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A modern Linux UMPC, that can make phone calls? (Read 5702 times)
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A modern Linux UMPC, that can make phone calls?
Oct 7th, 2012, 4:26pm
Recently I lost my trusty old Nokia phone, which had the functions {make phone call, write text message, play Snake, alarm clock}. It formed one half of my cybernetic enhancement kit, the other being a second-hand Samsung Q1 UMPC running Linux Mint. The Q1 is a fantastic machine which thanks to Linux stays up-to-date and does everything from web browsing to programming to office and graphics work. But its fan has gotten noisy, cleaning efforts notwithstanding. Worse, its battery is shot. That reduces its 'mobility' credentials.
I have been watching developments in the mobile phone and portable computing areas with some frustration. More flash than freedom -- the idea that one could use a touchscreen mobile device as an all-round computer seems decidedly out. (Though I must admit I have no experience with Android, and don't know to what extent it allows access under the hood.)
Finding the idea of a phone watch interesting, I ended up on this site to read the admirably thorough review of the Z1. Alas, it does not seem to be the Holy Grail. It seems a solid quality phone watch is not quite available now (October 2012).
So maybe I must drop the [Q1 + phone watch] plan. An alternative would consist of the perfectly fine mechanical wristwatch I have now, plus something like an updated version of the Q1, that can also make a phone call once in a while. I'm not into phone prattle, so an UMPC which allows texting and the occasional conversation (via some Bluetooth earphone/speaker; and over the phone networks, not just VoIP) would suit me. So, an all-round UMPC with some phone capacities, rather than a phone with some limited computing tricks. By all-round I mean that you can run a full OS on it, attach USB devices (like a USB keyboard!), an external screen, etc. -- like with the Q1. I have the impression that, unfortunately, the market is not thinking this way (perhaps more the sellers than the buyers). I am getting tired of wading through pages of slick Facebook-friendly devices that are not what I want at all.
Given the general flavour of this site, I was wondering if its maintainer or any visitors, would have any suggestions? Much obliged.
  • availability in Europe is a plus
  • I really like the hardware buttons on the Q1's side: directional arrows plus some more buttons which I reconfigured in Linux. This is super comfortable for holding the device and browsing web pages or pdfs. Something like this seems excellent, but not sure about its phone capacities.
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Re: A modern Linux UMPC, that can make phone calls
Reply #1 - Oct 8th, 2012, 10:49am
Yes, this probably is the best place to ask.
Not because of any special knowledge, but because this site is small enough that the Admin actually will answer, and you are somewhat safe from belittlement, or non-answers from 10000 newbies that know far less than you.
I don't really have a "magic bullet" answer, but here is some general thoughts that may help you:
1.  Android is Linux, and can be a fairly full Linux -- including external keyboards, HD's, Ethernet adapters, mice, etc.  There are near-desktop functionality apps for Android, and many more apps than are available as packages for any given Linux Distro.
Access to a terminal, and most linux commands (through busybox) is easy.  Linux command line stuff compiled for the processor in your Android device (arm) generally work, and can be found on the 'Net.  Root access is possible on pretty much any Android device.
2.  There are full Linux distributions (Usually Ubuntu) for some Android Tablets and some phones, but don't expect full phone functionality on any device/distro I am aware of.
One example of a working Ubuntu for the Viewsonic G-Tablet:
My Review of the Device (running CyanogenMod Android): http://linuxslate.com/Review_Viewsonic_G-Tablet_Android_Tablet.html
Working Ubuntu for this device: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=894960
3.  CyanogenMod is a community Android for many devices.  It is functional, customizable and stable.  Here is a list of Devices with official CyanogenMod firmwares:
Notice that there are phones and tablets.  Phones (generally) retain full phone functionality.
4.  Some 3G-enabled 5 inch and 7 inch Android tablets have Phone functionality.  Chinese ones, while perhaps not of the build quality of more main-stream devices, may actually offer more in terms of I/O ports, and hacker-friendlyness.
Here's a search that will return some example examples:
Note that I am recommending any of these devices, and as you can read on the main Linuxslate.com site such Chinese devices often have severe usability issues.   I'm just showing that such devices exist.
Seeing that they are often not a significant expenditure of funds, I would not hesitate to try one of these off-brand/no-brand devices if I were in the market for such a device.  Look carefully at the specifications, and try to judge quality from the pictures as best as you can.
Post back if you are interested, and I can tell you some specifics to look for when reading the specifications.  Some things you may think would be show stoppers, may not actually be so bad, and similarly some things listed as "features" may be better interpreted as warnings.
You will never know much about the OS until you get the device in your hands, and OS updates almost never happen.
Expecting there to be a full review of a Chinese 7" Tablet with Phone functionality on Linuxslate.com at some point in the future would not be an unreasonable expectation.  Keep checking back.
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Mobile Linux ?
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Re: A modern Linux UMPC, that can make phone calls
Reply #2 - Oct 14th, 2012, 9:05am
Hello, and many thanks for all the info. It's really helped me to get some idea of the possibilities.
I'm not quite hostile to Android (and CyanogenMod does look neat), even if Ubuntu & Friends does seem friendlier than BigGoogle & AppMarket. I need programs like LibreOffice and Xournal(pp), and Ubuntu on top of Android would allow those. But if that 'switches off the phone' until one is back in simple-Android, it may become a pain.
As for hardware, one thing I've realised is that attaching my current screen through its VGA port is not going to be easy/possible. Small tablets / big smartphones seem to have an HDMI video port if they have any, and Wikipedia is pessimistic about HDMI to VGA adaptors. So buy a new screen? Quite a drawback.
(Also, some use mini-SIM cards, some don't, some both. The SIMs I have are 'regular' ones -- not sure how much operators ask for a mini version...)
I had a look around the Chinese bargain bin. This one in particular looks interesting. One finds a number of incarnations, with screen resolutions, processor speed and even visual appearance rather... fluid. There's the worry that the pieces are there but the integration isn't. And the uncertainty about built quality and screen readability. That site says LED screen, which I gather is a good thing. Then again, any of these data may be plain wrong, as your review of that phone watch (regarding CPU speed) made ever so clear. And I have no doubt it's possible to make a lousy LED screen. I really don't want to encourage that sort of production strategy anymore.
Tricky. Pay a couple times as much for the - say - Samsung alternative to that PD10 thing? Doubtless it'll be sturdier, but a lot of that price will have gone into software&style sleek-ization that I don't need.
 :-/ Maybe I'll get a cheapo Nokia just to have a phone again, keep using my Q1 despite the fan noise (not deafening), and wait till more reviews of that PD10 pop up.
(Incidentally, the Geeksphone Zero looked neat. Not available anymore )-:)
Any more thoughts? Thanks again for your feedback!
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