Review: Unihertz Jelly Star: Miniaturized Maker Mobile

Computers & Mobile Electronics
Review: Unihertz Jelly Star: Miniaturized Maker Mobile

Manufacturer: Unihertz

Kickstarter Campaign

Price: $170

Unihertz Jelly Star: Miniaturized Maker Mobile?

I remember my first phone: it was transparent blue, and it … plugged into the wall. But once things became a bit more mobile, I was very excited about innovation in that space too – I recall fondly when phones shrank and shrank, most delightfully realized in a tiny Sony cell which was just a small square with a flip-down mic so it could actually stand a chance of spanning the distance between your ear and mouth. Current phones, however, offer very little in terms of distinguishing features – most flagships are homogenous dark slabs, indistinguishable from the previous generation or competitor’s uninspired offerings. As such, I’m always on the lookout for something different. Which is why Unihertz’s latest tiny phone, the Jelly Star, attracted my attention immediately.

As alluded to, I’ve always been drawn to tiny devices – my Palm (2018’s PVG100 model, not the original PDA!) always turned heads with its diminutive less-than-4×2” figure, and while it was marketed as “a phone for your phone” I was able to use it as my main device once I added an optional battery case to give it slightly longer legs. Then I stumbled upon the Jelly 2 crowdfunding campaign, which promised a similarly credit-card-sized device, but with a much bigger battery and other features not commonly found even on much larger modern flagships. Pairing my Planet Computers keyboard-adorned Cosmo Communicator with the Jelly 2 once it arrived gave me the best of both worlds: a giant phone I could type on when I wanted to get stuff done, and a phone that I barely noticed in my pocket when I didn’t. The Jelly Star is the next generation of the Jelly series, which bumps up the specs of the 2, as well as adding a very exciting party trick which I’ve not seen on any other device.

Diving back into nostalgia for a moment, I remember when phones were incredible multitools that let you do an immense range of things, such as listen to FM radio, connect to external speakers, and control your television and other IR devices. Features like the 3.5mm jack and IR blaster have fallen away in the race to make phones as slim as possible, but somehow the tiniest Android 13 phone of all manages to cram them all in, as well as dual SIM slots and the ability to expand storage with a microSD card. It has all of the expected features of a full-size phone in 2023, including an Octa-Core 6nm MediaTek Helio G99 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of built-in storage, a 48MP camera, and a 2000mAh battery, which lasted for several days in testing.

On top of all of the other brilliant gadgetry, the Jelly Star has a very cool feature that I’ve not seen from any other manufacturer. In addition to being transparent, like those glorious 90s devices, it has two large LEDs that span most of the back of the device, which can be used to indicate incoming calls and notifications, as well as for music visualization and as a reminder that the device is in need of charging. While the amount of light is not dissimilar from the “flashlight” provided by a typical phone’s camera flash, it’s far more diffuse and pleasant, plus is really well integrated into the phone’s functionality.

With a few weeks of hands-on time, I’ve really come to appreciate the rare features of this tiny wonder. For starters, it fits in that little pocket in your jeans that I’m not really sure what the purpose of is, which makes it seem like it’s not even there most of the time, and that is the way I like it – the main thing I’m looking for in a phone is a hidden internet gateway for my Pebble smartwatch. But when I do remove it from that tiny pocket, the Jelly Star’s functionality really shines. In the past week, I have:

  • used the NFC tag emulator and programmable shortcut button to get in and out of my local makerspace with ease
  • used the giant rear LED as an impromptu ring light during a conference call
  • used the giant rear LED to install a motion-detecting light switch in a dark room while the breaker was switched off
  • controlled a television (that I didn’t have a remote for) in a public space

The Jelly Star is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter with five days to go, so act fast if you want to take advantage of the $170 backer price. While it’s important to remember that Kickstarter is not a store, and you may never receive the item for which you pledge, this is Unihertz’s ninth successful campaign, so the chances of fulfillment should be very good.

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David bought his first Arduino in 2007 as part of a Roomba hacking project. Since then, he has been obsessed with writing code that you can touch. David fell in love with the original Pebble smartwatch, and even more so with its successor, which allowed him to combine the beloved wearable with his passion for hardware hacking via its smartstrap functionality. Unable to part with his smartwatch sweetheart, David wrote a love letter to the Pebble community, which blossomed into Rebble, the service that keeps Pebbles ticking today, despite the company's demise in 2016. When he's not hacking on wearables, David can probably be found building a companion bot, experimenting with machine learning, growing his ever-increasing collection of dev boards, or hacking on DOS-based palmtops from the 90s.

Find David on Mastodon at @ishotjr@chaos.social and to a far lesser extent on Twitter at @IShJR.

View more articles by David Groom

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