Pine64 logo

The PinePhone is an affordable Linux phone created by Pine64, makers of the Pinebook Pro laptop and the Pine64 single board computer.

This can-do company has tailored the PinePhone specs, features and design towards meeting a super low price point of just $149.

But can a Linux phone this cheap offer a real alternative to Android and iOS devices?

The Pinephone markets itself towards Linux enthusiasts and software developers — users who will appreciate the combination of privacy-minded open source software and physical hardware kill switches.

Or to put it another way: the Pinephone isn’t trying to compete with Samsung’s latest handset or rival devices from other Android OEMs. Its ambitions are humble: provide a reliable, open, and hackable (and possibly upgradeable) smartphone platform powered by a mainline Linux kernel.

For more info on this promising Linux phone, including details on where you buy one, the mobile carriers it will be support, and the sort of software it will run, read on!

PinePhone Release Date & Price

Pine Phone specs revision

For Linux users, Pine64 is the most exciting hardware company around right now

Let’s get the big question out of the way: the final, finished version of the PinePhone doesn’t have release date — yet.

Before a “general release” (pencilled in for late 2020) Pine64 is making small batches of so-called ‘community edition’ models available for purchase. These will have a few minor cosmetic differences to the final model, and will come preloaded with beta-quality software.

The regular PinePhone is priced from $149.99, though this price does not include shipping fees or any taxes which may be applicable in your country.

A Pinephone ‘Convergence Edition’ is available with more RAM and a bundled dock accessory, and costs from $199

PinePhone ‘Community Editions’

PinePhone with Manjaro
PinePhone running Manjaro

The first PinePhone available to buy was the BraveHeart model. This went on sale (without an OS installed, no less) in November 2019, direct from the Pine64website and quickly sold out. Braveheart editions successfully shipped to buyers in January 2020.

This version has a few notable differences to later models, the most significant of which is the fact is that it can’t connect to an external monitor over USB Type-C (later models can).

The PinePhone Ubports Community Edition went on sale in May 2020. It was pre-loaded with Ubuntu Touch and had some minor hardware revisions (including revised antenna placement). It sold out within weeks.

A community edition preloaded with postmarketOS went on sale in July 2020. This version does support video-out over USB Type-C. It was followed up by a Manjaro edition in September 2020.

All units have the same screen size and case dimensions of 160.5mm x 76.6mm x 9.2mm and weigh between 180 to 200 grams (without a case).

A More Powerful Model

In July 2020 Pine64 announced an upgraded PinePhone with 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, and support for video-out over USB Type-C.

Dubbed the ‘convergence pack’, the super-spec’d handset ships late August. It is priced at the slightly higher cost of $199 but does, for this price, come with a USB-C docking accessory for connecting external monitors, keyboards, and other peripherals.

Like the Pinebook Pro, the PinePhone is assembled and built in China but can be shipped from China to (almost) any country in the world.

It’s yet to be seen if any resellers for the device will emerge, so while you aren’t able to buy the PinePhone in the USA (or Germany, or Sweden, etc) but are can buy the phone from those countries and have it sent to you.

Will the PinePhone work in the USA?

Unless you’re living somewhere particularly remote there’s a good chance that the PinePhone WILL support your mobile network or operator of choice.

That said, be smart: before you buy a Pinephone check the cellular modem/baseband supported by the phone is compatible with your current mobile network provider and/or the frequencies used in the country/s you want to makes calls, send texts, or browse the web in.

This isn’t hard to do:

Here’s a concise list:

FrequencyModem Support
LTELTE-FDDB1/ B2/ B3/ B4/ B5/ B7/ B8/ B12/ B13/ B18/ B19/ B20/ B25/ B26/ B28
LTE-TDDB38/ B39/ B40/ B41
WCDMAB1/ B2/ B4/ B5/ B6/ B8/ B19 
GSMB2/ B3/ B5/ B8

For example, my mobile network is GiffGaff in the UK, and they use the o2 network. The bands used for LTE (aka 4G) by o2 are B3 and B20 — both are supported by the modem used in this phone.

Pinephone vs Purism Librem 5

Pinephone vs Librem 5 specs graphic

When it comes to Linux phones the PinePhone isn’t going it alone. Purism’s Librem 5 is the other “big name” in the room is

Now, the Librem 5 is a bespoke device. It cuts fewer technical corners than the PinePhone does (for better or worse) and uses desktop class components which aren’t designed for a phone form factor.

The PinePhone is cheaper than the Librem 5 and there’s a greater choice of mobile operating systems available for it

It’s also more expensive — a lot more expensive — and based on reports from community developers it may not get as many mobile Linux operating systems ported to it as Pine64’s cost-friendly offering.

There are commonalities though. Both Linux phones pitch themselves as a privacy-conscious devices (with hardware kill switches) that open source enthusiasts, developers and adopters can make more of.

Both phones use proprietary ROM firmware in baseband (though Purism load it with a FOSS driver) as well as in the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth too (though these are separated on different boards in the Librem 5).

As neither the Pinephone or the Librem 5 are currently on general sale (at the time of writing) and given that neither has a “stable” software stack to speak of, it’s too early for any firm performance comparisons to be made about the devices.

That said, on paper and in practice, the PinePhone appears the more ‘usable’ as a phone right now.

Operating System Support

Pine64 can run a variety of different Linux-based mobile operating systems. The one considered most “feature complete” will ship on the regular release of the handset (whenever that actually is).

The wider Linux community IS also hard at work porting a swathe of other OSes to the device. Regardless of which OS the handset actually ships with you can download, boot and install any OS you choose, both internally and from a microSD card.

Below is a table listing some (though probably not all) of these, including their development status on the Librem 5:

OSPinePhoneLibrem 5
Ubuntu TouchYesYes
postmarketOSYesYes
Sailfish OSYesUnknown
LuneOS (webOS based)YesNo
Replicant (Android based)YesNo
PureOSNoYes
ManjaroYesYes

Accessories

Pine64 already sell protective cases custom designed to fit the dimensions of the PinePhone. These cases are available in both hard and flexible silicone and include cut outs for the phone’s rear camera.

Branded back covers that bear the logo of various OS projects will, Pine64, say be available to buy in future. A percentage of the sale of branded covers will also go to the respective project — a nice way to show some support.

Hardware expansions are another possibility. Pogo pins on the handset also allow for a range of third-party accessories to be developed, with a wireless charging, battery case, and even a physical keyboard add-on being explored.

The PinePhone has a removable and replaceable battery (just pop off the back case and slide the battery out). Accordingly, extra batteries and an external battery charger are available to buy.

Where to Buy a Pinephone

Although not on general sale yet you can buy a Pinephone “community edition” pre-loaded with pre-release software from the Pine64 web store.

Pinephone on the Pine64 Store

These batches are made available every so often, often in limited runs, and shouldn’t be considered “final quality”. They may sport minor differences to the final, finished Pinephone.

You can see which models are available on the Pine64 web shop.

Summary

I’m super excited for the PinePhone and not just because it’s cheap. Like the Pinebook and Pinebook Pro laptops, the PinePhone is going help put mobile Linux into the pockets of people who might otherwise have never tried it.

The experience will be rough, things won’t be glamorous, and there is going to be a major app gap for quite a while.

But that’s sort of why this phones so exciting: it’s the foundation on which many different approaches to mobile computing can be built.

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