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Music streaming hotspot launches on Kickstarter for $30

Apr 18, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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Fon has launched a Kickstarter project for a Linux-based “Gramofon” device that streams music from multiple mobile devices, and also acts as a WiFi hotspot.

With 26 days to go, Gramofon has yet to reach the halfway mark in funding toward its ambitious $250,000 Kickstarter goal. Fon plans to ship its first 6,500 units in July no matter what, but if the project is funded, it will expand its distribution, with later delivery dates. The Gramofon is now available for $30 (black) or $40 (white), with prices eventually rising to $50 and $60, respectively.



Gramofon will initially be offered in black and white
(click images to enlarge)


Fon Fonera
(click to enlarge)

The Gramofon is based on the company’s “Fonera” router (pictured at right), and similarly runs OpenWRT Linux. The Linux-based router is used by 8 million users, creating what Fon claims is the largest WiFi network in the world. Fonera owners — dubbed “Foneros” — agree to share part of their data bandwidth as a WiFi signal, in exchange for being able to connect to other members’ hotspots.

Here, the Fonera is reinvented as a social music router. On its own, it provides only the free WahWah service, which is launching in the U.S., Brazil, and Spain. However, iPhone and Android users can download an app that let’s you use WiFi to stream your own audio to the device, which in turn connects to your current sound system and speakers.

In addition to its WahWah service, the Gramofon will initially support music streaming services from Spotify, Rhapsody, and Napster, and will come with 30 days of free Spotify Premium. With the help of an API still under development, Fon plans to these offerings to many more services, including Amazon, Deezer, Google Play, Grooveshark, Pandora, Songza, Soundcloud, and Slacker.

Although the project’s Kickstarter is vague as to how these disparate music services will be accessed and controlled by users, a Fon-posted comment on the discussion page clarifies that “There will be no web/native software in the Gramofon to control the music services,” which would appear to differ from how devices such as the popular but more costly Sonos players operate.

The Gramofon’s social connection comes by way of the open, password free access provided to mobile devices within WiFi range. Fon envisions a DJ parlor game of sorts, where people take turns streaming content to the device. They can also use the device as an open WiFi router. It connects to the Internet via Ethernet or works with a current WiFi hotspot, offering a secondary public hotspot to complement your private one. WiFi sharing is negotiated through a Facebook app.

The 3.14 x 3.14 x 1.65-inch device was prototyped on a Raspberry Pi, but eventually ended up running on a custom PCB based on Qualcomm’s WiFi-oriented Atheros AR9341 SoC (see early prototype photo, below). Like the Atheros AR9331, which is used in the Gigastone SmartBox A2 WiFi content streamer, the SoC is typically paired with the bare-bones OpenWRT Linux, the choice made for the Gramofon.



First prototype, based on Raspberry Pi (left); final design’s rear panel connections
(click images to enlarge)

The box includes an Ethernet port, a 802.11b/g/n┬árouter and hotspot with bridge-mode support, and a 3.5mm stereo output to your sound system, with cable. There’s no built-in speaker or wireless speaker support. A 5V/1A┬ácharger is available, but there’s no dedicated remote — control is exclusively available via mobile apps, beginning with with Android and iOS and with Windows desktop and phone coming later.


Gramofon Kickstarter campaign video

 
Further information

The Gramofon is available for Kickstarter funding at $30 (black) or $40 (white), through May 15, with prices then rising to $50 and $60, respectively. Regarding the price differential, in a comment on the Kickstarter Gramofon discussion thread Fon explains: “The white ones are fewer, more exclusive, only for those who want them. That’s why it’s $10 more.”) More information may be found at the Gramofon Kickstarter page.
 

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