Day One: Openmoko Freerunner

Since I made my purchase of the Neo1973
back in January, I have been doing almost daily reviews of the Openmoko
software and posting those reviews to the device owner’s mailing list
as well as contributing the reviews to the Wiki.

To continue
this, Openmoko Inc. has provided me with a Freerunner sample before
they even go on sale to developers. Developers and early adopters don’t
have to wait too much longer now since mass production has begun. As
soon as the distribution centers have product to ship, the Openmoko.com
store will begin offering the devices for $399 USD (or a 10-pack at
$3,690 as part of the reseller system).

For those unfamiliar,
the single biggest feature improvement for most people is Wifi
capability though the addition of accellerometers opens some creative
(and sometimes goofy) avenues to explore. For Free Software
enthusiasts, Openmoko has eliminated the need for a non-free GPS device
driver so Freerunner users can now make use of GPS features without
comprimising the integrity of their devices.

Below, you can see a detailed selection if images I took as I unpacked my new Freerunner.

Unlike the Neo1973 shipping,
the Freerunner is less “geeky” and more chic. As a geek, I liked the
clamshell of the 1973’s packaging, but I had to appreciate the almost
jewlery-like feeling I got from opening the Freerunner’s case. My wife
loved the Freerunner inset in dense foam, and the clean simple
presentation of the device first and foremost. The user sees the device
they purchased first, rather than fumbling around with manuals and
accessories.

The Freerunner doesn’t come without accessories, however.

Tucked
underneath the dense foam are several useful accessories, including my
personal favorite the AC wall charger. It should be noted that this is
a pre-release sample so may not even be indicative of what the
developers get. I think it is 100% certain that the AC adapter is
included though, which eliminates the Linux PC tether almost required
to use a Neo1973. In addition, there are two adapters for international
electrical sockets, a 512 MB microSD card, a black headset, a USB cable
and a LASER/LED/Pen Stylus.

After unpacking the box, I took several more photos which can be seen in my Openmoko Image Gallery but I’ll try to find the best ones.

On
the right side of the Freerunner you have at the top the AUX button, a
headphone jack and a speaker port. On the left side of the device
there’s a spot to connect an external GPS antenna. Below that is a
mini-USB port with the POWER button directly below with a speaker port
at the bottom.

For
users of the Neo1973, there are two signifigant visible differences.
First, the band around the sides is now black, a change I personally
like quite a bit but it entirely cosmetic and predicated on personal
preference. If you look carefully, you can see that the AUX and POWER
buttons are transluent on the Freerunner. This is because the
Freerunner has incorporated 3 colored LED’s into the hardware to
provide traditional visual cues that many people expect in a mobile
device. Blink to indicate an unread message or notify of missed calls,
or indicate hardware status like “Connected to a Bluetooth device”.

A
non-visual change affects the USB port. Though limited to USB 1.1
speeds, the Freerunner’s USB port is capable of host-mode operation,
opening the door to allow the Freerunner to do things like read USB
thumb drives (or privacy keys!). There’s some apprehension about how
this would affect total battery life, but the possibility exists if the
user would like to take advantage of it.

Another
noticable difference for users of the Neo1973 is the microSD card and
SIM card slots. On the Neo, both cards have a slide-lock system which
holds the cards in place. On the Freerunner, only the SIM card is slide
lock. The microSD slot has an “arm” on each side that needs to be
lifted up and to secure, needs simply to be pressed back in. For me, I
had to lift each arm individually in order to insert the microSD card.
While not hard at all to use, I was expecting a slide-lock, even after
being warned. 🙂 I can say with certainty that the Freerunner’s parts
are a bit sturdier than the Neo’s which is great. I’m a rather large
guy with big fingers, so not having to deal with thin delicate metal
was nice. The SIM card latches firmly on the Freerunner and stays put.

Once
the device was reassembled, I took it over to my PC and plugged up the
USB cable. Having been told that one of the engineering goals was to
allow the Freerunner to power on with USB power only, I decided to try
it. I held down the POWER button a bit longer than the Neo1973 requires
and immediately noticed a wonderful difference. On the Neo1973 the
screen simply illuminates, going from off to bright instantly, but on
the Freerunner, the screen “warms up” by fading. This little touch goes
a long way to giving the feel that the device is in fact being polished
and prepared for a mass market release.

I did notice, however,
that the battery indicator showed an almost full battery immediately.
This was fine, but it means I’m still not sure what the Freerunner is
capable of doing power wise via USB. The critical thing for me is that
the device could boot via USB and a dead battery to allow fast charge
mode instead of having to wait an hour like you do with a “sleeping”
Neo1973. Time will certainly tell on this one.

Soon I will
begin evaluating the ASU (April Software Update) which is the beginning
of the new Openmoko software stack which incorporated applications from
Qtopia while expanding on them and supporting a whole range of software
applications, including some promising things in development for
Openmoko.

As I have time to use this new software and come up with review criteria, I will begin writing daily (or so) software reviews similar to the ones I’ve done before. In addition, I plan to continue to track the progress of the ASU as it’s adapted to run on the Neo1973.

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