Introduction: SaQai: Extremely-Affordable Phone


Thank you for taking interest in our project, called the SaQai (pronounced Say-Qwah). We aim to assist you in recreating this project and in future endeavors involving 3D printing, programming, and hardware design. I am Sam Conklin and I am currently a freshman in E.L. Meyers High School. My partner is Adil Qaiser and he is a freshman in the WBASD STEM program. The purpose of this project is to create an extremely affordable phone without sacrificing any of the features that we expect in our modern phones. This phone is not targeted towards an upper-class audience but towards more lower class and rural areas. In order to advance third world countries' development, the citizens to access to affordable technology for emergency and educational purposes. This phone achieves this because every part is worth less than $35, and each part is easily interchangeable. The capabilities of this phone allows you to contact emergency services through Chromium (a light weight version of Google Chrome) and comes with Libre Office (comparable to Microsoft Office).

Step 1: Time Consumed

This project is meant to be a faster design time than most phones but still took time. As you can see, Designing the Case took the largest amount of time while initial assembly and configuring Rasbian OS took the least amount of time. The reason for this is because we had to design the case so that it's comfortable to hold, but still properly held all the components. Raspbian OS was only 4 hours because it's a streamlined OS that is extremely easy to install. The majority of the time was waiting for the installation to be completed.

Step 2: Cost of Construction

The cost of construction of this device is relatively cheap compared to normal phones because of the lack of proprietary parts, except for the screen and the case. In order to approach this project, you would need the parts below. Additionally, we used a 3D printed case, which you can design for your project or you can use our design that is provided.

Supplies and Costs

  • Raspberry Pi 3, ARM v8 processor, 1 GB of RAM, HDMI port (make sure it's 3.370 inches by 2.224 inches)
  • UCTronics Screen, 3.5-inch screen, 480x320 resolution, comes with an HDMI connector
  • 16 GB Micro SD, make sure it comes with a Micro SD to SD adapter so you can have Raspbian working
  • ONN Portable Battery, this comes with the power cable as well. Anything rated at 5 volts and is over 3000 Mah should work.
  • You would need Super Glue depending on your printer's capabilities
  • We used the Stratasys Mojo 3D printer, but any printer capable of making solid models, as well as over 3-inch projects will work


Step 3: Preparation, Designing, and Measurements

The Raspberry Pi is an extremely customizable and open source platform, and this project follows that idea. As you can see, from the original design plans, the battery was going to be inside the body and we were going to use the Raspberry Pi Zero W instead of the Raspberry Pi 3. This project is still possible to do with the Zero W as long as you have this kit, micro HDMI to HDMI, and micro USB to USB, but we felt that this project would be better with the full Raspberry Pi 3.

It's also important to have an idea of what you want the device to look like. The finished product does look different than the original plans but features like the HDMI bridge peaking out of the case still stayed.

The final important part of the preparation stage is getting all of the measurements for designing and building the case.

Our preparation measurements include the following:

Raspberry Pi With Screen

  • Height - 1.339 inches
  • Length - 2.581 inches
  • Width - 3.448 inches

Step 4: Installing Raspbian OS

In order for the touchscreen on the Raspberry Pi to work, you need to use the Raspbian OS. This is an alteration of the Debian OS, which is a distribution of Linux. If you do not want the screen to work or have a different way of configuring the screen with another OS.

  1. First, you need to go to this page on your Windows or Mac PC and download either NOOBS or NOOBS Lite. The difference is that NOOBS will work offline while NOOBS Lite will not.
  2. After the install, unzip the file into a designated folder. Take all the files out of the folder and put it into your empty SD card. You can now eject the SD card and insert it into the Raspberry Pi.
  3. For the following steps, you need a mouse and keyboard. After the initial boot, you will come to a screen with a list of Operating Systems including Raspbian OS, LibreELEC, Raspbian Lite, Lakka, and many others. You would want to download the first option, Raspbian OS, if you want all the features of the SaQai or Raspbian Lite without any unneeded programs.
  4. After selecting Raspbian, you should start to see a screen similar to this. The install will take 30 minutes to a 2 hours depending on your internet speed.
  5. When the install is finished, the screen should look similar to the second image.

Step 5: Installing the Drivers

For this part, you will need to navigate to the Raspberry Pi terminal and type in the following commands. Make sure the Raspberry Pi is connected to the internet. Make sure you restart the terminal every time you install something new.

  1. sudo raspi-config
  2. sudo reboot
  3. sudo git clone
  4. cd UCTRONICS_LCD35_RPI if this command does not work, try cd Downloads,cd UCTRONICS_LCD35_RPI_master
  5. sudo chmod 777 UCTRONICS_LCD_backup
  6. sudo chmod 777 UCTRONICS_LCD35_install
  7. sudo chmod 777 UCTRONICS_LCD_restore
  8. sudo chmod 777 UCTRONICS_LCD_hdmi
  9. sudo ./UCTRONICS_LCD_backup

  10. sudo ./UCTRONICS_LCD35_install

This code downloads the drivers and executes all the needed code so that the touchscreen can work.

In order for the Calibration Software to work, enter the following commands

  1. cd UCTRONICS_LCD35_RPI or cd Downloads, cd UCTRONICS_LCD35_RPI_master
  2. sudo unzip
  3. cd xinput-calibrator_0.7.5-1_armhf/

  4. sudo dpkg -i -B xinput-calibrator_0.7.5-1_armhf.deb

For better accuracy, install this code to have calibration software, by the end, it should be located in the Preferences section of the menu.

Finally, to install the onscreen keyboard

  1. sudo apt-get update
  2. sudo apt-get install matchbox-keyboard
  3. sudo nano /usr/bin/
  4. #!/bin/bash #This script toggle the onscreen keyboard PID=pidof matchbox-keyboard if [ ! -e $PID ]; then killall matchbox-keyboard else matchbox-keyboard -s 50 extended& fi
  5. sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/
  6. sudo mkdir /usr/local/share/applications
  7. sudo nano /usr/local/share/applications/toggle-matchbox-keyboard.desktop
  8. [Desktop Entry] Name=Toggle Matchbox Keyboard Comment=Toggle Matchbox Keyboard` Type=Application Icon=matchbox-keyboard.png Categories=Panel;Utility;MB X-MB-INPUT-MECHANSIM=True
  9. nano ~/.config/lxpanel/LXDE-pi/panels/panel

This allows for onscreen typing. This program would be found under the Accessories section in the menu.

Step 6: Designing the Case

Our first case had a few major problems. First of all, we did not make it wide enough to house the HDMI bridge. We also added two micro USB ports when only one was necessary. Additionally, it was too tall for the Raspberry Pi to fit, as you can see with the fifth and sixth images. This case was generally uncomfortable to hold and trying to use the screen would be a nightmare.

Step 7: Designing the Case Cont.

Our second edition of the case was a major improvement over the first. This version was comfortable to hold but had two major design flaws that called for a re-design of the entire case. The first flaw was that the screen was unprotected. As you can tell by the second image, it peaked out too much and a minor drop can crack or even destroy the screen. The second flaw was with the HDMI and USB ports. They were too small for both of the ports. We tried to sand HDMI but it proved to be ineffective and would make the ABS plastic around the ports too weak.

Step 8: Designing the Case Cont.

Our final case wanted to strike the perfect balance between comfort and protection of its components. If you look at the first image, you can see that there's a bit of the case peaking over where the screen would be. This was placed here because the HDMI bridge was the only part of the case that would hold everything inside the case. This part insured that nothing, at any angle it's being held, would fall out. We also created the battery container at this stage. We printed two of the containers seen in picture two. It was blue in this picture but we re-printed it with no changes so that it is gray. The case was originally going to be printed out in the state of picture three but unfortunately, our Mojo printer was 5 in. x 5 in. x 5 in, too small for that version of the case. Instead, we printed the container and the case out separately and super-glued them together. The final versions can be found in the .ipt formats.

Step 9: Hardware Assembly

Once you are finished printing the case, you can now assemble the phone.

The process of assembly is what follows:

  1. Install the micro SD that you installed Raspbian OS or NOOBS on the backside of the Raspberry Pi.
  2. Place the screen over the Raspberry Pi like the second image. Make sure all of the GPIO pins are lined up. The GPIO pins are the bronze pins that are connecting to the black part of the screen.
  3. Insert the Raspberry Pi into the case so that the two HDMI ports are facing the bigger square hole.
  4. Insert the HDMI bridge into the two ports and connect the micro USB into the Raspberry Pi.
  5. Insert the battery into the battery containers on top of the case and insert the other side of the micro USB into the battery's USB.
  6. If the battery is charged, the Raspberry Pi should boot.

Step 10: Acrylic Logo

The acrylic SaQai logo is the final part we will be covering in this instructable. This adds a professional atmosphere to the video and the project as a whole.

The materials you would need is

  • Acrylic or wood
  • Wood crosscut machine
  • Laser Printer, we had the Epilog Fibermark 24

In order to create a logo like this, follow the ensuing steps.

  1. Create a .png logo. It's better to create in the .png format than the .jpg or .jpeg format because .png will have a transparent background and you will have no artifacts surrounding the logo. We gave the digital version of our logo as an example.
  2. Next, cut the piece of acrylic or wood to your liking. To make sure the design is more refined, sand it down so there are no sharp pieces and everything is level.
  3. Place the acrylic or wood into a laser printer, and use the built-in software to configure the logo.
  4. After 10-20 minutes, you have the logo that should look similar to ours.

Step 11: Finishing Notes

Thank you for reading our Instructable on the SaQai.

We are looking forward to seeing what you can do by recreating and improving this project.

If you have any questions or concerns, please comment or email us at