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Last Steps To Prototype V2

Nov 19, 2016, hellekin

proto_v2 schematics ready for peer review!
Should you buy a new phone or wait for Neo900?

Neo900 Prototype version 2: Last Call for Review

On November 8, 2016, the proto_v2 schematics were updated to the current version. We finished the last few improvements and our layouter is scheduling the layout to start in one week. We repeat our invitation to give the schematics a peer review: it's your last chance to peel your eyes on these schematics and be picky about details that our engineering team might have missed. Hopefully you won't find anything, but as Joerg says:

I've learned to be humble and not do fortune telling.

We expect that during the layout phase more options for improvements will be found (and integrated), and that some modifications will happen that won't change the functionality but affect the schematics, e.g., rearranging pins that turn out to be disadvantageous, and so on.

Next Steps

The layout phase will begin next week, and should be ready in time to start the production of about 10 boards before the end of the year. Some of these prototypes will be handed to selected developers from the community for testing. We hope for this to happen before February 2017. In parallel the engineering team will start with integrating the CPU on the NeoN board itself for next (and - with luck - final) prototype; during the testing phase, probably a month, they will integrate fixes for any issues that may arise from testing the proto_v2 boards.

Layout Phase

The layout is the drawing that shows where components, copper (and more) will go on the PCB. This represents the exact geometry of the result, and can be used to produce the board. In KiCad, the layout can be made using pcbnew. Once the layout is ready, we can start producing the PCBs.

PCB Production

PCB production comes in three phases: first the bare board manufacture, without any components; then the assembly where the components are soldered to the PCB. Once the cooking part is done, each board needs to be tested for compliance with the design: booting, flashing, automated runs of programs, etc.

Prototype Assembly

We're almost there: the boards come back to us from the fab in working condition, or so they say :). We run a few more dozens of tests, visual, and mechanical checks, before assembling them within the case and connect the BB-xM that serves at external CPU during this prototype phase. We run more tests, package them, and ship them to our esteemed developers.

Developer Tests

Our volunteers run tests, install OSes and programs, boot, flash, and use the prototype, and report to us anything that might come up at this point. Hopefully no or only minor defects are detected and can be fixed. Then after a month we know whether we can safely step to the next prototype...

Prototype Version 3

As soon as proto_v2 is ready, we'll kickstart a Spring crowdfunding to ramp up pre-orders to enter the "economic zone", that is the point where we have enough orders to make the production doable without running into debt. Currently that's 800 units. Get ready to share the love: your help convincing others will help the project succeed beyond expectations.

The third prototype is the release candidate. If all goes well with proto_v2 and no unexpected delays occur until then, it will take us about 3 months to follow the same process and produce proto_v3. At this point the final production is nigh, and we hope for the first run of Neo900 to start in time for Fall 2017.

As always with delays, we cannot really set dates in stone (that's what global corporations do because they have the workforce and capital to bend time to their will.)

Should I just buy a new phone or wait for Neo900?

The specifications were made two years ago and to some it may sound old already, given the pace at which the industry offers new features. That's certainly a valid point of view if you're looking for the latest gizmos. But Neo900 still has features you won't find in these mainstream smartphones — nor any other phone that we know of (see also the recent article by Tor developer Mike Perry on Future Work: Baseband Analysis (and Isolation).)

If you want to compare Neo900 to anything else, you'd rather pick its category of smartphones: like Hoox M2 or the Cryptophone 500. Both try to address similar issues with privacy and security, however, only Neo900 combines both a free hardware design, and a hardware approach to modem isolation, among other things.

If you need a smartphone right now, you might want to pick one up readily, and sell it when we're ready. But of course we build to order and not for the shelf, so there won't probably be any devices for sale on the free market anytime soon. Hence we'd rather secure your order now.

Better Go For a NeoN Board!

A better solution than relinquishing your freedom to some shiny gizmo would be to get your hands on a refurbished (or new) N900, and order a NeoN board for later update. Note that we can't accept send-in of a single N900 for upgrade, this exceeds our logistics capabilities. You should feel confident with the (relatively simple) upgrade procedure that we will provide for you, only involving a screwdriver. So if you have the cash and didn't pre-order one already, please, go ahead and support Neo900: every pre-order reinforces the project, every donation helps us and boosts our confidence that we can deliver free hardware to free people.

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The Neo900 project aims to provide a successor of N900 Nokia Internet Tablet™ device, with faster CPU, more RAM and LTE modem, basing efforts on an already existing, mature and stable free platform - the OpenPhoenux GTA04, following the spirit of freedom known from Openmoko devices.