Daily Driving the Pinephone Pro
Pine64 has been known for their affordable GNU/Linux based devices for a while now. They released a Linux based phone called the PinePhone in early 2020, complete with switches to disable the camera, microphone, radios, and other sensitive hardware. I unfortunately didn’t get one at the time, but since then the Pinephone has become pretty decently stable (depending on what operating system – or “OS” – you use on it).
In Oct of 2021, the Pinephone Pro was announced and shipped early the following year. I preordered a Developer Edition, which is only intended for developers or people with extensive Linux knowledge, since I know the software will eventually mature and the higher hardware specs will be much better then the original PinePhone and I want to be along for the journey. I received it about one month ago and have been “daily driving” it as much as possible since, though I am unable to use it full time due to required work software I need to use and being available via phone is crucial (I did use it as much as possible besides required work needs).
I mostly used the default Manjaro KDE Plasma OS that it ships with, but I also tried Manjaro Phosh (the Gnome-based distribution that the Librem 5 also uses) and PostmarketOS with Plasma briefly. I have managed to put a sim card in it and test the calls and SMS/MMS.
What I Found
Plasma is my personal favorite in terms of look and layout. Unfortunately I had to reinstall the OS on three separate occasions because sometimes the lock screen would say the PIN was wrong which I’m sure it wasn’t. I also had some issues with the screen getting stuck when rotating where part of the screen was black.
Voice calls were mostly reliable but sounded far away and muffled. It was manageable, but clearly lower quality than what I was used to on my usual phone. SMS and MMS, on the other hand, were spotty and unreliable. I usually received them, but not always. Overall I’d give that experience an 8/10 if I had to rate it.
The overall speed was actually faster then my iPhone when it came to browsing on the Angelfish browser that is included (Firefox also ran faster than my main cellphone but not as significantly as Angelfish).
Finally, the biggest issue I had was when using Discover (the app software “store”). When updating, there was an error of “1 offline update failed” where it offers an option to repair or open Discover, but neither option solved the problem. It should be noted this has already been brought up to the developers and they are working on a solution last I checked.
Phosh is the smoothest and least bug-filled OS I tried, likely due to Phosh being in use for a while now on other devices such as the Librem 5. Personally I didn’t care for the icons or the way it vibrates every time you swipe down on the notification bar. However, that’s personal preference. If you want the most functionality and reliability, that seems to be what Phosh offers.
Phosh’s native SMS/MMS and phone calls also suffered the same issues as Plasma (low quality, hit-or-miss reception rates) but because of the rest of the phone’s factors it was a slightly more pleasant experience, maybe a 9/10.
Overall I encountered almost no bugs except for some YouTube playback issues on Firefox, where it buffered endlessly until I restarted the browser. Thankfully a quick fix.
I wanted to love PostmarketOS so much. It has also been in development for a long time and is focused on replacing the Android-like experience with Linux on phones. Unfortunately I couldn’t manage to update it or do much of anything. I couldn’t even get native SMS or voice calls to work at all. However, it should be noted that PostmarketOS does not officially support the Pinephone Pro at the time of this writing. I was able to find a developer who was willing to build a custom image for me to try. This is almost certainly why I ran into so many issues. I’m sure that by the time it’s officially released most of these bugs will be fixed.
The Pinephone experience varies wildly. Some people report a smooth, daily-drivable experience while others find it nearly unusable. I think this largely comes down to your daily lifestyle and what you need it to do for you. Pine64 has made it clear on the Pinephone Pro’s page who the product is and isn’t for at this stage (see the image above). I personally got one because I love FOSS and wanted to support a great company. I’m also impatient and would rather be along for the “software maturity” ride than wait until the final product is ready. I’m willing to risk some bugs in exchange for early adoption. If this sounds interesting to you and you are knowledgeable (very knowledgeable) in Linux, then I completely recommend checking out the Pinephone Pro. If you’re more of a casual user, then you may be more interested in a custom Android ROM until the software is more stable. But once it develops a little more, I bet it will be a powerful third option for those wishing to take back control of their data.
Stay safe and stay private.