Author Topic: Light phone on Kickstarter  (Read 28698 times)

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Offline edy

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Light phone on Kickstarter
« on: May 31, 2015, 12:57:57 pm »
A new electronic device making the media rounds is called "Light Phone", available in Kickstarter here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thelightphone/the-light-phone

It is a basic phone that strips away everything else but the phone to save on battery and has a prepaid SIM and GSM only. It costs $100 for the phone and 500 minutes of voice-only usage. I don't know what additional minutes cost and whether you just plug in your own SIM after that or need to get another SIN and number from a local carrier.

I like the idea but there are some problems I see with it. For one, a phone that thin has to sacrifice battery. Even without a display it still has to draw power for the radio.

There are many "non-smartphones" or dumb flip-phones that can be had cheap for GSM unlocked and have a bigger battery as they are thicker. They last for a week or more on standby since the screen is off when not opened.

Look on eBay for " unlocked GSM flip phone" and find tons of options priced under $50. So what happened? Did people forget these things Lasted forever on a single charge? I have a few still kicking around that the kids play with and they last a long time.

The light phone has surpassed it's funding goal and sits at close to $300k as of this posting, 50% higher than the $200k target. Any takers on this device and is it really fulfilling any real needs? Or is it all for the cool thing look? Any thoughts?
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Offline janoc

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2015, 01:23:25 pm »
Looks like a version of this:

http://www.aliexpress.com/item/AIEK-M7-mini-card-mobile-phone-children-gift-mini-music-phone-6-5mm-Ultra-Thin-mini/32282802441.html

You can find them for about $16 with free shipping from China. Moreover, that phone has a better display.

I guess the $100 on the Light Phone is mostly for the prepaid minutes, but even that is quite expensive.

There was also the "Gongkai" phone from Bunnie, I believe it is the same thing:
http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?page_id=3107

The "Light Phone" looks very much like just rebadged version of it, bought for a few bucks in Shenzen somewhere and then re-sold with a prepaid SIM card to suckers on Kickstarter.

If you look carefully at the images of the "3D casing" prototypes, the PCB in one looks very much like having the cheap OLED display module that the Bunnie's phone and the Aliexpress phones have, not that simple LCD they advertise. The board looks very similar too, with some minor differences - probably depending on what the factory got in stock this week ..

I would be also very careful about the "works everywhere" claims, because for roaming to work (for the phone to be able to sign into a foreign network), the operator that issued the SIM card needs to have contracts signed with the network where the phone is going to. E.g. here in Europe it is very common that I am able to use only one, at best two networks in every country through which I am traveling. If the "right" network isn't in range, tough luck, no calls except emergencies. So the backers could end up a with an expensive but ultimately useless sim card ...

EDIT - scratch that, they don't ship prepaid minutes nor SIM cards internationally, so that is a moot point ... So you get just that $10 phone in a custom case and a t-shirt for those $100 after waiting a year - what a deal!


Re usability and market for these things - I think there is a legitimate market for cheap, essentially disposable basic phones. Traveling abroad and your phone doesn't support local network? Don't want to give kids a $600 iPhone to break while playing outside? Basic backup phone when going hiking? Perhaps even your grandma would appreciate a simple phone like that. However, there is no need for that "Light Phone" rip-off, IMO.



« Last Edit: May 31, 2015, 01:51:48 pm by janoc »
 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2015, 02:50:24 pm »
Well that's what I thought. Why not pick up either a used flip phone made for your own region that is unlocked and can accept your existing SIM or a prepaid SIM of a local carrier? Or a new cheap simple flip phone made to work for your regional carriers? I have 4 or 5 of these working phones that my kids play with but with no service. Seems the target market for the LIGHT phone are folks who haven't been around long enough in the cell phone market to have experienced this upgrade cycle and end up with them or they have recycled them already.

Also how bendable is the light phone? I can whip the old flip phones across a room and they can take it. I don't see this flimsy thin credit -card sized piece of plastic with almost no battery capacity having any durability. And the flip phones have an extendable antenna... the light phone is going to have the same issues catching a radio signal and will need more power in camping and hiking areas where there is likely to be less cell coverage.

I just don't get it... and so much media traction and over $300k in backing for essentially packaging a commodity item that uses years-old tech in a new fancy form factor that makes it look sleek but probably won't cut it when you actually need it.
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Offline electr_peter

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2015, 05:08:59 pm »
One can get old working cellphone essentially for free. There are also half decent new brick style designs from several know manufacturers (Nokia, Samsung) that cost less than 100$ and work very well. I do not get the point of such kickstarter cellphone :-// it is pretty expensive for what it does (i.e. should do), characteristics are poor, minutes are expensive... All evidence points to selling of re-badged cheap credit card cellphones from China.

By the way, cheap small cellphone is not a new idea. The were few projects (~2000-2003, not very successful..) to make disposable credit card sized cellphone with headphone jack.
 

Offline SeanB

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2015, 05:15:51 pm »
Used phone for $10, I can get them brand new for around $15, and got one a while ago for $5 just in case I need a burner. for $100 I would get a used smartphone, likely an older Blackberry or a small Samsung or Huwei phone, though the smaller Android phones can be had new unlocked for $120.

Even the contract customers now get unlocked phones, which was not the case a decade ago.
 

Offline dr.diesel

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2015, 05:27:38 pm »
Although I'm a technology guy, modern smartphones are a constant nuisance/irritation, I understand the desire for a basic phone only device.

Anyhow, ~2 years ago I tossed my cell phone in the trash, couldn't be happier.

Offline Richard Crowley

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2015, 05:37:30 pm »
Wow, that is either a scam, or else it is being conducted by the clueless who aren't aware of what is already available.
Either way, I wouldn't want to have anything to do with them.   :--
 

Offline mikerj

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #7 on: May 31, 2015, 08:18:06 pm »
When I dropped my smart phone and smashed the screen, I bought a Nokia 105 from a supermarket for £10 including a pre-paid sim.  This has up to 35 days of standby time on a single charge, and I never charged it in the two weeks I used it.  It's not credit card thickness, but who really needs that?
 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #8 on: May 31, 2015, 08:55:47 pm »
Quote
Although I'm a technology guy, modern smartphones are a constant nuisance/irritation, I understand the desire for a basic phone only device.

Me too... but... If you get a simple flip phone with no data plan on your SIM or account, there is much less to distract you. No apps... no media... no music. Fairly small crap display (compared to today's standards) and very small. My kids play with an old Sanyo SCP-8300. Unfortunately it doesn't take an external SIM as it is Bell branded. But it has been abused badly yet still works fine! And we charge it once a month! It costs under $10.

Yeah this "Light phone" is getting lots of media. But why does nobody in the media that reviews the story not make any comments to the audience about this over-priced copy of cheap Alibaba phones? They either don't do their research or afraid to be objective on any story or simply paid to not editorialize anything. I enjoy tech press that is critical and educating us about comparable options and not just fan boys or who need a newsbite. These products news stories then gets repeated by more and more media outlets without anyone stopping to think and be critical or ask the toughest questions.

Oh I found this one on ebay... The description is hilarious:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-Unlocked-Simple-Big-Button-GSM-Mobile-Cell-Phone-For-Senior-Elderly-Old-Man-/131521291711

New Unlocked Simple Big Button GSM Mobile Cell Phone For Senior Elderly Old Man...   :-DD
« Last Edit: May 31, 2015, 09:21:46 pm by edy »
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Offline wraper

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2015, 09:31:30 pm »
Wow, that is either a scam, or else it is being conducted by the clueless who aren't aware of what is already available.
Either way, I wouldn't want to have anything to do with them.   :--
Sure they are not clueless as without a doubt there is bunnie's Gongkai phone PCB on photos. As of different key locations, seems that those pictures are just rendered Edit: nope, watched their video, they just put a bunch of LEDs inside.  And obviously upper keys on rendered empty enclosure with LEDs pictures just aren't there on the real hardware photos. Also enclosure side proportions where real hardware is seen are different compared to those rendered pictures.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2015, 09:38:16 pm by wraper »
 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2015, 01:03:51 pm »
I sent a message to the Light project on Kickstarter asking them some basic questions:

1. What mAh battery are you planning to use
2. What is approximate standby time
3. What is approximate talk time
4. What happens when initial minutes deplete and how do you go about getting more minutes or SIM

I doubt I will ever get a response but if I do the first place I'll post it is here. Since I'm not a backer I can't comment, but reading the comments I gathered this:

- they are working on partnering with a carrier
- it works only in GSM networks and likely to be Europe and perhaps a few other markets they negotiate with
- the project has only 2200 backers so even if they negotiate with a carrier, how is the addition of these few customers going to have any leverage? Even if most of the phone cost ($90 of the $100) went to the carrier, this amount of money is peanuts to them
- since the plans are prepaid, if the users don't use the phone (the idea is to use it as little as possible) it will not even be a lucrative business for any carrier to want to work with them

There are a bunch of other questions. They say they will build an iPhone and Android app to "forward" calls from your cell phone to the Light phone. Neither of the 2 leading this project are app developers. They will need to hire iOS and Android devs. As well, how would the app manage to forward calls? Would it just be dialing a *72 type sequence followed by the number you wish to forward to? Does that only work for land lines or also cell phones? And would an app have enough integration and rights to access the phone? Questions questions questions!
« Last Edit: June 01, 2015, 01:15:02 pm by edy »
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Offline janoc

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2015, 09:10:00 pm »
There are a bunch of other questions. They say they will build an iPhone and Android app to "forward" calls from your cell phone to the Light phone. Neither of the 2 leading this project are app developers.

Since when do you need an "app" to forward calls from one cell phone to another cell phone? At least in GSM networks that is a relatively standard feature, even though the exact code may differ from network to network.

http://www.geckobeach.com/cellular/secrets/gsmcodes.php

 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2015, 09:30:40 pm »
Thanks janoc.... Yes I see the codes are fairly simple. But you are right about varying from carrier to carrier. For example, in Canada for Bell it is *72#, and for Telus it is *67*, and for Rogers it is * 21 *. And these are just my 3 of my local carriers! The app would have to be able to know every possible format and code for every carrier and do it within the app. I wonder if there is any pre-existing apps already designed to do this... maybe they would license a copy of it, rebrand it and have the developer customize it to their company.

As for other phones... I found a few on eBay which seem similar and cost about $20-30 when I searched for "thin GSM phone unlocked" (see attached photos). I am guessing they are planning to source one of these already-made phones and just "redesign" and "rebrand" and "remarket" the concept in a more sexy way (try to make it more Apple-like) with otherwise minimal tech innovation. Just different packaging and reworking the internals a bit to change some features (like the display). The Chinese manufacturer can probably spin off a new look and get these out the door in no time. As for carrier approval, I don't know what rules or laws are but if they already exist and they just change the way it looks it probably won't be an issue.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2015, 09:34:59 pm by edy »
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Offline janoc

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #13 on: June 02, 2015, 08:21:09 pm »
Thanks janoc.... Yes I see the codes are fairly simple. But you are right about varying from carrier to carrier. For example, in Canada for Bell it is *72#, and for Telus it is *67*, and for Rogers it is * 21 *. And these are just my 3 of my local carriers! The app would have to be able to know every possible format and code for every carrier and do it within the app. I wonder if there is any pre-existing apps already designed to do this... maybe they would license a copy of it, rebrand it and have the developer customize it to their company.

That would be quite a job, actually. I am not aware of such app. Here in France each network has their own visual voicemail and network utility apps that work only with their infrastructure. I am quite sure it is the same elsewhere as well.

I am guessing they are planning to source one of these already-made phones and just "redesign" and "rebrand" and "remarket" the concept in a more sexy way (try to make it more Apple-like) with otherwise minimal tech innovation. Just different packaging and reworking the internals a bit to change some features (like the display). The Chinese manufacturer can probably spin off a new look and get these out the door in no time.

I think that the only thing they are doing is designing a different case, if even that - the screenshots are mostly faked and the non-faked ones were showing some 3D printed rough box with the Chinese phone guts in it. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the final version (if there will be any) will look completely different and coincidentally very similar to those Aliexpress phones ...


As for carrier approval, I don't know what rules or laws are but if they already exist and they just change the way it looks it probably won't be an issue.

AFAIK, you don't need a carrier approval to bring the phone on the network, assuming it complies with the relevant GSM standards and doesn't interfere with it. Stick a SIM card from the local network operator in it and no problem. That was one goal of the GSM standards - to get rid of the incompatible handsets.

However, for the prepaid SIM card to work there must be a roaming contract signed, otherwise the foreign network will simply refuse to let the phones with those SIM cards  sign in. Which is likely why they are not going to deliver the prepaid minutes outside of US (or wherever they are) - the SIM cards wouldn't work and they are way too small fish for anyone to bother to get a roaming agreement with them.
 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #14 on: June 03, 2015, 12:11:45 pm »
They are at $304,550 pledged with 24 days to go. The goal was $200,000. What will be the final tab? If they need to deliver about 2300 phones at say $15-20 a pop each, not a large run at all to make a custom case or even PCB worth spinning. Will they just redesign the casing for an Alibaba phone? Or will they spend all the money and tell their backers sorry we have no phone. Or count on ramping up production and selling them in larger numbers on Alibaba but at huge discounts to compete with essentially the same crap GSM phones they are repackaging? So far no answer from Light.... They didn't reply to my email yet.

I'm thinking they will have to run 10,000 to make it worth their while to bring run costs per phone lower and then find a way to recoup the money from the overstock and dump it on eBay or sell it through some other means. Unless they manage to sucker 7500 more people into buying it for $100 in 24 days....
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Offline janoc

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #15 on: June 03, 2015, 08:09:59 pm »
If they re-badge someone else's phone they will end up with the same FCC ID etc. Thus people will be able to see that they are being ripped off.

The people who actually back a project like this are not the type that actually knows what an FCC ID is and that they could, in fact, look it up online.
 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #16 on: June 04, 2015, 02:33:56 pm »
Hey look, another mis-informed technology blogger spouting the advantages of the Light phone to unsuspecting uninformed public:

http://www.techly.com.au/2015/06/03/light-phone-pulls-away-screen-moment/

and here...

http://coolmomtech.com/2015/06/the-light-phone

With 22 days to go on this Kickstarter it is continuing to gain traction. Will be fun to watch this one continue on to the end. Would be fun if someone got one to send to Dave for a teardown, side-by-side with an Alibaba $10 phone.

Hey look what else I found.... "John's phone"... wonder what ever happened to this one:

http://www.firebox.com/product/3997/Johns-Phone
"Sorry This Product Isn't Available"

Here they are on Amazon (some used ones from a while back)... pricey indeed:

http://www.amazon.ca/Johns-Phone-Snow-White-simplest/dp/B004D3OFQK/

It was around 4 years ago. The "Light Phone" is a re-hash... but now with tools like Kickstarter these guys can shovel in the money to the tune of > $300,000 to deliver 2500 of these phones (so far). I'm not even sure if delivery is included, but even if they manage to cost-in deliver and clear themselves of 2500 phones at $30 a pop, that's only $75,000 cost... Leaving these 2 guys with $225,000 to split between themselves. Clever scheme here.... I should look into being a Kickstarter scammer, seems to be a good job.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2015, 04:37:04 pm by edy »
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Offline janoc

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #17 on: June 04, 2015, 07:37:53 pm »
Well, considering that Microsoft is still offering Nokia 105, they are going to have a hard time competing:

http://www.windowscentral.com/nokia-105-and-nokia-105-dual-sim-are-microsofts-newest-feature-phones

Dual sim and $20.

But a lot of people buy "wonder peelers" and "magic frying pans" at rip-off prices only because someone on TV told them it was great ...  :-//
 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #18 on: June 04, 2015, 08:05:19 pm »
Hey janoc,

Yes I see, thanks for the link to the Microsoft/Nokia phone That looks like a nice phone and at $20 it is a good deal. That's an unlocked phone for $20 ready to plug in any prepaid SIM for any GSM network? Wow! 15 hours talk-time and 35 days standby! The backers for the Light Phone will need to wait until May 2016 for their $100 phone. Smart! The founders of the project can deflect any backlash by just sending all their 2500 backers a $20 Nokia which has "better features" than what they promised.... they spend $50,000 and keep the remaining $250,000. Nice move Light Phone guys!

I did some more searches for "Light Phone" on Google News and surprised by the dozens and dozens of media/tech bloggers covering this Kickstarter story. None of them have actually bothered to criticize this non-existent gadget. I've posted where I could some comments to the bloggers asking them why they haven't bothered to use any of their journalistic integrity to actually research alternatives to this phone and what makes it a good "buy" for $100.

UPDATE: I just received the latest "Kickstarter - Projects We Love" email and "The Light Phone" is 2nd on the list, so it is being promoted by Kickstarter as well. They are now at $325,000, it went up about $20,000 in just a few days.... and with 22 days to go, what is to bet they will surpass $400,000? Still no answer to my message and I sent another one today...
« Last Edit: June 04, 2015, 10:55:51 pm by edy »
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Offline Delta

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #19 on: June 05, 2015, 11:05:10 am »
I just don't understand why anyone would pay $100 for such a basic phone, given the range of cheap Nokias and Shenzen specials available for a fraction of that price.

Is it one for the trendy fashion victims or something? "I got this overpriced crippled phone from Kickstarter you know? I was one of the first people in the world to own one. I've got too much money and a very small penis."
 

Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #20 on: June 05, 2015, 01:07:59 pm »
Have a close look at the attached photos. The first is from eBay... a GSM children's phone for $20. You can buy bulk Alibaba orders for closer to $10 a unit.

The second and third photos are from Light Phone's Kickstarter page! Notice one shows exactly the same LED/LCD dot-matrix display as the children's phone! Then the other photo shows they ripped out the display but you can still see the PCB traces along the top that would have gone to the display.

So they are obviously trying to respond this exact phone but maybe working directly with the Chinese manufacturer to rewrite the firmware to function on a simpler display perhaps for some energy savings? Although with proper code they can have the display off (even the dot-matrix) for most of the time and minimize power draw.

Seems like the people running this Kickstarter are mostly very clever at design and marketing and raising funds. They are instructing a bunch of Chinese engineers remotely to meet their design specs by remaking an old children's phone. I can't even imagine how crappy the quality of this will be and how easy it will be to crack and break this piece of garbage.

The only way they can redeem themselves of this over-priced scam is to offer a buy-one donate-one (to poor children in various parts of the world). So you pay $100 but you actually get one phone and make another one get donated to some poor family who needs it. It would still be way over-the-top cost and the extra cost to the Kickstarter founders would be peanuts but imagine the goodwill they could generate!
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Offline edy

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #21 on: June 05, 2015, 01:23:13 pm »
Here is the message I sent to Light phone... let's see what they reply:

Quote
Please consider this. I know the phone you are working on is very close to already available GSM card phones currently available on Alibaba for $10. Your development costs considered, there is a huge markup on your charge of $100 to backers for the phone.

However, you can redeem yourself morally and gain further support by modifying your campaign to a "back-one donate-one" model... For $100 the backer gets the Light phone but also Light will donate a phone to a poor family or child somewhere in the world (you can pick best place for GSM agreement and so on). You can also document all this in your book and video and make people even happier.

Your added cost would be minimal. You will double your production run size, BOM cost minimal... you can even donate the already existing $10 Alibaba GSM credit card phone. The point is, you will create a lot of goodwill and help not only yourself but others in a big Karma sort of way that may be a first on Kickstarter.

So consider back-one donate-one and I tell you it will totally change your campaign for the better.


They are free to do what they want. If they take this suggestion it will be nice, never mind other issues (like poor people affording minutes and charging options and general abuse of the system) but it is at least adding some positive spin that I'm sure the media will also run with.

They are now at $342,000 with 22 days to go. In the last day they added another $20,000. That alone could pay for 2000 phones for donation.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2015, 01:34:48 pm by edy »
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Offline donotdespisethesnake

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #22 on: June 05, 2015, 02:44:27 pm »
I don't see anything about this that is a scam - it may be overpriced and a waste of money, but many products are.

It seems many of the negative comments on crowdfunded projects are based on jealousy - "someone else is getting money instead of me". We don't need to care what the punters waste their money on, provided there is no fraud involved. They are adults and can spend their money however the like.

Instead of whining, why not set up your Kickstarter project? Of course, whining is easier.
Bob
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Offline mikerj

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Re: Light phone on Kickstarter
« Reply #23 on: June 05, 2015, 04:24:05 pm »
I don't see anything about this that is a scam - it may be overpriced and a waste of money, but many products are.

It's a bit of a grey line I think.  At what point does marketing bullshit become plain old fashioned lying?
 



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