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.

6 comments:

tdiddy said...

Did they fix the graphics bottleneck? That's the only way I'd buy a new one...

Timo Jyrinki said...

tdiddy: Kind of. A recent kernel patch by Thomas White from November doubled the theoretical graphics bandwidth by preventing collisions. Real world performance improvement is around 20%-50% probably depending what one is doing.

Like the kernel speed boost, it's also more about being less slow than being blazingly fast, but altogether the situation is quite more enjoyable now than ca. 4 months ago.

This is all still without the KMS stack which has some further promises if Thomas gets to work on it or someone is able to help him with the driver code.

Ali Gündüz said...

I have finally ordered a FreeRunner!

Thanks for the great project.

Graziano said...

That's really a wonderful news!

At the moment I own an htc dream and my group has a project to freeing it:

http://groups.fsf.org/wiki/LibrePlanet:LibrePlanetItalia/replicant

Everybody is welcome!

Graziano said...

Sorry, the right URI of the Free The Dream project is this one:

http://www.freesmartphone.org/index.php/Hardware/HTC_Dream

Timo Jyrinki said...

Thanks for the links. I'm mostly waiting for Nokia N900 to be freed, since Nokia is the most free software friendly vendor with its software compared to HTC, Google and Palm, especially in the area co-operation and sponsoring with upstream projects. Then again, they are far from perfect and I might skip N900 despite if it's freed if I'll hang on to my Neo for a year or two still and something new in line of Openmoko Inc:s efforts appears.

Anyway, the more the merrier. I will happily accept any new mobile phone being usable with a (default) Debian...