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Can you build your own smartphone?



4 minute read

Can you build your own smartphone if you get hold of the right parts and hold the correct knowledge? I take a look at this interesting question in this blog.

I recently watched a video where a man managed to put together his own iPhone from spare parts that he had managed to find in China. Some of the parts, such as the exterior casing, were copycat parts, whilst others, such as the chipset, were authentic pieces ripped from real iPhones.

A look at the man who did it

The man who built his own iPhone from parts can be seen in the video below. He opted to build an iPhone 6S.

In this video, you get to see his journey as he learns about the spare parts market in China and tries to put together his own iPhone through trial and error. In the end, he found out that he needed the following parts to create a working iPhone:

Battery Screen Back/Shell Logic Board

The battery is self-explanatory, and in China, very cheap and incredibly easy to come by. The back casing and outer shell for the iPhone were also fairly easy to come by, with plenty of lookalike pieces available. The screen was a little harder to come by, but it turns out that with the right connections, it’s possible to get a working LCD display and digitizer for an iPhone.

Finally, the logic board - this part is the most important piece for any smartphone. It contains all of the interior pieces necessary to get a smartphone to work. It’s essentially the motherboard or chipset for the smartphone and includes the smartphone SoC, storage, and other important features.

Originally, the man behind this project wanted to go a lot further - he wanted to find individual chips to solder onto the logic board and he wanted to build an LCD and digitizer from scratch. It turned out that doing these two things was incredibly hard. Firstly, attempting to manually solder on tiny electronic pieces onto a tiny iPhone logic board was very difficult to get right - this is the kind of work that Apple relied on a machine for. Secondly, being able to create your own LCD and digitizer would require a lot of bulky equipment and additional items that proved too hard to come by.

All in all, it took the creator of the video above roughly 2 months of his spare time to find the right parts and put together an iPhone 6S. The entire process did take some trial and error, which lead to the entire project costing close to $1000 (£775). In the end, however, just from the parts in the iPhone alone, the total cost was just $300 (£232).

Seeing as a good condition second hand iPhone 6S is available on giffgaff for £249, the entire project didn’t prove to be a cost effective one. It’s also important to note that if you wanted to do this project yourself, you’d almost definitely need to visit similar smartphone parts markets in China and make the right connections to hunt down the right parts.

It would be possible to replicate the entire process, but overall the entire project wouldn’t be able to save you money, and you wouldn’t be able to build your own smartphone with unique hardware from scratch with this approach.

An alternative option

The whole concept of putting together your own iPhone from spare parts sounds crazy enough, but some out there have given creating their own phone a go too. A Youtube creator by the name of Ben Heck tried to build their own DIY phone in 2014 and with a lot of work, he managed to put together something that looked a little like this:

A phone from scratch
A phone from scratch

To build this device, Ben Heck needed basic coding knowledge, enough knowledge about electronics to put the right pieces in the right places, and access to a 3D printer to create a suitable casing for the phone.

Summary: building a smartphone is hard work and most likely not worth it

So it turns out that building a smartphone or a basic mobile phone is possible, but it’s incredibly hard. You can either go with the first route and source parts for an existing phone and put it together that way. With this method, you’ll need to know the right sources and be able to put together each of the parts. You may be able to save a tiny bit of money overall, and have the pride knowing that you put together the parts yourself, but it’s not very cost effective whatsoever.

The second option requires some DIY hacking and a bit of coding work through a platform like Arduino or Adafruit. The end result will return a somewhat smartphone-like product, but it will by no means be able to compete with any smartphones released from current manufacturers. The end results from both projects show us that building a smartphone is possible, but it’s hard work and in most cases definitely not worth it.

Featured image source.

Written by zerodudex333

Ollie is a big mobile/tech fan. Follow his Twitter and his Instagram travel account