Pocket P.C. devkits ship, U-blox GNSS module replaced by SIMCom SIM33ELA

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The Pocket P.C. (aka Popcorn Computer) is a handheld Linux computer based on Allwinner A64 with 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, a 4.95-inch Full HD display, and a QWERTY keyboard that was introduced in 2019, and reminds me of PocketCHIP from a few years also with an Allwinner processor, a display, a keyboard, and a battery.

The initial plan was to start shipping the device by May 2020, and there are been delays for reasons we’ll explain below, but the good news is that Source Parts has just announced the developer units had been shipped.

Popcorn Computer Shipping
So what happened exactly, besides the COVID-19 pandemic, government lockdowns, and supply chain disruptions? Source Parts first encountered issues with the quality of PCBs delivered by the manufacturer, which ended up with them having to switch to a new manufacturer.

Getting the display to work was also a challenge, and Icenowy, a developer involved with linux-sunxi community, found an overflow bug in the kernel driver for the Allwinner DSI interface, and it’s now working properly as we can see from the photo above.

But what really caught my intention is that the company decided to switch from U-blox CAM-M8Q GPS/GNSS module to a SIMCom SIM33ELA GPS/GNSS module for future production runs. Why you may ask? It’s a supply issue, but not the one you may have thought of at first. According to Source Parts, that’s because U-blox CAM-M8Q has been banned from being imported into China.

I’m not sure whether it’s because of US sanctions (I would have been an “export ban” in that case), or whether it’s somehow related to a recent court case in China, but in any case, the result is that U-blox CAM-M8Q’s price, again according to Source Parts, has gone from $15 to $80+, and they may not be supplies in China soon.

[Update: U-blox denies both the China import ban and the increase in price:

The CAM-M8Q is not subject to any such ban and continues to be imported by China, and as can be seen in the u-blox webshop, the CAM-M8C (featuring a XTAL oscillator) is being sold in single quantities for just over 22 EUR ($25.72 at today’s exchange rate).

Peter Fairhurst, Senior Director Product Strategy, Positioning, at u-blox states that “the CAM-M8Q is not subject to any import or export restrictions that would affect customers in China, and continues to be sold through our distribution partners and the u-blox webshop – dependent on supplier and quantity. We pride ourselves on our excellent relationships with our customers, globally, and strive to ensure the quality of solutions and service that all our customers receive from u-blox excels at every juncture.”]

SIMCom SIM33ELA was selected because it’s pin-to-pin compatible, with the main drawback being that it does not support the Chinese Beidou Navigation Satellite System. There seem to be many business opportunities with pin-to-pin compatible hardware these days from USB to TLL chips to systems-on-module due to supply issues.

Back to the Pocket P.C. itself. Source Part says they are finalizing the software, and that they have been “working nonstop” to put it into customer’s hands, but did not provide any ETA.



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