SmushBox - Smart SMS Texting for Everyone

On March 27th, I was listening to the Security Now podcast (Security Now #397 – “Listener Feedback #164”), when Steve Gibson mentioned a Kickstarter project called the SmushBox.  He described it as “Mark [Thompson] wanted an automated way of sending and receiving SMS messages for his own web-based stuff that he’s doing.”  Hmmm, I thought, “So do I”.

So on March 30, 2013, I pledged at the “SMUSH KIT, LATER” level for $250, which included an “activated SmushBox, installation and management software, cables, unlimited texting with unlimited keywords”.  The SmushBox project promised, “unlimited 2-way SMS texting, unlimited mobile subscribers, with no contracts or hidden fees.”  Unfortunately, in the three days since Steve mentioned it on his podcast, they had sold out of the lower levels (meaning cheaper).

Kickstarter Info

  • Date Funded:  2013 April 19
  • Total Backers:  168
  • Total Raised:  $35,220 vs. Goal:  $20,000
  • Date Backed:  2013 March 30
  • Backer Level:  SMUSH KIT, LATER
  • Backer Price:  $250.00
  • Item Received:  Late September, 2013

Physical Design (4 Stars)

The SmushBox is an aluminum enclosure, with good build quality.  Mine had a slight rattle if shaken (- 1/2 Star) and the antenna mount didn’t seem to work properly (meaning if I tighten it down to the box, I can’t move the antenna, but if I force it, then the antenna loosens from the box and has to be tightened down again) (-1/2 Star).  I did have the occasion to take my box apart in order to re-flash the SD card (see below), and the screws holding the front and rear plates on are very fine threads.  I believe one of mine was cross-threaded, but it could have been me.  The inside has some plastic end plates for diffusing the LED lights and three circuit boards:

  • GSM modem
  • I/O (microSD card slot, mini USB, and standard USB ports), Power, and RJ-45 Ethernet.
  • SmushBox custom PCB – Has connections for the two cards above, a “reset”-looking button, an audio jack, LEDs, and the antenna mount

Initial Impressions (1 Star)

I was a Kickstarter backer, so we got “early” access to the hardware and software.  My initial impressions were, well, poor.  I hooked it up, found it on my network, and logged in.  The default UI was…spartan (-1 Star).  I then tried to send a text message, failed (-1 Star).  Seems the boxes went out without being tested and verified as working (-1 Star).  We had previously submitted a request for an area code to base our phone number on, but the boxes didn’t seem to be activated.  After a while, we worked through the activation issues, and I was able to send a text via the UI.  Around this time, Smush Mobile also released an upgrade to the firmware, which I applied.  The next day my box was dead.  Seemed the microSD card had failed, and it was happening to a large number of folks (-1 Star).  This was eventually sorted, SmushMobile sent new microSD cards to everyone who asked, and they also repaired boxes for people that wanted to send them back.  I did neither, and just bought a new microSD card (a faster one), and flashed the OS to it myself (after it was made available).  Problem solved.

Impressions after 1 Month (3 Star)

After having the box for a month, not a lot has changed.  The software is stable, but there hasn’t been another upgrade to address some of the issues that people have found (including me) (-1 Star).  The UI hasn’t changed and I find I don’t use it at all (-1/2 Star).  The box has been stable and continues to work, but without a better UI and better documentation (there’s basically none, -1/2 Star), it hasn’t fulfilled the promise made in the Kickstarter campaign.

Conclusion (3 Stars)

This little box has a lot of potential.  I’ve been very active in the forums and have done some things to make my SmushBox really shine.  If your use case is similar to mine (hack around with a SMS send/receive box and use it personally), then you’ll probably love it.  But, if you’re looking to use this commercially for Text-based Marketing, large Mailing lists, or other business purposes, you’ll want to wait a while (not that you have a choice, it’s not been released for sale yet).

The team at Smush Mobile is being very open about the state of the box and is working with various folks, myself included, on updates and changes. It just seems they don’t have the bandwidth to make these updates quickly, in order to get the product closer to what was promised in a reasonable amount of time.  I have high hopes they’ll get there and will continue to use mine.

Kickstarter Remorse:  None.  I would back this project again.

What I’m Doing with my SmushBox

My use case was easy, I wanted a personal communication method with my home computing systems that did not rely on having Internet access.  I’ve performed the following integrations and modifications to my SmushBox to achieve my goal:

  • Hacked the OS on the SmushBox and enabled SSH so I could gain ‘root’ access (update 20150712: link dead, forums offline)
  • Wrote a script and enabled a crontab on the SmushBox that checks for valid network access and pages me if it loses the network
  • Wrote a python script that implements all of the Web API features, so you can use them in a command line and/or crontab
  • Created a Nagios alerting capability using my python script so Nagios can page me directly on network events without needing my Internet to be available
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