Linux on the mobile phone: New attempt with the Pinephone

The first of several projects working on the porting and development of FOSS systems for smartphones has submitted a device. Pine Microsystems is launching a smartphone with pre-installed Ubuntu touch. The Pinephone “Community Edition: UBports” is primarily aimed at developers and community members.

The “UBports Community Edition” is the first of several collaborative projects working on the porting and development of FOSS systems for smartphones. The UBports community is actively developing the delivered Ubuntu touch, after Canonical has officially discontinued and handed over the project in 2017.

Various operating systems

Users of the Pinephone have the possibility to install other ARM-based operating systems instead of Ubuntu-Touch – for example PostmarketOS, SailfishOS or Manjaro – and to boot from the SD card. Like Ubuntu-Touch, these are mostly in alpha or beta state and are not suitable for daily use.

The Pinephone has an ARM Cortex A-53 quad core with an Allwinner A64 chipset, which clocks with 1.2 Ghz and 2GB LPDDR3 memory. The display has a resolution of 1440 × 720 pixels. Rudimentary functions such as phone calls, SMS, LTE and GPS reception and hardware acceleration are available on the smartphone. The camera is not yet supported and a lack of USB host makes it difficult to operate peripheral devices. The battery life is also still causing problems.

For customers who are concerned about data protection and privacy, the dedicated hardware switches for the microphone, camera and wireless interfaces will be of interest. However, these are located under the battery cover and are difficult to reach.

Reminder of Pine64

The hardware revision 1.2 of the “Community Edition” is intended to correct many of the shortcomings of the “Braveheart Edition” of the Pinephone, which has been delivered to intrepid users since January. In the manufacturer’s own Pine64 forum especially German users express their displeasure about delays and intransparent communication. Buyers report of deliveries that do not pass through customs and are sent back due to lack of CE marking. Also, the manufacturer only offers a 30-day warranty and asks buyers not to request a replacement via PayPal if minor pixel errors occur.

This is reminiscent of the bumpy start of the Pine64 board, which Pine sent into the race in 2015 as a cheap Raspi competitor. After the hardware was sold, the manufacturer provided little software support and documentation for users and developers. With the “Community” and the “Braveheart” edition of the Pinephone, Pine now clearly points out that it is not a ready-to-use product. The CE marking is also available in the meantime.

The Pinephone “Community Edition: UBports” can be pre-ordered for $149 at the Pine Online Store. For each unit sold, the manufacturer plans to donate $10 to the UBports community to promote the spread of Linux on mobile phones.