While the PinePhone is first and foremost a phone (it’s right there in the name), many of the Linux distributions available for the device are modified versions of desktop operating systems. You can already use the phone like a desktop Linux computer by plugging in a monitor, mouse, and keyboard.
Soon you may also be able to use it as a tiny laptop thanks to Pine64’s official keyboard accessory.
Pine64 first revealed plans to build a keyboard for the PinePhone last fall. Since then the company has refined the design, worked with the community to come up with a layout for the keys, and begun manufacturing prototypes. Now Pine64 community manager Lukasz Erecinski has shared some pictures and a short video giving us a good look at the latest prototype.
The keyboard will actually be part of a new case/cover for the PinePhone. In addition to adding QWERTY keys for touch-typing, the case will have a 6,000 mAh battery pack which servers at least two purposes – you can charge your phone and extend your battery life, and it adds weight to the base so your PinePhone shouldn’t tip over while you’re using the keyboard.
The phone fits snugly into the top section of the case, which has cut-outs for the USB port, headphone jack, camera, and speaker. There’s also a USB port in the case itself for charging the battery.
While the 36 second demo video doesn’t show anyone typing on the phone or even show the phone turned on, it does make it clear that adding the keyboard case to the PinePhone will more than double the thickness. You may still be able to slide the whole thing into your pocket, but it’s likely to be more of a snug fit than when using the phone on its own.
Also interesting to note is that the hinge on the keyboard cover appears to open to a 180-degree angle. That means you can probably flip the cover open and use your phone for basic tasks without engaging the keyboard. But you’ll have to hold the phone sort of like a book to do that. A 360-degree hinge would have made it easier to flip the keyboard so that it’s back-to-back with the phone, letting you use the PinePhone as a touchscreen device for brief periods without removing it from the case.
That said, given how thick the case is, I’m guessing if you put the PinePhone into the keyboard case, it’s because you plan to use it for typing.
Lukasz ErecinskiErecinski notes that the design isn’t completely finalized yet. The finished version will be all black rather than black and white. The keycaps need to be remolded a bit. And, of course, the letters, numbers, and symbols need to be added. But we already know what those keycap labels will look like.
Expect a QWERTY keyboard with a number row that also serves as Fn keys, a Pine64 logo on a “Super” key, Shift, Ctrl, Fn, and Alt keys on the left side of the keyboard, and an AltGr key to the right of the space bar for entering special characters that may be common in certain languages other than English.
Pine64 hasn’t announced when the keyboard will be finalized or when you’ll be able to buy one, but the company has previously indicated that it will likely sell for around $50.
You can find more details at the Pine64 forum.