PinePhone Speed Up Takes Soldering

It is no secret that we like a good hack and [Federico Amedeo Izzo] explains a hack for the PinePhone that can double the speed used for the device’s memory chips. Like many good hacks, it all started with a question. [Federico] was reading a review of the PinePhone Pro (the source of the image for this post) and apparently, the eMMC memory in that phone clocks in at about 150 MB/s. The original phone gets about 50-80 MB/s.

Reading some datasheets, it looked like the same chips are in both phones and should support not only DDR52 mode — the mode the original phone uses — but also HS200 and HS400 modes which top out at 200 and 400 MB/s, respectively. But there was one problem.

Continue reading “PinePhone Speed Up Takes Soldering”

A Tidy Clamshell Keyboard For The Pinephone

Something a lot of people don’t realise about modern smartphones is that many of them have fully-featured USB interfaces. Perhaps the best of all is the Pinephone, which is a fully open-source smartphone that gives end users total control over their phone experience. [silver] has such a phone, and set about building himself a neat keyboard setup for the platform.

The build is based around an RCA RKT773P tablet keyboard case, which uses USB to interface with a tablet via pogo pins. [silver] modified this by soldering on a USB cable to the pins, paired with a USB-C host adapter on the Pinephone. Paired with a few 3D printed parts to hold everything in place, it almost turns the assembly into a cute little Pinephone laptop.

It’s a neat build that would likely save a lot of frustration when hacking away at a terminal window on the Pinephone. Parts are available on Thingiverse for those interested in replicating the hack. Those eager to dive into the Pinephone platform may relish the new Pro model that has just dropped, too. Video after the break.

Continue reading “A Tidy Clamshell Keyboard For The Pinephone”

The PinePhone Pro Is Here. But It’s Still Probably Not The Year Of Open-Source Linux On The Smartphone

A trope in open source commentary over the last decades has been the phrase “Is this the year of Linux on the desktop?”, as though the open source OS will finally break through and challenge Windows. In fact the process has been one of stealth rather than explosive growth, as the likes of ChromeOS with its Linux underpinnings become the go-to choice for an inexpensive consumer laptop. In the phone arena the same has happened with Android, as most users have no idea that a Linux foundation lies beneath their Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel.

Fully open-source via Android on the phone has been very slow to arrive, but could that be changed by the arrival of Pine64’s PinePhone Pro? The new device will be available alongside their existing PinePhone, and will continue the dream of a fully open-source mobile phone with its increased-specification hardware.

As much as the specs of one black slab versus another matter, at its heart is a 1.5 GHz Rockchip RK3399S hexa-core SoC alongside 4 GB of dual-channel LPDDR4 RAM. This compares well to the original PinePhone’s quad-Core Allwinner A64 at 1.152 GHz and 3 GB LPDDR3 RAM, so it’s clear that there is plenty of capability in this phone.

Any phone whether open-source or not will however live or die on the quality of its software and support, so for this model to be a real success outside the realm of extreme open-source devotees we think that Pine64 will need to be prepared to up their game when it comes to what happens after hardware delivery. It’s fair to say that some of their previous products have been a little lacklustre in this department, with hardware bugs remaining unfixed. Their approach of relying on the community of users to deliver software support has not so far returned a stable experience for users of the original PinePhone. We understand that their intention is to provide a developer’s phone, but developers need to place phonecalls and take pictures too.

We’ve seen some PinePhone owners commenting to this effect, and though we’re fans of Pine64 and like what they are trying to do, we have to admit that those users have a point. If they were prepared to put some effort into software development to the extent of providing an official OS image with let’s say Plasma Mobile, a working phone app, a working web browser, and responsive phone features such as instant on and off, even at the expense of charging more for the phone itself, we think that they’ll be on to a winner. Otherwise they’ll remain as the really cool open-source phone that only your kernel-wizard friends own, and even then they use a Google Pixel as their everyday phone. Please Pine64, prove us wrong!

Last month our colleague Brian Cockfield took us on a tour of his PinePhone.

Pulling the Google logo off of a smartphone

Pining For A De-Googled Smartphone

Last summer in the first swings of the global pandemic, sitting at home finally able to tackle some of my electronics projects now that I wasn’t wasting three hours a day commuting to a cubicle farm, I found myself ordering a new smartphone. Not the latest Samsung or Apple offering with their boring, predictable UIs, though. This was the Linux-only PinePhone, which lacks the standard Android interface plastered over an otherwise deeply hidden Linux kernel.

As a bit of a digital privacy nut, the lack of Google software on this phone seemed intriguing as well, and although there were plenty of warnings that this was a phone still in its development stages it seemed like I might be able to overcome any obstacles and actually use the device for daily use. What followed, though, was a challenging year of poking, prodding, and tinkering before it got to the point where it can finally replace an average Android smartphone and its Google-based spyware with something that suits my privacy-centered requirements, even if I do admittedly have to sacrifice some functionality.

Continue reading “Pining For A De-Googled Smartphone”

PinePhone Gets 3D Printed Mechanical Keyboard

Do you remember when smartphones had real physical keyboards? Working the command line on some remote machine over SSH was a breeze, and you could even knock out a few lines of code if you were so inclined. But these days you’ve either got to lug around an external keyboard, or suffer through pecking out a few words per minute on a piece of glass. Doesn’t sound much like progress to us.

By the looks of it, [James Williams] doesn’t think so either. He’s designed a physical keyboard add-on that snaps onto the back of the PinePhone to deliver a proper, albeit condensed, typing experience. This is no repurposed BlackBerry board either; he’s created a custom mechanical keyboard that manages to fold into an incredibly small size thanks to resin printed keycaps and Kailh low profile switches. Other than the hand-drawn legends, it’s probably not a stretch to say this is a better keyboard than what many people have on their actual computers.

In addition to the 3D printed frame and Kailh switches, there’s also an Arduino Pro Micro onboard to communicate with the phone. Rather than use USB, the keyboard is wired to the I2C accessory port on the rear of the PinePhone. It sounds like [James] needs a little more time to polish his QMK build before its ready to release, so you might want to wait a bit before you start printing off your own copy of the parts.

Those following along with the development of the PinePhone know there’s supposedly an official keyboard accessory in the works, but who wants to wait when we’re so close to mobile Linux nirvana? Besides, we doubt it will be nearly as pleasant to type on as the board [James] has put together.

Pinephone Gets Thermal Imaging Backpack

When you buy a mass-market mobile phone, you’re making the decision to trust a long list of companies with your private data. While it’s difficult for any one consumer to fully audit even a single piece of consumer technology, there have been efforts to solve this problem to a degree. The Pinephone is one such example, with a focus on openness and allowing users to have full control over the hardware. [Martijn Braam] is a proud owner of such a device, and took advantage of this attitude to add a thermal imager to the handset.

The build is not a difficult one, thanks to the expansion-friendly nature of the Pinephone hardware. The rear of the phone sports six pogo pins carrying an I2C bus as well as power. [Martin] started by modifying the back cover of the phone with contacts to interface with the pogo pins. With this done, the MLX90640 thermal imager was attached to the case with double-sided tape and wired up to the interface.

While the 32×24 output from the sensor isn’t going to help you build cutting edge heat-seeking missiles, it’s an affordable sensor with good performance for low-end thermal imaging tasks. We’ve featured teardowns of thermal imaging hardware before, too.