The PinePhone is an affordable Linux phone created by Pine64, makers of the Pinebook Pro laptop and Pine64 single board computer.
The PinePhone specs, price and design are all tailored towards keeping it a super low $149 price point.
Pitched as a cheap alternative to Android and iOS devices, the PinePhone is built for Linux enthusiasts and developers who will appreciate its privacy-minded open source software and its hardware kill switches.
But let’s be totally clear: the Pinephone isn’t out to one-up Samsung’s latest handset or rival flagship devices from other OEMs. It’s has more humble ambitions: provide a reliable, open, hackable (and potentially upgradeable) smartphone platform, powered by Linux.
PinePhone Release Date & Price
The PinePhone will be available to buy in early 2020 as a fully finished phone pre-loaded with a(n as yet unchosen) Linux-based mobile operating system.
There’s no specific release date as of writing, but as soon as there is, you’ll probably hear about it!
The PinePhone costs $149.99 excluding shipping and any applicable taxes in your country.
PinePhone Brave Heart
If you’re really interested in helping test this Linux smartphone out then you may want to pre-order PinePhone ‘Brave Heart’ edition, which is available in limited quantities from November 15, 2019:
The Brave Heart edition is intended for enthusiasts and early adopters only and is something of a “first pass” batch. It does not ship with an OS preinstalled (but there are beta builds to try. And the handset does a few very minor differences to the final run units (mainly related to antennae placement and 2G signal).
If you miss out on the brave heart run all is not lost. Pine64 is distributing a batch of almost-but-not-quite-finished PinePhones to community makers and developers in November. If you’re working hard at porting software to run on the handset, let them know!
Will it be available in the USA?
Like the Pinebook Pro, the PinePhone is being assembled and built in China, and it will ship from China to (almost) any country in the world when it goes on general sale next year.
It’s unlikely (for now) that there will be resellers in the middle so, for example, you won’t be able to buy the PinePhone in the USA, Germany, or Sweden, etc, but you will be able to buy the phone from those countries.
But keep in mind that the Pinephone might not work in every country (or other, work to its full capabilities).
So before you buy the phone you should ensure that the cellular modem/baseband support is compatible with your current mobile network provider, and it’s frequencies in the countr(ies)y you want to use it in.
This isn’t hard to do:
- Use frequencycheck.com/countries to find out your network’s band(s)
- Compare the bands you need with the ‘specs’ on this list
For example, my network is GiffGaff in the UK, who use the o2 network. The bands used for LTE (aka 4G) are B3 and B20. Both are on the list!
Pinephone vs Purism Librem 5: Specs
Thus far I’ve managed to avoid mentioning the
elephant sized Linux phone in the room: Purism’s Librem 5.
Now, the Librem 5 is a very bespoke device. It cuts fewer technical corners than the PinePhone (for better or worse; it uses desktop class components which aren’t designed for the phone form factor) and is arguably the more powerful of the two.
But it’s also more expensive and, based on reports from community developers, may not be supported by as many alternative operating systems as the Pinephone.
Both phones pitch themselves as a privacy-conscious device (with hardware kill switches) that open source enthusiasts, developers and adopters can make more of.
Both phones, albeit to varying degrees, still use proprietary ROM firmware in baseband (though Purism load it with a FOSS driver) and potentially wi-fi and bluetooth too.
As neither the Pinephone or the Librem 5 are currently available for wider testing, and given that neither have a “stable” software stack to speak of, performance comparisons will have to wait.
The final handset (without case) will measure 160.5mm x 76.6mm x 9.2mm and weigh between 180 to 200 grams.
Photos of the PinePhone
Below are a bunch of real, actual photos that Pine64 have shared since announcing the Pinephone project earlier this year.
Keep in mind that these photos are a mix of developer units, prototypes, and prefab tests and not the final end product.
Operating System Support
As of writing, there is no PinePhone operating system selected to ship preinstalled on the handset.
But the Linux community IS hard at work porting a swathe of open source operating systems to run on the PinePhone. Below is a table of some (though possibly not all) including their development status on the Librem 5:
|LuneOS (webOS based)||Yes||No|
|Replicant (Android based)||Yes||No|
Regardless of which OS the handset actually ships with — spoiler: it’ll be whichever one is in the best state by Q1 2020 — owners WILL be able to download and boot in to any OS they choose both internally and from an microSD card.
I’m super excited for the PinePhone, and not just because it’s cheap. Like the Pinebook and Pinebook Pro laptops, the PinePhone will help put mobile Linux into the pockets of people who might otherwise have never tried.
The experience will be rough, things won’t be glamorous, and there is going to be a major app gap for most.
But that’s sort of why this (and the Librem 5) are exciting: they’re the foundation on which a different approach to mobile computing can be built.