Most modern smartphones ship with Android or iOS, but there’s also a small, but growing number of phones designed to run Linux-based operating systems. And it’s likely that no phone has been more successful in spurring the development of mobile Linux distributions than the PinePhone, an inexpensive phone that’s made mobile Linux accessible.

But while the PinePhone’s $150 starting price makes the device attractive, it’s only possible because the phone’s hardware is… not great. So now the folks at Pine64 have introduced a new phone for folks that want to run mainline Linux on a phone with more powerful hardware. Meet the PinePhone Pro.

The PinePhone Pro looks virtually identical to the original PinePhone, but under the hood it’s powered by a Rockchip RK399S hexa-core processor which should bring a significant performance boost. It also brings more RAM and storage, better cameras, and faster WiFi.

It’s still a phone aimed at tech-savvy early adopters rather than the general public. But with significant hardware upgrades, it’s capable of delivering a better user experience for folks interested in running work-in-progress mainline Linux-based software on a phone.

The new model also keeps some of the features that made the original PinePhone special, including a removable, replaceable battery, hardware kill switches for the cameras, microphones, and wireless features, pogo pins for optional add-ons, and the same 4G LTE modem that hackers have already developed open source firmware for.

Pine64 will continue to sell the original PinePhone alongside the new model, but notes that the PinePhone Pro offers the kind of performance you’d expect from a mid-range Android device, which could make it a better option for folks that want to use a Linux smartphone as their daily driver (acknowledging that mobile Linux is still very much a work in progress and may not yet do all the things you want, even with more powerful hardware).

Here’s a run-down of PinePhone Pro specs compared with those for the original PinePhone, which is still available for $150 and up:

PinePhone ProPinePhone
SoCRockchip RK3399S
2 x ARM Cortex-A72
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 @ 1.5 GHz
Allwinner A64
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 @ 1.2 GHz
GPUARM Mali-T760 4-cores @ 500 MHzARM Mali-400MP2
RAM4GB LPDDR4 @ 800 MHz2GB or 3GB LPDDR3
Storage128GB eMMC16GB or 32GB eMMC
Display6 inch
1440 x 720 pixel IPS LCD
Gorilla Glass 4
5.95 inch
1440 x 720 pixel IPS LCD
Camera (rear)13MP Sony IMX258
LED flash
5MP Omnivision OV5640
LED flash
Camera (front)5MP Omnivision OV56402MP GC2035
ModemQuectel EG25-G with global GSM and CDMA
4G LTE
GPS, A-GPS, GLONAS
Quectel EG25-G with global GSM and CDMA
4G LTE
GPS, A-GPS, GLONAS
WiFiAmpak AP6255
WiFi 5
WiFi 4
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1Bluetooth 4.0
I/OUSB 3.0 Type-C (power, data, video)
pogo pins
3.5mm headphone
microSD card reader
USB 2.0 Type-C (power, data, video)
pogo pins
3.5mm headphone
microSD card reader
SensorsAccelerometer
Gyroscope
Proximity
Compass
Ambient Light
Accelerator
Gyroscope
Proximity
Compass
Ambient Light
Barometer
ButtonsPower
Volume up/down
Power
Volume up/down
Hardware kill switchesCameras
Microphone
WiFi & BT
LTE modem
Headphones
Cameras
Microphone
WiFi & BT
LTE modem
Headphones
Battery3,000 mAh Samsung J7 form-factor3,000 mAh Samsung J7 form-factor
Charging5V/3A (15W)5V/3A (15W)
Dimensions160.8 x 76.6 x 11.1mm160.5 x 76.6 x 9.2mm
Weight215 grams180 – 200 grams
Price$399$149 / $199

While the specs are better, the form-factor of the PinePhone Pro is very similar to the original. The new model is about 2mm thicker and the back cover now has an oleophobic coating to make it a little more resistant to fingerprints. But it’s generally the same shape and size as its older sibling, and the camera, pogo pins, and other hardware are in the same places.

That means that accessories like the PinePhone Keyboard should work with both phones.

Unfortunately, Pine64 notes that enough things under the hood have changed, including the cameras, display panel, daughterboard and thermal dissipation that it’s unlike existing PinePhone owners would be able to simply buy a Pro mainboard and upgrade their existing devices.

The default operating system for the new PinePhone Pro will be Manjaro Linux with the KDE Plasma Mobile user interface, but users aren’t stuck with the operating system that comes with the phone.

There are currently more than 20 different operating systems available for the original PinePhone, and the folks at Pine64 are hoping that developers will port most, if not all of them to work with the PinePhone Pro.

One down side though, is that unlike the PinePhone, the new Pro model will not support booting from a microSD card, as the Rockchip RK3399S chipset doesn’t support that feature. So trying out alternate operating systems currently requires writing them to the phone’s built-in storage, although as LinMOB points out, it’s possible that developers might be able to create a custom bootloader that will get around this and allow you to boot from removable storage.

And it’s not like members of the Pine64 community are inexperienced when it comes to working with Rockchip processors – the smartphones’ RK3399S processor is very similar to the RK3399 chip used in the company’s PineBook Pro laptop. But Pine64 says it worked with Rockchip to alter the processors so it could work within the thermal and energy-consumption restraints of a smartphone.

The chipset also supports key features including support for high-resolution cameras, USB 3.0 data transfer speeds, and video output via the USB-C port, which allows you to use the PinePhone Pro as a portable desktop computer by hooking up an external display.

The company says that means that the PinePhone Pro is about 20% slower than a PineBook Pro in terms of sheer horsepower. But it also has a lower-resolution display, which means the processor doesn’t have to work quite as hard, so real-world performance should be similar when used as a phone.

PinePhone Pro Developer units are available for pre-order starting today for $399 and they’re scheduled to begin shipping by December.

Pine64 plans to ship a limited number of developer units first, in order to get the phones in the hands of folks responsible for actually creating and improving mobile Linux distributions. But the company is also planning to begin production of a PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition aimed at early adopters next month, in the goal of shipping units to customers in early 2022.

While most folks will have to wait a little while to get their hands on a PinePhone Pro, a handful of developers have already been testing pre-production models for a few months.

Megi, developer of custom kernels and other software for the PinePhone, has shared some thoughts in a “quick review,” noting that the phone’s processor is faster than the one used in the PinePhone or Librem 5. The eMMC storage is also much faster, with data transfer speeds up to 150 MB/s, which helps with performance.

But there are still multiple software kinks to work out, and the RK3399S processor is also more power hungry, which will likely take a toll on battery life. It’s worth keeping in mind that battery life for the original PinePhone was also awful when it began shipping, but over time mobile Linux developers found ways to optimize their software to extend battery life. Hopefully the same happens with the PinePhone Pro.

PostmarketOS developer Martijn Braam has also been spending some time with one, and has a posted hands-on video looking at the hardware, general performance, and how the new phone compares with the original PinePhone.

Latest Linux Smartphone news:

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  1. About PinePhone KEYBOARD I think it will need two versions, one for original PinePhone and other for Pinephone Pro, because phone inserts in upper keyboard part and PinePhone Pro is 2 mm thicker. All keyboard would be the same for both phones but upper keyboard part needs to be different so thicker phone can be inserted in it.

  2. I’m going to guess that the battery life would be pretty terrible with that SOC and the 3000mah battery, but I’m honestly only guessing.
    It seems a little pricey for what it is though.

    1. If I remember PinePhone Allwinner A64 is a manufactured in 40 nm, while PinePhone Pro Rockchip RK3399s is manufactured in 28 nm. That is a very big difference, and it could compensate some part of energy consumption.

  3. Really curious to see how it will perform in people’s hands. For the time being I remain more interested in the Pixel 6 / Fairphone 4, but as this is currently advertised, this does feel like it should be a step in the right direction.

    1. Targets for those devices are totally different.

      PinePhone has privacy switches, cell modem is separated from main SOC where user OS+soft is running. Cell modem runs on its own CPU+OS, and you can shut down that modem when you want (or disable it with hard switch).

      On Pixel 6 / Fairphone 4 there is no hard switches and cellular modem is not separated so from them they can take control of your phone; you have no control over that modem, in contrast it has controls all over your device because its OS has higher priority than yours (it runs in a inner ring).

      And with PinePhone keyboard you have a real pocket computer running desktop OS (Linux has real desktop environment).

  4. I have been an owner of original PinePhone.
    It’s a piece of junk. Do not buy this next “thing”. Unless you want to be guinea pig.
    They develop nothing – they just throw faulty hardware at community expecting that “everything can be corrected by software”.

    By the way – 400 USD ? Really ?

    1. I think this might be a mismatch between customer expectations and what Pine64 is offering – they make no claims that the PinePhone or PinePhone Pro are ready for mainstream consumers. Instead, they’re selling hardware aimed at developers and open source enthusiasts who want a platform to work on while developing mobile Linux distributions.

      Some folks have been mainlining other phones like the OnePlus 6, so if you’re looking for a Linux phone with better hardware specs, you might want to consider that one. But that’s a fairly recent development, and it’s unclear to me if mobile Linux development would have made as much progress as it has in the past few years were it not for the PinePhone and Purism’s Librem 5.

      But at this point mobile Linux is very much still a work in progress and running it as your primary OS is analogous to using a desktop Linux distro maybe 20 + years ago.

      1. many people need only phone, sms, and browser.
        (some need ssh 😉 )
        not everyone play game or using gps. many people need normal telefon for many years

      2. Hey Brad,

        No mistmatch of expectations in my case.
        As I said above. The problem is hardware. In this particular case – modem that does not wake up early enough to let you answer the call. It also (very often) does not come up from sleep properly and you have to reset it. This last problem maybe power related.
        And now they are expecting devs to “repair” it with software.

        This is not how you create devices. First you need to make sure the hardware works properly. Then you can create a software for it.

        The same thing with PinebookPro. They actually know it’s faulty in many areas but still sell it (as is) like nothing ever happened.

    2. I also have a pinephone. And while I agree that it is slow, I actually like it. Then again, I actually mostly use it with a nexdock and have kept it mostly for entertainment and as a backup phone as updates keep changing things. I also really, really, really hate google and apple, so I can put up with a lot of poor performance, because doing good poorly is better than doing evil well.
      So personally I’m looking forward to seeing how the pinephone pro does. These improvements should do a lot to performance.

      1. I can’t think of an RK3399 dev board that has a full featured (video, power, data simultaneously) USB C port. Or any other ARM SoC dev board for that matter. For that reason I keep using my pinephone but I agree the software isn’t ready for it to be a no-brain-required reliable daily driver.

  5. As normal they are approaching it the wrong way, and i have no interest in helping them with suggestions. Purchasers can enjoy being Lab rats, for other companies software development costs.

  6. Are there any Unisoc chipsets that run linux? TSMC/USA is still allowing them to make their SOCs in Taiwan on leading processes.

  7. Finally, the phone I had been waiting for. I was reading the specs and it’s all good, the only let down is the rather low screen resolution, but I guess you can’t have everything. I’m looking forward the Explorer Edition.

    1. They basically chose to keep the resolution consistent with the OG PinePhone for compatibility and power consumption purposes. It’s a tradeoff that makes sense given the current state of mobile Linux.

      1. What compatibility? This was the only thing I liked. until I read it’s the same resolution BUT different incompatible panel.
        And from software side resolution difference doesn’t matter.