PinePhonePro First Impression


I received my PinePhone Pro [1] on Thursday, it seems in many ways better than the Purism Librem 5 [2] that I have previously written about. The PinePhone is thinner, lighter, and yet has a much longer battery life. A friend described the Librem5 as “the CyberTruck phone” and not in a good way.

In a test I had my PinePhone and my Librem5 fully charged, left them for 4.5 hours without doing anything much with them, and then the PinePhone was at 85% and the Librem5 was at 57%. So the Librem5 will run out of battery after about 10 hours of not being used while a PinePhonePro can be expected to last about 30 hours. The PinePhonePro isn’t as good as some of the recent Android phones in this regard but it shows the potential to be quite usable. For this test both phones were connected to a 2.4GHz Wifi network (which uses less power than 5GHz) and doing nothing much with an out of the box configuration. A phone that is checking email, social networking, and a couple of IM services will use the battery faster. But even if the PinePhone has it’s battery used twice as fast in a more realistic test that will still be usable.

Here are the passmark results from the PinePhone Pro [3] which got a CPU score of 888 compared to 507 for the Librem 5 and 678 for one of the slower laptops I’ve used. The results are excluded from the Passmark averages because they identified the CPU as only having 4 cores (expecting just 4*A72) while the PinePhonePro has 6 cores (2*A72+4*A53). This phone definitely has the CPU power for convergence [4]!

Default OS

By default the PinePhone has a KDE based GUI and the Librem5 has a GNOME based GUI. I don’t like any iteration of GNOME (I have tried them all and disliked them all) and I like KDE so I will tend to like anything that is KDE based more than anything GNOME based. But in addition to that the PinePhone has an interface that looks a lot like Android with the three on-screen buttons at the bottom of the display and the way it has the slide up tray for installed apps. Android is the most popular phone OS and looking like the most common option is often a good idea for a new and different product, this seems like an objective criteria to determine that the default GUI on the PinePhone is a better choice (at least for the default).

When I first booted it and connected it to Wifi the updates app said that there were 633 updates to apply, but never applied them (I tried clicking on the update button but to no avail) and didn’t give any error message. For me not being Debian is enough reason to dislike Manjaro, but if that wasn’t enough then the failure to update would be a good start. When I ran pacman in a terminal window it said that each package was corrupt and asked if I wanted to delete it. According to “tar tvJf” the packages weren’t corrupt. After downloading them again it said that they were corrupt again so it seemed that pacman wasn’t working correctly.

When the screen is locked and a call comes in it gives a window with Accept and Reject buttons but neither of them works. The default country code for “Spacebar” (the SMS app) is +1 (US) even though I specified Australia on the initial login. It also doesn’t get the APN unlike Android phones which seem to have some sort of list of APNs.

Upgrading to Debian

The Debian Wiki page about Installing on the PinePhone Pro has the basic information [5]. The first thing it covers is installing the TOW boot loader – which is already installed by default in recent PinePhones (such as mine). You can recognise that TOW is installed by pressing the volume-up button in the early stages of boot up (described as “before and during the second vibration”), then the LED will turn blue and the phone will act as a USB mass storage device which makes it easy to do other install/recovery tasks. The other TOW option is to press volume-down to boot from a MicroSD card (the default is to boot the OS on the eMMC).

The images linked from the Debian wiki page are designed to be installed with bmaptool from the bmap-tools Debian package. After installing that package and downloading the pre-built Mobian image I installed it with the command “bmaptool copy mobian-pinephonepro-phosh-bookworm-12.0-rc3.img.gz /dev/sdb” where /dev/sdb is the device that the USB mapped PinePhone storage was located. That took 6 minutes and then I rebooted my PinePhone into Mobian!

Unfortunately the default GUI for Mobian is GNOME/Phosh. Changing it to KDE is my next task.

3 comments to PinePhonePro First Impression

  • The PinePhone Pro seems to hold its charge a lot better than the Librem 5.

    I tried out the Arch Linux image from the wiki page, but it is well behind the curve compared to the KDE-based software that comes on the phone when you buy it.

    The Android-based image wouldn’t boot.

    The update mechanism works fairly well with pacman, though apt is a world ahead.

  • Peter Chubb

    How well does it work as a phone? Does it work in weak signal areas? Does it cover all the Australian 4G and LTE frequencies? Does it allow WiFi calling if your carrier supports it?

  • Peter: A recent change is to allow suspend and then have the phone wake up when a call comes in. This currently doesn’t work well and the phone takes a while to respond to a call or pressing the power button. This is a solvable problem but not one solved right now. Fortunately 30 hours of not being used without suspending (and admittedly almost no background tasks) is long enough that disabling suspend is a viable option. Running a PinePhonePro for a few hours as a wifi hotspot and no external power (as I often do with Android phones) isn’t going to be a viable option for some time, maybe never for this model of phone.

    I don’t think it supports VoLTE so Wifi calling wouldn’t be an option unless you use one of the many VOIP systems. It basically works with 4G, I didn’t have the ability to test frequencies or coverage. I might try using it as my primary phone on the weekend and see how that goes.

    With my first ever Android phone the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10i I on occasion fell asleep with the phone playing music and woke up the next morning with the music still playing and plenty of charge in the battery. I don’t expect a phone from Pine64 or Purism to do that any time in the next few years.