So, one of my first smartphones was the Samsung B3410. It hasn’t had Android, though there was this horrible TouchWiz 1.0 user interface, a 2.6-inch display, and, that’s the reason why I miss that device from time to time, a physical keyboard. Alongside the optical trackpad my HTC Desire had, a physical keyboard is something I really am missing from this early era of smartphones. I know that devices like the GDP Pocket have both, a trackpoint as well as a physical keyboard and are probably close to the device I am trying to build and describe in this blogpost.

Why?

The reason why I want to build this machine is that I want to have a fully working linux OS coming with i3 as a window manager, and tools like tmux, vim, newsbeuter and git just in my pocket. Of course, I could do most of these things on my iPhone 7 as well, but, there are some things when it comes to my iPhone distracting me from my workflow, those are:

  • phone calls (I just don’t want them, as a introvert person)
  • the touchscreen keyboard isn’t that much of an issue, but I feel like shortcuts are working better on a physical one
  • social media (I could use them as well on this device; though not as native apps)
  • iSH, an alpine linux subsystem, doesn’t support tmux; so I can’t work with git/vim the way I would, even though I am able to use both on my iPhone

You could speak of that UMPC-Project as a pocket-sized git and note-taking machine, or in other words as a personal organiser.

Do Easier Ways Exist to Achieve This?

Yes. And probably better ways as well. I could just get a used Nokia N900 phone, put PostmarketOS on it, along with i3 and be happy.

Device Nokia N900 Raspberry Pi Zero
CPU OMAP3430 (ARM Cortex-A8) @ 600 MHz ARM1176JZF-S @ 1 GHz
Inst. Set ARMv7-A (32-bit ARMv6Z (32-bit)
Cores 1 1
RAM 256 MB LPDDR 512 MB LPDDR2
Graphics PowerVR SGX530 Broadcom VideoCore IV

The Raspberry Pi Zero W has the higher clock rate, as well as more RAM; though it shouldn’t matter that much having in mind, that the UMPC shouldn’t do any too computing-intensive tasks.

If messing around with electronics and DIY such a machine isn’t your thing, you probably should be just fine opting in for the Nokia N900 with Alpine Linux (Postmarket OS).

Let’s Talk About Shopping Hauls & Parts We Need

I started this project having in mind, that I have had most of the parts I wanted to use laying around in different corners of my drawer; so the only things I had to spend money on are a iPhone 4 keyboard case and a 3800mAH lithium battery. I estimate that the Pi Zero plus the 3.5 inch display will last 5 to 6 hours in total (being totally aware that the Nokia will easily outperform this good-willed estimated guess by a few more hours).

A Partlist

  • Raspberry Pi Zero W
  • 3.5 inch Display unit (I use the Waveshare 3.5inch RPi LCD since I had that one laying around from a abandoned project)
  • RPi Powerpack v1.0 (or literally any other lithium battery)
  • A smartphone keyboard case, I got one for 5 EUR designed for the iPhone 4
  • some case to fit the rpi plus display in
    • I will probably 3d-print mine since that’s the easiest way for me to build one, but I would love to see woodworked cases as well!

Finally: Cliffhangers!

Since not all the parts I need to build the UMPC have arrived yet, I will do something Marvel, ao3 authors and Netflix showrunners love to do as well: putting a Cliffhanger here.