PINEBOOK Pro: first impressions

I wanted a computer to hack and experiment and install GNU/Linux or some BSD into. I don’t want to mess with my MacBook Air, since I do need things like Xcode and Adobe Illustrator, which are available only in macOS. I’m always running out of disk space, so I can’t just dual-boot. macOS is pretty and Unix-like, but it just doesn’t let me be, it’s not very hackable and it’s not free software.

I do like macOS in general; but I love GNU/Linux and *BSD much more. There’s just so much coolness around free software I want to be part of, and I’ve been just looking from afar for a while now: it’s time to return to the action! I needed a new computer, there wasn’t any other I could turn into my hacker computer—other than my Orange Pi One, which is pretty limited.

People on the Fediverse were mentioning the PINEPHONE, and for some reason I thought it was a fedislang to the Librem 5—it was the only Linux phone I knew. Then, I SearXed out of curiosity, and found that the PINEPHONE was actually a libre smartphone from PINE64. People kept talking about it so much, that I came to want it. I didn’t have a lot of money, COVID-19 has been hitting somewhat hard.

After visiting the PINE64 website, I also came across the PINEBOOK Pro: a free hardware/software, ARM64-based laptop. All my dumb consumer eyes first saw were the specs; but the more I learned about its architecture, the more I fell in love with it, until it eventually hit my wishlist, above the MacBook Pro and other things. As soon as I had the money, I would buy it before anything else.

I told my dad about it, and few days later, he told me he would buy it to me, as a gift for my work in the family business. At the end of July, I finally ordered the machine. It wouldn’t be shipped until August 25th, I discovered few impatient days later, so I kept going with my life. Then, that seemingly distant day arrived: the PINE was shipped! I was hoping it would arrive Friday 28th; but it was not until August 31st—a day after my birthday—that it finally arrived via DHL, with import tax (thanks, Jeremy Friesen, for helping me with that ❤).

Before it arrived, I was thinking on installing NetBSD on it, until I read Absolute OpenBSD and changed my mind. I installed OpenBSD on VirtualBox and tested it for two days, and I really enjoyed it. When I got my PINEBOOK Pro today, I decided to stay with Manjaro, because it’s cool (maybe), has cutting-edge software and comes with KDE. That day, I had officially become a Piner (according to the welcome sheet that comes in the box).

First impressions

The display is gorgeous, it’s Full HD! Such pixel density is higher than my Mac’s, and than any other laptop I’ve ever had. Everything looks so small, but crisp. Colors are excellent, and brightness is enough for my usual setup—I always use low brightness, higher causes me headaches.

I have used Latin American and Spanish keyboards my whole life, this model has ANSI and it’s very different, I still don’t get used to it and apparently, I can’t write Spanish with it; but it’s OK, since I write English and code most of the time. I really love the keyboard! It’s very comfortable, it’s awesome! It feels great, similar to the one of my Mac, which I also love.

The trackpad is, well, not good. It’s very small and physical clicks require a lot of force. It took me a lot of trial and error to get the optimal speed and acceleration, and now it’s better, but it’s still somewhat frustrating at times. I should learn to use keyboard only anyway, so, I’ll take this as an opportunity.

It comes with Manjaro, which I had never used before. Pacman is a bit different than other package managers I’ve used, but getting used to it hasn’t been difficult so far. KDE Plasma is my favorite desktop environment, and it’s cool that it comes as the default in this edition. My experience with Manjaro has been great so far!

In terms of performance, I haven’t noticed any slowness at all. The compositor sometimes shows some artifacts, and the graphics are not great, but perfectly enough for me. I’ll later try doing some hardware demanding tasks, to see how much it can handle. I’m very confident it’s going to give some decent amount of power.

Price

I don’t see the low price as an advantage or something to brag about, it’s more like a courtesy from PINE64 to bring more people into the ecosystem and support the communities behind the project. It’s not about making something cheap for marketing, it’s about sustaining their goals, and empowering users people with libre software/hardware. I want to say thanks to PINE64 for that.

Dear YouTubers, please don’t put your shitty giant price tags on your shitty videos for clickbait. And if you do, please enlighten people about this in the video. This computer is not your usual shitty Windows PC full of bloatware, marketing and proprietary drivers that you can complain about its price-quality bullshit.