The ultimate one year review: daily driving the PinePhone

Camden Bruce on 2021-10-16

I brought the OG PinePhone UBPorts edition back in July of 2020. Back then, it couldn’t even last a few hours. At that time I daily drived either Mobian or Arch. We didn’t even have Megapixels, we had…. Pinhole. Dark times man, dark times.

A Photo of my PinePhone when I received it back in July 2020 (how the hell did it get so dirty so quickly?? Must’ve been a few days)

Around July of 2021 software had really settled. For me phones are a big distraction, with social media and such. The PinePhone doesn’t have the greatest range of apps other than the essentials and some novelties like Cawbird and Waydroid (classic Anbox was previously used). But that’s how it helped me, by only using it for what a phone is supposed to be used for (being able to contact my parents and friends). And maybe checking my timetable for school or searching the odd thing up on Google with Firefox.

One of the main issues I’ve had with PinePhone software is how software breaks quite often, I’m always checking the PostmarketOS Edge page for issues that are breaking the system. Usually these issues affects all the other operating systems. EG: The sound switching issue that we had recently.

Thankfully whenever something breaks PostmarketOS Stable exists. It’s a lifeline for when something like this happens. So I always have a stable SD card on me just in case. But I do like having the latest packages.

PostmarketOS Edge — 16 Aug 2020

The hardware in the OG PinePhone is pretty low powered, but it definitely can do the job. The PinePhone sports a Allwinner A64 SOC by SUNXI, it has 4 a53 cores clocked in at 1.2Ghz. The Allwinner A64 includes the Mali 400MP2 which released in 2008 eeeek. But even with this slow hardware it works humbly for todays standards, but it’s not great. The reason why they chose this SOC was because it has very good mainline support, so it does make sense. Thankfully the PinePhone Pro has been announced with a much needed spec upgrade. I really wish to test and give feedback for it but I’m saving my money for other things sadly.

My PinePhone with the back cover off

The camera on the PinePhone isn’t the best, but it does work very well with Megapixels. It takes a lot better photos now with the autofocus software, and takes decent photos for a 5mp camera. The pictures are good enough for me to see text that is written on a whiteboard. So it definitely works well enough.

A picture of my backyard taken with the PinePhone

The front camera isn’t great, I never use it, but I never expect it to be very good anyway. It has a green hue with photos it takes. Sometimes light can really drown out photos, so be aware of that. But with optimal lighting conditions it can be at least bearable.

An example of how light can affect the front camera (I’m sad because I can’t see myself properly)

Before we move on I just want to talk about some of the other hardware on the PinePhone.

Haha photos go brrrrr (picture of more PinePhone goodness)

Now, an obvious question new users ask is which operating system should I use? I’ll go through all of the ones that are currently active and state my opinion.

The PinePhone runs many operating systems. Credit: Pine64

Now I want to talk about Manjaro Plasma Mobile. This is the operating system that ships with the PinePhone. There is two branches for each edition of the Manjaro mobile images: Stable and Dev (unstable) but there is an issue. Dev breaks constantly and has lots of bugs often. Makes sense, I don’t complain, but Stable on the other hand isn’t checked for issues and has the exact same packages as Dev most of the time unlike Postmarket’s Stable releases. If I wanted a good Plasma Mobile experience I would personally use a Postmarket image.

This is a major problem, this is most likely a lot of new user’s first impressions of the PinePhone. I have never gotten Manjaro’s Plasma image to send an SMS message successfully, I have always had modem issues with Ofono. So a recommendation to the Manjaro team, please test packages before releasing them on stable, it would make the experience a lot better for consumers (and of course devs and enthusiasts as well) so they can enjoy their PinePhone knowing that it’s software is working correctly.

Manjaro Plasma Mobile image — 27 Sept 2020

Overall then, what do I think of the PinePhone? I think it’s a neat phone for anyone with the time to learn a little about Linux or anyone who’s already into Linux. It’s an everyone phone really if you have enough time. At the moment I think it’s pretty stable, not perfect but I think it’s reached the polishing stage. Making battery life better, more optimizations for the older hardware etc.

If you want to buy one, I would, I think it’s worth buying if you’re really wanting a Linux phone. Or you should probably wait for the Pro to mature first if you want more processing power.

I love the PinePhone, it’s just so damn fun to play with, it has to be my favorite phone. I was probably insane daily driving this thing for a year but it was worth the journey. Cheers to Pine64 for the awesome stuff they bring out. It’s given me a lot of motivation to write stuff like this and to get into the mobile Linux community.

All images are mine except for the PinePhone operating systems diagram which is the property of Pine64.