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18 March 2010, 09:43

Pocket computer with open hardware platform for 99 euros

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Zoom The NanoNote computer.
Licensed as a free hardware platform under the Creative Commons, the Ben NanoNote pocket computer from US vendor Qi Hardware has now become available in Europe. The NanoNote, barely larger than a cigarette box, runs an adapted OpenWRT Linux system and has been implemented exclusively from standard components for which free Linux drivers are available.

The device was originally intended as an electronic dictionary and uses a 366 MHz JZ4720 MIPS processor by Ingenic Semiconductor that is also used in routers. Its non-extendable 32 MB of RAM is a bit meagre, but it also offers a rather generous 2 GB of Flash memory for dictionaries or the future use as a Wikipedia reader. The NanoNote also has an Micro SD slot and data can transferred to and from the device via a PC with a USB 2.0 connection. The device, however, does not offer Ethernet, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and has no USB host port for connecting USB Flash drives or other USB devices. Its 3-inch colour display features a resolution of 320x240 pixels.

Spanish vendor Tuxbrain offers the device for €99 plus shipping to the UK. Prospective German buyers can buy the mini computer for €129 from mail order vendor Pulster, which also offers the Openmoko Freerunner Linux smartphone. Qi Hardware has made the wiring diagrams, the circuit board layout and all other design documents available to download – and it invites the open source community to contribute to the ongoing development of the hardware.

Qi Hardware was founded by former Openmoko employees in mid 2009 and, like Openmoko before it, intends to develop open source consumer hardware. The Openmoko Freerunner smartphone for Linux gave the free developer community not just the opportunity to contribute to the software, but gave developers access wiring diagrams, circuit board layouts and housing design documents. Developers could also suggest new hardware components. However, the "Community Freerunner" was never built.

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