Pinebook Pro review—a $200 FOSS-to-the-hilt magnesium-chassis laptop

Pinebook Pro review—a $200 FOSS-to-the-hilt magnesium-chassis laptop

foss and privacy focused —

The tinker-pleasant machine reveals moderately loads of promise, despite COVID-19 QA considerations.

Jim Salter

pinebook pro next to dell xps 13

Amplify / GENTLEFOLK, BEHOLD! From left to real: the Pine64 welcome letter, a Dell XPS 13 DE supplied for scale, and the Pinebook Pro (controversial lockblade knife no longer included).

Jim Salter

In early March of this one year, I ordered one of many FOSS-pushed Pine64 mission’s latest designs—the Pinebook Pro. The corporate’s manufacturing efforts web taken a giant hit as a result of affect of COVID-19 on its Chinese language manufacturing companions, which saved me from receiving my Pinebook Pro until absolute most realistic week.

Sadly, COVID-19 did not merely gradual down production. It also made QA no longer most likely, which led to adequate complications with my recent computer computer that it will want to web changed. We will focus on why that is in powerful better element later, nonetheless for real now, take into myth that some aspects of my experience are no longer as-designed for the hardware.

You ought to also take into myth that the Pinebook isn’t any longer precisely a user product—it’s a instrument aimed squarely at hobbyists and tinkerers with offbeat plans and dinky funds. Most of us isn’t any longer going to ought to change their long-established user computer computer or Chromebook with a Pinebook Pro—nonetheless it’s an exciting glance at what’s that you may possibly also deem in cheap hardware assemble with an intense specialise in privacy, originate supply assemble, and neighborhood.

Specs

If you want to know exactly what you're getting and where it is under the hood, you're Pine64's kind of customer.

Amplify / As soon as you are looking to want to know precisely what you are getting and the build it is below the hood, you are Pine64’s beget of purchaser.

Specs at a peep: Pinebook Pro
OS Manjaro Linux
CPU Hex-core giant.LITTLE cluster:
2x ARM A-72 2.0GHz
4x ARM A-53 1.5GHz
RAM 4GB LPDDR4
GPU ARM Mali T860MP4 UHD
Wi-Fi AMPAK AP6256
1×1 twin-band 802.11ac + Bluetooth
SSD SanDisk iNAND 7232 64GiB eMMC
Battery 10000 mAH @ 3.8V
Uncover 14″ 1080p color active matrix TFT LCD
Connectivity left aspect:

  • Barrel DC jack
  • USB3 kind A
  • USB3 kind C (charging supported)

real aspect:

  • USB2 kind A
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • MicroSD slot
Mark as examined $199, from Pine64 retailer

The biggest thing any prospective purchaser desires to know in regards to the Pinebook Pro’s specs is that it’s no longer an x86 instrument—it’s a giant.LITTLE heterogeneous ARM cluster architecture, with two Cortex A72 cores and four Cortex A53 cores. In 2020, this sharply limits the working map different—you are no longer going to steal a Pinebook Pro and slap Windows on it after you web it.

The Pinebook Pro comes with Manjaro Linux pre-place in. Manjaro is, successfully, Arch Linux nonetheless with an enviornment of moderately sane defaults—”real” Arch can also very neatly be device to be as more of a framework upon which to hang a distro, moderately than a total distribution itself.

As soon as you are no longer into Manjaro, that is comely—the Pine64 mission affords a factual different of additional, downloadable particular person-installable Pinebook Pro photos along with Debian, Fedora, NetBSD, Chromium OS, and more.

The onboard 64GiB eMMC module is moderately excessive-efficiency; it’ll also moreover be changed or supplemented with an NVMe SSD if you happen to have interaction an no longer mandatory third-occasion adapter.

Unboxing the Pinebook Pro

  • As soon as you may possibly perchance presumably even web never got a tag-recent computer computer in a straightforward mailing envelope, you may possibly perchance presumably even web never supplied a Pinebook Pro.


    Jim Salter

  • Did I command in a mailing envelope? My mistake. Score that “in a few” mailing envelope.


    Jim Salter

  • Now you know why I did not correct command “in two mailing envelopes” within the absolute most realistic photo.


    Jim Salter

  • OK! Right through the third envelope, we now web a cardboard field and one pasteboard field with a charger in it.


    Jim Salter

  • Right through the cardboard field is… OH COME ON NOW

  • After opening three envelopes and two cardboard containers, we now web a welcome letter and—in a protective shipping sleeve—the Pinebook Pro itself.


    Jim Salter

I web a confession: I web no longer, for my portion, care within the slightest about “the unboxing experience,” excluding hoping I set no longer want to battle some unpleasant anti-theft packaging. As some distance as I’m concerned, the sphere is the thing that you retain on to grudgingly for per week in case that you may possibly also want to ship the thing assist—and no more. With that mentioned… the Pinebook Pro gifts you with a hilariously low-hire unboxing experience.

My recent Pinebook Pro used to be internal three nested envelopes, two nested cardboard containers, and a protective sleeve. Fully none of this felt rugged, nonetheless Pine64’s “fractal packaging” strategy used to be adequate to web the Pinebook Pro from Hong Kong to me, through a few shippers, without so powerful as a ding or a scratch on it. Assemble no longer knock it if it works!

As a aspect repeat: lately, many animated-eyed readers web focused alarmingly on the crappy American Legion schwag knife I originate purposes with. Please web pleasure from its teach inclusion here, from a few angles, in all its dubiously manufactured and inexplicably serrated glory.

  • Here’s the left aspect watch of the Pinebook Pro, considered here on a Moft Z portable computer computer stand.


    Jim Salter

  • Here’s the real aspect watch of the Pinebook Pro, considered here on a Moft Z portable computer computer stand.


    Jim Salter

  • Powered-off, originate-top watch of the Pinebook Pro. Foreshadowing: oh, hey, glance at that protective film on the touchpad…


    Jim Salter

The particular portion about your first palms-on experience with a Pinebook Pro is the absolute lack of branding on the exterior of it. The matte-black magnesium alloy chassis feels huge, and having no logo or tag title or anything on it makes you feel like a character from a William Gibson recent. Upon opening the computer computer, you proceed to don’t peep any glaring branding—the most efficient hint to the specifics of this instrument is the pine icon on the Effectively-organized key.

The keyboard feels as huge because the chassis does. There are no longer any go-hasty stickers slapped annoyingly for the duration of the palm relaxation, and at this closing date—before ever powering it up—I was in absolute love with this computer computer’s understated, unexpected badassery.

COVID-19, Manufacturing facility Quality Assurance, and likewise you

  • The protective film on the touchpad felt prefer it had been Gorilla-Glued on—and attempting to defend away it made sure that the touchpad wasn’t neatly snapped into the chassis within the first living.


    Jim Salter

  • After eradicating the film from the touchpad, I snapped the touchpad virtually into its felony living. Uncover the easy somewhat-raised bottom real corner.


    Jim Salter

  • Fortunately, the protective film on the webcam peeled off without mechanical considerations.


    Jim Salter

  • Wrestling with the touchpad total, it’s time to boot into Manjaro Linux!


    Jim Salter

Pine64 is within the intervening time experiencing some main quality assurance considerations with its factory in China. Sadly, my Pinebook Pro exhibited moderately powerful every self-discipline Pine64 has heard of. First off, the protective film on the touchpad did not scheme back easily—eradicating it felt like looking to pull a passe automobile dealer’s decal off the bumper of a sedan.

The attempt uncovered one other self-discipline—the touchpad itself wasn’t place in neatly. The left-hand aspect of it used to be snapped into the chassis, nonetheless the total real-hand aspect used to be resting atop the chassis moderately than being snapped in. When I attempted to pull the film free, that total aspect of the touchpad lifted a irritating half of-sprint, showing me a gaping hole into the computer computer itself. Yikes. I mandatory to retain the touchpad down on the real aspect while peeling sharp to pull the film off to the real.

After eradicating the film, I was ready to snap the touchpad into the chassis—mostly—with a in point of fact exorbitant quantity of careful downward stress. I may well presumably feel the “push-to-click” engaged on the left aspect nonetheless none on the real—and on the time, I believed this correct supposed no push-to-real-click. As it turns out, I was incorrect—and a couple hours later, one other utility of nail-using stress without prolong on that corner audibly snapped it within the remainder of the methodology.

With the touchpad the total methodology in, push-to-click works on both left and real bottom corners of the pad. The touchpad itself used to be perfectly responsive at least this gronking. It easy appears a puny bit “raised” on the bottom real corner—nonetheless it pushes smoothly into real-click, and it returns correct as smoothly when released.

  • On first boot, I had a Wi-Fi icon—nonetheless clicking it did not give me any connection alternatives.


    Jim Salter

  • Here’s what it sounds like / when there is no Wi-Fi.—a geekier version of the unimaginative huge Prince, in some alternate dimension.


    Jim Salter

  • I hunted for the duration of the Pinebook Pro for a Wi-Fi damage change, and I couldn’t opt up one—turns out you correct press Effectively-organized+F11, then reboot. (The Wi-Fi module isn’t any longer designed for warmth-plugging.)


    Jim Salter

  • After pressing Effectively-organized+F11 and rebooting, I may well presumably join to my wLAN correct comely.


    Jim Salter

The next self-discipline I encountered used to be interestingly broken Wi-Fi. Even supposing there used to be a Wi-Fi icon existing within the map tray, clicking it did not existing me with any Wi-Fi alternatives—most efficient energy and such. Shedding to the Terminal, I listed available community adapters—and the most efficient thing I found used to be the loopback adapter. That’s no longer a factual sign.

Fortunately, I vaguely remembered that Pine64 had gone out of its methodology to present a enhance to privacy concerns and provide damage switches for Wi-Fi, digital camera, and mic—so I went on a particular hunt spherical the chassis for damage switches, nonetheless came up empty. At this level, I gave up and went assist to my main PC to verify the Pinebook Pro’s particular person manual.

It turns out that the privacy switches are no longer manual toggles like early 2000s laptops passe to web; they’re BIOS-level firmware cutouts toggled with keyboard hotkeys. Urgent and preserving Effectively-organized+F11 (“Windows key” for the less-Linuxy among us; though there is a pine cone moderately than the Windows logo here) causes the Num Lock LED to blink; twice if you happen to may well presumably even web correct enabled the Wi-Fi, three instances if you happen to may well presumably even web correct disabled it.

Sadly, the Ampak Wi-Fi card used to be no longer designed to be hot-plugged—so after enabling the Wi-Fi, I mandatory to reboot. After the reboot, the entire lot worked correct as you’ll most likely be in a position to place a query to, and I connected to my wLAN and browsed to Ars without self-discipline.

The digital camera and mic damage switches had been enabled and disabled, respectively; either can also moreover be toggled without the ought to reboot afterward.

Proceed…