I wanted some nice offline mid range chat app, for when I don’t have data, or data roaming is too expensive. I also want it to work for people who are not amateur radio licensed, since my girlfriend stubbornly refuses to be interested in that.

Looks like the answer I’m looking for is Meshtastic, preferably with LoRalora]. I bought a couple of Heltec V3 ESP32 LoRa OLED and the matching case.

Maybe I’ll buy a battery, but I’m fine just powering it from a USB power bank.

The documentation makes a fair bit of assumptions about the user knowing the name for what they want, and what firmware provides what.

In short, what I think I want is to ignore the Heltec firmware, and instead just treat the Heltec V3 as the hardware that Meshtastic runs on.

The recommended way to flash, and for some cases even use, is the Meshtastic Web UI. It uses browser integration for serial ports and bluetooth. A nice idea, but it was extremely unreliable for me. The flasher worked for one device, but not the other. The chat client never worked at all.

Here’s what worked reliably for me:

  1. Download “stable” firmware from https://meshtastic.org/downloads
  2. Plug in the Heltec V3.
  3. Unzip it.
  4. Follow flash HOWTO, or tl;dr:
    ./device-install.sh -f firmware-heltec-v3-
  5. Install Meshtastic android app.
  6. Bang on the app until it submits.

Yay, messages sent both ways. I’ve not tried any range test yet.

So this is just a “skip to the end” HOWTO, to not waste time for either future me or someone else.

PS: I hate the U.FL connector. It’s so fragile, and I’m told it’s not even specced for unplugging, so if it breaks when you unplug it, that’s working as intended.