Lets start with some brutal honesty, the PinePhone is not your next phone.
The PinePhone has woeful spec's, seriously they are pretty basic
SoC Allwinner A64 Quad Core, Mali 400 MP2 GPU RAM 2 GB, LPDDR3 Display 5.95″ LCD 720x1440, 18:9 (hardened glass) Internal storage 16 GB eMMC Modem Quectel EG-25G with worldwide bands USB port Type C (power, data and HD digital video out) Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, single-band, hotspot capable Bluetooth 4.0, A2DP GNSS GPS, GPS-A, GLONASS Rear Camera Single OV5640, 5 MP, 1/4″, LED flash Front Camera Single GC2145, 2 MP, f/2.8, 1/5″ Sensors Accelerator, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, ambient light Buttons Up, down and power Kill switches LTE/GNSS, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, microphone, speaker, cameras Battery Samsung J7 form-factor 3000 mAh Misc Headphone jack, micro SD slot, vibrator,pogo pin expansion header, RGB status LED
This is pretty much about as close to a bargain basement, chinese knockoff with a very old version of the OS as you can get.
IF you're looking at or use phones like the new iPhone, Samsung, OnePlus or Google's new Pixel device this phone is not for you..
If you use a phone to make calls, run apps and check messages, this is not the phone for you..
However it is a phone you should be very very VERY interested in.. just don't buy one, yet.
DISCLAIMER These blogs are about me getting thoughts on a page. I'm not an editor, i have problems spelling and i get a bit garbled. If this offends you, stop reading and jog on.. I'm not interested in being told my grammar is terrible or i use to many commas. Lifes to short.
So if this phone is so bad, whats the point?
There are currently two major phone Operating Systems on the market today iOS (Or whatever Apple calls it this week) is the OS on the Apple iPhone and Android is the OS on almost everything else and thats created by Google.
There have been other players out there back in the day Palm had PalmOS which was a beautiful OS on phones, but the iPhone killed that off. Then a few years back Microsoft gace it a go again with the amazing Windows Phone OS 8 and, well, Google killed that off by not realeasing any of its services as apps on that platform this making it irrelevent to the point that all of Microsoft current phone and mobile devices use Android.
For well over 10 years 2 manufacturers Apple and Google have owned the mobile device market. Both of them use the platform to extract data about you and to a degree both of them profit either through 30% tax on app store purchases or by mining your data and selling it to advertisers.
Two is not a choice, two is minor itterations year on year, price increases year on year, and very little change in how you use a phone, year on year. Two companies is harmony.. its simple, its easy and its quite frankly boring..
Each year the itterations of the same onld device come out, and we gush at how we now have 1second faster phone, 1 hr more battery life or an extra phone lense on the back of the phone when we take everything in auto mode anyway..
Disruption is needed..
Enter the Penguin
So there is a third option, and while its the size of a krill compared to the blue whales of Apple and Google right now.. There is the hint, the twinkle of something in the water which has the possibility to cause great waves..
You see the nerds are back
Over in the corner of the internet you don't go to because it doesn't look pretty a small community was growing.
This is a community taking the Operating system known as Linux and shrinking it off the desktop and onto Mobile phones.
In your world you may not be aware of Linux, you may of heard of it and set it aside as something other people use, this is fine.
However you need to be aware that Linux pretty much powers your life, your online life anyway. Companies like Red Hat, Ubuntu, Suse are the backbone of the internet where services such as Apache, Docker, Kubernetes, VoIP, VPN's all sit on top of. Thinkgs like this website are powered by Linux and it has an almost cult like following in the Tech world.
Oh, and there's another couple of things about Linux you might not know
1) Its free, yes, as in you don't need to pay for the Operating system, what you usually end up paying for are support contracts.
2) Anyone in the world can rip it apart, see how it works and if they feel so inclined they can improve it.. This is called OpenSource and chances are you're used plenty of open source applications over the years without even knowing about it..
The point of all this preamble is to explain some simple facts
- Phones are there to make money off you
- The companies providing the 2 major phone brands are profiting off this in huge numbers
- There is a possible 3rd option which is based on the concept of open, free and secure bubbling up very quickly.
OK, so whats a PinePhone?
This is a PinePhone, and it looks just like very other phone you've ever had in the last 10 years. Its created by a company called Pine64 who make the Pinebook Pro Laptop and more importantly the Pine64 Single Board a Raspberry Pie like device which provides those who are so inclined a low cost, low powered computer based off a single board
This single board computer is a low powered version of your laptop, it has Ethernet, HDMI and USB connections and can run many different versions of Linux
Taking this concept, some manufacturing know how, lessons learned from the laptop they make on distribution and putting together a solid hardware system at a low price Pine64 are able to sell a mobile phone.
With a price starting at $149
And why shouldn't I buy it?
As i mantioned at the start, its cheap because the specs are pretty poor, however for the market place this phone is aimed at, thats perfectly fine because no one is expecting to run this phone as thier daily driver today.
The idea of this phone is to kickstart the possibility of a mainstream Linux based Phone OS which would become a viable daily option for you, I and possibly your grandparents.
The thing is, theres a lot of work to do before this phone gets there..
Just about every Linux OS available for the PinePhone today is in Alpha stage of development, this means that everytime something is fixed, made to work, its quite possible the next release will break that and regress back to a previous state.
So you can't work on this phone in a stable way.. just yet
As an example, at the time of writing this only a few of the Linux OS were able to make calls
Even those which can are only able to do so on select carriers.
There's also the question currently of Apps, there aren't any, not really. Most of the installable operating systems have the basics including Firefox, most have a functioning equvilent to an App Store they are however mostly empty.
This makes sense at the moment, if the underlying OS isn't stable then writing apps for a platform this unstable its difficult to write and test. Thats not however to say there isn't any app Development and to be honest thats exactly what the PinePhone is for.
So who's this for again?
The PinePhone is for people like me, tinkerers, people with a passing interest in Linux, people who want there to be a third option and want to pass back information to developers or what's working and what's not.
The Pinephone is this generations Raspberry PI, its a test bed, its a place to do cool things on which can be mobile, and some day soon possibly with software improvements around battery, calls and messaging become a daily driver for some.
This is a phone for people who don't want to be tethered to Google or Apple, who like using Linux daily, who won't miss that killer app right now because knowing they have a phone powered by Linux in thier pocket is whats important to them.
This is a phone for nerds, geeks, enthusiasts and people who want to make a difference.
So what Linux Options are there?
So we have a phone, we have a low price what can we run on it?
So far i've found the options to be many and more interestingly very different in how they approach using a Linux based Mobile phone.
The phone I bought came with PostMarketOS on it and Phosh which is a Phone variant of Gnome
Phose looks very much as you would expect on a mobile phone, with the icons in rows and columns. Its got a bash shell, and works albeit very sluggishly.
Other notable Operating Systems available include
KDE-Neon which is a very early doors version of KDE with the same look and feel as the KDE Desktop.
UBports which is a fork of the Ubuntu Touch OS and looks and feels very much like Ubuntu on the phone. It certainly feels very polished
Sailfish is a whole new take on the interface on a phone, and steers very clear of that traditional rows of icons we are used to. It takes a little while to get used to using it however when the muscle memory kicks in its a great look and feel OS
Luna is a fork of Palm's WebOS and like Sailfish is a very pretty to look at and usable OS.
From what I can gather from twitter blogs and youtubers PostMarketOS and UBPorts are two distros which have a lot of momentum behind them and ManjaroOS the Phone version of the Desktop Arch made easy OS is picking up traction.
Desktop wise Phosh has the most work done on it, with KDE picking up pace
There, as there are in the desktop world, plenty of other Niche and interesting concepts out there as well.
How can I try these out?
The community has done a great job on documenting how to get started with each of these OS and in the most part its a case of using dd/etcher type app to write an image to an SD Card, which can either be booted from OR used to overwrite the OS on the eMMC memory on the phone.
Out of the box, the PinePhone will boot first from any SD card it finds then the local memory. While booting and running an OS from an SD Card is slower, for testing its not hugely noticable.
However this take time, and there is another option which is the Multiboot option
Using the Multiboot option you can quickly and easily write a single image to an SD Card, popping it into the SD Card slot on the phone and booting to this.
Using the up down rocker on the phone you can then select and boot into each of the OS available
As a quick and dirty method of testing out the OS from the SD Card this is a great thing to try as a new user.
For those interested in helping on this project head over to https://megous.com/git/pinephone-multi-boot/
Do these other Operating Systems only run from the SD Card?
Absolutly not, this multiboot environment is just a method of looking at the state of other Linux Distros avaialbe for the phone. If you want to flash a new Linux distro onto the phone so far every distro's home page has good clear instructions on how to do this.
Again much like multi boot, this involves writing an image file to an SD card, booting from it and flashing the eMMC storage on the phone.
So although i bought my PinePhone as the PostmarketOS Community edition installed I can install Manjaro or UBPorts onto the phone as well.
Some distros like UBPorts are also working on easier methods of installing the softeware via your Laptop and a USB cable.
The whole point of getting to version 1 for many of these distros is to have a very simple method of installing the software.
Can I run Android apps on this phone?
While running Android apps on a Linux phone kind of defeats the object of the phone its actually an understandable question. The safety net of things we know oftne helps people with transition.
The answer is kind of two fold as there is either the option of running an ASOP release of Android called GloDroid (Think very Vanila Android, with none of the Google stuff which is normally built in included, bare bones)
This will install this cut down but up to date version of Android with the f-Droid store onto the phone.
The other option is to run Android apps on top of the Linux OS of choice using Anbox.
Anbox puts the whole Android OS into a container on the Linux OS on the phone and provides the user with what look to be Native Android apps on thier phone.
I've not tried this, and the obvious thing which springs to mind for me is battery killer however there are a well written set of instructions here
So yes there are options for running Android apps on the Pinephone, however I've not yet tried it so this is all I comment.
Will this ever become a viable alternative to IOS or Android?
So this is the million dollar question, can a Linux based mobile phone in the future take on the likes of Apple and Google and have any chance of selling?
Well the answer to this is one of several answers for anything like this
Googles specific call out of not creating apps for the Windows Phone 8 platform while not the only reason the eco system died was a huge Driver. The average phone customer wants apps, there about 40 most people use and one way or another you'd suggest that having a good app eco system with ploished looking apps is a requirement for any phone. It doesn't matter how good your OS looks or feels if the customers cannot get thier fix of Instabook or FaceGram
IF the eco system were to pitch itself at the current market, the fiddlers among us there just might be enough users out there looking for a stable secure phone platform where they can run ARM based phone apps and a well supported web browser.
The number of Linux derivitives out there now bodes well as does the community Pine64 and Linphone are building.
No matter what the base Linux operating systems need to be stable and secure. Based on this single requirement then the phone may actually find itself being big in niche areas.
Ease of use
If this was to head into the mainstream then its got to be easy to be use. In its current state its not, and thats fine. To move forward it needs to be. And the phones need to give the user the option to reflash to OS the same way a PC does.
With all this said Canonical seemed to feel that they had enought of a product on thier failied Ubuntu Edge project.
So should I buy one?
If you want to have a Raspberry PI with a screen and a SIM Card and help to move a radical new way of thinking on Mobile devices forward, Yes
If you want to take selfies and post to FaceGram.. buy a Samsung..