Constructive criticism, open debate, grown up behaviour, and the dreaded FEL mode.
#1
There is something I find rather ugly about the PinePhone - a huge effort has been made (and tremendous progress) by the open-source community, the software for PinePhone is developing at a genuinely impressive pace. The device itself, however (to the untrained eye) feels like something that's been thrown together in a rush and with a spec more concerned with margin and minimising the effort required to get *something* to market as soon as possible than producing the best product they can, or even just one that lives up to what I think the community that's worked and working so hard actually developing for it, or simply supporting deserves.

The PinePhone community is genuinely wonderful and seriously active. This one product receives such huge huge support from open source devs who have done a phenomenal job of adapting existing window managers in an attempt to retrospectively find a "one-size-fits-all" way to take stuff designed for a desktop and make it usable on a smartphone. When you get down to the gory details this is fucking hard - if somebody told me they were working on such a thing I would assume they were insane and possibly dangerous - the amazing thing is the OSs I've managed to try are seriously impressive and look legitimately like they're onto something.

It's captured the imagination and received die-hard faith and support in a way I've never seen before actually, and miraculously this is all for a phone that when it comes down to it *everybody* agrees is unusable as a mobile phone in any meaningful sense. And not because you can't get Spotify, because it cannot fulfil the extremely basic set of functions that we would expect of an Android (also Linux) phone that costs 1/4 the price and arrives in <1 week all year round, also from HK. The blame is consistently shifted to "the software has a long way to come" but I can't be the only one who just when trying to use the phone, feels this might not be the case.

If you look at the PinePhone and compare it with one of the million phones out there, and before people say "apples and oranges" - just try having a look for yourself, use a little common sense but try to get a feel for what sort of hardware goes into a budget mobile phone. Here's an example - excuse the ugly site but it's comprehensive (doesn't list the PinePhone itself sadly, but we can compare CPUs for example), here is the PinePhone (Pro) vs a £50 Alcatel 1's Mediatek https://gadgetversus.com/processor/allwi...ek-mt6739/ - this is a trend you'll find repeated - perhaps somebody can find me a smartphone with a slower CPU than the PinePhone? I didn't.

When you look at it, the PinePhone isn't a smartphone in any traditional sense, and it's not that there aren't generic, well worn, off the peg, cheap ways to build smartphones - there are - but I think a calculated decision was made to forgo the risk and to simply produce what is, in effect, a very cheap RasperryPI with the most bog-standard, ubiquitous, old (call it a feature: compatible) components that would when put in a case would do most of the things a phone does, draw as little power as possible (at the expense of just about anything) so the thing can pass as a Phone and Pine64 can make a nice amount of money. 

While I find this sad, and short-sighted, it's not what gets me - in the end, you're a company and your responsibility is to make money, far be it from me to suggest you shouldn't make this your goal, and capitalise on opportunities when they present themselves.

No, it may seem silly, but what I find unforgivable can be perfectly illustrated by what appears at first to be a banal, routine, question:
https://forum.pine64.org/newreply.php?tid=13108

FEL mode is an insanely useful mode, it is built into the SoC and is effectively recovery mode, if no media is bootable this is the mode the device enters so we can fix it. The Pinebook Pro interestingly has taken the time to do what is 100% standard and provided a way to enter FEL mode by holding a combination of buttons. The PinePhone has, in a way that if you ask me sums the whole thing up, not bothered to do this simple thing, and this means they have produced a device with a VERY unusual design choice: if your OS is unbootable on the eMMC, to do anything about it we have to boot a diff OS from the SD card, and then sort it out ourselves. The natural (and 100% standard on every device that uses this SoC) way to deal with is it have a straightforward way (hold a button, some combo, like the PBP, so this is not news to the team) to enter FEL mode which among many other useful things, allows us to expose the eMMC as a block device via USB and fix things. The fact that Jumpdrive had to be developed to do the same thing as a bog-standard, mature, essential mode built into the SoC (and is still fundamentally flawed because it assumes the Phone is working) speaks for itself. Seems a bit of a needless effort for the author all because Pine couldn't be bothered to copy+paste from the PBP.

So if you break your install on the eMMC to fix it you are going to need: an unmodified fully-functional working PinePhone with a working SD reader, an SD card with a copy of Jumpdrive on it or (and it's not talked about, probably because people would start to ask for it like I am) the img to tell BootROM to enter FEL. Doesn't sound so onerous, but this is making assumptions I don't expect of a phone touting itself as one designed for hackers and people likely to want a sensibly designed kit that doesn't add real limitations out of laziness and a desire to make a buck.

it's silly and even arbitrary, but to me, it says that the PinePhone (and I think this is not representative of how Pine used to do business) is exploiting the community as much as it's fostering it (which it undoubtedly is). They're a good company who captured people's imagination and finally brought one of the most serious issues mobile's have today into the public eye. This is admirable, and the fact that they've stood on the shoulders of giants and reap the rewards of unsung heroes like librem is what open source is all about, but I think it's sad that the people who have benefitted the most from the amazing work done by the community have felt okay about producing a device that sells their work short, and now another... I wasn't going to post this but they were fed up with me in the chat and when I read the PinePhone Pro was coming out, and then I read the specs... I felt might as well make the post, at the very least somebody might tell me how to enter the now mythical FEL mode 

It would not kill you to write proper documentation and ship your products in the way that every other company manages (getting them to people inside of 6 months).
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#2
Sorry for the the much briefer reply than your detailed post would deserve, but just to put this into perspective: I believe it's quite difficult to put together a smartphone with open enough hardware (as opposed to locked in hardware you would find in any cheap smartphone) that is well known and supported, but a lot of other people with more insights have written about this already (e.g. partly here), so I'll leave it at that. Combining this with quite limited resources (because Pine64 doesn't make a nice amount of money, according to the comments here they have little to no profit margin and money is being directly fed into development) maybe makes it more understandable why they choose components that are already used in other Pine64 products and don't require an unnecessarily huge amount of work to adapt.
That being said, I think there is definitely room for improvement in a lot of areas like incorporating community feedback and improving released products.
I can't comment on the FEL stuff.
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#3
Yes, I would agree that comparing PinePhone with current Android / iOS offerings (on strictly functional basis anyway) will of course be unfavorable.

But I think you rather miss the point, which is to jump start a completely new platform (GNU/Linux phones) against a couple of very large and well entrenched incumbents who have had a decade+ long multi-million (billion?) dollar head start.

Of course there have been a number of attempts at GNU/Linux phones before, and to study these and see why they did not succeed I think is illuminating.  One such overview can be found here for instance.

At this point you could debate strategy, compare PinePhone approach (~ "get a lot of inexpensive units out there into hackers hands to get the ecosystem going") vs. Librem for example who chose a more expensive, powerful (and arguable more open) SoC (iMX6/8) but then spent years getting it well supported in Linux (and who are just now starting to ship in numbers).  Both projects have (more or less) the same end goal mind you: which is to produce a GNU/Linux phone, they are just taking different approaches.

The excitement you see all around here is because we have a real chance at making a real GNU/Linux phone once again, and for a lot of reasons many people (including myself, and many others who were around for previous attempts) feel this one has legs.  Current incumbents, while technically far ahead, have a very bad record in the areas of privacy and platform control, which is another big thing driving this.  And on these fronts (as well as some others) PinePhone far outshines them.

For me personally, I am absolutely delighted to have an option that is not Google nor iOS simply to be able to get off their respective plantations (so to speak), even with the current rough state of affairs (which as you even point out, is improving all the time).

BTW if you are not familiar with the concept of Free Software already, I invite you to check out that link in my signature for some additional perspective in this area.

FEL mode, AFAIU is some older and less well supported mode for booting that is no longer used because we have better options now in Linux with device trees, u-boot, etc.


(11-21-2021, 12:42 PM)kqlnut Wrote: I believe it's quite difficult to put together a smartphone with open enough hardware (as opposed to locked in hardware you would find in any cheap smartphone) that is well known and supported, but a lot of other people with more insights have written about this already

Almost impossible in fact.  See also Nicole Faerber (Librem CTO) talk at 2019 CCC about exactly these issues.  Do note that they were like 2 years into development already at that point.
Cheers,
TRS-80

What is Free Software and why is it so important for society?

Protocols, not Platforms

For the most Linux-y experience on your Linux phone, try SXMO!

I am (nominally) the Armbian Maintainer for PineBook Pro (although severely lacking in time these days).
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#4
Side thing I feel is worth pointing out is that those cheap $50-100 Android phones are for the most part sold for minimal/no profit, probably even at a loss. They are subsidized so the seller/manufacturer makes profit some other way. For that price, you're looking at something carrier-locked. Every corner that could be cut was.

-It will never receive Android updates
-probably carrier locked (if so, likely has bloatware)
-locked bootloader
-minimal to no support (from both manufacturer & the community)
-firmware blobs, basically nothing is open-source.
-good luck getting rid of Google.

By design, these phones are essentially disposable after a year or two. The way I see it, the Pinephone is intended as a replacement for those, a great bottom line to start with.

Also, I kind of see where you're coming from with the lack of a recovery mode, but that was never an issue for me? This is still not marketed towards your average consumer yet, like at all . I'd feel a bit more critical if they haven't ironed issues like this out by the time the true Pinephone: Consumer's Edition comes out years from now.
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#5
@step There are many reasons to criticize Pine64, but the ones you chose mostly are just wrong. It looks like you are confusing some things.

PinePhone has a slow CPU. You assume that the reason for this is that Pine64 doesn't care about its customers. The real reason is that there aren't many CPUs that work with unmodified Linux kernel.

(11-21-2021, 12:59 AM)step Wrote: it cannot fulfil the extremely basic set of functions that we would expect of an Android (also Linux) phone

You are confusing Android and (GNU)Linux.
What we (this community) want is to run a free operating system (Free Software) on our phones. This is because we want freedom and privacy on our devices. One such free system is GNU/Linux. People incorrectly call it "Linux", but Linux itself is just a kernel - a part of an operating system. OSes like Mobian, Manjaro or PostmarketOS are distributions of GNU/Linux. Android is a completely different, proprietary operating system, but it also uses Linux. Most phone CPUs don't work with an unmodified version of Linux kernel and manufacturers create their own versions that they later have to maintain by themselves. After some time they stop maintaining their version and your Android device stops getting software updates. This is what we want to avoid and it's maybe why community's previous attempt has failed in 2017. You should watch this talk: https://gemmei.ftp.acc.umu.se/pub/debian...rious.webm. So as you can see Pine64 and even their competition Purism didn't have much of a choice.

(11-21-2021, 12:59 AM)step Wrote: PinePhone (Pro) vs a £50 Alcatel 1's Mediatek https://gadgetversus.com/processor/allwi...ek-mt6739/

Are you sure the CPU comparison you linked is correct? PinePhone Pro uses a Rockchip RK3399S 6 core CPU.

(11-21-2021, 12:59 AM)step Wrote: I think a calculated decision was made to forgo the risk and to simply produce what is, in effect, a very cheap RasperryPI

I think Raspberry PI has better specs than original PinePhone, but it's also bigger.

(11-21-2021, 12:59 AM)step Wrote: So if you break your install on the eMMC to fix it you are going to need: an unmodified fully-functional working PinePhone with a working SD reader, an SD card with a copy of Jumpdrive on it or (and it's not talked about, probably because people would start to ask for it like I am) the img to tell BootROM to enter FEL. Doesn't sound so onerous, but this is making assumptions I don't expect of a phone touting itself as one designed for hackers and people likely to want a sensibly designed kit that doesn't add real limitations out of laziness and a desire to make a buck.

I don't know how FEL mode works exactly. It sounds useful, but most of us can live without it. Again you are making an assumption that it wasn't implemented for profit, but then why would they add it in PBP? Perhaps you should instead criticize that the phone's microSD slot is easy to damage and PinePhone Pro seems to use the same port.

(11-21-2021, 12:59 AM)step Wrote: It would not kill you to write proper documentation and ship your products in the way that every other company manages (getting them to people inside of 6 months).

I agree. I wish there was better documentation written in one place. But I don't understand why you keep mentioning shipping times. Did your PinePhone take 6 months to arrive? I think it doesn't take more than a few weeks.

(11-21-2021, 01:30 PM)TRS-80 Wrote: At this point you could debate strategy, compare PinePhone approach (~ "get a lot of inexpensive units out there into hackers hands to get the ecosystem going") vs. Librem for example who chose a more expensive, powerful (and arguable more open) SoC (iMX6/8) but then spent years getting it well supported in Linux (and who are just now starting to ship in numbers).  Both projects have (more or less) the same end goal mind you: which is to produce a GNU/Linux phone, they are just taking different approaches.

I think Pine64's strategy worked out better for them since they are now making a second phone. But that's only because they expect the community (and Purism probably) to develop all the software. I wish they contributed more in that area.
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#6
(11-21-2021, 12:59 AM)step Wrote: ... somebody might tell me how to enter the now mythical FEL mode 
...

Use p-boot.
  • ROCKPro64 v2.1 2GB, 16Gb eMMC for rootfs, SX8200Pro 512GB NVMe for /home, HDMI video & sound, Bluetooth keyboard & mouse. Arch (6.2 kernel, Openbox desktop) for general purpose daily PC.
  • PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition, daily driver, rk2aw & U-boot on SPI, Arch/SXMO & Arch/phosh on eMMC
  • PinePhone BraveHeart now v1.2b 3/32Gb, Tow-boot with Arch/SXMO on eMMC
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#7
for that FEL-mode, i think it's possible to boot into that, https://files.pine64.org/doc/PinePhone/P...ematic.pdf . although, pcb board schematics is not available, so i don't know what pins are fel-mode pins, if any. still, pinephone was designed for sdcard slot, so if that is broken then basically it's broken phone.

circuit board design and wiring should be public, in my view.
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#8
We've got component placement for top and bottom of the main board, but they're not searchable which makes them frustrating to use. It seems to include everything except for the testpoints too, unless I've just missed them, so you'll have to look forT503 (the FEL one) on the board and hope there's silkscreen for it.

If there's a viable uboot you should also be able to get into FEL via the serial terminal - I'm probably guilty of assuming that people hacking on a phone like this will have a suitable USB to serial adapter. If there isn't a viable bootloader (uboot or p-boot) it should drop through to FEL anyway. I've not had cause to try either.
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