Saturday, January 30, 2010

Neo FreeRunner "A7+" now available

Thanks to Dr. H. Nikolaus Schaller's efforts, a new "A7+" version of the world's only 100% free software (and even free hardware design, leading to further community development) phone, Neo FreeRunner, is available for sale at www.handheld-linux.com for 299€! New in this hardware version is prolonged battery life, due to a fix applied to the famous "#1024" bug. Now you should have theoretically about 5 days time suspended, but that's of course only if you don't actually do anything with this phone-computer.

In other news, despite the fact or because Openmoko Inc. has ceased its development efforts for now at least, concentrating on the WikiReader to recover from the economic problems, community finally questioned the reasoning behind some of the Linux kernel debug configuration in the official Openmoko kernel branch. Results? Speedup of certain kernel operations in the range of 2x to 5x! In practice that means Neo isn't actually anymore the sluggish device you used to get to know with. Of course it's not top of the line by any means, but being the only Free phone available on the market still, more free than most full-size computers in fact, it's a quite nice improvement to eg. boot time, application start up time et cetera. I merely was a messenger of these news from the kernel mailing list to the community, but I also provided a readily compiled kernel which I use in Debian and which seems to works for others as well (until their distributions package it up).

Over 1,5 years after launch of the FreeRunner, and even more since the original Neo 1973, the software is getting better all the time. The pace is slow, as is the case with any free/open project with limited community-only resources, but the best thing is that it never has to stop. A lot of the middleware, applications and so on will make it to future phones as well. Things like Intone music player, TangoGPS and literki keyboard might be nice little finger-usable applications in the future as well.

So, if you can manage without 3G and want to still have an unique mobile computer experience with basic phone functionality, running for example Debian for the "familiar experience" if you use Debian or Ubuntu on your other computers, it's still not too late to catch it. It seems we're still a couple of years away from any next effort of such level of freedom. I'm making through it by having bought a 59€ 3G modem for the more serious data needs. I'm still also thinking about a privoxy setup on my home server that would clean up and compress pages even via Neo's GPRS connection.
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