Interfacing with Samsung Alias 2's e-ink keyboard

An unlikely to be finished project.

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As of January 2015, I'm still using a 5 year old flip phone because it's such a delightful design. When the Intel Edison was released, I became slightly enamored with the idea of putting a tiny computer in my phone once I retire it. It could make an interesting mini laptop... admittedly it would really only be good for bragging rights and anything I learn along the way.

But I'm not ready to retire it, so I bought a second one off ebay recently. It suffered some damage in the teardown (hidden screws...) but it still works!

This will be a project where I actually use the worklog feature occasionally.

There are several directions I could go with this, and definitely limitations to be had.

I think my biggest goal is to figure out the interface to manipulate the e-ink keys. After some basic searching I did not find any hacks or similar keyboards.

The idea of having a functioning Linux terminal with display + keyboard would be the ultimate version of this... I probably won't get that far. I suspect I won't be using the phone's display, but I don't know anything about the displays used in phones of 5 years ago, either. The Edison doesn't have VGA/HDMI/etc display output, but there are some projects that use the simple TFT screens that are commonly paired with Arduinos. I'd use one of those, I figure.

To help myself make continual project, small goals are a good idea. Some of these:

- Buy an Edison and play with it!

- Create a breakout board for the keyboard, just to see if I can identify what happens when the keys are pressed. Also see if I can identify how the keyboard is powered (voltage, pins).

- Create a breakout for keyboard and/or display that lets me monitor communication with the mainboard using either an oscilloscope or a logic analyzer.

  • Getting connectors

    Gertlex07/27/2015 at 19:22 0 comments

    I've attacked various facets of the project very slowly over the past several months. Decided I needed to focus on listening in on the e-ink keyboard.

    I've ruled out a bunch of possible connectors; there are quite a few from different manufacturers, but they're all incompatible, I think. Instead I have extra phones, and have been desoldering the connectors with a hot air rework station at work. It's quite tricky, though; I've salvaged 2 out of 6 connectors (2 on the main phone board, 1 on the LCD's PCB) from two phones.

    For now, 2 connectors is all I need. My focus is going to be on getting PCBs made that let me monitor what's happening with the e-ink keyboard. That's probably my next step.

    Current thinking: I'm going to make a pair of identical breakout boards that each have one of the board-to-board connectors on it, and then break out the 60 pins to two rows of 30 0.1" spaced thru-holes which will plug into a breadboard. This should give me plenty of room to test with. I might need to order more jumper wires though.

  • Tangential researching

    Gertlex05/02/2015 at 04:38 0 comments

    Am slowly making indirect progress, but very slowly. I've got an Intel Edison, and figured out toggling of GPIOs via the MRAA C/C++ library (and via python), once I learned what the mapping in software was for the GPIOs. Useful reference page to that end:

    I'm now working towards getting an Arduino form-factor TFT 2.8" LCD working. I've not messed with LCDs whatsoever before, so I assume some amount of what I learn will be useful. The Edidoom project seems to be the best documented interfacing of a TFT LCD with an Edison, so I've been gradually digesting its workings. I'll probably end up with (sound-less) DOOM running. I'm using somewhat different hardware than in that project, so that will force me to learn some things as I go, rather than just copying and running code/wiring.

    I've yet to get around to doing the simple little custom PCB for monitoring what's happening on the ribbon cables. It's a boring unappealing step for me, I guess.

    I also did more disassembly. Got the screen half pried apart as well. Finally sated my curiosity (of 5 years and running) as to how the two-way hinge works. Cool stuff. I've got pics, but haven't bothered to upload them anywhere (sorry!).

  • The connectors

    Gertlex02/01/2015 at 01:17 0 comments

    The LCD and the e-ink keyboard both use 60 pin 0.4mm pitch connectors. These are the same flavor of connector as the Intel Edison uses, it just so happens! The Edison uses the 70 pin version, which is fine. I'll regardless need to have various resistors/capacitors, I'm sure.

    For reference, they are Hirose DF40 connectors:

    Mouse has e.g. this pair of 3mm tall connectors that are readily available:

    There's just enough labeling that I know which pins are which. (Only one is labeled via screen printing, but both have the same label on the header, which tells me the connector orientation.) The mainboard side has the "header" half of the connectors, while the two ribbon cables terminate in the "receptacle" half of the connector.

    At a later point I will get better pictures of the PCB and attempt to identify the components near the connector. I can already see where the power lines probably are; thicker traces and the telltale color of SMD capacitors.

  • Disassembly

    Gertlex02/01/2015 at 01:07 0 comments

    Just a basic note for the future, there are two (or was it 3?) screws hidden under a separate plastic piece that I thought was part of the non-battery cover back half of the phone's case... So my spare phone took some major damage in my attempts to pry it apart. Eventually said plastic piece popped off and I saw the screws.

    There are also of course several plastic latches that I ended up breaking along the way. The screws do a good enough job holding the phone together.

    And yes, I can reassemble the components and the phone turns on fine :D

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magpielurvessparkle wrote 03/17/2015 at 12:51 point

i dunno if you gave up on this but im want to do the same thing basically. I want to take the e ink panel out and be able to make it a kind of programmable hot key keyboard. I found this page on the e ink company website that has pin maps for  their development tech of this panel...

I dunno if that helps but secretly im hoping youll get inspired to keep at it. I m just starting to learn about this craziness of tech hack  and am hoping you come up with something. 

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Gertlex wrote 03/17/2015 at 15:56 point

I still hope to do this... acquired the Intel Edison (and haven't done anything with it yet hah), but am busy with work/life.

Good find there, potentially!  Another probable good one, at least for some common eink screens out there is here:

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PointyOintment wrote 02/01/2015 at 13:48 point

Do you have any idea whether it's a single large display behind all of the keys (like the 2DS's "screens") or one small display for each key (like some of the Optimus keyboards)? Not knowing anything about the phone (except a vague memory of seeing it on Engadget years ago), I'd guess it's the former.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Gertlex wrote 02/02/2015 at 19:52 point

I'm almost certain it is one big screen. I found that the keys are
separated by a steel (it's magnetic anyways) cover plate, though I
couldn't quite pry it all the way off. Presumably the membrane keys are
beneath the e-ink portion... Will investigate this further eventually.

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