Is the PinePhone Pro the Linux phone daily driver we’ve been waiting for?

At the end of November 2019, PINE64 released its first smartphone that runs on mainline Linux – the PinePhone. Since the phone’s hardware was simply too weak to handle the immature software, most users already knew that the phone was intended for development and experimentation rather than a normal daily driver.

About two years later, PINE64 finally announced the upcoming release of the new PinePhone Pro. This updated version features more powerful hardware and better software.

With these enhancements made, is the PinePhone Pro Linux phone a reasonable candidate for your next daily driver? Let’s take a look.

The hardware of the PinePhone Pro

The raw hardware processing power of the Pinephone Pro is similar to that of many mid-range smartphones from mainstream manufacturers.

Image source: funeral / PINE64 Wiki
  • CENTRAL PROCESSOR: Rockchip RK3399S 64-bit SoC – 2x A72 and 4x A53 CPU cores with a clock rate of 1.5 GHz
  • GPU: ARM Quad-Core Mali T860 with 500 MHz
  • Storage: 128 GB eMMC flash and an optional micro SD card SDXC up to 2 TB
  • Cameras: 13MP Sony IMX258 main camera with Gorilla Glass 4, 5MP OmniVision OV5640 front camera
  • LCD: 6 “1440 x 720 IPS display with Gorilla Glass 4
  • WLAN and Bluetooth: AMPAK AP6255 WLAN-ac and Bluetooth 4.1
  • I / 0: Mirco SD slot, pogo pins, USB type C, audio jack (UART)
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, compass, ambient light
  • Battery: 3000mAh (removable)

PINE64 worked with Rockchip to provide the RK3399S, an optimized version of the RK3399. While this is the same SoC used in the PineBook Pro, the manufacturer had to limit its CPU performance to around 20% slower to achieve reasonable battery usage and a reasonable temperature limit.

The GPU is set to 500 MHz by default to maintain a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) under non-artificial load. However, PINE64 has unlocked it so the community can experiment with the GPU.

One of the main functions of the PinePhone Pro is the six data protection dip switches located on the back of the phone. The switches are physically connected to six modules (modem, WiFi / bluetooth, microphone, rear camera, front camera, and headphones) that you can enable or disable to further increase your privacy with the already secure Linux phone.

The six pogo pins will also be available and compatible with the add-ons of the original PinePhone, such as the keyboard, Pinedio LoRa (a long range, low power wireless platform), a fingerprint reader and a wireless charger.

Since the pogo pins support I2C serial communication, users can connect and experiment with a variety of I2C sensors and modules.

PinePhone Pro software

The PinePhone Pro comes with Manjaro equipped with KDE Plasma Mobile, the popular mobile environment for Linux phones. Other distributions will likely be available when the Explorer version is released.

KDE Plasma Mobile enables the use of Kirigami applications. This application runs natively on Linux and can switch seamlessly from the phone to the desktop. Such applications allow users to dock their Pinephone Pro with a mouse, keyboard and monitor and use it as a normal PC.

Image source: funeral / PINE64 Wiki

Plasma Mobile has a collection of Kirigami applications that are great replacements for basic apps that you would normally use in Android or IOS. These applications include Neo (messaging), Vvave (music player), PlasmaTube (Youtube app), Okular (document reader) and Kasts (podcast application).

Most of the popular social media must be accessed through the phone’s web browser.

The PinePhone Pro also works great with retro game emulators, including SuperTuxKart, Dreamcast emulation, or PSP.

As a catchall, Anbox users can also run Android applications on their smartphones, albeit with certain restrictions.

Is the PinePhone capable of being a daily driver?

The PinePhone Pro has come a long way since the original PinePhone. With all of its hardware upgrades, this upcoming smartphone definitely has the raw processing capabilities to work as a daily driver.

Image source: funeral / PINE64 Wiki

However, the hardware isn’t the only thing that makes a phone worth driving every day. Even PINE64 itself admits that the software side of the phone still has a long way to go. Optimizations have yet to be completed and many more applications must be developed for ordinary smartphone users to appreciate a Linux phone.

If you are just a regular user looking for a phone that will make your life easier and simpler then this phone is not for you. But if you are a security specialist, die-hard Linux enthusiast, tinkerer or developer, the PinePhone Pro is definitely worth considering as a daily driver.

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