All About Linux 2008: Five cool devices running embedded Linux that you aren't using

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As previously mentioned in this week’s Orientation, Linux is not limited to just desktops. It’s far reaching, actually. Not that you’d have a Terminal app on it or anything, but you could. Some of you may have a mobile phone running Linux and you probably don’t even know it. The most popular phone in the world runs Unix. That’s right. The iPhone, my arch nemesis, runs on Unix. Are there any other cool mobile devices out there running on Linux or Unix? Of course there are. Enter, dear friends, and be amazed.

Motorola’s forthcoming ROKR E8 for T-Mobile isn’t the prettiest thing they’ve ever produced and that’s probably why their design team got the axe and the business is being split apart, but I digress. Moto’s latest venture into the music phone realm doesn’t have the best looks, but its features make up for it.

It runs a hybrid Linux/Java OS and the “ModeShift” interface is quite nice and causes less confusion when you’re trying to distinguish the phone controls from the music-dedicated controls. It simply morphs from one UI to another. It’s also the first Moto to sport a haptic keypad and the “FastScroll” crescent control whips through menus quickly. It’s not a bad music phone, really. I suggest you go to the store and play with it and decide for yourself.

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The Nokia N810 is not a phone per se, but you can make VoIP calls on it so that’s why we’re including it. The Internet tablet is rumored to integrate WiMAX and we’ll find out for sure next week at CTIA. Being Linux-based, the N810 features a full Mozilla-based browser though, an installable version was available for the N800. It’s just there out of the box now. If you remember the N800 was hacked to bits with silly apps such as an iPhone-like keyboard and kinetic scrolling.

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OpenMoko is probably the first group to bring a truly open device to market in recent months. The Neo is reminiscent of Sony’s Mylo in terms of form factor, but that’s about it. The company is dedicated to bringing a completely open device to the masses. The OS is open to all so you can have your way with the code and now they’re opening up the CAD files for the hardware itself. Of course, the hardware has nothing to do with Linux, but the fact that you can is awesome. It’s the first mobile phone that allows you to dictate what’s on it and what it’s going to look like. We’ll see what the zzzPhone can actually do even though it doesn’t run Linux.

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Taking on the Motorola Qs and Blackjacks of the world is the Grundig B700, a QWERTY-packing, Linux-powered smartphone with lots of media playback capabilities. Other highlights include an FM tuner, microSD, and a rather cool retro design. It’s GSM and Edge, and should work with AT&T or T-Mobile SIMs.

We like that when it launches (which should be rather soon) it’ll be inexpensive, great for those of you on month-to-month GSM contracts.

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Motorola does love their Linux-based phones, and for good reason. Unfortunately for us we won’t ever see the MING. The PDA is only available in Asia, but I’ve heard great things about it. The GSM clamshell has a 240×320 touchscreen, stylus, and is affordable, with importers selling them unlocked for as little as $350 in the US.

The point is that Linux-based OS’s are abundant among the Windows Mobile and Symbian-based devices. You just have to know where to look. It might not necessarily be your cup of tea, but OpenMoko is a prime example of what could be possible in this space.

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