Yesterday, Pine64 announced the end of the PinePhone UBPorts Community Edition campaign—but more importantly, the company declared the beginning of the postmarketOS Community Edition campaign. The base version of the new run of PinePhones shares the same $ 149 price point and the same basic technical specs as the original developer edition—but there’s also a new, upgraded “Convergence Package” available at $ 199.
Before anyone gets too excited, we need to make something clear—these devices, while attractively priced, should be considered beta gadgets for tinkerers to experiment and play with. They are not yet fully functional phones, and in their current development status, they are unlikely to be anyone’s full-time daily-usage smartphone. The apps don’t all work yet—including making calls—and battery life still leaves a lot to be desired.
The Convergence Package ups the specs of the PinePhone from 2GiB RAM to 3GIB while the internal storage jumps from 16GB eMMC to 32GB eMMC. The package also adds a USB-C dock for the phone; the dock can charge the phone as well as offering two USB2 ports, a 100Mbps Ethernet port, and an HDMI port.
There’s nothing slick about this dock—it connects to the phone by way of a simple cable rather than a docking connector, its Ethernet port is old-school 100Mbps, and its USB type A ports are USB2 only. With that said, it’s an interesting step towards true convergence, allowing a mostly portable pocket-sized device to transform itself into a reasonable approximation of a “desktop” with a single connection.
The functionality of the external monitor looks sharply limited in postmarketOS developer Martijn Braam’s demonstration video from June—but everything’s still under very heavy development. We expect to have our hands on a PinePhone with a Convergence Package sometime in August, and we’ll update you with the current state of affairs then.
PinePhone operating systems
If you’re not completely up to speed on alternative phone operating systems, UBPorts maintains and continues to develop the Ubuntu Touch operating system that Canonical abandoned in 2017. The original developer edition of the PinePhone that Ron reviewed in January required users to flash their own operating system, but the later Community Edition featured preflashed Ubuntu Touch, and all profits from sales of that CE were donated to UBPorts foundation to help fund ongoing maintenance and development.
The new postmarketOS Community Edition similarly comes preflashed with postmarketOS, a beta smartphone operating system which aims to look and feel like “a real Linux distribution.” Another important claim to fame for postmarketOS is its modular design—most smartphone operating systems rely on separate monolithic images for each separate device they can run on, but postmarketOS instead uses a universal operating system image, with (ideally) a single device package which covers the specific hardware needs of a given phone.
If neither Ubuntu Touch nor postmarketOS float your boat, you might want to keep an eye on GloDroid—a vanilla AOSP (Android Open Source Project) operating system which targets Allwinner-based devices like the PinePhone, PineTab, and Raspberry Pi 4. For now, this, too, is a beta project—although pre-built system images for several devices (including the PinePhone) are available, they’re still tagged Work In Progress and are not yet production ready.
One of the nice things about the PinePhone is that its boot process has been designed from the start for distro-hoppers—PinePhone users don’t need to wipe the internal storage each time they change operating system, since the system supports booting directly from a microSD card. This makes it easy to experiment with the wide variety of software out there without the pressure of wiping out whatever work or success you’ve had with the last thing you tried—or just hopping back and forth for the fun of it.
Reminder—beta projects are beta
We said this up top already, but it bears repeating—the PinePhone is not a mass-market product. It’s a fun, low-cost experimental platform for tinkerers and developers. If you want to see the current state of the art of alternate mobile operating systems, it’s hard to imagine a better purchase than the PinePhone—it’s cheap, widely supported, and supports easy multi-booting from microSD cards without the need to constantly wipe the internal storage.
But none of the available OS options should be considered anything like “production ready” yet—and by mass-market consumer standards, neither should the phone itself. As one example, Pine64 cautions users that, while dead screen pixels are relatively uncommon, it doesn’t consider 1-3 of them to warrant replacement. Instead, it asks that users who would demand a replacement or refund for that reason simply not purchase the phone at all.
The Pine64 store is down for maintenance at press time, apparently overwhelmed by incoming orders (one of which was ours). Shipping on the new run of phones is expected to begin in late August.