Missing the Point, PinePhone KDE Community Edition

Many people, when digging into the PinePhone’s specs, complain about the low storage, the weak CPU, the lacklustre peripherals…

Naturally, they are missing the point. This is not a phone that you would buy to substitute the supercomputer/surveillance device you already carry around in your pocket. Yes, the memory is small; the pics from the camera are a bit grainy; the battery is removable and decent, but doesn’t last all that long. All this is true.

The PinePhone – KDE Community Edition with convergence package (USD 199.99) comes with a (red) cable for flashing and a dock to plug a keyboard, mouse and monitor into your phone (right). SIM and microSD cards not included.

But the specs are low because the manufacturer is working with developers to provide tried-and-tested hardware. “Tried-and-tested” usually also means “old”. Developing an OS and graphical environment is a huge balancing act in which you want to reduce the number of unknowns as much as possible. So you go for what is familiar, with what has been proven to work, with what is well-documented. This usually means hardware that other manufacturers don’t care about any more and that can be safely reverse engineered, has been reverse engineered by others, or has directly had its technical specifications disclosed.

The aim becomes to get Plasma Mobile running on basic, well-understood hardware and then build up from there.

Kill swatches under the back cover of the PinePhone let you deactivate the modem, WiFi and Bluetooth, microphone, cameras and headphones.

On the other hand, this is the phone you would buy if you wanted to try out one or several of the fledgling Free and Open Source mobile systems. The PinePhone provides you with all the tools you need to try out all and every one of them in an afternoon, making booting and flashing child’s play. Maybe it will even encourage you to help build the future of mobile, be it with code, design ideas, or just bug reports. It is a phone that fosters grassroots, community-driven contributions.

This is by design.

Once a couple things get working reliably in Plasma Mobile, it is also the phone you would buy to protect your privacy, as ALL the software is free and open and can be audited in depth. Want to not worry about spying, leaking proprietary software? This is the phone for you. Plus it even comes with physical hardware kill switches that allow you to turn off its WiFi, microphone, cameras, etc..

Besides, when you use this phone, you become a proud pioneer of the FLOSS wave that will, one day, take over the mobile world; providing you with a privileged (but affordable) view into what is to come.

So, sure, your friends may brag about their latest iPhones, with their sharp cameras, smooth-as-butter interfaces, and crystalline sounds, while they look down on your modest PinePhone. But the walled-garden, programmed obsolescence and expensive and spying software they have to endure on devices they don’t even get to own don’t contribute to push the envelope for a better, more humane technology, or make their owners trailblazers in any shape or form. Quite the contrary, they just make them a bunch of deluded iChumps.

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