This 3D Printed Smartphone Lets You Call, Text, & Share Photos


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Tyler Spadgenske

I had a conversation, or um er, debate, not too long ago with a fairly technologically savvy friend of mine who simply does not like change. This individual enjoys new electronics after much time and deliberation has passed in choosing the smallest item–like a mouse, not to mention a phone or tablet; so, when I brought up the fact that 3D printing may eventually, with the ease in combining electronics, offer everyone the independence and flexibility to make their own everything at will or whim, my idea was met with outrage. People don’t want to make their own phones! That’s just too much work. And what about status symbols like the iPhone? I beg to differ: I think people, especially the millennial generation, enjoy making their own products—and that status is in having produced it yourself.

While there is time and effort involved in making something like your own smartphone, the affordability factor and ability to customize your own creation are a pretty good end reward. Tyler Spadgenske is definitely an example of a young-ish designer who enjoys taking the sometimes longer but extremely fulfilling journey in creating with 3D printing and electronics—the ‘Tyfone’ is pretty good evidence.


The Tyfone, using a Raspberry Pi as a processor (and camera) resembles the size and look of a wallet, with an aesthetically pleasing screen at 3.5 inches. You can make calls and text, due to the Adafruit FONA. While it’s not a superior smartphone yet, the Tyfone is impressive for sure—and this baby has lots of room to grow. Some processes which require a bit of a workaround would be sharing photos—via a dropbox (but hey, you made this—and you can still share photos!), as well as having to use its USB adapter to connect to wifi.

The Raspberry Pi is the brains of the operation, along with software, called TYOS, that Tyler wrote using python.

“The Raspberry Pi handles all the processing, and connects everything together,” says Tyler. “The TFT talks to the Raspberry Pi over SPI, and the FONA talks to it over UART. Everything is powered with a 1200mah battery connected to the FONA. The FONA has a charging circuit Electronics componentsperfect for use with the phone.”

Following is the list of materials you’ll need, and Tyler realizes you may have to order some of them, but there’s plenty to get started on in the meantime. Here is what you’ll need for your Tyfone:

  • Raspberry Pi A+ 256MB
  • Adafruit FONA uFL Version
  • 3.5in PiTFT Assembled
  • Raspberry Pi Camera 5MP
  • Powerboost 500 Basic
  • GSM Antenna
  • 1W 8 ohm metal speaker
  • USB wifi adapter
  • Electric microphone
  • 1200mah lithium ion battery
  • 4-40 x 3/8in screws
  • M2.5 x 5mm screws
  • M2.5 x 20mm screws
  • M2 x 5mm screws
  • Slide switch
  • Wire

twoGetting the 3D printed housing ready should occupy some of your time while you wait on any shipped items. You can download the file for 3D printing yourself from Thingiverse, or have it produced by a company such as Shapeways.

  1. Once the case is ready, you’ll need to begin making all your connections, and this involves some soldering of the printed circuit boards as well as assembly.
  2. Once all the power is connected, its time to wire the UART to the Raspberry Pi, the speakers, and the microphone.
  3. A standard SIM card has to be inserted so that the Adafruit FONA can connect to the cellular service you choose, keeping in mind that the Tyfone operates on a 2G network, so Tyler recommends T-Mobile network. Once it’s activated and inserted into your FONA, you should be able to power everything on.
  4. With hardware wired, the Raspberry Pi needs to communicate with everything. This happens after  ‘flashing the latest version of the PiTFT OS onto a micro SD card for the Raspberry Pi.’ Once the SD card is prepared, you can insert it into the Pi and power it up.

“Your phone will not have a keyboard, so in order to access a command line you will have to set up wifi to use ssh,” states Tyler. “In the desktop, put in your network information using the wifi configuration. Shut down the Raspberry Pi and insert a wifi dongle. If you are still not able to connect via ssh, try using a USB hub to get going.”

For clear instructions and programming commands for testing the FONA, and then installing the camera, click here.  TYOS has to be installed, and then you are on your way to assembling everything and making some calls.

You will require hot glue to attach the microphone and speaker, and then can get to work screwing in all the major components from the Raspberry Pi to the camera to the SIM card. Wiring needs to be organized and then the case needs to be screwed on from the top and bottom. Keep in mind—you do not have to call your phone the ‘Typhone.’ This can be modified here.

Are you up for building your own smartphone and 3D printing the case? Have you built any 3D printed items coupled with electronics? Share with us in the 3D Printed Smartphone forum over at




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