The front and back of the PinePhone. [credit:
Pine64 has announced that it is finally shipping the PinePhone, a smartphone that takes the rare step outside the Android/iOS duopoly and is designed to run mainline Linux distributions. The PinePhone starts shipping January 17 in the “Braveheart” developer edition.
This initial “Braveheart” batch of devices is meant for “developer and early adopter” users, according to the Pine64 Store. The phone doesn’t come with an end-user OS pre-installed and, instead, only comes with a factory test image that allows for easy verification that the hardware works. Users are expected to flash their own OS to the device. There are several available, from Ubuntu Touch to Sailfish OS, but they are all currently in an unfinished alpha state. Pine64 says that only enthusiasts with “extensive Linux experience” are the intended customer here—this isn’t (yet?) a mainstream product.
It’s hard to mention PinePhone without mentioning that other Linux smartphone, the Purism Librem 5. They could both end up running the same software one day, but the two companies are taking totally different approaches to hardware. Purism has a hardline requirement for the hardware: it needs to be as open and freedom-focused as possible, which means the company couldn’t use the typical supply chain that exists for Android phones. Purism has only a limited amount of open source-compatible vendors to choose from, and it uses M.2 socketed chips for the closed-source Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and Cell modem. The result is a device that is very thick (16mm), hot, and expensive, at $750. The PinePhone is less averse to binary blobs and is a lot closer to a normal smartphone. It’s a more reasonable thickness (9mm) and a more reasonable price: $150.