The ZeroPhone, a Linux Smartphone Powered by the Raspberry Pi Zero

Alasdair Allan
3 min readAug 29, 2018

We took a look at early prototypes of the ZeroPhone by Arsenij Pichugin back in January 2017 when the hardware was in a far less mature state. However, now the project is getting a lot closer to production, we thought we’d go back and take another look.

The ZeroPhone. (📷: Arsenij Pichugin)

It was Chris Anderson that originally coined the phrase “the peace dividend of the smartphone war” arguing that “…when giants battle, we all win,” and it’s that smartphone war that made building your own phone a possibility, and there have been any number of people that have done so; from Matt Biddulph’s “cell phone from parts,” Avishek Hardin’s lightweight Arduino-powered GSM handset, through to Adafruit’s box-like Ardui-o-Phone, and the ArduPhone, an off-the-shelf Arduino-compatible cell phone from freetronics. This year’s EMF Camp badge is even a fully functional cell phone.

The ZeroPhone is somewhat different to a lot of the previous efforts we’ve seen before, though, most of which were built around AVR microcontrollers. Instead with this Raspberry Pi Zero device, you have the core of, not just an cell phone, but an open source smartphone running Linux.

The ZeroPhone, running Linux. (📷 Arsenij Pichugin)

“ZeroPhone is an open source, Linux-powered, $50 smartphone. It has no carrier locks, bloated apps, or data mining, and it doesn’t depend on big companies — instead, its open source hardware and software give you as much control over your phone as possible.”—Arsenij Pichugin

Based around a Raspberry Pi Zero, the ZeroPhone uses an Espressif ESP8266 module to provide WiFi connectivity. The phone is currently 2G, but support for 3G is coming soon and will hopefully arrive before the phone begins to raise on Crowd Supply.

Assembling a ‘delta’ prototype by hand, live on Twitch. (📷: Arsenij Pichugin)

The phone has an HDMI jack, along with a full-size USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and comes with a 1.3-inch 128×64 pixel screen.

Testing the ZeroPhone speaker amplifier. (📷: ZeroPhone Project)

The “delta” boards are now finished, and final changes are now being made, so the ZeroPhone should arrive on CrowdSupply in the near future. In the meantime, you can keep track of the project by subscribing to the project’s newsletter or checking out the work log on the project page. While full details of the project can be found on the ZeroPhone Wiki pages.

However if you have ideas around the development of the phone, and you’re interested in contributing, you might even be able to pick up a free kit before the crowdfunding even starts. Or, of course, you could just build your own. It’s all open source.