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IMPORTANT: an update (Crowdfunding D-Date: 23 April), and a downgrade...

A project log for Kite : Open Hardware Android Smartphone

Make & 3D print your own phone with sensors, displays, electronics, batteries and antennas. Customize Android and do exactly your thing!

Shree KumarShree Kumar 4 days ago11 Comments

The important update first: assuming all goes well, we should be launching our Kickstarter campaign on 23rd April, 2018 (i.e. exactly one week from now).  I do request anyone who has not done so to subscribe at www.kiteboard.io/contact .  Among other things, this helps us understand the *cellular* requirements.  Please subscribe if you haven't already.  Thank you.

Now, to the other part: I had earlier communicated that we will launch with the Snapdragon 625.  I regret to announce that we will not be able to do so.  Instead, I am forced to settle for the Snapdragon 450 (for reasons read below).

This downgrade effectively means the following:

Summary: lower performance in some areas (I am not able to figure out the GPU performance difference. Any info here would be useful).  How exactly it will impact you, I will leave you to decide that. Sorry for the change. I think it's better to do this right now.

I have mixed feelings about this, to be honest.  Of everything, I was hanging onto the SD 625 for the 4K encode/decode capabilities.  I am sad to see it go. 

So – why did I decide on the Snapdragon 450? To answer that, let me tell you what I think are my responsibilities are in this project:

This project includes certification plans of all sort.  Global LTE will require us to have two SKUs for KiteBoard v2:

The largest number of folks who are likely to back this project will come from USA. My subscription list tells me that. Kickstarter provides a “Community” part for every project. A cursory scan on a few projects – and surely projects in the DIY Electronics category – will help prove that too.  I expect 40-60% of my backers from USA, if not more.

So – USA is an important geography for this project.  USA is also a problematic area for cellular connectivity – courtesy carriers & carrier certification requirements.  Countless projects have been delayed due to cellular certifications. And famous ones. I am talking about people with deep pockets. I don’t want to add to that list. I have a great plan for predictable, on time delivery – if I stick to the Snapdragon 450.

But that’s not the only reason.  Another equally important reason is that I am unable to see who is buying the Snapdragon 625, and for what purposes.  This project is expected to deliver in Dec-Jan window for the early orders.  8 months is a long time in this business.  And if I don’t have this visibility now, you can imagine what will happen next year.  I need a minimum of 3000 backers, but that’s the minimum.  I intend to do a great job – and that means that I should expect more people backing me. 

With larger volumes, and longer life, comes a predictability requirement. That’s where the Snapdragon 450 scores again.  It’s a fresh chip.  The Snapdragon 450 also has most of the goodness of the 625 – two independent displays, two cameras(wee bit less powerful), USB 3.0, WiFi ac, and everything else, including Cat 6 LTE.  What you lose is what I have mentioned earlier.  Whether it’s worth losing that to get what this project gives you - that's something you need to decide.

There are other benefits of the SD450 being a “fresh chip” – software updates, and more value addition that could potentially be added by Qualcomm (APIs, and anything else).  There could be a hidden benefit with the SD 450.  Google has mandated (and I quote) that "All SoCs productized in 2017 must launch with kernel 4.4 or newer".  To all external appearances, the 450 was productized in 2017.  How “productized” is defined by Google isn’t really known to me, but at this point, I am free to speculate that Kernel 4.4 is a likelihood for Snapdragon 450.   That should be cause for some cheer, however speculative that might be.

Also, with the 450, I have great visibility into the certification cycle.  Whatever I publish when the campaign goes live, I am sure that’s eminently deliverable. So, that’s why I have my mixed feelings. My feather in the cap is lightened, but I have a great chance of making it a feather in everyone’s hands in a timely manner.  With that, I rest my case!

Over to you guys. Let me know what you think! 

Brickbats & comments welcome... I have edited the rest of the pages to change the processor from 625 to 450 too.   The places where I changed the spec have a link back to this article. Hackaday seems to have no way to do overstrike text. (I wonder why for that last part)

Discussions

Stuart Longland wrote 7 hours ago point

To be honest, I struggle to see the point of 1080p over 720p on a conventional television screen… but then again, the television in this house is a mid-90s dinosaur sporting a CRT, and I argue that its built-in analogue tuner picks up all the worthwhile TV stations in Brisbane (all 0 of them).

I have shot the occasional video with the camera on my phone, but let's face it, if I want quality, I'll reach for a proper camera with a good lens.  Possibly one that could talk to Kite over a WiFi link and could do its own encoding.  My current phone advertises a 5MP camera, but I much prefer pictures from a *real* 5MP camera.

The camera in the phone is a make-do one for when nothing else is to hand.

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Shree Kumar wrote 6 hours ago point

@Stuart Longland Noted. How would like that HDMI input as camera ? (referred in another post) Do you find value in that ?

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Stuart Longland wrote 6 hours ago point

Such an input would have its uses (e.g. some modern industrial PCs have only HDMI/DisplayPort, and are in inconvenient places to haul a monitor), but it's not something I'd see myself using very often.

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Shree Kumar wrote 3 days ago point

@Lexie Dostal @Bub Rascal  please checkout the latest update https://hackaday.io/project/42944/log/144379-feature-requests-in-the-democracy-of-kite . Hope that clarifies my approach ! Open to comments on that.

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Bub Rascal wrote 4 days ago point

Thanks for your honesty about the project! I'm looking forward to seeing it on Kickstarter soon.

One question, have you considered talking with the Plasma Mobile and/or postmarketOS team about having Linux as a second option on the phone?  The recently crowdfunded Gemini PDA and Librem 5 projects were very popular for having this option, as a lot of people would like to use an alternative ecosystem.

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Shree Kumar wrote 4 days ago point

@Bub Rascal thanks a lot !

I love Linux & I think some sort of dual boot will be possible.  Here's the thing that worries me about Linux on Snapdragon : no modem driver on Linux... and it's hard to say right now what will or will not work. I don't see much point having Linux if the camera doesn't work, GPU doesn't work, and so on.  

Librem 5 is based on the iMX, and Gemini is based on Mediatek X27.  Librem 5 uses a separate modem module - and that's a great way to get a functional modem. Not as great as a real phone - but that's not a problem for Librem as they are focussed on "privacy". Not sure how well the Gemini works on Linux. Do you know ?

I believe the need to hack Android is greater ! Android is an open source phone platform without an open hardware alternative - that's the reason for existence of Kite.  It took me a long time to understand this key aspect.  Once I understood that, I renamed this project to "Open Hardware Android Smartphone".

Kite provides an interesting middle ground that may be useful to some - a chroot environment where Linux can work with hardware access to GPIO/UART/I2C/SPI, etc. 

All said, there will be some Linux possibilities on Kite.  However, without vendor support (Qualcomm) - it's a lot of work to do anything substantial.  I will let the community that forms decide how much effort we should spend on it.  That's what makes the best sense right now.

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Bub Rascal wrote 4 days ago point

Thank you for the reply!

Linux support in the Gemini varies by distro.  Some versions, such as Debian work well but have no modem support.  So far, Sailfish OS is the only Gemini distro which supports the modem (it uses the Halium Project, essentially a small Android container to run the non compatible drivers).  

It is possible to get a Snapdragon modem running on Linux using the Halium method, as the Plasma Mobile and UBports team have with the Nexus 5 and 5X.  Perhaps you could contact Bhushan Shah from KDE (https://blog.bshah.in/) if you're interested in pursuing this further?

I am a huge fan of Android, but asked as I would like to tinker with both the hardware and software.  The chroot environment seems interesting and I'd like to try that out and I'll definitely check out the community forums.

Looking forward to the updates as you provide them!

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Pratik Shiyal wrote 4 days ago point

Happy to know that the Kickstarter Campaign dates are out, really excited to be a part of this revolution. I can't express how grateful I'm to you and your team for taking this initiative of unlocking this black-box and opening up all the hidden opportunities. One more thing I really like about this project is the documentation that comes along with everything on both the Hardware and the Software side, hope to see more of that coming as the project moves forward.

The SD 625 would've been great, nonetheless SD 450 seems to be a reasonable alternative. The ideas around the dual display option seems very interesting. Excited to know the campaign is going to start in less than a week, can't wait to get my hands on one. 

I wish you have great success starting with your campaign and as the months and years to come.

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Shree Kumar wrote 4 days ago point

Thanks a lot for that encouragement @Pratik Shiyal  !

Yes, you guessed it right - I will write more about all the prototypes we have built during the campaign.  I should have documented a lot more by know.  Preparing a campaign is turning out to be a lot more work than I imagined - that's the only defence I can offer :) 

I have also been reading some material in my spare time.  One of my favourite reads is now the "Hardware Hacker" by Andrew "bunnie" Huang.  He makes many great points.  One of the most pertinent points is when he talks about the maker movement - "it is more about developing people". I could post just the models - but that makes no sense without describing everything that goes into making each prototype. I consider a post complete one it reasonably accomplishes this objective.  And many posts are lying on my hard drive unfinished !

A successful campaign should be great news for continue empowerment of folks - that's my real hope.  Let's see how this turns out.

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Lexie Dostal wrote 4 days ago point

SD 450 looks like a pretty reasonable SoC even when put next to SD 625. 4k always seem overkill to me, but everyone has their own requirements. I'd love a 1080p screen to go with the board though, 720p is a little low for a 4-5" screen (guessing that's the size).

Looking forward to the kickstarter regardless. 

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Shree Kumar wrote 4 days ago point

@Lexie Dostal  that's right.  450 is decent.  4k playback may be overkill (given the max resolution of 1080p for the display). 4k recording would have been useful in some cases.  We have some ideas around making a HDMI input look like a "camera". Niche ideas, but who knows!

I kind of agree with you on the 1080p screen. The 720p screen makes us achieve a desired price target.  If there is enough demand for a 1080p screen, we can make that happen (maybe at a higher cost, can't say right now).  I am creating a mechanism called "feature request" to make that happen.  Basically, if enough people ask for it, we work for it.  You will see the details when the campaign launches. 

Thanks for your comments in any case!

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