Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Pinebook

In the past, I have written about Single-Board Computers a number of times. Today, I want to do something similar. This time, though, it's a product by a SBC-manufacturer that is still more or less an SBC, but at the same is a lot more than just that. I'm talking about the Pinebook.

So, this manufacturer joined the SBC market with a strong offering: the Pine A64. It was on Kickstarter and it promised to do 4 cores for less money than the Raspberry Pi. Once you started looking at it more closely, you'd find that you probably wanted at least some of the extras and probably wouldn't end up paying less, but the idea was still there.

There was something else that made the Pine A64 stand out. That was that this wasn't going to be just another Raspberry Pi-clone. Most of the other SBCs were either quite a bit more expensive than this thing, or tried to be as close to the Raspberry as possible. Without the word "Pi" in the name and a brand-new form-factor, the Pine A64 made it very clear that it wasn't going to be another clone, which was a rarity for devices that weren't in a different price range all together.

However, it was something else that drew me to the device. It was the HEVC (aka x265) playback support that was promised. This was several years ago and the Raspberry only got HEVC support earlier this year with the RPi 4, so it was something really nice to look forward to. Unfortunately, this turned out to rely on proprietary drivers which basically meant that it only worked on Android, which wasn't really the operating system I wanted to run. I ended up finding this out before the end of the campaign, but decided not to cancel my pledge after all. In the end, though, this is the reason that my Pine A64 has basically been idle ever since I first tried it out just to see if it worked.

But then came the Pinebook. This was basically a Pine A64 (though they made a different board, the main components were all the same) put into a laptop. The whole thing cost only $99 which is incredibly cheap for a laptop. I read about it on a forum I frequented and decided to just go for it. After shipping and taxes, I was down quite a bit more money, but in the end it was still a good deal.

My Pinebook has served me well ever since I got it. It's all about expectations, though. The device isn't really going to play back video well* and it's not going to be flashy or let you have a bazillion tabs open. However, it does extremely well as a digital typewriter, which is what I've mostly been using it as. I've also done some simple GIMP (photoshop but open source, basically) work on it and I've even run some old games in DOSBox.

More importantly, though, I've never been careful with this laptop, which was largely possible because of its price. I've put it in bags I wasn't entirely sure would be handled carefully, I've taken it with me to the strangest places and I've stuffed it in lockers where it barely fit. The result is that the screen is damaged in quite a few places. Of course, the other result is that I've always had a laptop with me when I needed - or even just wanted - it.

In a way, this post may feel a little outdated. That's because the next big thing is the Pinebook Pro, which is a new version of the device that costs twice as much and is meant to be much more usable as a daily driver. I have ordered it and it's supposed to arrive somewhere next month. I might use it to write a sequel to this post at some time. However, I don't think it will completely replace the Pinebook that I currently have, so this piece still feels somewhat relevant to me. And besides, I felt like writing about this device and ultimately, that's what this blog is all about.

*: I should probably check if this is still as bad in newer versions of the software.

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