There are a lot of interesting things about the PinePhone. At $150 it’s the most affordable smartphone designed to run free and open source operating systems. It gives you more privacy controls by letting you physically disable hardware you’re not using. And it supports add-on modules that can bring new features to the phone.
Until now there haven’t been any official modules released for the PinePhone, but developer Martijn Braam demonstrated the potential for add-on modules this summer when he hacked together an infrared camera for the PinePhone.
Now Pine64 has announced that a set of official add-ons are coming. By swapping out back covers for the PinePhone you will eventually be able to add support for Qi wireless charging, NFC, or even a physical keyboard.
Like old-school smartphones, the PinePhone has a removable back cover and a user-replaceable battery. Remove the back and you’ll find a set of 6 pogo pins that offer a way to connect external hardware that can access battery power, USB power, i2c, and interrupt.
By creating replacement covers that touch those pins, Pine64 and third-party developers can add functionality to the phone that wouldn’t otherwise be available.
The upcoming NFC cover will only work if you’re running an operating system with compatible software, but it’s just a matter of time before that becomes available.
The Qi wireless charging cover, on the other hand, should just work as soon as it’s available, since it doesn’t require any special software. Just pop off the standard cover, attach the wireless charging cover and you should be able to charge the PinePhone by placing it on any charger that supports the Qi standard.
Pine64 also announced this summer that it was developing a physical keyboard for the PinePhone, and now the company has announced that a prototype is coming soon (possibly by the end of the year, but Pine64 says that it may take a bit longer).
Like the other add-ons, the Keyboard will connect to the PinePhone by replacing the back cover of the phone. But rather than a slide-out keyboard, Pine64 opted for a keyboard case/cover design that allows the phone to fold closed like a laptop, with the keyboard covering the screen.
There will also be a 5,000 mAh (roughly) battery in the keyboard, which should just about double the phone’s battery life and give the bottom of the keyboard enough weight to let you comfortably set up the device like a tiny laptop.
For now the keyboard is still in the pre-prototype stages though, so it’s possible that plans could change before the company is ready to ship keyboards to customers.
The PinePhone features a 6 inch, 720p display, an Allwinner A64 quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor, and the phone comes with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage or as part of a convergence pack that features 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a USB-C dock for connecting a mouse, keyboard, display, and other accessories.
But Pine64 has also announced that starting next month customers with the 2GB/16GB model will be able to upgrade to 3GB/32GB by purchasing a new mainboard.