At FOSDEM last weekend, California-based Linux hacker board vendor Pine64 previewed an extensive lineup of open source hardware it intends to release in 2019. Surprisingly, only two of the products are single board computers.
The Linux-driven products will include a PinePhone development kit based on the Allwinner A64. There will be second, more consumer focused Pinebook laptop — a Rockchip RK3399 based, 14-inch Pinebook Pro — and an Allwinner A64-based, 10.1-inch PineTab tablet. Pine64 also plans to release an Allwinner S3L-driven IP camera system called the CUBE and a Roshambo Retro-Gaming case that supports Pine64’s Rock64 and RockPro64, as well as the Raspberry Pi.
The SBC entries are a Pine H64 Model B that will be replace the larger, but similarly Allwinner H6 based, Model A version and will add WiFi/Bluetooth. There will also be a third rev of the popular, RK3399 based Rock64 board that adds Power-over-Ethernet support.
The launch of the phone, laptop, tablet, and camera represents the most ambitious expansion to date by an SBC vendor to new open source hardware form factors. As we noted last month in our hacker board analysis piece, community-based SBC projects are increasingly specializing to survive in today’s Raspberry Pi dominated market. In a Feb. 1 Tom’s Hardware story, RPi Trading CEO Eben Upton confirmed our speculation that a next generation Raspberry Pi 4 that moves beyond 40nm fabrication will not likely ship until 2020. That offers a window of opportunity for other SBC vendors to innovate.
It’s a relatively short technical leap — but a larger marketing hurdle — to move from a specialized SBC to a finished consumer electronics or industrial device. Still, we can expect a few more vendors to follow Pine64’s lead in building on their SBCs, Linux board support packages, and hacker communities to launch more purpose-built consumer electronics and industrial gear.
Already, community projects have begun offering a more diverse set of enclosures and other accessories to turn their boards into mini-PCs, IoT gateways, routers, and signage systems. Meanwhile, established embedded board vendors are using their community-backed SBC platforms as a foundation for end-user products. Acer subsidiary Aaeon, for example, has spun off its UP boards into a variety of signage systems, automation controllers, and AI edge computing systems.
So far, most open source, Linux phone and tablet alternatives have emerged from open source software projects, such as Mozilla’s Firefox OS, the Ubuntu project’s Ubuntu Phone, and the Jolla phone. Most of these alternative mobile Linux projects have either failed, faded, or never took off.
Some of the more recent Linux phone projects, such as the PiTalk and ZeroPhone, have been built around the Raspberry Pi platform. The PinePhone and PineTab would be even more open source given that the mainboards ship with full schematics.
Unlike many hacker board projects, the Pine64 products offer software tied to mainline Linux. This is easier to do with the Rockchip designs, but it’s been a slower road to mainline for Allwinner. Work by Armbian and others have now brought several Allwinner SoCs up to speed.
Working from established hardware and software platforms may offer a stronger foundation for launching mobile Android alternatives than a software-only project. “The idea, in principle, is to build convergent device-ecosystems (SBC, Module, Laptop/Tablet/ Phone / Other Devices) based on SOCs that we’ve already have developers engaged with and invested in,” says the Pine64 blog announcement.
Here’s a closer look at Pine64’s open hardware products for 2019:
PinePhone Development Kit — Based on the quad -A53 Allwinner A64 driven SoPine A64 module, the PinePhone will run mainline Linux and support alternative mobile platforms such as UBPorts, Maemo Leste, PostmarketOS, and Plasma Mobile. It can also run Unity 8 and KDE Plasma with Lima. This upgradable, modular phone kit will be available soon in limited quantity and will be spun off later this year or in 2020 into an end-user phone with a target price of $149.
The PinePhone kit includes 2GB LPDDR3, 32GB eMMC, and a small 1440 x 720-pixel LCD screen. There’s a 4G LTE module with Cat 4 150Mb downlink, a battery, and 2- and 5MP cameras. Other features include WiFi/BT, microSD, HDMI, MIPI I/O, sensors, and privacy hardware switches.
Pinebook Pro — Like many of the upcoming Pine64 products, the original Pinebooks are limited edition developer systems. The Pinebook Pro, however, is aimed at a broader audience that might be considering a Chromebook. This second-gen Pro laptop will not replace the $99 and up 11.6-inch version of the Pinebook. The original 14-inch version may receive an upgrade to make it more like the Pro.
The $199 Pinebook Pro advances from the quad-core, Cortex-A53 Allwinner H64 to a hexa-core -A53 and -A72 Rockchip RK3399. It supports mainline Linux and BSD.
The more advanced features include a higher-res 14-inch, 1080p screen, now with IPS, as well as twice the RAM (4GB LPDDR4). It also offers four times the storage at 64GB, with a 128GB option for registered developers. Other highlights include USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, a USB Type-C port that supports DP-like 4K@60Hz video, a 10,000 mAh battery, and an improved 2-megapixel camera. There’s also an option for an M.2 slot that supports NVMe storage.
PineTab — The PineTab is like a slightly smaller, touchscreen-enabled version of the first-gen Pinebook, but with the keyboard optional instead of built-in. The magnetically attached keyboard has a trackpad and can fold up to act as a screen cover.
Like the original Pinebooks, the PineTab runs Linux or BSD on an Allwinner A64 with 2GB of LPDDR3 and 16GB eMMC. The 10-inch IPS touchscreen is limited to 720p resolution. Other features include WiFi/BT, USB, micro-USB, microSD, speaker, mic, and dual cameras.
Pine64 notes that touchscreen-ready Linux apps are currently in short supply. The PineTab will soon be available for $79, or $99 with the keyboard.
The CUBE — This “early concept” IP camera runs on the Allwinner S3L — a single-core, Cortex-A7 camera SoC. It ships with a MIPI-CSI connected, 8MP Sony iMX179 CMOS camera with an m12 mount for adding different lenses.
The CUBE offers 64MB or 128MB RAM, a WiFi/BT module, plus a 10/100 Ethernet port with Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) support. Other features include USB, microSD, and 32-pin GPIO. Target price: about $20.
Roshambo Retro-Gaming — This retro gaming case and accessory set from Pine64’s Chinese partner Roshambo will work with Pine64’s Rock64 SBC, which is based on the quad -A53 Rockchip RK3328, or its RK3399 based RockPro64. It can also accommodate a Raspberry Pi. The $30 Super Famicom inspired case will ship with an optional $13 gaming controller set. Other features include buttons, switches, a SATA slot, and cartridge-shaped 128GB ($25) or 256GB ($40) SSDs.
Rock64 Rev 3 — Pine64 says it will continue to focus primarily on SBCs, although the only 2019 products it is disclosing are updates to existing designs. The Rock64 Rev 3 improves upon Pine64’s RK3399-based RPi lookalike, which it says has been its most successful board yet. New features include PoE, RTC, improved RPi 2 GPIO compatibility, and support for high-speed microSD cards. Pricing stays the same.
Pine H64 Model B — The Pine H64 Model B will replace the currently unavailable Pine H64 Model A, which shipped in limited quantities. The board trims down to a Rock64 (and Raspberry Pi) footprint, enabling use of existing cases, and adds WiFi/BT. It sells for $25 (1GB LPDDR3 RAM), $35 (2GB), and $45 (3GB).