Talking Fisher Price smartphone

Back in the mid-seventies, when I was even smaller and more adorable than I am today, my parents bought me a Fisher Price Chatter Telephone. I’m sure many of you had one too. Mine was called Bert. I loved him, chewed him, made imaginary phone calls on him, and pretended he was a pet dog. (With a rotary dial and a handset, natch.)

chatter telephone

This year, I was surprised on visiting Lorna, our Trademark Compliance Elf, and her two small children, to discover that the Chatter Telephone is still manufactured, even though no child born in the 21st century recognises things with rotary dials and giant handsets as phones. (Phones are the little black slab things that we use to Skype with distant aunties, and they definitely don’t have wheels.)

Grant Gibson got his hands on a modern Chatter Telephone for his son, who didn’t seem particularly moved by it (probably because little black slab, Skype, etc.) So he decided to hack it into something a bit more interactive, and came up with this. A Chatter Smartphone.

The rotary dial provides the inputs, sound is output through the modern Chatter Telephone’s speakers (the vintage ones didn’t have speakers, but the modern ones play clips from Toy Story), and he’s added a servo motor to control the googly eyes. This particular Chatter Smartphone has been set up to deliver weather information, cinema listings, and more; as well as offering information on demand, it can issue alerts, so Grant’s family knows when he’s left the office and is on his way home, or if the ISS is passing overhead. If you make your own, Grant has provided code so you can adapt yours to your own needs.

chatter phone hack in progress

You’ll find comprehensive build instructions, along with all the electronics help and code you’ll need, at Grant’s blog. Thanks Grant – we love it!



wallarug avatar

It’s not nice to be calling people elves…especially when they save you lots of money. :D

Ravenous avatar

Olde-Style dials! I want one. Smart phones should have a digital swipeable one on screen.

The geek in me wants a 16-position dialler for hex, by the way. (Someone will probably point an obscure link to one now…)

simon avatar

Do it oldschool by click counting?

We don’t have the full mechanism with governor but that needn’t bother us with modern clever electronics.

Detect the dial direction to ignore the manual turning. Then count the clicks when they release. Use time filter to resolve the number dialed.

This is how a Strowger relay in the exchange works/expects to see.

Martin OHanlon avatar

I love it. Amazingly amazing.

Rasp User avatar

It’s pretty cool, good job although I think it’s just a fisher price smart as it dosn’t actually make any calls. (It kind of takes the whole point away of a phone)

Grant Gibson avatar

Oooh… Dial 9 for Skype? Nice idea :)

AberDerBart avatar

I recently built a USB-keyboard using an old Phones rotary dial and an attiny85 Microcontroller (using a Raspberry Pi as programmer, following this tutorial).

If you are interested, take a look here.

Dragon Dave avatar

Ravenous: It’s not quite a hex keypad, but DTMF – the noises phones make – has sixteen codes: 0-9, A-D, and #/*…

AndrewS avatar

Haha, old toys don’t die, they just get hacked into something better :)

Douglas6 avatar

Now that’s just crying out to hack a Fona into.

Simon Jenny avatar


I have made a similar toy for my son. An old phone that will tell him fairytale storys when he dials numbers : (The post is in german, but I guess google will help with the translation)

Helen Lynn avatar

That’s lovely!

Helen Lynn avatar

The odd thing is that our three-year-old does recognise things with rotary dials and giant handsets as phones, and I have no idea how.

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