A few tens of kilometers from Seoul, where we get the latest news from LG and Samsung (the national champions), Christian Budde Christensen was able to discover a smartphone of a different kind. The programmer and traveler tell Medium about his trip to North Korea where he was able, among other things, to take control of the Arirang 151, a smartphone developed for the regime.
Arirang 151: a smartphone without Wi-Fi
At first glance, the Arirang 151 is a small Chinese entry-level smartphone as Xiaomi could produce a few years ago (it looks a bit like Redmi 3). It has probably been made in China, even if North Korea claims to manufacture it on its soil. We find the basic components of a smartphone of this era: camera, Bluetooth, 3G, 4GB of storage, a micro SD reader and a micro-SIM reader.
First curiosity, Christian Budde explains that the smartphone is not compatible with Wi-Fi and he also found no Wi-Fi network during his trip.
Android 4.4 with North Korean interface
The interest of this device is not to look at the material level but from the software side. The Arirang 151 runs under a heavily modified version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. Christian says that the loading screen and the theme of the phone have been changed, but especially that we find a promotional video of the 60 MB phone, which takes the opportunity to highlight the beauty of North Korea.
The exploration of the phone continues with the discovery of preinstalled applications. Many games are installed like Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, Fieldrunners or Tetris. There is also a Huawei health monitoring app installed. Christian said he crossed several residents with Chinese bracelets, the use of foreign products being very innocuous in North Korea.
One can also notice the installation of an application called “AppLock” and which must make it possible to lock the use of certain applications, contacts, and messages behind a four-digit code. Christian, however, doubts the encryption of such an application and suggests that the application is probably there to give a false sense of privacy and security.
Limit information transfers as much as possible
While the basic function of a smartphone and any mobile phone is to be able to communicate by voice or text information, the government has apparently done its best to limit this use of Arirang 151.
Christian explains that the smartphone has been shut down by inserting a SIM card (it does not specify whether it was a foreign SIM card or not). In addition, once connected to a USB computer, it was only possible to transfer files to the computer. A transfer of files to the smartphone results in the outright disappearance of the files at their openings. Finally, a connection between the computer and the smartphone via Bluetooth made it impossible to transfer information, contacts or files.
An overpriced smartphone
According to Christian Budde Christensen, the smartphone in question is not accessible to the general public in North Korea, because of its selling price. Only citizens with access to a foreign currency, such as those working in tourism, can afford this technology. The goal is probably for the regime to prove that they are capable of producing smartphones, and therefore they are not lagging behind the rest of the globe and especially their South Korean neighbors.