Nov 19, 2016, hellekin
proto_v2 schematics ready for peer review!
Should you buy a new phone or wait for Neo900?
On November 8, 2016, the
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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...
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
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.