Folks have been using Raspberry Pi computers to build smartphones and other mobile devices for almost as long as Raspberry Pi hardware has been around. But developer Evan Robinson’s new OURphone is a new build that does an impressive job of balancing features, price, and open source design. It’s kind of chunky though.
The OURphone combines a Raspberry Pi 3 with a 4 inch touchscreen display, a 4G modem, and a case that’s cut from a sheet of plywood. The total cost of parts is around $200, although the designs could be adapted to add a better display, faster processor or other upgrades.
Robinson describes the build process, as well as the goals for the project in a GitHub repository where you’ll also find design files and software that allows you to use the Linux-based Raspbian operating system a bit more like a smartphone OS.
Probably the first thing that jumps out about this build is its rather chunky design. At 160 x 90 x 30mm (6.3″ x 3.5″ x 1.2″) it’s thicker than most modern smartphones (and most modern laptops, for that matter). But the up side to this design is that there’s room to stuff an entire Raspberry Pi Model B inside the case without the need to cut off any ports or make any significant modifications.
Another limiting factor to Robinson’s build is the display. The 4 inch, 800 x 480 pixel resistive touchscreen display feels like something from the earliest days of the smartphone era.
While resistive touch displays aren’t quite as finger-friendly as the capacitive touch displays found on most smartphones released in the past 15 years, they do work nicely with a passive stylus. And that can be handy if you’re using an operating system like Raspbian that was designed for keyboard and mouse input rather than touch, as it can be easier to hit small spots on the screen with a stylus.
That said, Robinson’s roadmap for future improvements already includes a larger touchscreen with capacitive touch support. Also on the roadmap? Either customize Raspbian further so that it’s more touch-friendly or switch to a different operating system (possibly one of the many mobile Linux distributions designed for phones, such as postmarketOS, Mobian, or Ubuntu Touch).
You can find more details about the OURphone, as well as everything you’d need to make your own, at GitHub.
Or you could just buy a PinePhone if you’re looking for a similarly-priced phone that runs Linux-based operating systems, but which fits more easily into your pocket and doesn’t require any assembly.