OpenMoko Neo Freerunner Linux Smartphone Hands-on

Illustration for article titled OpenMoko Neo Freerunner Linux Smartphone Hands-on

The Gadget: OpenMoko's just-announced Neo Freerunner, which is the mass-market version of their previous Neo 1973 phone.

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Illustration for article titled OpenMoko Neo Freerunner Linux Smartphone Hands-on
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Illustration for article titled OpenMoko Neo Freerunner Linux Smartphone Hands-on
Illustration for article titled OpenMoko Neo Freerunner Linux Smartphone Hands-on

The Impressions: It uses the exact same UI as the previous version, but is actually really preliminary and buggy in the version we played with (it was power cycling for a short while). They assured us that the phone is really early in the development cycle. The UI looks nice and has glossy icons and not too much text (read: not too Linuxy for people who are afraid of Linux), but it's nothing you've never seen before if you've seen the OpenMoko phones.

The hardware is solid and feels about as wide as the iPhone, but a bit thicker (with rounded corners). It's too early to tell how well this will do in the mass market, especially compared with the Google Android platform, but Freerunner does show promise.

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DISCUSSION

On The Next Computing Wave

I have owned several PDAs / smartphones (I suppose like most people here); but although I want more features, ease of use, etc…, what I REALY need is a phone with an OS that can be updated regularly, and a hardware that will allow some expansion, at least until new hardware comes out that is significantly better at what I do most (play music, watch videos, speech recognition, etc…), whatever that might be.

By updates I mean something similar to those you can download freely from your OS supplier (PC, MAC, LINUX, whatever) onto your everyday PC. I am tired of having to dump my particular device just because its bugs will be fixed on the upcoming model's OS; and of course mi current model ROMs will not be supported. I bought a smart phone not a floppy disk!

In my experience, the hardware manufacturer is not a reliable source of updated ROM images compiled with whatever new fixes the OS provider has released. I do not want to put the blame on the hardware people; I am impressed with every new bell and whistle incorporated in new devices, and think they have their hands full with the hardware design - as they should!

I believe it's just the industry's (Marketing / Hardware / Programmers / Consumers) manner of operation in an oxygen depleted atmosphere. When I started looking at those free Linux CDs, and learned that the updates to this OS came regularly, supported high-end features (like a native 64 bit kernel) long before hard cash alternatives did; I thought it was amazing. Now I'm thinking this new programming and distribution model might be the oxygen the fastest growing sector in computers needs.

How can a company that takes the bold (major understatement) of endorsing a dual boot configuration between its own OS and the competition's; take the fully opposite direction on their latest and most revolutionary computer? As much as I admire the wonders of the latest interface available on the phone everyone talks about, I will not buy it for the same reason I would resist a new Pocket PC; it makes me feel I borrowed it, and it's not really mine. Of course this time not for its lack of OS updates, but rather the contract I would have to sign (and pay for) to legally use it as a communications device, not to mention the fact that only "approved software" will run on it.

I believe the OpenMoko initiative is a way out of the current situation in the greatest emerging computer market, and I wait eagerly for the release of the FreeRunner. This first mass market device might not have the stylish case I would desire, but I am sure the open source community will keep my phone's software up to date with the latest and sexiest UI enhancements, a lot sooner than on any other phone!