Most modern smartphones ship with Android or iOS operating systems. A few run something different. And fewer still give you the option of picking your operating system, or coding your own.

The PinePhone from Pine64 is an inexpensive phone that falls into that latter category. Priced at $150 and up, it’s designed to run GNU/Linux distributions… and to encourage developers to port Linux operating systems to run on mobile devices.

Since the project was first announced in early 2019, Pine64 has shipped tens of thousands of PinePhone units to early adopters including PinePhone “Braveheart” edition devices and five different PinePhone Community Edition models that hard updated hardware and which each shipped with a different operating system.

Now the PinePhone has graduated to beta status and customers can pre-order a PinePhone Beta Edition smartphone for $150 and up.

The PinePhone Beta Edition hardware is nearly identical to what you’d get if you bought a Community Edition model, so there’s little reason for existing PinePhone owners to buy a new one unless they want a spare.

But the new model comes in Pine64’s latest packaging, has a logo-free back cover (there is a Pine64 symbol between the rear camera and the flash bulb), and comes with Manjaro Linux featuring the KDE Plasma user interface pre-installed.

Like all PinePhone models, though, you can easily change operating systems. There are more than twenty different operating systems capable of at least booting on the PinePhone so far, although all are still under development and some are more usable than others at this stage. Trying out a different operating system is as simple as flashing it to a microSD card, inserting it the phone’s card reader and rebooting. You can also use a free tool called JumpDrive to flash an operating system to internal storage.

This versatility makes the PinePhone virtually unbrickable. Even if you mess up the software that comes with the phone, you can probably re-install it or switch to something else.

That the PinePhone might not be ready to replace your iPhone or Android phone just yet. Even the most functional GNU/Linux distributions for the PinePhone tend to be a little buggy and unstable at this point. Some features you need from a phone may not be available or reliable yet. And while it’s possible to run some Android apps on a Linux phone, doing so can be a bit of a headache and some apps may not work at all.

But software for the PinePhone is getting better all the time, and one day it’s conceivable that you’ll be able to use it or a similar device running a GNU/Linux distribution as your only smartphone… or maybe even your only computer. One of the niftiest things about Linux smartphones is that most are basically running desktop operating systems with a custom user interface optimized for small, touchscreen devices with ARM processors. But if you connect an external display, mouse, and keyboard, you can run desktop apps.

With that in mind, the Pine64 Beta Edition comes in two flavors:

The latter version not only has more memory and storage space, but it also comes with a USB-C adapter featuring HDMI and Ethernet ports, two USB Type-A ports, and a USB-C port (for charging).

PinePhone with Convergence Dock running Manjaro with Phosh UI

Just keep in mind that one of the reasons the PinePhone is so inexpensive is that it has fairly cheap hardware. Even as software for this phone gets more usable, it’s never going to be a speed demon. It’s powered by a 1.2 GHz Allwinner A64 quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor with Mali-400MP2 graphics and features eMMC storage and LPDDR3 memory. The 5MP rear camera and 2MP front-facing cameras are getting more usable all the time with camera app updates, but they’ll never take shots that can rival those you’d get from the latest iPhone or Pixel phones.

But the PinePhone is still a pretty impressive device for Linux and open source enthusiasts. It’s the most affordable Linux-friendly phone to date, costing less than one fifth as much as a Purism Librem 5, for example. It’s helped spur development of Linux for phones. And unlike most modern smartphones, it has a a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a removable back cover that allows you to:

  • Access a microSDXC card slot (with support for cards up to 2TB)
  • Use a series of hardware kill switches to physically disable the modem, WiFi/BT, microphone, rear camera, front, camera, or headphones
  • Access a set of 6 pogo pins to add hardware like a thermal camera, keyboard cover, or fingerprint reader.
  • Replace the battery or other hardware including the mainboard (which holds the processor, memory, and storage.

Here’s a run-down of key specs for the PinePhone.

PinePhonePinePhone Convergence Package
Display5.95 inch
1440 x 720 pixel
IPS LCD
5.95 inch
1440 x 720 pixel
IPS LCD
ProcessorAllwinner A64
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 Cores @ 1.2 GHz
Mali-400 MP2 graphics
Allwinner A64
4 x ARM Cortex-A53
Mali-400 MP2 graphics
RAM2GB LPDDR33GB LPDDR3
Storage16GB eMMC
microSD (up to 2TB)
32GB eMMC
microSD (up to 2TB)
WirelessWiFi 4
Bluetooth 4.0
GPS
4G LTE (Quectel E-25G)
WiFi 4
Bluetooth 4.0
GPS
4G LTE (Quectel E-25G)
PortsUSB-C
3.5mm audio
USB-C
3.5mm audio
Cameras5MP rear
2MP front
5MP rear
2MP front
Battery3,000 mAh (removable)3,000 mAh (removable)
Charging5V/3A5V/3A
Sensors Accelerator
Gyroscope
Proximity
Compass
Ambient Light
Barometer
Accelerator
Gyroscope
Proximity
Compass
Ambient Light
Barometer
ButtonsPower
Volume
Power
Volume
Hardware kill switchesModem
WiFi/Bluetooth
Microphone
Rear camera
Front camera
Headphone
Modem
WiFi/Bluetooth
Microphone
Rear camera
Front camera
Headphone
Dimensions160.5 x 76.6 x 9.2mm160.5 x 76.6 x 9.2mm
Weight180 – 200 grams180 – 200 grams
Included accessoriesN/AUSB-C dock
Price$149$199

For more coverage of the PinePhone and other mobile Linux devices, check out our sister site, LinuxSmartphones.

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  1. I like it and the price is good. But without Google Play, I can’t see this phone becoming my daily driver. I uses the apps on my smartphone 90% of the time. The ‘phone’ only gets used 10% of the time.

  2. Hey Brad, I may missing my afternoon coffee, but I’m not following you on this part:
    “… and five different PinePhone Community Edition models that hard updated hardware and which each shipped with a different operating system.”
    May be, you mean something like:
    “… and five different PinePhone Community Edition models that allowed the hardware to be updated and which each shipped with a different operating system.”
    Or something like that?

    1. Well, what happened was there was a major revision in the motherboard after a bunch of stuff didn’t work right in the Braveheart edition, then there was a USB issue with the ubports edition that required a minor component swap for the phone to use that port for anything besides charging. That change was made between the ubports version and whatever one was after that. The changes were just on the motherboard, and they didn’t relocate any connectors, so if you had one of those two editions you could swap in the 3gb motherboard upgrade and everything would work (I did just that). There weren’t any further revisions in hardware between then and now, just some decals on the back.

      1. Sounds like you have a lot of experience with the Pinephone. What OS is your favorite so far and are you able to daily drive it? If you don’t mind me asking.
        I’m mostly wondering about texts and calls at this point, I’d really like to switch over to something like the Pinephone, don’t need everything working just the occasional text or phone call. Willing to give up quite a bit in order to get away from Apple/Google.
        Thanks

        1. I use Mobian. Calls and SMS are working, MMS is not, but that’s actively being developed. VoLTE is possible but you may have to enable it manually. It’s been a while since I tried it, but the phone was able to locate itself.
          The reason I don’t use it on a daily basis is Signal. There are some people I talk to (voice calls) that I’d like to be able to speak freely to without risking repercussions, but they get confused by trying to contact me through means other than my phone number. I was able to install it via anbox, but 1. you basically need an external keyboard to use anbox, and 2. Signal crashes once you type in a phone number. There is a desktop signal application for linux, so you might be able to use that instead, but it doesn’t seem to fit on the screen yet. There is the third party client Axolotl, but not everything is working (calls, in particular) and OWS hates third party clients.

          1. Thanks for the reply, maybe I should check the box next to “notify me of follow-up comments by email” next time…
            I’m feeling like I might be too much of a novice still to try to make the Pinephone a daily driver, I know they make it clear that it’s mostly for developers to tinker around with at this point, I’m just getting impatient and looking forward to the day that there’s a least one version out there that is fairly daily driveable when it comes to calls and SMS/MMS.

  3. That the PinePhone might not be ready to replace your iPhone or Android phone just yet.

    @Brad, in that article you didn’t really expand on the idea of simply using the PinePhone as an Android phone with the ROM available on it called GloDroid:

    Works: WiFi, screen dimming, touchscreen and charging work. Don’t work: Bluetooth, Telephony, GPS

    OK, now I see it has some serious limitations. Fair enough.

    You also mentioned in your January article that the Volla phone is going to be available in January. According to my research it probably has been available before you published your article but it is certainly available now.