Wolfmans Howlings

A programmers Blog about Programming solutions and a few other issues

OpenMoko Freerunner first impressions

Posted by Jim Morris on Fri Jul 11 13:53:11 -0700 2008

OK so I just got my shiny new OpenMoko Freerunner GTA02.

This is an Open source GSM cell phone, running Linux and OpenMoko S/W stack.

This phone is really a developer release although it implies on the website it is usable for the masses.

We will see...

Turning it on you see all this Linux boot up tiny tiny text scroll by, ya the average Joe blo is going to love that ;)

So I followed the startup guide and plugged in the usb cable to my Ubuntu desktop. (If you don't have Linux think again, maybe that $400's can go towards a tank of gas).

I followed the usb networking guide, and ssh'd into the phone, and Holy Crap! it just worked!

First off it doesn't come with much, It can make a phone call, but no other apps seem to be loaded.

Oh one gripe is there is nowhere to stow a stylus, it comes with a huge pen/laser pointer/stylus, but who is going to keep that in their pocket, and those with fat fingers are going to have a hard time doing anything.

I actually had to RTFM to figure out how to close an application! BTW this guide seems to be pretty good. (You click the power button to close an app! it really needs a close button somewhere where people expect one).

After loading most of the needed apps via the opkg app, which is slow via USB 1.1 (whats up with that guys? its 2008! USB 2 is REQUIRED) I found that most of them are pretty much unusable. The default 2007.2 UI is unintuitive, and most of the necessary apps simply don't work well. Adding a contact is virtually impossible, try setting the phone number to home instead of work for instance.

The web browser works but you can't input anything into forms, so don't try logging into gmail.

The calendar makes no sense whatsoever.

OK so I am being harsh here, but the damn thing costs $400! and they imply your average user could use it as a phone, so lets get over that issue, and take it that this is a work in progress, very early stages, and open source. It needs a good UI guide, come on we may not have a super UI design guy, but copy the iphone or any other phone on the market to get a clue how to make an intuitive UI. I am not a UI guy, but even I can see this needs some work. BTW I do like the way the scrolling works, that is very cool, you flick up or down and it scrolls with some friction looks great, and works even better.

The platform itself has plenty of potential, built in GPS (which doesn't work without an external antenna), accelerometers, which no one has figured out how to use yet. A really nice VGA display, although its invisible in bright sunlight, wifi which I was totally unable to get to connect to a WPA/PSK station, and bluetooth, with no S/W support for headsets.

Once all these issues are resolved I think it would make a great primary handset.

I'll do my part and write something for it and release it as open source, but I'm disappointed I can't use this as a phone yet.

I'll continue to RTFM if I can find one that describes the current UI (the WIKI describes an obsolete UI). Maybe some of my issues are simply not knowing how to use the UI, but that is a bad sign as I am a developer and can use most UI's without RTFM'ing.

I still think this is a great (if expensive) toy for now, especially for us Linux Geeks, and one day it may actually be a great phone too.


UPDATE I got GPRS working, followed the instructions on the WIKI, it is manual but it works. My tmobile chatscript is...

# File: /etc/ppp/chatscripts/tmobile
SAY 'Starting GPRS connect script\n'
"" +++
SAY 'Setting APN\n'
OK AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","wap.voicestream.com"
SAY 'Dialing...\n'
OK ATD*99***1#

and the script

# File: /etc/ppp/peers/tmobile
defaultroute # set the default route
holdoff 3
lcp-echo-failure 12
lcp-echo-interval 3

connect "/usr/sbin/chat -v -f /etc/ppp/chatscripts/tmobile"
disconnect "/usr/sbin/chat -v -f /etc/ppp/chatscripts/tmobile-disconnect"

and a script to run it all...

/etc/init.d/gsmd stop
echo "1" > /sys/bus/platform/devices/neo1973-pm-gsm.0/power_on
chown uucp.uucp /dev/ttySAC0
stty -F /dev/ttySAC0 crtscts
pppd call tmobile


I did get a fix with the GPS using the internal antenna, however it takes some concerted effort, see this page for hints. NOTE without the sd card I get a fix within 1 minute.


UPDATE Got WIFI and WPA/PSK working, again there are two sets of instructions on the WIKI, the first set doesn't work for me, however the second set does... adding

iface eth0 inet dhcp
wpa-conf /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf

to /etc/network/interfaces and then do ifdown usb0 and ifup eth0 of course you need to setup /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf appropriately. However when I ssh into the phone via the wifi after disconnecting the USB, it looses its connection regularly and usually within a few minutes. Not sure why that is, my WIFI is generally very stable with my laptop. I wonder if the bluetooth is interfering with it?

Finally I would like to say that I love the idea of an open spurce cell phone. I can see that these issues will probably get fixed pretty quickly as it is open source and there are thousands of eyes on the code, and if there is something you don't like you can fix it. Lets see you do that on your I-Phone ;)

Posted in Openmoko,Linux  |  Tags openmoko,freerunner  |  19 comments


  1. Treviño said on Fri Jul 11 18:40:13 -0700 2008
    Thanks for your report. It's important also underline the problems, but it's important to considering them as starting point for an hard development made also by the community of owners.

    Anyway, please, could you also try the [Qtopia Image for Freerunner (GTA02)](http://www.qtopia.net/modules/mydownloads/viewcat.php?cid=6) (that according to many neo1973 users is really more usable for a daily phone) and review it?


    PS: look in the community ML, there are some fixes for Qtopia on GTA02!
  2. carmen said on Sat Jul 12 02:20:26 -0700 2008
    useful info. i really need a phone but im tempted to just get a 35 dollar motorola f3

    not that the freerunner is in stock anywyas :)
  3. Treviño said on Sat Jul 12 04:46:25 -0700 2008
    My previous comment is in moderating list, however give QTopia for GTA02 a try.
    People is saying in ML that goes well!
  4. Lars said on Mon Jul 14 11:42:13 -0700 2008
    I got my open moko, too.
    Did you get WPA2 authentication to work with it? Or just WPA or WEP?

  5. wolfmanjm said on Mon Jul 14 11:48:51 -0700 2008
    I think I did get WPA2 working, although I had both setup in the conf file, and my AP supports both, so unsure which it actually used.
  6. Evan said on Mon Jul 14 17:23:32 -0700 2008
    I have a FreeRunner, and have many of the same impressions. I do think that the software will be improving, and I appreciate the fact that it is open source very much.

    But I am doubtful that there are *thousands* of eyes on the code. I think it would probably be more fair to say... tens maybe? It doesn't seem likely that every single purchaser of a FreeRunner is a skilled software engineer who has the time to debug their phone :/
  7. radtek said on Tue Jul 15 01:21:58 -0700 2008
    I'll have it in the next 24 hours. You can bet I'll be asking questions...

     I was thinking that the beauty of the situation is that all the new FR's are the same hardware (right?). It's not like there is 100's of different configs to deal with. I'm hoping that with this model, it'll get dialed in functionally real soon. Everyone will have the same problems as far as base functionality of all of the device's aspects.

    I'm behind it 100%
  8. Travis K said on Tue Jul 15 19:12:56 -0700 2008
    Great article. I am in total concert with your initial findings.

    I've been working over the past 24 hours on a site that will be focused solely on getting this phone usable and understandable to the average person. If you'd like to contribute, let me know!!
  9. jimcolt@gmail.com said on Tue Jul 15 21:25:24 -0700 2008
    Overriding everything is DON'T B#$%TCH about the software, you bought the hardware and the software is for YOU to make or else don't B@##$CH.

    Not sure if the author was using the "minimo" browser. Everything works for me in it.
    The matchbox keyboard is very usable.
    The author's net connection probably stopped because his phone went to sleep.

    I find the interface easy to use within an hour.
    Saving and updating contacts works fine. Dialing from contacts works fine.
    GPS maps worked fine.
    I've not tried the blue tooth yet.

    All the boot messages don't need to be covered up yet. If you don't like it then put a startup graphic in place!

    Geeze I do not like winers. I like people who do something about it rather than wine.

    The phone is usable and is a great accomplishment hardware and software wise.
    The software will get better if YOU do something.
  10. wolfmanjm said on Tue Jul 15 22:20:37 -0700 2008
    You are welcome to your opinion of course, but you are wrong :) I am nor bitching or whining. My main complaint is that this version of the phone was advertised as being a commercial release, not as a developers tool like the first version. It is also twice the price of an IPhone, not that I would ever buy an IPhone, but only a developer (like myself) would pay twice the price to get a phone that I have to write the software for! I have every intention of fixing as much as I can, but if you have doe any work on this phone you know that the tools have a very steep learnig curve and the documentation seems always to be out of date, it is not easy to come up to speed and simply fix it.

    The WIFI is flaky sorry to contradict you, I know what I am doing and the phone did not go to sleep, actually sleep has not even been implemented yet. What causes the flakiness I have not yet discovered, it may be the same issue the GPS has, I'll try without the SD card. Once I debug it I'll report it. I actually have a real job, so I can't spend all day playing with this thing, as much as I would like to. I felt compelled to write my findings, so others who may not be developers don't buy something they can't use. I suspect in about 6 months the phone will be very usable.
  11. Brian said on Tue Jul 15 23:19:33 -0700 2008
    @jimcolt --whoa, there! You're totally out of line. Wolfman is absolutely right and not whining. With the exception of the wifi issues (the wifi on my FreeRunner is one of the few things that is solid as a rock), Wolfman's commentary is confirmed by the experience of most everyone with a FreeRunner. The public perception of this release was that it was going to be ready for non-developer use and it really isn't. Most apps mostly work most of the time, but the number of quirky bugs and weird user interface choices currently existing are far too high for normal users. I just filed a bug this morning on the calendar explaining how you can't change an entry once it is entered--this makes the calendar completely useless. I also confirmed a bug re landscape mode that makes it completely unusable. The device doesn't include any email application and none exists in the official repositories. It's not clear how to get the device to play video. The (audio) media player won't work without flashing the device to a more recent kernel and rootfs, Etc. Etc. Normal users would not expect this or find it acceptable. I'm doing my part too, trying to improve the documentation and report bugs, but we're at least six months away from having reliable software that takes advantage of most of what the hardware is capable of doing.
  12. Void said on Wed Jul 16 01:51:45 -0700 2008
    I'm stuck in between with my opinion:

    http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/Neo_FreeRunner -> "Software available on the phone suitable for advanced users and developers but not the average consumer."
    It's in the Wiki and it's in other places too if you want to read/see it, so what you do (Wolfman), sounds a like "whining"to me:
    "OK so I am being harsh here, but the damn thing costs $400! and they imply your average user could use it as a phone"
    "It is also twice the price of an IPhone" ... "to get a phone that I have to write the software for!"

    Jim Colt is completely right, you buy the Hardware the software (however bad it may be) comes free und updates are also free.
    I don't know the US and i don't care enough about the iphone to look it up, but in Germany the situation is as follows:

    Freerunner 330,- Eur (299 each, if you purchase at least 10), no strings attached = 330,- Eur

    iphone 3g 170,- Eur + 29,- Eur/Month x 24 (months) = 866,- Eur (worst case, no calls)
    if you use all of the included 50 minutes calltime: 866 - 0,29 x 50 x 24 = 518,- Eur for the phone and 350,- for 50min phone calls / month (best case, 50min calls / month)

    So actually, the Freerunner costs considerably less than an iphone... if you use fair terms of comparison.
    For more iphone considerations see: http://www.fsf.org/blogs/community/5-reasons-to-avoid-iphone-3g

    However Jim Colt was way out of line with the choice of his wording.

    Null & Void
  13. wolfmanjm said on Wed Jul 16 02:19:03 -0700 2008
    I take offense at being called a whiner :) I do not whine, but you can if you like.

    Anyway they added that phrase I believe fairly recently, the next paragraph however says...

    "The Neo FreeRunner is a Linux-based touch screen smart phone aimed at general consumer use as well as Linux desktop users and software developers. "

    It is aimed at the general consumer, but without a time frame of when that will be.

    I was fully aware of the developer status, however from reading the ML I was under the impression the Freerunner was usable as a primary phone out of the box, so were a great many others. However not many people had actually gotten one, so no actual user reviews were available. I did check up on the important features like bluetooth headsets, and the first set of posts in the July Archive made it sound like people were able to use a bluetooth headset, however I have not heard of anyone actually being able to since I got mine.

    Anyway I am entitled to my opinion, I have written what I believe is a fairly honest review on *my blog* and as I said I expected a few people to flame me for it, there are always a few ;)
  14. engrish crits me for 2000 said on Wed Jul 16 09:43:41 -0700 2008
    He's reviewing the phone, of course he's going to be pointing out the parts that suck. Oh noes! He said something bad about the FreeRunner!!!

    He's giving an accurate picture of the current status of the FreeRunner. Suck it up and stop "whining" about his criticisms. Speaking about hating whiners and wanting them to do something about it. Why don't you write a better review of the phone or contribute to correcting and helping him write a better review instead of ranting in broken engrish?
  15. Harmen said on Fri Jul 18 01:58:45 -0700 2008
    Carmen: The F3 is a fine phone, really. Just don't expect other people to believe it's not a fake phone.
  16. Kyle said on Mon Jul 28 11:16:46 -0700 2008
    Good review Wolfman. I've been searching and searching for an actual review of the initial software of this thing rather than a press release or hardware overview. I finally found one. I agree with you– I was definitely under the impression this was ready for use by the low-level user. Although I'm a computer engineering major, and love programming, I still consider myself a low-level user. I can probably eventually write something for the Freerunner, but I definitely don't know how to yet. Therefore, I need to wait until the software has matured enough to make the phone completely usable, so I can use it while I learn the stack. In my mind, we people who will be writing apps should be **enhancing** the phone's software (i.e. writing apps that do complementary functions), not creating the phone's base software. Thanks for your review!
  17. wolfmanjm said on Mon Jul 28 11:26:16 -0700 2008
    Unfortunately that is still true, however I have been using Qtopia recently, and it is far more stable, and can in fact be used as a phone. There are still some rough edges, but they are being actively worked on and I suspect will improve pretty rapidly. ASU OTOH looks promising but is progressing pretty slowly as far as I can see.
  18. matt said on Thu Jul 31 01:48:27 -0700 2008
    hey thanks, they should really consider putting this report on their wiki, it's one of the better ones ;)

    helped with a lot of my problems :)
  19. Dulwithe said on Wed Aug 27 12:04:01 -0700 2008
    I got a NeoFreerunner.

    My basic experience:

    The preinstalled "OpenMoko" interface was a joke. Just like an empty skeleton with no apps (except for very primitive phone book, calendar, etc). No wifi connectivity software.

    So, I flashed it with Qtopia (most recent version aug8 2008). Nice interface. Keypad is too small to be practical. ANY DEVELOPERS LISTENING??? WHAT ABOUT A NUMBER PAD TOUCH INPUT WITH abc, def, ghi, etc.?? This will be great to implement Japanese input, because Japanese language falls better on a number pad than on qwerty. (Anyone who knows japanese and has used a Japanese cell phone to type Japanese language will know EXACTLY what I am talking about.)

    Qtopia wifi manager JUST WON'T CONNECT to any of my available wireless networks - encrypted and non-encrypted. WEP "restricted" is not available - only "WEP Open" and "WEP Shared". My office used "WEP Restricted" Also, wifi and internet connection software freezes way too much to even be close to usable. (Nice interface - no problem there. But unusable cause it doesn't work.)

    In general, I think the Qtopia OS/GUI is really quite nice. But since I cannot connect to the internet via wifi, I cannot check out what other packages are available.

    I need: Web Browser; Voip (Skype, Gizmo, anything okay, really); Japanese text recognition (at the very least, text display. At best, Japanese text input with 123 456 789 NOT qwerty input).

    I like the phone in general, but it is still not quite "usable".

    I would love to help troubleshoot issues with this phone, but since I cannot program, I can only offer trouble shooting and user interface design concept ideas. If anyone cares to discuss with me, please email to "d u l w i t h e [at] m y r e a l b o x [dot] c o m" no spaces, and of course, replacing the [at] and [dot].


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