Pine64 is launching a major hardware upgrade in its quest to create a Linux smartphone. After launching the original PinePhone in 2019, the organization is now taking pre-orders for the PinePhone Pro, a new smartphone it calls “the fastest primary Linux smartphone on the market.” The phone was announced in October and now you can secure a unit. The MSRP is $599, but it’s up for pre-order now at the launch price of $399.
Since Pine64 wants to create an open-source Linux smartphone, its choice of hardware components is limited. Most big 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 features two Cortex A72 processors and four Cortex A53 processors, and Pine64 says it worked with Rockchip to get the chip “bundled and voltage-locked for optimal performance with sustained power and thermal limits.” Pine64 does not list a process node, but other companies list RK3399 at 28nm. If that’s true and you’re looking for something roughly comparable in Qualcomm’s lineup, the Snapdragon 618/650 (a mid-range chip from 2016) would seem to fit the bill.
The phone has a 6-inch, 1440×720 LCD screen, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of eMMC storage, and a 3000mAh battery. There’s a USB-C port with 15W charging, a headphone jack, a 13MP main camera and an 8MP front camera. The back cover comes off and inside the phone you’ll find a removable battery (wow!), microSD slot, pogo pins and a series of privacy DIP switches that let you kill the modem, Wi- Fi/Bluetooth, microphone, rear camera, front camera and headphones.
The pogo pins support a variety of removable backs, which are compatible with both the original PinePhone and the PinePhone Pro. For example, there’s no built-in biometrics, but Pine64 sells a $25 back panel with a capacitive fingerprint reader. There’s no wireless charging, but you can get a rear panel that adds the functionality for $10. The craziest option is a $50 keyboard case with a 6,000 mAh battery. This turns the phone into a mini laptop with individual plastic keys that seem to have more travel than many laptop keyboards. The big downside to this replaceable back strategy is that you have to choose between the options. You can’t have wireless charging and a fingerprint reader, for example.
As for what software you’ll run on this thing, that’s up to you. This is a phone for Linux enthusiasts who are ready to take on the rough stuff. 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’s this for?” disclaimer on the main page of PinePhone Pro, which states:
Contemporary mobile Linux operating systems still have a long way to go before they can be considered real alternatives to Android or iOS. While mobile Linux is not in a state that would satisfy most consumer 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 raw power to be your daily driver, provided you’re willing to accept today’s software limitations.
Pine64 says it will continue to manufacture the original PinePhone, which is still available for the low price of $150. The Pro model starts shipping on January 24.