A Space Engineer Built Her Own Cell Phone With a Rotary Dial System

The engineer Justine Haupt said she uses the phone as "an excuse not to text."
Chris Young

The smartphone is perhaps the defining invention of the 21st Century. As Elon Musk puts it, smartphones give us superintelligence at the click of a button. They connect us with others around the world and help us determine our location at any given minute. 

It hasn't all been good though. We are incredibly dependent on our devices — smartphone addiction is a growing concern. A staggering 81 percent of Americans own smartphones. This is a huge increase from the Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership conducted in 2011 when just 35 percent owned them.

Many people have tried to find an antidote to the worst aspects of smartphone technology. One of those individuals is Justine Haupt, who created what she dubbed a "rotary cellphone."

Extremely Old School

To anyone old enough to remember rotary phones, the contraptions made dialing a number a cumbersome task.

A user inputs a number into a rotary dial by placing a finger in the hole of the number they want to dial. They then turn the plastic dial until it reaches the metal clip and let go, allowing it to spin back into place and register the number dialed. They have to do this for every digit of a phone number. It certainly takes a more cognitive effort than our smartphones today.

In Haupt's version, pictured below, the same method of dialing is used. No screens, no numerical buttons, and no chance of butt dialing. 

A Space Engineer Built Her Own Cell Phone With a Rotary Dial System
Source: Justine Haupt

Now, the rotary cell phone isn't old-school just for the sake of it. As Haupt describes on her website, where she goes into detail about the design, "in a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting."

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The best thing about Haupt's design is that it is completely open-source, meaning that she has freely shared her designs so that anyone with the know-how can build one if they wish to.

A Space Engineer Built Her Own Cell Phone With a Rotary Dial System
Source: Justine Haupt

As Haupt explains, she chose a dial from an old Western Electric Trimline telephone as it's quite compact as far as rotary dials go. She connected that to a modern cellular chipset and a custom-designed board that was manufactured in China. The enclosure, however, was 3D printed and specially designed.

A Space Engineer Built Her Own Cell Phone With a Rotary Dial System
Source: Justine Haupt

The phone does integrate some modern features, such as a 10-LED signal meter, programmable shortcut buttons for calling specific numbers, a power switch, and a curved ePaper screen (eat your heart out Samsung) that displays basic information like missed calls.

"My intent is to use it as my primary phone. It fits in a pocket; It's reasonably compact; calling the people I most often call is faster than with my old phone, and the battery lasts almost 24 hours," Haupt explains.  

Want to build one yourself? Check out the raw schematics and all of the design files here.

In June 2020, Haupt announced a "mark 2" version of the phone that will run on a 4G network and be a complete kit. This new phone will have a real, mechanical ringer bell, a silent vibration mode, and a larger ePaper display than on the current version.

She is now accepting pre-orders for this new version (in kit-form), which she intends to start shipping before summer 2021. 

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