM5 when Radxa’s supposed to be bringing out their RK3588S-based CM5 next month?

        1. Sure, get the Radxa Compute Module 5 now if you like. Put in a Pi Compute Module in a few years after you get tired of failing to get the Radxa to work. Switch out again with Copycat Module 10.x after that if you prefer. The point being made is that the module form factor makes it possible.

    1. Last time I checked, all computers sold in China have qwerty keyboard, but came with a special key to enable Chinese writing.

  4. Have been thinking recently about hacking together a linux based MP3/video player using Pi Zero and Waveshare, but those specs with that layout would be perfect. The keyboard is a plus and the low price if true is excellent. Man, if it that was Amazon right now one [ or more, 😉 ] would be on their way ASAP without any second thoughts.

  5. If this doesn’t become available outside China, at least the rest of us might see the ClockworkPi uConsole, which is pretty similar.

    1. clockwork is better, modular design, but it is bigesest
      question is which one lasts longer on batteries
      or qutie pi 😉

    1. MNT Pocket Reform.

      Pi-Top [3] with Waveshare CM4 to RPi3B+ adapter/carrier board.

      Potentially a future upgrade to the Dragonbox Pyra.

  6. how long this dev works?
    why not ethernet?
    wifi have root mode? (on screen kali linux 😉 )
    how many blobs?

    1. “how long this dev works?”: Not as long as you want it to. Next time, if it has a Raspberry Pi in it, months-long operation is out. It’s never going to happen with that CPU.
      “why not ethernet?”: It would make the thing thicker, and the dev doesn’t think it’s needed.
      “wifi have root mode?”: You put the OS on and it can use the hardware however it likes.
      “how many blobs?”: Check out the modules. Blobs will depend on which of those you used because you’ll be using their OS images.

      1. 1 . I noo need raspbety pi i need minix, fuzix, unix meyby other board will be installed
        I dream about month working time
        2. ethernet is folding version look at samsung laptops , no problem fits
        3. no wifi must be unlocket hardware or no blobs on dev
        4. this same. os is not a solutions

        1. You may want something really slow and low-power, but not many others do because it wouldn’t run that many applications. Most units are intended for higher-spec situations that require more frequent recharging.
          The ethernet port, even the folding one, requires more thickness and now a hinge which adds to the cost. I don’t doubt that someone wants it, but it’s not a lot of people. It’s designed as a cheap pocketable device, not an all-purpose networking tool.
          As for blobs, it depends on the chip you use. There are already four options listed, and I don’t know whether each has many blobs, but you can check from the provided OS images even if you intend to build one of your own.

        2. Your responses to #1 and #4 leave me unsure if you realized Raspberry Pi is hardware.

          This device has no CPU, ram, etc. Those are installed afterwards. It has a connector that supports a Raspberry Pi CM4 module. The article lists some supported modules from 4 brands. Which module you install will affect the blobs needed as well as the battery life.

        3. «I dream about month working time»: Continue dreaming my friend 🙂

          You can use an HP-48SX. This can work for more much more than a month, but no MINIX, UNIX, etc. Although RPL is very nice and Saturn CPU very special (4-bit CPU with 64 bit data registers and 20-bit flat memory model).

    2. Clearly this is marketed as a cheap portable multimedia device for personal use, so why the heck does it need ethernet. Most people buying this are going to be carrying this around in their pocket and roaming about with wifi, not tethered down. So adding ethernet only needlessly raise the price due to manufacturing costs in order to include an ethernet chip and RJ45 jack which 99% of users do not care about.

      Also there is no requirement by Kali that the wifi chip support promiscuous in order to use it. In fact the distro is actually a decent light-weight environment for desktop use, and also allow developers access to a complete linux toolchain for testing new hardware like all these new Kickstarter handhelds in quick time.

    3. Ethernet connector is too big. A better solution I suppose: you can connect ethernet-to USB to USB port if it is OTG. OTG is a must so you can connect other devices.

      On other side it could be possible to make an adaptor on upper pins, but that would be more work than a ready to use USB ethernet.