Lets create the PineCom
#1
Hello everyone,

We’ll soon be starting work on the PineCom - a privacy-oriented handheld communicator that shares the PinePhone’s pedigree but offers a distinct and different feature set. We hope to achieve a high degree of software compatibility between the two devices - indeed, we expect the PineCom to run all existing PinePhone OS images out-of-the-box. Unlike the PinePhone however, the PineCom will not feature a modem but rather rely on WiFi, IoT LoRa and LoRaWan for communications. The device will also be smaller at (5” LCD panel or less), and will not feature a USB-C alt mode for video output. 

Everything else is still up in the air at this point, and we therefore invite you to brainstorm ideas with us regarding the remaining design features of the PineCom. More specifically, we’d like to know your opinion on the following:

  1. Do we need both a front and back camera on the PineCom? In fact, do we need any cameras at all? 
  2. Should we bring over all sensors present on the PinePhone? If so, which do you think we can do without?
  3. Should we use the same single band/11n/BT4 WiFi module in the PinePhone (for compatibility sake) or change it out for a dual band/11ac/BT5?
  4. Should the device feature a GPS (and compass) or are those features redundant in this type of device? 
  5. Should we include SPI flash?
  6. We are currently considering following the PinePhone’s general design and aesthetic for the PineCom, but if there is some sort of physical (within reason - also financially) that you think would fit this type of device well then make sure to let us know.  
  7. We’re currently thinking of using a 5” LCD panel for the PineCom; what do you think about this - is there a reason to go bigger or smaller? 
We are completely open to any and all suggestions at this point. That said, we’d appreciate it if you’d keep in mind that the targeted price range for this device is $99-149 when offering your insight. 

As always, thank you for your feedback! 
You can find me on IRC, Discord and Twitter


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#2
Being honest, I'm not sure this device is really a necessity unless you can absolutely commit to the $99 (or less) price point. My PinePhone is already closer in nature to my old Palm PDA than any of my Android phones (which is a good thing); I can't really see a reason for this existing. I would instead focus on the products you currently offer, iron out all the kinks, and hire some software devs to work on the kernel of the PinePhone. For that matter, let's see some back covers for the PinePhone. The keyboard and gamepad would be great to see materialised. From there, if LoRa is what you think justifies creating this new device, add an ESP32 to the back of the PinePhone, have it communicate over the I2C pins. Maybe consider partnering with Espressif or Arduino to get some microcontroller back covers. Or a back cover that adds NFC support. Or one that adds both a microcontroller and NFC. Or make a battery cover. Or one that adds a higher megapixel camera. There are so many opportunities with what you already have. Also....let's talk about this server that keeps going down....might be good to invest in something more stable. I believe it was a TWiT video that came out last month during the major outages. So many potential customers turned away because they couldn't get to your site. Seriously, there are so many better things to put your money into right now. And I don't mean this to be ugly, just would like to see more commitment to existing products and customers.
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#3
Hmm. I would take the opposite approach. Would it be possible to build something now that uses the encrypted Nextel DirectTalk system? You just can't beat that for privacy.
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#4
Yeah, I really don't think this is necessary. Not being a phone person, I bought the PinePhone as a PDA already, and I'm not in the market for another PDA. Better to concentrate on improving software support for the PinePhone, which is at a critical point right now, than to model-spam a little brother which is not likely to sell well anyway. The PinePhone can serve as both, it's simply not worth it to buy a "lite" model to save only $50, especially with shipping & customs fees. It would be diffusing community efforts which are already split too many ways and give the impression that you just throw models out there and don't finish them.
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#5
I have gone through a mental exercise of imagining myself with this device, and what it could be, in regards to the list of questions you have as well. So here goes

Quote:1. Do we need both a front and back camera on the PineCom? In fact, do we need any cameras at all? 

Initially I thought "No way, don't need those. I don't have them working on my PinePhone and I don't miss them." But then when thinking about it, the camera is useful for more than just photos. Scanning barcodes/QR codes for example. So I would like to see a relatively low spec camera specifically for utility in cases such as scanning, on the back would be perfect.



Quote:2. Should we bring over all sensors present on the PinePhone? If so, which do you think we can do without?


I'd like all the sensors! But really, yes please Smile in my weird imagination trip I am imagining this thing being a device used for a lot of sensor related projects. Think Spock's tricorder xD Having sensors for different atmospheric testing (barometric pressure, humidity, heat, light, etc...) would be really useful. Then the other device specific things like accelerometer (screen rotation) would still be useful. Also, I am obsessed with Infrared Blasters. So having one of those would make my day. (I miss that from my HTC One)


Quote:3. Should we use the same single band/11n/BT4 WiFi module in the PinePhone (for compatibility sake) or change it out for a dual band/11ac/BT5?


This has been one of the biggest struggles for me on Fedora. The driver support is/was practically non-existent. So using a mainline kernel has been pretty much useless for phone related tasks. I know this will eventually get corrected, but even in the case of "future proofing" having a more modern spec wifi/BT module would be much appreciated.


Quote:4. Should the device feature a GPS (and compass) or are those features redundant in this type of device? 


You mentioned redundancy, are you picturing folks having this device as well as a phone with them? If so, this whole device kind of becomes a redundancy in many ways. However, for some folks like myself that would actually use this instead of a phone (I don't always need calls/sms) when I'm on the go. That being the case, I refer to my reply to question 2. in that this would be a nice feature to have. Though, I'm probably an edge case because I don't personally use GPS on any of my current devices anyway. So I could live without it Smile


Quote:5. Should we include SPI flash?


I've been only using the SD card for booting my OS on my pinephone. Probably a bad habit from other SBC's I play with. If it would reduce the cost, I think it would be perfectly acceptable to not have this.


Quote:6. We are currently considering following the PinePhone’s general design and aesthetic for the PineCom, but if there is some sort of physical (within reason - also financially) that you think would fit this type of device well then make sure to let us know.  


Would it be possible to have a loop for a lanyard in the case somehow? Just asking


Quote:7. We’re currently thinking of using a 5” LCD panel for the PineCom; what do you think about this - is there a reason to go bigger or smaller? 


I always have preferred "smaller" screens. For something like this anything between 4-5" would be amazing! The reason for smaller of course being a little more portable in "tight" scenarios. Or, also easier to just hang around on something (with a lanyard for example)

I'd love to continue discussing this project, because it sounds really exciting to me!
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#6
I'll be honest, I'd much rather see a new backplate for the existing PinePhone than an entirely new device. A little backpack that adds LoRa/WAN to my PinePhone would probably be a lot cheaper, and it'd make a lot more sense for me to buy than yet another device, especially one so specialized that I'd have to carry separate to my phone. It'd also make the design much easier: No need to worry about displays, other wireless connectivity, or anything else; just focus on propane LoRa and LoRa accessories.

If y'all decide to go that route, I'd also like to see a hardware off switch, and it'd be delightful if whatever LoRa module y'all used was reprogrammable from the PinePhone itself. A separate battery for the radio would also be great, to offset the power cost (both in terms of power draw and battery life) of the additional hardware, but I have absolutely no idea if that'd be technically feasible.

It'd also be nice to have something to plug an antenna into. I'm not sure if there are any good, shielded, standardized connectors that are small enough, but something to let me connect to an existing LoRa antenna setup so I can use a better comms setup than whatever's built in would be nice.
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#7
I really want a Linux mini-laptop with long battery life. The PinePhone is so far the closest thing to this dream.

Quote:Unlike the PinePhone however, the PineCom will not feature a modem but rather rely on WiFi, IoT LoRa and LoRaWan for communications. The device will also be smaller at (5” LCD panel or less)

These two are complete deal-breakers for me. That just means that I still need to carry a phone with me for connectivity, and if I need the phone anyway, why not use the phone's bigger screen? So essentially the PineCom becomes a very expensive keyboard.

Maybe I don't understand the target group for this device. Could you clarify that?

For me to be attractive it needs a modem (not necessarily the same as the PinePhone) and a ~7" screen.
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#8
Firstly, really like the idea of this device. I'll put some additional ideas below, but first to answer your questions:

(10-09-2020, 06:13 PM)Luke Wrote: [*]Do we need both a front and back camera on the PineCom? In fact, do we need any cameras at all? 

I would suggest that one moderate camera is enough. People who want a really feature complete device have the PinePhone. I would do what you can to keep the price point of this device as low as possible (within reason).

(10-09-2020, 06:13 PM)Luke Wrote: [*]Should we bring over all sensors present on the PinePhone? If so, which do you think we can do without?

Unsure. Generally keep the costs low.

(10-09-2020, 06:13 PM)Luke Wrote: [*]Should we use the same single band/11n/BT4 WiFi module in the PinePhone (for compatibility sake) or change it out for a dual band/11ac/BT5?

Either, but again try to keep the price point low. I don't think this device would be something that should cost the same as a phone.

(10-09-2020, 06:13 PM)Luke Wrote: [*]Should the device feature a GPS (and compass) or are those features redundant in this type of device?

That would really be nice for some map based features. As far as I know, GPS based features tend to up the price and complexity...

(10-09-2020, 06:13 PM)Luke Wrote: [*]Should we include SPI flash?

Personally I would just suggest booting straight from an SD card. People could choose to request a pre-flashed SD card, but most people can quite easily source one locally and flash it with ease.

(10-09-2020, 06:13 PM)Luke Wrote: [*]We are currently considering following the PinePhone’s general design and aesthetic for the PineCom, but if there is some sort of physical (within reason - also financially) that you think would fit this type of device well then make sure to let us know.

If you have more space inside try to offer more than one USB2 port (likely a micro). USB3 is a pain in the a** and the processor really won't be able to make use of the speeds.

I would also suggest a HDMI mini-output to allow it to be used as a mini-computer.

(10-09-2020, 06:13 PM)Luke Wrote: [*]We’re currently thinking of using a 5” LCD panel for the PineCom; what do you think about this - is there a reason to go bigger or smaller?

Whatever is easiest and cost effective. A lower resolution display also puts less stress on graphics, so you could get away with 720.

--Extra--

Generally I see this potentially as a stand-in for a modern PDA and/or MP4 player and/or WiFi phone and/or navigation device.

The question you need to answer is "why this device and not a PinePhone?". To me the answer is increased battery life, decreased size and decreased price.
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#9
@Luke I think a lot of the answers are self-determined by identifying "what" niche the PineCom is truly intended to serve. Based on what's shared so far, I see it fitting into 1 of the following 3 product types:

1) It's a privacy and security centric device, focused on creating a highly secure, self-hosted or "closed loop" communications systems.

2) It's an "alternative" communications device, leveraging local or alternative RF protocols.

3) It's an extremely low cost, portable wifi terminal.

If it's the first, then ultimately creating a 100% blob free, fully documented radio chipset based device is in order. Look to a lot of the threads and discussions that surfaced around the PinePhone's "FOSS'ness." If this new device is intended to be an even more "open" or "transparent" device (which is sort of implied due to the deprecation of the cellular modem), then a chipset focused around that would be a good fit.

If PineCom is trying to hit the 2nd product group, then I would strongly encourage some sort of modular "RF" adapter/port/interface (think Pine's POT modules here) Ideally it would be a "dual port system", allowing communication combinations to suite the situation. Swapping to or combining Wifi, LoRa, NFC, satellite, GSM/LTE, SDR/Ham Freq's would create the most versatile communications device possible.

And finally, if it's the last product category, I would say that whatever it takes to ship the cheapest, most "feature per dollar" rich device is the way to go. This product category is a hard one IMHO due to Pine's established "affordable" / cost-effective market position or perception. To pull off a device in this group, you better be bringing a "pinephone lite" for sub $50 Wink

That's my thoughts on the matter, for what they're worth lol
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#10
> Do we need both a front and back camera on the PineCom? In fact, do we need any cameras at all?
The camera's are fine, please keep them Smile

> Should we bring over all sensors present on the PinePhone? If so, which do you think we can do without?
Yes, since it's an iot-ish device, it might sense to add more sensors like barometer/humidity

> Should the device feature a GPS (and compass) or are those features redundant in this type of device?
Since it doesn't have the modem, it's probably a good idea to have a gps chip in it. Considering you might want to use this device for hiking in places where there's no cell coverage. Stuff like meshtastic already integrates GPS

> Should we include SPI flash?
Yes, it would make it easier for operating systems to discern between the pinephone and the pinecom

> We’re currently thinking of using a 5” LCD panel for the PineCom; what do you think about this - is there a reason to go bigger or smaller?
4.5" - 5" would be ideal, even if the device has to be thicker because of it.
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