Pine64’s open source PinePhone has launched at $150 for a developer’s edition. The smartphone is supported by UBports’ Ubuntu Touch, which also now works on a Raspberry Pi 3 with touchscreen as well as an AOSP-based “Volla Phone,” now on Kickstarter.
Linux-based phones that don’t use Google’s Android have had a rough go of it over the last decade, but for every phone project that gets knocked down, another one gets up again and claims a la Chumbawamba: “you’re never gonna keep me down.” The latest new contender is Pine64’s PinePhone which has gone on $150 pre-order for on a “Braveheart” developer edition due in early January.
PinePhone “Braveheart” edition
(click images to enlarge)
Thanks to open source software, abandoned Linux phone projects sometimes get back up again thanks to someone else. This was the case with UBports adopting and adapting Canonical’s discarded Ubuntu Touch platform, which launched on several phones mid-decade such as BQ’s Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition. UBPorts has just announced a new version of Ubuntu Touch that can run on the Raspberry Pi, following recent ports to the PinePhone and a Volla Phone that is now pitching on Kickstarter (see farther below).
The PinePhone would compete with a few other alternative Linux phones such as Purism’s Librem 5. After considerable delay, the Librem 5 began shipping to pre-order customers in late September.
Pine64 announced the PinePhone in February along with several other similarly open source, Linux-based products. Some of these, including the Rockchip RK3399 based Pinebook Pro laptop and revised, Allwinner H6 based Pine H64 Model B SBC have already reached market. The PinePhone is now available in a bleeding-edge “Braveheart” Limited Edition for developers and early adopters, with shipments expected late December or early January.
The PinePhone is billed as an open source smartphone “supported by all major Linux phone projects.” In addition to supporting Ubuntu Touch, you can load mainline Linux, Maemo Leste, PostmarketOS, and Plasma Mobile. It can also run Unity 8 and KDE Plasma with Lima.
The PinePhone is equipped with the quad -A53 Allwinner A64, which is also found on the Pine A64 SBC. The SoC is deployed via Pine64’s SoPine A64 compute module.
The Braveheart edition of the PinePhone lacks the originally listed HDMI port and has half the eMMC at 16GB. For external displays, there’s a USB Type-C port that supports DisplayPort along with USB host and power input. The 5.95-inch IPS, capacitive touchscreen has 1440 x 720 resolution and an 18:9 aspect ratio.
Other features are much the same, including 2GB LPDDR3, a bootable microSD slot, WiFi (802.11n), Bluetooth 4.0, GNSS, and a Quectel EG-25G 4G LTE module with a micro-SIM slot and support for worldwide bands. There’s a removable 2750-3000mAh battery, and 2MP and 5MP cameras. You also get a variety of sensors, a speaker, and an audio jack with mic support.
From a hardware perspective the signature feature is a set of privacy hardware switches. These include LTE/GPS, WiFi/BT, mic, and camera.
Ubuntu Touch lives — now on the Raspberry Pi
As reported on Softpedia, the UBPorts community posted an update claiming support for Ubuntu Touch running on a Raspberry Pi 3 with the official Raspberry Pi 7-inch touchscreen. The Raspberry Pi “is really maturing” as a development platform for Ubuntu Touch, said Marius Gripsgård, founder of UBports in an accompanying video posted farther below. There was no demo, however. In the video, UBports developer Florian Leeber added that the Raspberry Pi platform could also act as home touchscreen interface for IoT and other applications.
The key to the Pi support was the project’s recent merge of the ARM64 version of libhybris into “Edge,” which refers to a repository used by the project. This should also make it easier to port to other Arm-based platforms.
Also new on Ubuntu Touch is a capability of the distribution’s Mir display server to run on Wayland using the Wayland protocol. This is said to enable the user session to be suspended, thereby saving on battery life while improving security and privacy. In the works is improved support for Bluetooth headsets with an upgrade to the BlueZ Bluetooth daemon and a patch for PulseAudio.
In the video, UBports’ Gripsgård also interviewed Jörg Wurzer, the founder of Hallo Welt Systeme UG, the company behind the Volla Phone project, about the phone’s new capability to run Ubuntu Touch. The project has developed a stylish prototype of the Volla Phone built in Europe, but it is currently struggling to gain traction on Kickstarter.
Volla Phone prototype
The Volla Phone is selling for 298 Euros ($328) early bird or 359 Euros ($396) with a shipment goal of Oct. 2020. Although the phone will ship with Volla OS, which is based on Android Open Source Project (AOSP) linked to Android 9, there is early alpha-stage support for Jolla’s Linux-based Sailfish, the latest version of the firmware that ran on the defunct Jolla Phone. The Ubuntu Touch support is contingent on hitting a stretch goal, which seems unlikely considering the campaign needs to raise more than $350K over the next few weeks. But then again: Chumbawamba!
Like most of the other Linux or alternative Android phone and handheld projects, the Volla Phone is touted for its enhanced privacy and security, as well as the reduction of distracting notifications. The Volla UX stack includes a “Springboard” interface, shortcuts, and a grouping scheme called Collections. The platform also features a Volla VPN and an anonymous app store.
The Volla Phone is built around an octa-core, Cortex-A53 MediaTek Helio P23 SoC clocked to 2GHz and equipped with a Mali-G71 MP2 GPU. There’s a 6.3-inch touchscreen, 4GB RAM, 64GB flash, and a microSD slot. You also get 4G LTE with dual nano-SIM slots, dual-band WiFi with Bluetooth 4.2, GPS/Glonass, and a 5000mAh battery.
The phone has a dual 16-megapixel and 2MP double-cam rig on the rear and a 16MP cam up front. Other features include USB Type-C and audio ports and various sensors.
Ubuntu and LibreElec add Raspberry Pi 4 support
If you don’t need touchscreen support, you can also run the standard Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi. Last month, Canonical announced Raspberry Pi 4 support for the new Ubuntu 19.10.
This week, as reported by Softpedia, Canonical published a tutorial on installing a Raspberry Pi 4 with Ubuntu 19.10 to create an edge gateway. The setup includes installing a copy of the Ubuntu snap for the EdgeX Foundry IoT middleware stack.
We also noticed on Softpedia that the Kodi-focused LibreELEC stack has added Raspberry Pi 4 support in the latest LibreELEC 9.2. The release, which is based on Kodi v18.5 “Leia,” enhances RPi 4 support with a firmware updater, a new option for enabling 4K output, and an optimized version of the Linux 4.19 kernel. There’s also limited support for Rockchip devices.
Finally, Android support has continued to improve, primarily via the industrial Emteria.OS.
The PinePhone Braveheart edition is available as a limited edition to early adopters for $150, with deliveries by late December or early January. More information may be found on Pine64’s PinePhone Braveheart shopping page and wiki.
The latest Ubuntu Touch with support for the Raspberry Pi may be found on the UBPorts website.
The Volla Phone Kickstarter page may be found here.
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