The WiPhone Is Now on Kickstarter

A phone designed by hackers, for hackers.

Alasdair Allan
a year ago

Last time we took a look at the WiPhone, back in the middle of last year, the ESP32-based Voice over IP (VoIP) phone wasn’t quite ready yet. However things have moved on a lot in the last few months and the phone, intended to be “…hackable, modular, cheap, and open,” is now live on Kickstarter.

Measuring 120 x 50 x 12 mm, and weighing in at just 80g, the WiPhone comes in two versions and colours. The basic edition of the WiPhone has a polycarbonate frame, while the more expensive WiPhone Pro comes with an anodised aluminum frame. Both models are available with a coloured, or a clear “Hacker’s Choice,” front cover.

The two models have a 700mAH battery, which is predicted to be good for eight hours of talk time, or one week of standby time. The phone has a 24-button silicon keypad, although four are explicitly reserved for the user, all the buttons on the phone are user programmable.

The basic software on the phone will handle your contacts and allows Voice over IP (VoIP) calling and text messaging. The WiPhone is not a cellphone, instead it is a VoIP phone that allows you to make calls over the Internet.

However, it is pretty easy to get a PSTN, a ‘real’ telephone number from a VoIP provider, that other people can then dial from their normal phones. If you don’t already have a VoIP account, the folks behind the WiPhone have put together walkthrough on creating a free SIP account with a number of different providers.

At that point, not only can you call other people with VoIP phones over the Internet, but people can call you from their normal phone, and of course — although usually not for free — you too can call out to normal phones.

Built around the Espressif ESP32, which provides the onboard Wi-Fi support, the phone has 4MB of PSRAM and 16MB of Flash memory, along with a standard 3.5mm audio jack, and an internal micro SD card slot. It uses a 2.4-inch screen, driving the 320×240 pixel display over SPI, and has a micro USB connector for charging, serial communication, and programming.

WiPhone is expandable through daughter boards, and the whole back of the phone is a replaceable panel that accepts a standard 1.6mm thickness PCB, which you can use to add more functionality. Connection is via 20 pogo-pins, arranged in two 2×5 pin blocks, on the back of the main board which offer UART, SPI, I2C, PWM, ADC, and GPIO.

Example daughter boards, including a mega-battery pack, a LoRa board, an RGB array, and a board to turn the WiPhone into a radio-controlled car, have already been prototyped.

The phone is programmable in the Arduino development environment, or by building user applications with MicroPython. Although integration of the MicroPython interpreter into the basic phone firmware is a campaign stretch goal, unless that target is reached user applications built using MicroPython will need to be created using a separate firmware image.

The WiPhone is now raising on Kickstarter, reaching 50% of its funding goal inside the first 24 hours. The standard WiPhone costs $89, plus $25 for worldwide shipping, and you can choose a clear or coloured front face. You can also optionally chose to add an additional $50 for a WiPhone Pro, which has an anodised aluminum frame.

While there aren’t any daughter boards available as part of the Kickstarter campaign, at least not yet, the project creators are hoping to “sell the add-on boards and other accessories [after the campaign]… [and are] hoping to ‘enable’ a few of them as stretch goals.” More information about the WiPhone can be found on the main project site, their Kickstarter pages, and Hackaday.io page.

Update: A ‘stealth’ stretch goal has been added to the project, “…if you want a LoRa daughterboard, just add $30 per phone to any WiPhone pledge. There isn’t a special reward level.” So a VoIP phone with LoRa support? That’s a perfect fit for contributing to TTN Mapper.

The team has also run a backer survey for potential add-ons, with LTE support and encrypted communications being favourites, they responded that “…we’ll prioritize these two once we begin to make it through product testing and the core features.” I was really rather hoping for wireless charging myself? A VoIP phone with LoRaWAN support that I could leave on my desk and pick up and it’d always be fully charged? That’d be rather cool.

Alasdair Allan
Scientist, author, hacker, maker, and journalist. Building, breaking, and writing. For hire. You can reach me at 📫 alasdair@babilim.co.uk.
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