06 - 02

BlackBerry Classic keyboard gets a second life strapped to a portable Raspberry Pi

What Frankenstein's monster madness is this? The classic BlackBerry keyboard has a new life, with the Q20 Classic's keys getting ripped out of its 9-year-old frame and attached to a palm-sized board with a Raspberry Pi Zero and a monocrhome e-paper display. It's the creation of tech entrepreneur Eric Migicovsky — a name you may recognize from the Pebble smartwatch and the InPulse before it. And it has quite the name: Beepberry.
Now before you get excited that this is the resurrection of the BlackBerry-style smartphone, lemme just throw out a bit of water on your expectations: that's not what this is. Beepberry was described by Migicovsky as "a chat-only device for hackers", purpose-built for another of his projects: Beeper combined chat app. There's no cellular radio of any sort and the circa-2017 Raspberry Pi Zero W computer board powering it is very lower power (but also very cheap). It all runs off a microSD and has just a single-core 1GHz processor with a mere 512MB of RAM so it's no mobile computing powerhouse — though it would give some older BlackBerry phones a run for their money. Then again, the Pi Zero W board only costs a few bucks, so you can't ask much.

There isn't even an included case. And I don't mean one to protect the device from falls — there's no body to the Beepberry — there's a raw display on the front with exposed ribbon cable, exposed GPIO slots on the side, and the Pi Zero W board is literally screwed onto the back side. The 2000mAh battery? The best way to attach it will be to 3D print your own enclosure. Or maybe a rubber band will do. And while you're at it you can source an LTE radio and GPS antennae and whatnot and just plug them into the USB port.

While the Beepberry hardware can run the Beeper Linux app, it's more than that. It's a full-fledged Raspberry Pi computer, running barebones Linux. So anything you can do on a Pi you can do on the Beepberry (though, slower for sure). The 2.7-inch e-paper display isn't huge or crisp at just 400 pixels wide and 240 tall. But like the Pi Zero W, it's also very low power. And e-paper is just kinda cool.
And to interface with all of it is that keyboard, salvaged from an old BlackBerry Classic. Even the BlackBerry logo is still on there. The keyboard is made possible thanks to the BBQ20KBD project that figured out how to breathe new life into these old but solid keys.

To be clear: this is a hobbyist project. While it has the BlackBerry Classic keyboard attached to the front, it is not remotely a BlackBerry replacement. It's a fun project that Migicovsky and company put together and that you can buy yourself for as little as $79 — though you'll need to provide your own Pi Zero W computer board and program it all yourself. This is a toy for hacker and tinkering types, and there's nothing at all wrong with that!
This is kind of a full-circle project for Eric Migicovsky. He first made waves back in 2009 with one of the first viable smartwatches, the inPulse smartwatch for BlackBerry, and he followed it up with the e-paper Pebble for iPhone and Android a few years later — at the time a smashing Kickstarter success setting a then-record $10.3 million raised.
If you want to get a Beepberry of your own to play with, you can they're starting at $79, or $99 with an included Raspberry Pi Zero W computer board, and shipping starting in September.