I got my pinephone

Published on

Tags: 2020

This ended up being way longer and way more review-y than I intended. I’ve been writing this for a few hours…

TLDR: it definitely isn’t average consumer ready yet. The software is VERY buggy. The hardware isn’t terrible though. But it was worth what I paid I think. If you know and love Linux, you may be interested.

I am in no way a phone reviewer, or tech reviewer. I am literally one of the worst people to ask anything about hardware. This is just something I think is interesting, and wanted to share a little bit about. I might write something later on if there is something cool I find out about it, or I do something cool with it myself.

I ordered a manjaro edition pinephone a while back and I actually didn’t realize I had gotten the tracking number back in October, so it was kind of a surprise to get it. I thought they were going to be shipped out in mid-late November. I’ve had it for 2 days, and I’ve messed around with it a little bit, but nothing too extensive yet.

The build quality of the phone surprised me a bit. It is made of plastic, but it doesn’t feel as cheap as I would’ve thought. I remember reading that it was the same size as my phone (OnePlus 7 pro, 6.7"), but that didn’t really register in my mind, so I was surprised at how big it was. It’s lighter than my phone, but that’s probably due to the plastic. I love that it has a removable battery, hardware kill-switches, a 3.5mm headphone jack, expandable storage, and USB-C. It’s nice that these features exist, and are sort of a standard on Linux phones currently (Librem has them as well). Hopefully this sets a standard for other phones to come. The LCD screen did have 1 dead pixel, which isn’t noticeable. Only when the screen is black can you really see it. I got the convergence edition, which came with an extra GB of RAM (3GB total), and a “dock”. It’s more like a USB hub than a dock. It’s made of metal, has 2 normal USB ports(I think they’re USB 2.0), an HDMI port, and ethernet. And connects to the phone via USB-C. It also has a port to charge it while in use (I assume it charges it, though the USB ports may be powered from this). The battery life is kinda meh, it takes a while to charge. I haven’t used it in a setting to drain it completely yet. The cameras aren’t great either, but that’s expected. They take pictures though, I know that wasn’t a thing until pretty recently.

Like I said at the start, the software is REALLY buggy, but I’ve only used the manjaro phosh build. There are other operating systems and interfaces you can use. On my list to try is a pure arch variant, Postmarket, and probably UBPorts/Ubuntu touch. I don’t think I will be happy with the software until it’s waaaay more lightweight. Something like xfce maybe, or a tiling WM would be cool (Though using a tiling wm on a phone would be really weird). Anyway, the software is actually faster than I thought it would be for sure. But it can be really hit or miss when it crashes, or which apps actually work. For example: I haven’t been able to change the background because the file manager used doesn’t fit to the screen of the phone. I’m assuming it’s trying to decide the resolution and gets hung, because it eventually does close. The file manager on it’s own is fine, so I’m not sure if this is specific to the settings app. I haven’t plugged a sim card into it yet, so I can’t comment on the quality of calls and texts. Web browsing is kind of slow, but usable I guess. Since manjaro is arch based, you have access to pacman and even the aur. The included terminal emulator I think is the same you’d find on regular GNOME, it’s ok. I think it’s hilarious I can install Go and vim on my phone though. I don’t really recommend using vim with your phone’s keyboard though, that is really strange and kind of a pain. I think if I were to find a lightweight distro and interface, I would probably just use it like a laptop/mini desktop. With the dock, I can hook it up to a keyboard, mouse and monitor. This is also severely buggy. On first boot, it did not work. After a reboot, it works sometimes. It’s probably just an issue with Xorg or Wayland(not sure which it uses). I may just be missing something with keyboard shortcuts or something, but if an app opens up off screen (Which usually happens), I can’t move it. Crashing and resolution issues are my main concerns though, other than that the performance is decent.

If you care about privacy (incremental anyway, all phones are surveillance devices by nature), then this is probably something you’ll want to at least keep up with a little bit. Purism, the creator of the Librem 5, is coming out with a “private” celluar plan as well. Not sure if that will work on phones besides the Librem 5 though. I imagine it will, but I can’t confirm. With the inclusion of the kill switches, and the potential to run 100% libre software, you can be reasonably sure that your data isn’t going anywhere it shouldn’t be.

I’m happy with what the phone offers currenlty, and I’m pretty confident it will get better with time. If I decide to test a sim card in it, and the calls are alright, I think I’d call it worth the $200(I can’t say for sure the extra GB is necessary, but 50% more is nothing to scoff at) for someone who wants a cheap phone. It’s overall not really any worse than an android phone like 5-10 years ago. If you’re not familiar with Linux, you probably won’t have any issues picking up the phosh interface, they make it kind of hard to mess anything up. If you are familiar with Linux, I see some cool possibilities for its use.

by Jackson Taylor