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The $149 Smartphone That Could Bring The Linux Mobile Ecosystem to Life

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Gadgets

It sounds strange, but it’s something Pine64’s entry into the smartphone space, the Linux-driven PinePhone, is built for.

Would you want to use it? I spent a few weeks with one recently, and here’s what I learned.

[...]

Now, to be clear, there’s a difference between workable and cutting-edge. Unlike the Pinebook Pro, which offered relatively up-to-date hardware (such as the ability to add an NVMe drive) even if the chip itself was a bit pokey compared to, say, an M1, the PinePhone effectively is knowingly running outdated hardware out of the gate.

Its CPU, an Allwinner A64 with a Mali 400 MP2 GPU, first came out six years ago and is the same chip the original Pine64 single-board computer used. (It’s also older than the NXP i.MX 8M System-On-Module that the other primary Linux phone on the market, the Purism Librem 5, comes with—though to be fair, this phone sells for $149, less than a fifth of the price of the $800 Librem 5.)

Despite 802.11ac being in wide use for more than half a decade, the Wi-Fi tops out at 802.11n on the PinePhone—a bit frustrating, given that a lot of folks are probably not going to be throwing a SIM card into this and are going to be futzing around with it on Wi-Fi alone.

Is this the perfect phone for cheapskates? Well, to offer a point of comparison: The Teracube 2e, a sustainable low-end Android device that I reviewed a few months ago whose sub-$200 price point is very similar to that of the PinePhone, runs circles around this thing (and isn’t that far off from the Librem 5) on a pure spec level, with better cameras, a somewhat better screen, and a fingerprint sensor for a roughly similar price point (and a four-year warranty, compared to the single month you get from Pine64). If you’re looking for a cheap phone rather than an adventure, stay away.

And the PinePhone can be fairly temperamental in my experience, chewing through battery life when idle and reporting inconsistent charge levels when in use, no matter what OS is loaded.

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