The Pinephone Pro is the answer I was expecting for a while. I am happy to see the (slow) progress made on the original Pinephone, but I was never too excited by anything I had seen or heard about it online: yes, a true Linux phone, with many different distributions – but not usable as a daily driver because of the general sluggishness of the device.
I could compromise a great many things, but when I saw how slow Firefox was on the Pinephone, I’m not yet ready to go back so far in the past in terms of responsiveness and performance. Also, watching Youtube (or videos in general) is a must on my phones, and the Pinephone barely delivers in that register. In other words, it’s a great phone for development, but not so great for end users.
The Pinephone Pro changes that equation completely, by upgrading the phone from 10 years old hardware to 5 years old one. Agree, it’s still not going to challenge any kind of flagship device of 2021, but 5 years old hardware is at least going to be decently fast for most typical tasks. Browsing and playback of media should be much more comfortable as long as the hardware is properly supported.
So, what we get under the hood? More RAM (4GB), a much faster CPU, a beefier GPU, much faster eMMC, a decent camera, and numerous improvements across the board: you can see the full specs below.
|SoC||AllWinner A64||Rockchip RK3399S|
|CPU||4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.1GHz||2x Cortex-A72 + 4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.5GHz|
|GPU||ARM Mali 400 MP2 @ 400MHz||ARM Mali T860 quad-core @ 500Mhz|
|RAM||2GB / 3GB LPDDR3||4GB LPDDR4 @ 800MHz|
|Storage||16GB / 32GB eMMC||128GB eMMC|
|Display||5.95" 1440x720 LCD||5.95" 1440x720 LCD IPS|
|Imaging||5MP OmniVision OV5640||13MP Sony IMX258 main camera, 5MP OmniVision OV5640 front camera|
|Modem||Quectel EC25-G LTE modem||Quectel EG25-G LTE modem with GPS|
|GNSS||GPS, GPS-A, GLONASS||GPS, GPS-A, GLONASS|
|Wireless||Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0 (Realtek RTL8723CS)||Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth V4.1 (AMPAK AP6255)|
|microSD||Yes, bootable||Yes, bootable|
|Pogo pins||Yes, exposing I2C bus||Yes, exposing I2C bus|
|USB||Type-C 2.0 (data, DP video output for convergence)||Type-C 3.0 (data, 5V/3A quick charging, Power Delivery/PD, DP video output for convergence)|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Compass, Ambient light||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Compass, Ambient light|
|Hardware kill-switches||Cameras, mic, Wi-Fi, Speaker, LTE/GNSS||Cameras, mic/Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, modem/GPS, UART on headphone jack|
|Others||Flash / Torch, Vibration motor, notification LED||Flash / Torch, Vibration motor, notification LED|
|Battery||~2800mAh (Samsung J7 compatible)||3000mAh (Samsung J7 compatible)|
|Dimensions||160.5 x 76.6 x 9.2 mm||160.8 x 76.6 x 11.1mm|
So, when can you actually get it? If you are a developer, you have a good chance of going through the pre-order application and receive it before the end of the year. For end users, it’s very likely that you will have to wait for 2022 before the first models for non-developers ship.
The Pine64 team has a big October update blog post, where they go at length about the Pinephone Pro. The rationale for the release of this new version follows:
Fast forward to today, many of the 20+ operating systems have reached a mature-Beta status. All core functionality has been enabled and we’re seeing more complex features being added. Mobile Linux may not yet satisfy the needs of mainstream consumers, but we’re now at a point where open-source enthusiasts are willing to give a Linux smartphone a go. MMS messages, Android app support via Anbox or Waydroid, 24hrs of standby time with reliable calls and SMS, accelerated camera viewfinder, and photo post-processing are just some of the features that led people to start daily driving their PinePhones. Now that software has reached a higher degree of maturity, introducing a fast smartphone with premium features makes sense.
Now, how fast can you expect the device to be? There’s a video with a very early build of PostMarketOS with KDE Plasma Mobile for this device, and everything operates at a much faster speed than on the Pinephone:
The whole OS looks definitely a lot more usable on the Pinephone Pro. At 399 USD, it’s certainly not as affordable as the original Pinephone, but it’s a decent price point to have a functional Linux Phone (much better than what Librem offers). Now we will be really close to having something that can be used as a daily driver without too many compromises (except Apps compatibility).
As soon as this can be pre-ordered, I will jump on the bandwagon without hesitation this time around. The area that concerns me the most is the battery usage. The Pinephone could hardly last a day, and power management needs to drastically improve for a phone to be useful on the go.
But with this new version, the future of Linux Phones is now much brighter than ever.
It’s still early days, but a Pinephone Pro 2 or 3 a few years down the road may be very close to a real user-centric alternative to the Apple-Google duosphere.
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