Chapter 1: Why

A project log for Raspberry Pi Phone in a Blackberry Priv Chassis

I'm building a phone out of a raspberry pi compute module 4 into the back of a blackberry priv, to run a full fat linux OS

bethBeth 06/12/2024 at 11:330 Comments

At some point, what I want in a phone started diverging from what was available. First to go was the headphone jack. Then replaceable batteries, hard keyboards, moving parts, interesting cameras (no amount of cameras will ever be cooler or more usable to me than the samsung s3 zoom), expandable storage, and even styluses. Not to mention the bloatware, and plethora of unknown goings on the average smartphone has. Why does my calculator need to access my contacts? Why do I have to ask to not be tracked? How come I'm looking at new tech and feeling absolutely nothing? Where did the slide mechanism go, and who decides what's "transitory".

There are three solutions to these issues.

1) revert to feature phones.

Feature phones, or unkindly, "dumb" phones don't need the tracking, the internet connection, or any of the arbitrary nonsense smartphones require out of the box. They still have headphone jacks (some of them), replaceable batteries, and generally, they actually still work, minus the updates that seem to be sneaking in every other night. Some of them look very unusual too, so I'm sure I could find one that satisfies my need for something a little different (and slidey). They also don't always have cameras, expandable storage, or much functionality beyond just being a phone in many cases. I admire every single person who's gone down this route. There's some fantastic offerings, immaculately well maintained in many a bedroom drawer available to anyone who wants this, but it's not for me. I want a computer that goes in my pocket.

2) grin and bear it. 

Smartphones have stopped being exciting and new, and started to be borderline necessary to participate in society. QR codes pop up just about anywhere. Tap to pay works on the trains and busses. Something something homework schools (I have absolutely no clue, but it's conceivable). Yeah the battery life is never what we want, and there hasn't really been anything exciting or new since maybe QI charging, the folding touch screen (which I do not like), or when 5g got normal-ish, but for the most part, these devices work, they're not slow, and they do pretty much everything most people want. I'm not most people, nor am I satisfied with "most", especially when actually it's maybe half. 

3) DIY 

There's something appealing about living on the fringes of society. Half participating, but mostly doing my own thing. Granted the extent of that is making my own phone and looking a tiny bit kookier than some people, but it makes me happy and fills up my weekends- if only the same could be said of my bank account. It does mean however that I can tailor a device to my own needs; bring back the functionality that has been deemed "transitory" or unnecessary.

I wouldn't be posting on hackaday if I was going for 1 or 2, so here is the criteria for any device I want to make:

-Great audio

I hate bluetooth earbuds, I will not use them, I will not buy them, and I think they're a step backwards in technological development. We were relatively done with bluetooth outside of game controllers in the mid to late 2000s and early 2010s before Apple saw potential for money making in both removing a feature, and selling the solution. Prior to that, wireless headphones were seen as a gimmick, and rightly so. I don't want to have to charge a device that should be passive. I don't want to rely on a soundcard smaller than a penny. Furthermore, before the removal of the headphone jack, companies were doing their darndest to half ass the sound as it was. It's recognised in the audio community that iPods pre-2012 use better soundcards, same with the phones. I refuse to cowtow to the kind of industry nonsense that's directly contributed to my ears being less pampered, and as such, I will use an amazing sound card, preferably with extra jacks too, just in case I want to use it on my home sound systems, and partially just to be able to show off ("oooooh does your phone not have a line out or rca? ewwww" and other sick burns). Not really so fussed about speaker capability, but I will add some for utility.

-Replaceable parts

I've lost count of how many dead charging jacks I've had to waggle a cable about in before drip feeding life into a failing device. All outward facing parts will be replaceable. All internal parts will be standalone modules. I don't want to have to pay the cost of an entire device to replace anything on this. Every part in this device will be easy to find spares and repairs for, and furthermore, none of it will be OEM where avoidable, and I will not be visiting a mobile repair store to pay silly money for a piddly little aftermarket battery.

-Good battery life

Somewhere around 2010, it was decided that we want thin phones. I guess they never checked in with me though, because what I wanted was good battery life. I do not care if my device is thicker than 2cm, I want to be able to USE IT for more than a few hours, and I especially don't want it running out of charge at crucial times. I will be dedicating a significant portion of this project to figuring out the batteries on this thing. If I have to start using a bag to carry it, so be it.


Kind of flies in the face of my other requirements, but by and large, phones are boring in a way they really didn't seem to be back when touchscreens were the new hotness. Blame it on ubiquity, or a lack of new human interface devices (or their removal), or just the fact they've been around for a bit now, but I remember when I could get excited about new phones, and I remember precisely when that stopped too (end of 2018 back when I had an opportunity to get a priv, but didn't, because they had a whole bunch of issues, and I was better off getting something that didn't have those same issues, but wasn't exciting). As such, my phone should have all the stuff that I actually think is cool. An interesting camera lens - maybe interchangeable, a vertical slide mechanism, external ports, replaceable housing e.t.c. A friend at work summed it up very nicely: Phones aren't contraptions anymore, and that's what I want.

-PC Utility

I'd be happy to say that most of what I've outlined is the kind of thing people would froth at the mouth for if apple announced ("they invented a phone that you can do your own battery replacements on? What will they come up with next" they might say), but I feel like this one I might even regret just a bit. In spite of my criticisms of smartphones at large, the mass adoption of a vertical 16:9 (or adjacent, and 9:16 I suppose) format has meant most apps are much better designed than they used to be (also, this is why I refuse to go for a horizontal slider. Having to turn your phone on its side is something that should be reserved for very good videos that you need to watch on your phone, and taking photos). This is more for the times I'm frustrated that I can't do something on my phone that I could do on my computer, and right now, there's more things I'm frustrated about not being able to do, than there are things convenient enough for me to want an out and out mobile OS for. This might bite me in the butt, but I'll change my metaphorical trousers and wear the bite marks with a stubborn, self-satisfied pride. 


Give me ports! I want this device to be dockable. I want to be able to use it as a full computer as and when I want to. I want to be able to connect ethernet, and external displays, and full size keyboards, and usb sticks, and whatever other device I feel like using. I know it's not something that phones ever did massively, but laptops sure did, and I'm just as annoyed about the way those have gone, and I know I'd like if phones started doing this.

-Hard keyboard

I have never in my life typed quite so fast and accurately on a mobile device, without the need for auto correct as when I did on a hard keyboard. It wasn't even a blackberry either. This was an Orange Rio, a cheap feature phone, available sometime pre-2012.