The Pinetab with magnetic keyboard
The PineTab with magnetic keyboard

I dream of owning a well-spec’d tablet that runs a proper Linux distro like Ubuntu — and that dream is now a step closer to reality.

Pine64 will release a 10-inch Linux tablet later this year priced at low $99 (it had early been promised at just $79). The device is called the PineTab.

Pune64 is a particularly prolific hardware company already known to Linux enthusiasts thanks to its range of cheap and cheerful 64-bit ARM single-board computers (boards which are also used in the Pinebook and Pinebook Pro laptops).

The PineTab will, like the PinePhone, be something of a first: the first real Linux tablet released to the masses.

While the BQ Aquarius M10 Ubuntu Edition released in 2016 ran a version of Ubuntu it was not the same version as the desktop version and relied heavily on Android drivers. The M10’s mid-range hardware and not-exactly-Ubuntu OS was a pairing destined to disappoint. To quote one reader of the day the M10 was: “functionally unusable”.

So a true, fully-fledged Linux tablet running mainline Linux kernel, a proper Linux distro, and shipping with kinds of apps we all use has been sorely missing.

As such, expectations for the PineTab are amplified —  no sweat Pine 64!

PineTab Specs

The PineTab is a 10.1-inch tablet built around an Allwinner ARM64 SoC similar to the one used in the $99 Pinebook.

Performance wise this chip should deliver a so-so experience (albeit depending on OS, app load, and so on). In theory, there’s no reason why it can’t offer a decent experience, as talented tinkerers of the Pinebook can attest.

That said, desktop Linux operating systems that currently support the Pinebook will need to make some adjustments should they want to work well on the PineTab (any devs reading this: resurrect the Ubuntu Netbook Edition launcher as it was a delight).

Here’s a quick overview of the key PineTab specs:

  • 10.1-inch HD IPS LCD Display
  • Allwinner A64 SoC
  • 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM
  • 64GB eMMC
  • WiFi 802.11n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 2MP front-facing camera
  • 5MP rear camera

Ports wise the PineTab offers:

  • USB 2.0 A host port
  • Micro USB 2.0 OTG port
  • Digital Video out
  • microSD card slot

It will be possible to charge the slate using either the micro USB port or a bundled ‘barrel’ connector.

Pine64 say the tablet is constructed using a sleek black, ‘grippy’ plastic. The devices features a volume rocker and a ‘home’ button on the side. A pair of rear-facing speakers are also included.

Expansion capability

The PineTab is a fully functioning product in its own right — but it’s not strictly limited to what it ships with.

Pine64 have revealed plans for a PineTab adapter board. This board will allow “expansion modules” to be attached inside the PineTab casing to add additional functionality.

“Each module can be easily installed and swapped out by the end-user – all it takes is removing the tablet’s back cover and undoing a single screw,” they say.

Planned add-on modules currently include a proper SATA SSD, data connection and GPS, and a pair of radio modules.

And an official combined backlit keyboard and folio case with stand will also be available.

“You will also be able to purchase a magnetically attachable keyboard for the PineTab, which doubles-up as a protective sleeve. The keyboard features an inbuilt trackpad and connects to the tablet using pogo pins that use a standard USB 2.0 interface, and folds in a way that also props up the tablet when its sat on a table.”

When Can I Buy It?

The original target price for the PineTab was $79 but this has since risen to $99 — which is still pretty decent. The magnetic keyboard case is an optional extra and costs $19.99.

The device will be available to purchase later this year. An early-adopter “Community Edition” running Ubuntu Touch OS will be available in the summer.

Note: Article originally published January 31, 2019.

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