The dream of a purely Linux-powered smartphone lives on in the new PinePhone – KDE Community edition.
For all the endless stories about the latest Apple iPhone and what’s really the best Android smartphone, you’d think there’s already a phone for everyone. Nope. Wrong. For those who value privacy first and foremost, there’s the Google-free, pro-privacy Android /e/ operating system, and then there are those who still want an honest-to-goodness Linux-based smartphone. For the latter, there’s a new choice from leading Linux smartphone vendor Pine64: The new PinePhone – KDE Community edition.
This soon-to-be-released beta smartphone includes most of a smartphone’s essential features. It runs on a modified version of Kubuntu, which is the version of Ubuntu that uses KDE Plasma for its desktop. Specifically, it runs Plasma Mobile, which is a direct descendant of the KDE Plasma desktop. Even before Canonical tried using Ubuntu Unity as a common operating system for both smartphones and desktops, the KDE team was moving in this direction with Plasma.
Today, the same underlying technologies drive both environments. It also comes with dual device apps such as KDE Connect, which enables you to connect phones and desktops; the Okular document reader; and the VVave music player. One thing you can’t do, however, is run Android applications on this phone. They don’t work. Period.
That said, the KDE Community and Pine64 are working on enabling you to run a full workstation Linux desktop from the phone. They’re not there yet, but they’ve been working toward it for years now.
Indeed, you can use any USB-C dock to connect the latest phone to a USB mouse, keyboard, storage, and external monitors. The 3GB version of the PinePhone comes with a dock, which provides two USB ports, a full-sized HDMI video port, and an RJ45 Ethernet port.
Of course, that’s all very nice, but where are the apps for it? With projects such as Kirigami and Maui, programmers can write applications that can work both with a desktop interface’s landscape format and a phone’s portrait mode. Still, this is a work in progress. Developers are actively building essential Plasma Mobile programs, such as web browsers, clocks, calendars, and games.
As for the phone itself, it comes in two versions. The major difference between them is the lower-end model comes with only 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It sells for $150. The higher-end edition boosts the RAM to 3GB and 32GB of storage. It also includes the aforementioned USB-C dock. You can buy this model for $200.
This is far less expensive than its main competitor, Purism’s yet to ship Librem 5. The Librem 5 lists for $749. A version of the same phone, but which is built in the US, will sell for $1,999. After many delays, Purism promises its PureOS Linux smartphone will finally ship in November 2020. While Pine64 and KDE haven’t given delivery dates yet, both its smartphones are available today.
As for the rest of Pine64’s hardware, it’s built around an Allwinner A64 SoC with a 64-bit quad-core 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex A-53 CPU and Mali-400MP2 GPU. It also features a 5.95-inch screen with a resolution of 1440×720 pixels at an 18:9 ratio. The phone also comes with a 5MP rear camera and a 2MP front camera.
For connectivity, it supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, a USB Type C port with HD digital video out, GPS (and support for the Russian version of GPS, GLONASS). It also comes with a micro-SD slot, which can be used to boot it.
Unlike almost smartphones these days, the battery is removable and easily replaceable. Behind its removable back, you’ll also find six dip switches. With these, you can protect your privacy by physically turning off the 4G modem, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microphone, or cameras.
Is this a phone for everyone? Oh no. But if you’re a hardcore Linux fan or a maker who likes pushing the limits of open-source software, this phone’s for you.