For the new rotary cell phone click here: Rotary Un-Smartphone

A quick history: This project went viral in early 2020. Concurrently, I was in the process of starting an open source tech company (Sky's Edge) for robotics, but everyone was asking me to sell the rotary cell phone. I reluctantly released a kit-version of the project described on this page, which I maintain for posterity, of which just over a hundred were sold. Having resigned myself to making un-smartphones a significant part of Sky's Edge, I concluded early on that there should be a much more refined, well-thought out version of the phone that would be easier to build, made from injection molded parts, operate on the LTE networks, and possibly even be something that I could produce as a ready-made phone. I'm now accepting pre-orders for this new version (in kit-form), which I intend to start shipping as soon as the global chip shortage allows me to. Note that these pre-orders are financing the production of the phone (like Kickstarter, but without actually using Kickstarter). Naturally, it's all still open source and I'll publicize the design data as soon as it's ready to ship. For that, click the "Rotary Un-Smartphone" link at the top of this page.

Rotary Cellphone (Original Project Post)

Originally Posted February 10th, 2020:

Why a rotary cellphone? Because in a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting. 

The point isn't to be anachronistic. It's to show that it's possible to have a perfectly usable phone that goes as far from having a touchscreen as I can imagine, and which in some ways may actually be more functional. More functional how? 

So it's not just a show-and-tell piece... My intent is to use it as my primary phone. It fits in a pocket; It's reasonably compact; calling the people I most often call is faster than with my old phone, and the battery lasts almost 24 hours.

Open Source Design:

3/21/2020 UPDATE: The latest version of all this information will be kept here instead. The below links are left intact for posterity.

  • The build notes will be updated soon and can be found here
  • The build video is here
  • The firmware is on github here (please contribute)
  • The latest KiCad files (the complete electrical design) are here
  • The STL files for the 3D printed enclosure and buttons are on the Thingiverse here

  • Project History:

    Originally I was intent on making this a quick and dirty project. I laid everything out flat to make a proof of principle phone and used an Arduino Micro as the controller:

    Then I thought I'd just stuff it into a 3D printed enclosure. Let's call this v1:

    But this proved hopelessly delicate. Couldn't open it to fix something without breaking something else. OK, I guess a board layout is warranted. Did that and came up with v2:

    It worked but had all sorts of issues. Battery life less than 2 hours. Used the Adafruit FONA 2G, which was a big mistake because I didn't realize the 2G networks are shutting down. Tantalizingly close to having the phone I really wanted. 

    New design again. This is the final/current version. Whereas v2 used the ATmega2560 microcontroller, v3 uses the ATmega2560V, which is the low-power version of the chip. It's programmed in the Arduino IDE as though it's an Arduino Mega2560.

    Top level schematic:

    USB bridge:

    This doesn't work. The bastard:

    The layout looks like this. All the real KiCad design files are available in the link above:

    Debugging the serial connection to the FONA:

    Note the Rigol MSO1104Z in the background. A WONDERFUL random present from my husband David one year:

    Complete, top down:

    Showing the ePaper display:

    The curved ePaper  on tha back was a later development in the creative process but it's now my favorite part. I think of the screen as having two sections... the part that's facing toward the top of the phone, and the part that's wholly on the back. In this way I can have relevant messages display on the top part "pager style", like the most recent missed call:

    And still have the back available for other messages, or for  contacts lists, etc:

    Another view: