Pine 64 Phone In The Works

Well, looks like my next phone doesn’t have to be on a Raspberry Pi.
Pine64 is making a Linux Phone kit:

Pine64, maker of cheap Linux laptops, may be making a cheap Linux phone

Which then points on to:

Pine64, the team behind the US$99 Pinebook, has announced it will begin working on a cheap Linux-based smartphone. Dubbed the PinePhone, the handset will be built around Pine’s low-spec, low-cost Pine A64 single-board computer. Designs haven’t been finalized, but dev kits are set to be released on November 1 with a projected device release date of mid-2019. The PinePhone is estimated to sell for US$100.

by Sam Medley, 2018/10/24

You might remember Pine64 as the manufacturer and retailer behind the Pinebook, a US$99 Linux-based laptop. The company is planning to continue its journey into the world of budget-tier Linux mobile devices by working on a smartphone, dubbed the PinePhone.

Like the cheap laptops Pine sells, the PinePhone isn’t likely to be a specs monster. According to the Pine team, they are planning on basing the PinePhone around their Pine A64 single-board computer. That means the PinePhone is likely to have a mere 2 GB of RAM and a quad-core ARM Cortex A53 SoC. The phone will also likely only have 16 GB of onboard storage.

Most of the details are still up in the air, especially concerning the final design. However, Pine64 is planning on releasing a dev kit for the phone on November 1. This will include the Pine A64 baseboard, an SOPine module, a 7-inch touchscreen, a camera, a WiFi/Bluetooth card, a battery case, and an LTE Cat4 USB dongle. The final device may use a 5.45-inch 1440×720 display, but since the design isn’t planned on being final until mid-2019, this could change. Considering Pine64 has close ties with KDE (the team behind the KDE Plasma desktop environment), it’s likely the PinePhone will run a version of KDE Plasma.

Pine64: added basic Devuan support

So can run Devuan… Nice.

I think I need to dip a toe in the Pine64 world and see where there be dragons…

There’s a Pi Zero based phone project, but it isn’t ready for prime time yet

This is a mobile phone that:

– First and foremost, will be a well-working reliable phone
– Is as open-source as possible *while also being cheap*
– Can be assembled and repaired independently
– Is easy to get parts for
– Doesn’t have apps with privacy concerns
– Allows to write your own apps in Python

It costs about 50$ in parts, and all the parts are available on eBay/TaoBao/etc, most of the phone can be assembled with just a soldering iron. User interface is written using Python
and is being morphed into a lightweight phone-tailored UI framework.

A crowdfunded manufacturing run is expected in a month – kits will be available, as well as a small batch of fully-assembled phones. Subscribe to newsletter below!

Then there’s the older R.Pi Phone:

Dave Hunt‘s been at it again. Here’s his latest: a home-made smartphone based around a Raspberry Pi. It’s smaller than many of the phones I’ve owned, and it’s cheaper than the phone that’s currently in my pocket, with a parts list coming in at only $158. The PiPhone is built entirely from off-the-shelf kit, so there’s no soldering required, and no fiddly electronics work. I’ll let Dave introduce it to you.

The PiPhone is a remarkably simple build, with a Sim900 GSM/GPRS module (which you can slip a SIM card into – you’ll still have to pay for your calls) talking to the network and doing the heavy communications lifting (making calls, and hanging up; sending texts and dealing with data); an on/off switch, a converter to make the LiPoly battery output 5 volts, and one of Adafruit’s tiny TFT monitors. You’ll find a typically thorough writeup on Dave’s website, with a parts list (he sourced everything from Adafruit and eBay), although he hasn’t uploaded the code, which he currently considers a bit hacky, to GitHub yet; please do, Dave, because we’d like to have a play! Dave’s now made the code available. Go and have a poke.

Decisions decisions… What with Christmas on the horizon I need to start thinking about what hints to drop on the family ;-)

It is also the case that my quasi Antique LG Flip Phone is starting to have issues with “coverage”. Some parts of the home have dropouts and some areas in Cupertino too. I suspect the telco is removing some of the older lower band antennas as they add newer higher band to their towers. The battery now also has trouble making it to the next day even just on standby. What are the odds I can buy a replacement battery (with form fitting shape that is the back of the phone…) for a 15? year old phone?

So a bit early to be making a decision at the moment. But soon.

I might just see if I can get one of the Pine64 Dev Kits. At $100 it isn’t too bad, I’d be happy to have bits on the desktop for a while or a “brick” sized finished product to play with, and the Pine64 as a compute board is something I’ve wondered about. Though I’m still a little “over committed” on tasks… but maybe by December I could be caught up ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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7 Responses to Pine 64 Phone In The Works

  1. E.M.Smith says:

    Very few crowdfunded projects have ever shipped on time. That’s especially true for ones that promise to create a device that has never existed yet so far. So it’s not exactly surprising when Purism, after a long status report, revealed they were now looking at an April 2019 launch date for the Librem 5. Despite that unforeseen setback, the company is confident that it’s still on track to deliver what will be the industry’s first non-Android, fully Linux, fully free and open source software, privacy and security respecting user-friendly smartphone.
    So that meant they had to choose a system-on-chip that could function completely without proprietary software. That started out at NXP’s i.MX6, which is now going to be replaced by the i.MX8. Fortunately for Purism, the i.MX8 is just as open source friendly. And also, fortunately, NXP wasn’t acquired by Qualcomm, otherwise, the story would have a different and probably early ending.
    The other, more pressing reason is an unfortunate bug outside of Purism’s control. The new i.MX8 chip has a battery draining bug that would give the phone only one hour to live. Not exactly usable.
    Unfortunately, it’s something that can only be fixed on the silicon and they don’t expect NXP to have it ready until December. Thanks to holidays and testing, Purism estimates April would be their earliest bet. That is, unless they hit another major roadblock, which, again, is really par for the course for most crowdfunded products.

    So, OK, that’s going to take a while…

  2. CourtDom12 says:

    Flip phone?

    I would suggest trying a Note 4 to start. You have used the other tablet iteration, so an easy migration.

    Cell stuff is moving. We lost 2 and 3G service pretty much a year plus ago. So, ain’t no hiding from it any longer. Change is upon ya..

    BTW, I still use a note 4.

    Swappable batteries that are OEM cheap. 1 day, 1 battery or better with external charger. 30 second full charge with reboot/swap.
    Memory, A large micro SD card slot for all camera, and offloaded apps if ya want.

    IR blaster. Oh yeah, fun at sports bars and neighbors houses ;-)

    It is not new, but has good processing power, comparably, for a phone.

    The ultimate challenge with mobile stuff is when do you find digital demise?

    The last breath is the last update……..

  3. Eric Fithian says:

    I just looked into the Phone Info for this LG Clout flip phone I have, and it says the Warranty Date Code is 11/14/2010, so this may have been activated November of 2009….
    My brother went at me Hot & Heavy for quite a while, insisting that I simply *had* to move to a Smart Phone; I finally shut him down by threatening to get a separate account on Verizon…!
    I suppose that they will eventually start shutting down the signals that this thing uses (which might be one cause for your limited battery life: “Searching For Service”).
    Then I will be into one of their stores, in search of a newer, compatible flip-phone….
    I refuse to “join the March of the Zombies,” as I see altogether too many otherwise-sensible people shambling along, obsessively thumbing their Devices!
    Though, in passing, it is commendible that Pine plans to run their project on Devuan…

  4. jim2 says:

    I have a dumb phone and it is usually turned off. I also refuse to join the “March of the Zombies.”

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    The one I have flips open sideways and has a miniature “real” keyboard inside. I’m fond of that… but getting to special characters is a bit odd as they are scattered on the other keys (not the usual number row) in odd places and hard to read very small orange type.

    I’m pretty sure the battery life is mostly just age AND the fact that I sometimes forget to turn off bluetooth when I’m not on the headset. (bluetooth consumes a lot of power – perhaps more when constantly listening for a headset that’s been turned off…) It’s a LiPo battery and “good enough” for most of the time (a whole day if I’m not talking too much) but slow to charge which I’ve frequently forgotten to do…

    There’s formal evidence that interacting with “smart phones” causes a mental dysfunctional state. I was astounded to hear a statistic that something like 70% of smartphone users check it before getting out of bed. That’s just crazy town.


    Good suggestion.

    I’ve got a Galaxy J3 Luna Pro from a burner phone supplier and I’m going to play with it a while to see what I really want. (I wanted to just get a sim card for my “lozenge phone” but to get one you must send them your ID information which kind of defeats the point of a “burner phone”, and they were sold out of the $19 flip phone, so for something like $59 I got the “smart phone” – and need to activate it some time…) So it will let me know what I think of the “flat thing stuck to my head” and typing on a plate of glass…

    I’m very uncomfortable with Android. It’s likely quite secure, but from what I’ve seen on my old tablet, it tries to get all the information about you it can, and send it off to Google and Apps providers, at every turn. I deliberately got a tablet without a “radio” in it (no phone module) just to limit that – I can turn off WiFi easily and it doesn’t have any “identity” on the device unless I give it one with an email account ( I had one for watching DirecTV on it, added about 3 years ago, but the DirecTV account is now defunct – I probably ought to purge it now… but I’m likely to deprecate the tablet soon. Ever more apps “don’t work on this device, please upgrade”… Even the browser choices are reaching EOL.

    So one “possible” is a smart phone to replace both phone and tablet. But at the loss of yet more privacy.

    I’d really really really rather not “go there”. I’d rather have a Linux base where I can go in and lock down / shut off things and actively prevent snooping. The commercial offerings are not there yet, and the DIY is a bit kludgey, but someone has to take the first steps…

    I’m pretty sure 2G is gone (analog left a while ago – it was useful out in the boonies 40 miles from anywhere… Oh Well…). This phone is, I think, 3G and the drops are likely from withdrawal of 3G antennas – I still get “digital text” service, so 4G text is, I think, inside it’s abilities?

    @Eric Fithian:

    I’m not sure Pine is going to run the phone on Devuan, just that Devuan has been ported to Pine64. It might be a DIY conversion to move the phone to Devuan… Needs some digging to find out.

    I’ll resort to a new flip-phone if I can’t fid a way to make / buy a secure & privacy friendly “smart phone”.

    As the Mac has the key caps wearing through ( A S D K L E I O C N are already just white blobs and the fingernails are starting to catch in grooves in a couple of them… good thing I touch type ;-) but the speed and volume seems to have tickled a weakness in the Mac Keyboard…) and it’s running off a min-SD card (since the SSD died – which is why it was given to me…) and that’s slow at times: I’m also in the market for a replacement light weight laptop. Trying to decide if it will be a ChromeBook converted to Linux (there’s an ASUS model, IIRC, that has a Devuan port) or maybe one of those Pine64 “PineBook” machines.

    The MacOS is nice and all, and things do “just work”, but it is a bit like life inside a very comfortable straight jacket… The OS for this one is a few years backdated and it can’t be updated – and it “only” has 2 GB of memory (GAK! That ought to run ANYTHING you need…); so it’s at EOL on all of: Hardware, memory, OS, keyboard, applications…. and the power brick has had the rubber sheath fray near the attachment to the computer, so those wire bits likely to “go” at some point.

    Part of the question then becomes: How many of the 3 functions I’m using on 3 devices get collapsed onto one device “going forward”? Can I assure enough isolation between those functions to assure no information bleed?

    Tablet: Browsing on the road. Light weight and very portable mostly output device, very limited typing with no connection to the outside world other than WiFi and no private information (PII – phone number, address, name, email, etc.)

    Laptop: Mostly used for blog posting and R&D for stories (browsing, saving text and images). No PII. Sporadic use of a particular browser for online financials when “on the road”.

    Phone: Phone, text messages. Nothing else.

    As all three present devices are EOL by the makers the timers are running. With a Linux I’m pretty sure I can replace the Tablet & Laptop with one device. (PineBook or ChromeBook/Linux) but the phone integration would make me nervous… I’d look for hard physical switches on camera, microphone, WiFi, telephone-radio…


    Yeah, I regularly collect “complaints” from family and friends about how often mine is turned off / not on my person / not answered instantly…

    To some extent the battery is a convenient excuse. “Oh, down to one Pip, need to go and find my charger”… I now, very conveniently, tends to go to 1 or 2 pips after just 5 minutes or so of active talking. Hang up, it recovers a couple ;-)

    IF I get a real “smart phone” then folks are going to “expect at me” about it… Sigh.

    Well, it looks like the personal tech issue is going to hit convergence for me about December. We’ll see where it ends up. Things are getting cheap enough now that I might just get both a PineBook and a ChromeBook and do an evaluation of them. IF the PineBook was usable enough, then the PinePhone ought to be fine too.

    I could also see just going ahead and making the (very cheap!) Raspberry Pi phone for giggles and putting it in a “lunch box” using the BlueTooth headset as the thing I’d actually talk on. I want to have a “lunch box” portal that I use between my “portable compute devices” and the free WiFi internet anyway… (MY DNS filtering, encrypting VPN out the public WiFi, my private WiFi to my private device – well protected, proxy server, IDS / IPS, etc.) It would be reasonable to put an IP phone on it as well, and at that point why not include the real telco radio phone? It would be a very locked down bit of kit… Just the workload to make it that’s an issue…

    Not enough play time in the week to do all of it, so I need to ration time to only what is highly likely to be a good path.

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    The Pinebook supports Linux and Android operating systems. As of December 2017, the pinebook cannot be run solely on free software and the linux kernel choice is limited to an old no longer supported version (3.10) with binary blobs to support most of the hardware, including the Mali graphics or any kind of 2D or 3D acceleration.[citation needed] Work is underway to integrate support into mainline Linux kernel and, as of April 2018, Debian was successfully installed using a custom device tree and u-boot build.[4] Mainline support was merged for Linux 4.19

    So not quite prime time yet (old kernel w/ issues & difficult build) but maybe soon for 4.19 build.


    Devsus is a script that builds bootable, libre Devuan images for the Asus C201 Chromebook, one of the few laptops able to boot and run without any non-free software, all the way down to the firmware level. The C201 is supported by Libreboot.

    The images produced by Devsus contain the latest Linux-libre 4.9.x kernel, tuned for small size, good performance and short boot times. This kernel branch has been chosen for its longterm status, which means that freedom-respecting C201 laptops are usable at least until this kernel branch is phased out.

    Some features of the Rockchip RK3288 SoC, including built-in WiFi support, require use of non-free software. Therefore, they are unsupported by Devsus. To compensate for that, the Devsus kernel includes support for freedom-friendly devices:

    Firmware for Atheros AR9271 based WiFi dongles
    Drivers for Qualcomm CSR8510 based Bluetooth dongles

    Also, the images contain:

    Crucial command-line tools, like those required to connect to a WiFi network
    A Ratpoison-based, keyboard-controlled, graphical environment
    Firefox ESR, pre-configured for enhanced privacy and responsiveness on the C201

    So close, then they screw the pooch with over the top zealotry about open software. I’d buy one and do the install NOW if it was possible to choose to use the built in hardware. Sticking two dongles into it just to use it is a kill deal for me.

    looks like video acceleration is turned off as well:

    Caution: Video acceleration requires a non-free blob, software rendering can be used instead.

    The C201 has a Mali T GPU, which requires a non-free blob. A driver, Tamil, was written, but its source code has not been released. The developer has so-far withheld it. Use software rendering to avoid the blob instead. Most tasks can still be performed without video acceleration, without any noticeable performance penalty.

    In practise, this means that certain things like games, blender and GNOME shell (or other fancy desktops) won’t work well. The libreboot project recommends a lightweight desktop which does not need video acceleration, such as XFCE or LXDE.

    As it is unlikely that Tamil will be released, the chai project is writing a driver as well. Ask on IRC if you think you can contribute.

    Not clear if there’s a more ‘generic’ Devuan that isn’t so zeal ridden… There is an OS that is aimed directly at the Chromebook, but likely has SystemD (being based on Xubuntu)

    OK… so “more digging needed”. There’s a way to leave the ChromeOS installed and run a guest Linux (Crouton) which might be “good enough”. It depends on Google not being evil with Crouton (facts not in evidence, but not dis-proven either…). It is a chroot on top of ChromeOS, so all the data leakage about “that you are up, running, and who you are” are likely still there in ChromeOS. I suppose if you configure the Chrome side to be bogus ID it’s not too bad…

    What is Crouton?

    Crouton stands for Chromium OS Universal Chroot Environment. It allows you to run full Ubuntu on top of Chrome OS. Unlike dual booting, you can easily switch between Ubuntu and Chrome OS with a keyboard shortcut, no reboots necessary.
    Why install Crouton?

    Full Linux power. Linux is a powerful operating system that is highly customizable and has a library of great open source applications. If you’ve ever wanted to give Linux a try, now is your chance.
    Speedy and reliable. Crouton runs alongside Chrome OS and doesn’t skip a beat in terms of speed. The full Linux desktop is only a keyboard shortcut away so it is there only when you need it.
    Software and Games. Your Chromebook will be able to run full open source office applications among other software including Steam and Minecraft! The Chrome Web Store is not bad but it does not compare to installing full-fledged desktop applications and Steam games.

    Caveat: Crouton works by creating a chroot, which is sort of like virtualization (but not quite). Since chroots allow for viewing your hardware devices, including the entire contents of memory which makes your Chromebook vulnerable to a root exploit. However, the benefits outweigh this caveat especially if you’ll use Linux only when you need it. You can also choose to encrypt your chroot. More info on this in the actual guide.

    So still a ways to go for that Devuan Laptop on the cheap.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    As is often the case, there’s more behind the scenes:


    Under ‘Pinebook Software and OS Image Download Section’ you will find a complete list of currently supported Operating System images that work with the Pinebook as well as other related software. The list includes OS images and descriptions of:

    mate.png Xenial Mate (eMMC) mate.png Xenial Mate (microSD Boot)
    android_7.png Android 7.x (microSD Boot) android_6.png Android 6.x (eMMC)
    bliss_os.png Bliss OS (microSD Boot)
    penguin.png Xenial Minimal Image (microSD Boot)
    armbian.png Armbian (microSD Boot)
    archlinux.png Arch Linux mainline XFCE (microSD Boot)
    q4os.png Q4OS (microSD Boot)
    i3.png i3 (microSD Boot)
    netrunner.png Netrunner (microSD Boot)
    aosc.png AOSC (microSD and eMMC boot)


    Pinebook Software Release

    1 Linux Image Releases
    1.1 Xenial Mate eMMC
    1.1.1 Xenial Mate Community Build Image [microSD to eMMC] [0.6.2-77] by ayufan
    1.2 Xenial Mate
    1.2.1 Xenial Mate Community Build Image [microSD Boot] by ayufan
    1.3 Xenial Minimal Image
    1.3.1 Xenial Minimal Community Build Image [microSD Boot] by ayufan
    1.4 KDE Neon Image
    1.4.1 KDE Neon Community Build Image [microSD Boot]
    1.5 Armbian
    1.5.1 Armbian Bionic [microSD / eMMC Boot]
    1.6 Arch Linux mainline XFCE
    1.6.1 Arch Linux mainline with XFCE GUI by anarsoul
    1.7 Q4OS
    1.7.1 Q4OS Community Build Image [microSD Boot]
    1.8 i3
    1.8.1 i3 Community Build Image [microSD Boot] by ayufan
    1.9 Netrunner
    1.9.1 Netrunner [20180417] [microSD Boot]
    1.10 AOSC
    1.10.1 AOSC Community Build Image with Mate Desktop [microSD Boot] [20181016]
    1.10.2 AOSC Community Build Image with Mate Desktop [eMMC Boot] [20181016]
    1.10.3 AOSC Community Build Image [microSD Boot] [20180616]
    1.10.4 AOSC Community Build Image [eMMC Boot] [20180617]
    2 Android Image Releases
    2.1 Android 7.x
    2.1.1 Android 7.1 Community Build Image [microSD Boot] by ayufan
    2.2 Android 6.x eMMC
    2.2.1 Android 6.0.1 Stock Image [microSD to eMMC] [20170605]
    2.3 Bliss OS
    2.3.1 Bliss OS [20170919] [microSD Boot]
    3 Linux BSP SDK
    3.1 Linux BSP [3.0]
    3.2 Linux BSP [2.0], kernel [v3.10], with GPL compliance header
    4 Android SDK
    4.1 Android Nougat [v7.0]
    4.2 Android Marshmallow [v6.0]
    5 Mali-400 64-bit Driver
    5.1 Mali-400 64-bit Driver [20160622]
    6 Other Tools
    7 Checking microSD Card Performance and whether it is Counterfeit

    So lots of other releases available, including Armbian, that I’m already running as a “Devuan uplift” modification. Then they have the video driver available so you can get past that zealotry issue.

    Though some releases only boot from the micro-SD card… but I’m OK with that as it is to some extent a ‘feature’ that you can “yank and go” the whole OS and all your files if there’s a sudden crash at the front door…. or “men in suites” enter the cafe and look at you…

    So, with Arbrian / Devuan (ARMDuan) available, I’m leaning much more toward a Pinebook ‘now’ and then keeping an eye on the PinePhone as I explore things.

    It would quite definitely be a suitable replacement for both the Mac (running from a micro-SD anyway) and the Tablet (an ARM based device anyway…). Plus I can be sure it isn’t “Chrome compromised” and no money goes to Google…

    Looks like a (cheap) plan ;-)

    OMG, their store is full of interesting and strange things, including an aluminum waterproof enclosure. Wonder what that’s for ;-) $99 but with caveats:


    A special coupon code is required to buy Pinebook during checkout. Visit Pinebook Build To Order (BTO) Booking page to register, we will fulfill the BTO queue based on first come first served basis and starting on 28 March 2017. Our sales team will email the special coupon to you when it is your turn in the queue.
    You can only buy one Pinebook and Pinebook accessories per coupon under PINEBOOK category.
    During checkout, you MUST use back the same email address you registered in BTO.
    Due to Lithium-ion battery in Pinebook, the shipment of Pinebook orders will be handled differently from other Pine64 products, that’s the reason we didn’t allow to combined Pinebook order with other Pine64 products. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.
    Small numbers (1-3) of stuck or dead pixels are a characteristic of LCD screens. These are normal and should not be considered a defect.
    When fulfilling the purchase, please bear in mind that we are offering the Pinebook at this price as a community service to PINE64, Linux and BSD communities. We make no profit from selling these units. If you think that a minor dissatisfaction, such as a dead pixel, will prompt you to file a PayPal dispute then please do not purchase the Pinebook. Thank you.

    OK… so not something I’m going to just “click and buy” today… A bunch of email this, get that, then do??? Sigh. Guess for $99 and no profit to them, they can afford to be “customer hostile”…

    For $80 more (and no shipping) I can pick up an ASUS Chromebook at Walmart today…

    I think I’ll jest stay on the Mac and LG Flip for a few more months…

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