Pine64 is launching a major hardware upgrade in its quest to build a Linux smartphone. Following the launch of the original PinePhone in 2019, the organization is now taking pre-orders for the PinePhone Pro, a new smartphone it calls “the fastest Linux smartphone on the market”. The phone was announced in October and you can now secure a device. The suggested retail price is $599, but can be pre-ordered now for an introductory price of $399.
Since Pine64 wants to make an open source Linux smartphone, the choice of hardware components is limited. Most major chip companies like Qualcomm or Samsung don’t want to share open drivers or schematics, and you saw that with the original PinePhone, which was based on a 40nm Cortex A53 SoC made by Allwinner. The PinePhone Pro upgrades things with a Rockchip RK3399 SoC. The chip has two Cortex A72 CPUs and four Cortex A53 CPUs, and Pine64 says it has worked with Rockchip to “put the chip in the trash and lock the voltage for optimal performance with sustainable power and thermal limits.” Pine64 doesn’t mention a process node, but other companies list the RK3399 at 28nm. If that’s true and you’re looking for something roughly comparable in Qualcomm’s lineup, the Snapdragon 618/650 (a 2016 mid-range chip) seems to fit the bill.
The phone has a 6-inch, 1440×720 LCD display, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB eMMC storage and a 3000 mAh battery. There’s a USB-C port with 15W charging, a headphone jack, a 13MP main camera and an 8MP front camera. The back pops off and inside the phone you’ll find a removable battery (whoa!), a microSD slot, pogo pins and an array of privacy DIP switches that allow you to disable the modem, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, microphone, camera on the back, front camera and headphones.
The pogo pins support a variety of attachable backs, which are compatible with both the original PinePhone and PinePhone Pro. There’s no built-in biometrics, for example, but Pine64 sells a $25 back panel with a capacitive fingerprint reader. There’s no wireless charging, but you can get a back panel that adds the feature for $10. The wildest option is a $50 keyboard case with a 6,000mAh battery. This turns the phone into a mini laptop with individual plastic keycaps that look like they have more travel than many laptop keyboards. The major drawback of this replaceable backup strategy is that you have to choose between options. Wireless charging is not possible and for example, a fingerprint reader.
As for the software you run on this thing, that’s up to you. This is a phone for the Linux enthusiast willing to handle some rough edges. It comes with Manjaro Arm and the Plasma Mobile interface, which Pine64 calls “pre-beta.” You really can’t be more honest than the “who is it for?” disclaimer on the main PinePhone Pro page, which says:
Today’s Linux mobile operating systems have a long way to go before they can be considered true alternatives to Android or iOS. While mobile Linux isn’t in a state that can satisfy most mainstream electronics consumers, we recognize that a significant portion of our community is ready to make the leap to a Linux-only smartphone today. The PinePhone Pro has the brutal horsepower to be your daily driver, provided you’re ready to accept current software limitations.
Pine64 says it will continue to make the original PinePhone, which is still available for the dirt-cheap price of $150. The Pro model will ship on January 24.