The Neo Freerunner – A Review

I just emailled this to some guy who was asking about the freerunner on the openmoko lists, where I still lurk. I was proofreading it and thought to myself “hey, this is actually a pretty decent review of the device”. So here it is for all to see:

The freerunner is the worst phone ever made. It might nearly be usable as a phone now thanks to Radek and QTMoko, but you’re much better off buying an old feature phone or rooting an android phone. I think that while it might nearly be acceptable for a linux hacker, the freerunner software will never be a truly good user experience despite radek’s efforts – it’s too big a job for one person. I hope I’m wrong about that, but I don’t think I will be.

I was particularly appalled at the battery life. The battery used to last about 2 hours, but they have nearly solved all the power management bugs so if you’re lucky you might get ~6 hours out of it these days. It might even last all day if you keep it in suspend and don’t use it. In particular, using Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, or having the screen on will significantly reduce the battery life you should expect to get.

It doesn’t have a camera, though I believe there’s a camera module for the GTA04.

An important thing to note is that due to a design flaw, the device is not capable of fully utilizing it’s accelerated graphics as bandwidth to the screen is limited. therefors it’s not capable of playing fullscreen video at the native resolution of 480×640. It will play fullscreen video if you’re into extremely crap resolution – 240×320. You shouldn’t ever expect to see much more than 10-15fps at full resolution.

The company went out of business because they made a buggy phone and couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do software-wise – they seemed to think that making the UI themeable was more important than being able to recieve phone calls or have working power management. The demise of Openmoko is a good thing.

If you’re looking for a phone, you do not want a freerunner.

If you’re looking for a hackable linux palmtop with a tiny screen, no keyboard, not very much power and a fairly awful battery life when you’re using it as a computer, then the freerunner might be an option for you, although you can probably buy something like a raspberry pi with 3 times the power for half as much money.

Nikolaus’ GTA04 project does seem much more promising and addresses a lot of the shortcomings of the freerunner and may be worth looking into. I have spoken to Nikolaus via email a few times and he seems like a very cool guy – I trust him and I’d buy a GTA04 in a heartbeat if I wasn’t put off by the price – I already spent $400 on a phone that doesn’t work, and I bought a nokia so that I’d have a working phone before Nick brought out the GTA04, so I can’t justify spending that much money to make my freerunner useful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>