Fairberry project brings a hardware keyboard to the Fairphone

Miss hardware QWERTY? Warm up your soldering iron and 3D printer

Updated Hardware hacker's non-trivial project to weld a Blackberry keyboard to an Android fondleslab is being updated with an off-the-shelf PCB.

The Fairberry project has an ostensibly simple goal that's harder than it initially sounds: building a housing to physically connect an off-the-shelf Blackberry keyboard to an Android phone, via the phone's USB socket.

As the description says: "Since it connects over USB, there is no need for separate batteries or glitchy Bluetooth connections."

This really resonates with us: the Reg FOSS desk is a jaded owner of several Bluetooth smartphone keyboards, and they are all far too fiddly to be worth using.

Project creator "Dakkaron" explained why Fairberry uses the keyboard from a Blackberry Q10:

I decided to use the Q10's keyboard (and not, for example, the Key1/Key2 keyboard) since the Q10 keyboard is documented really nicely, and there are ready-made adapter designs, that I could use without having to design my own PCB.


A we hope not too salacious bottom view of the Blackberry Q10's keyboard.

If you were not a frequent fondler of Blackberry devices, the Reg reviewed the Q10 back in 2013, and liked it. It was one of the two original launch devices for the company's next-generation QNX-based Blackberry 10 OS, alongside the touchscreen-only Z10.


Blackberry Z10 and Q10

The original version of Fairberry appeared about two years ago, and used an Arduino Pro Micro to interface the keyboard with the phone. That meant that you had to get your own PCBs printed, then hand-solder very small components onto them. This is intimidating stuff. It was followed by version 0.2, which used a ready-made PCB you can order directly from boutique Chinese PCB makers JLCPCB. You still had to manually solder on the connectors, though.

Now, according to a report on Hackaday, a third version is coming. Dakkaron says:

I will release v0.3 soon, which has UX improvements. I will also update the documentation to include what you need to do to get JLCPCB to do the Hirose connector for you.

This isn't off-the-shelf kit. You'll still have to print your own housing to attach it to the phone, but we hope that this might lead to recipes to print adaptors for other devices than the Fairphone.

The demand is there. For instance, there's an off-the-peg version in the works for a few recent models of iPhone, called Clicks. We don't like the look of that keyboard much – for this vulture, it evokes worrying flashbacks to the minuscule keyboard inside the flap of the Sony-Ericsson P910i.

Perhaps to spare the delicate sensibilities of Reg readers, we didn't show the QWERTY keyboard there, but you can see some alarming close-ups in other places. The author has giant gorilla hands compared to those shown on GSM Arena, and the smallest Blackberry we could cope with was the oddly square Passport. We still rather miss ours. ®

Updated ay 18.20 UTC on March 26, 2024 to add:

Dakkaron has written to The Reg to let us know that they have now relased a new, improved Fairberry version 0.3.0 He told us:

"The keyboard connector now doesn't have to be hand-soldered anymore, which reduces the required solder skill level a lot. The case generator has been improved, so it's much easier for people to generate a case for their specific phone. And lastly, the backlight was split into two different zones which facilitates using it to indicate the status of num/sym-lock and cursor mode."

Reportedly at least one keen Redditor plans to sell finished boards, too.

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