The heydey of mobile devices with built-in keyboards is long past, eclipsed by bigger and bigger touchscreens that are now flipping and folding. But if your heart still burns for BlackBerry, the smartphone for anyone who sent more emails than text messages before the iPhone came along, there’s a new DIY project you might want to check out. It’s called the Beepberry, and though it isn’t actually reviving the form factor, it’s trying to give your thumbs the sweet, sweet feel of a tiny phone keyboard.
The Beepberry is a custom PCB with a teeny-tiny 2.7-inch black and white LCD screen, a Raspberry Pi Zero W ’round back covering the basic OS and wireless duties, a battery, and what looks like a genuine BlackBerry keyboard, including the company logo button and a tiny built-in touchpad. The gadget runs Pi OS Lite, but that’s merely a means to an end, that end being the Beeper app and service. The Beepberry is meant to replace your phone’s chat apps, and only chat apps, hooking into standard SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Signal, Slack, Discord, and (with a bit of custom home server magic) Apple’s iMessage.
As the showman says, that’s all there is, there isn’t any more. While the Pi Zero W can hook into local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, the Beepberry can’t connect to mobile networks without extra hardware, and if you want a case you’ll need to 3D print one yourself. (Though they do look pretty snazzy!) As noted by Ars Technica, one of the gadget’s demo videos has the hobby-grade, 3.7-volt battery attached with a rubber band. This disconnected-but-still-reachable concept is strictly for the DIY tinkerer crowd, and it’s not intended as a retail product. Even though you can buy it — $79 on its own, $99 with a Pi Zero W in the box, delivery expected in August.
The Beepberry project comes from SQFMI, a small-time studio focused on weird little gadgets like this one, founded by Pebble Watch creator Eric Migicovsky. More serious products include the Watchy, an open-source e-ink watch that’s basically the Pebble’s spiritual successor, and the Franky, a barebones portable gaming gadget that the Beeper is based on. Like SQFMI’s previous projects, the Beepberry is fully open source and supported by both its creators and users on GitHub and Discord.
Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.