Pinebook 64 Review: $100 Laptop That Isn’t Terrible
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Our verdict of the Pinebook 64 :
Despite the dodgy keyboard, this is a great budget Linux laptop, ideal for most online activities and word processing. It should suit students and entry-level developers, too.
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Looking for a new laptop, but on a ultra low budget? Planning to do some school work, or just need a lightweight, portable computer? You probably already know that Linux is the cheapest option. But can you get a Linux laptop?

Well, yes you can. Usually these are Intel or AMD-based, with 64-bit architecture. But the success of ARM processors in smartphones, tablets, and hobbyist computers over the past few years has made the prospect of an ARM laptop a reality.

The Pinebook 64 Linux laptop is a great example. Retailing at just $100, the 14-inch computer we’re looking at can comfortably handle most tasks. But is it good enough for your needs?

What Is a Pinebook?

In short, the Pinebook is an attempt to weld the Linux operating system into the realm of ultraportable notebook computers, but at a fraction of the price of a MacBook Air. With a narrow profile, the Pinebook is easy to carry; indeed, it can fit inside an envelope with no difficulty.

Pinebook 64 Review: $100 Laptop That Isn't Terrible muo hardware pinebook bridge

The Pinebook comes in two flavors, an 11.6-inch model, and a 14-inch version, which we’re reviewing here. The difference in price between the two makes it more likely you’ll pick the larger computer. While the 11-inch version is a tasty $89, the 14-inch model is just a few dollars more. In our view, $99 for a 14-inch laptop is an excellent deal.

You can check the current prices and availability at www.pine64.org – but beware, availability is very limited. So limited in fact that you need to add your email address to a waiting list, then you’ll be contacted when your turn arises.

So there you have it: a Pinebook is an ultra-portable, ultra-affordable computer running Linux. But would you want it? Or is it so underpowered that even simple computing tasks are frustratingly slow? Keep reading to find out!

 

Low Specs for a Low Price

Packaging for the Pinebook is nondescript, and inside the box you’ll find a sturdy plastic case that you’re advised to discard once opened, the MacBook-esque Pinebook, the stickers/decals, and the power adaptor. That’s it. As far as un-boxings go, this has to be one of the most underwhelming I’ve ever experienced.

No doubt the real surprise is waiting for me when I boot up Ubuntu MATE MATE Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Enduring Desktops MATE Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Enduring Desktops Unlike commercial operating systems, Linux lets you change your desktop environment. One of the most popular is MATE, but how good is it, and should you install it on your Linux PC? Let's find out. Read More , the default operating system that comes pre-installed on this system.

It’s light, it’s compact — but are the internal specs of the Pinebook up to the job? Can it match the ultraportables from big-name computer manufacturers like Apple and HP, or even Microsoft’s Surface Book?

The straightforward answer is a resounding “no”. But that doesn’t mean the Pinebook doesn’t have something to offer.

Pinebook 64 Review: $100 Laptop That Isn't Terrible muo hardware pinebook ports

Controlling everything is a 1.2 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A53 64-bit processor. This is the same CPU found in the PINE A64 single board computer (a Raspberry Pi competitor 5 Raspberry Pi Competitors You Need to Know About 5 Raspberry Pi Competitors You Need to Know About The Raspberry Pi is no longer the only board in town. We cover some of our favourite competitors, and why you might want to buy one. Read More ) and is supported by 2 GB of RAM. Storage is 16 GB eMMC, but this can be expanded via the microSD card slot, up to 256 GB. Two USB 2.0 ports are also available to connect extra devices — such as external storage — to the Pinebook.

The IPS display is a good option for this computer, and above it you’ll find the front-facing, 0.3 MP camera. A built-in microphone is also mounted, and there’s also a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, is in the shape of 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0. While no Ethernet port is included, you can always connect a USB Ethernet dongle.

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Finally, the 10,000mAh Li-Po battery is worth a mention. Surprisingly, despite the ARM processor and low spec, you won’t get any significant time out of this cell. I’d say six hours tops, based on different usage scenarios, which is a bit disappointing, really. Four hours seems to be the norm for typical usage.

First Use: It’s a Bit Sticky

When it comes to the hardware, however, there are some difficulties. If you’re used to the solid keyboards of more expensive laptops, you may be disappointed with the Pinebook. When it comes to entering text, typing is tricky. This isn’t just a case of the usual differences experienced when you swap keyboards, either – there is a responsiveness expected of modern keyboards that just isn’t found here.

Sometimes, keys don’t respond; other times, there’s too much responsiveness, phantom repeat characters, for instance. Oh, and the spacebar either doesn’t work, or it inserts spaces where you don’t want them. In short, keep a keen eye on what you’re typing! This is especially important in the command line; however, I typed much of this review on the Pinebook, and had a lot of problems to fix.

Pinebook 64 Review: $100 Laptop That Isn't Terrible muo hardware pinebook kb

Perhaps some of the problem is with the surface of the keys. They’re quite unappealing, and don’t lend themselves to the ergonomic pleasures of touch typing.

Meanwhile, there are no controls for the multi-touch touchpad. This is a problem, as the device is extremely sensitive, responding to slight touch (even a brush of arm hair) by selecting swathes of screen area. If you’re working on a document, this can prove troublesome, leading to the loss of a lot of work. While Ctrl+Z should undo a problem like this, it won’t guarantee a solution on all apps.

On a similar note, the power button was surprisingly tough to get working on the first use, initially leading me to suspect a defective unit. Subsequent presses have proved easier, however, so perhaps there is a safety device in play to prevent accidental activation in transit.

The Ultimate in Ultramobility

A lot of devices claim to be “ultramobile”. The MacBook Air, for instance, and its various successors. You’ve got the expensive, increasingly thin ultramobile notebooks from Sony, Samsung and HP, too. But none of them come close to matching the lightness and portability of the Pinebook.

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Its 14-inch screen makes the Pinebook ideal for the majority of cases. At the narrow end, the computer is just 0.24 of an inch, while the thick end is a mere 0.47 inch. Built from lightweight white plastic, the Pinebook weighs in at just 1.26 kg, less than an equivalent-sized MacBook Air (1.34 kg for the 13-inch model).

As such, you can pretty much pick up the Pinebook and take it anywhere. This makes it ideal for students looking for an affordable laptop to take to classes, or entry-level developers on a tight budget. Freelance creatives may be less inclined to take a look at it, however.

And if you’re looking for something cheap for Facebook and online shopping, the Pinebook is ideal, and will fit in most bags.

Games and Media

Everyone wants to play a game or two now and again. The Pinebook comes with three preinstalled in MATE, but of course you can install your own. As long as they can be found in the repositories, or downloaded in ARM format (or you’re comfortable compiling and troubleshooting) then you shouldn’t run into any problems. For instance, I downloaded FreeCiv, the open source version of Civilization, and played a few turns. Note that this also includes the server component, so you could conceivably use the Pinebook 64 as a game server.

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When it comes to media editing, however, things will be a bit trickier. There’s no hardware here to cope with HD video editing, for instance, so attempting it will be a laborious disappointment. Standard definition editing is achievable, however, as is audio editing.

On the other hand, with a number of coding and development tools to hand (Scratch, Squeak, and Geany are pre-installed, for example), the Pinebook makes a great programming and game development device. You just need to get over the problems with the keyboard…

So, there is enough power in the Pinebook to play older games, and those intended purely for ARM Linux devices. And if you’re running Android, then you should be able to access most of its vast library of games and apps.

Operating Systems for the Pinebook

As you can see from the screenshots, this Pinebook shipped with Ubuntu 16.04 MATE pre-installed. This is a good option, and has hopefully been chosen to get the best out of the device battery. But what if MATE isn’t your cup of tea?

Pinebook 64 Review: $100 Laptop That Isn't Terrible pinebook screen

Fortunately, other Linux operating systems are available for the Pinebook. Debian Jessie, the now-defunct (but still available) Remix OS 2.0 and Android Nougat can all be installed. There’s also support for the Windows 10 IoT platform.

It seems likely that other operating systems will run on the Pinebook eventually. If you have the patience to compile your own choice from source, meanwhile, this should also present you with a usable alternative.

So, Who’s the Pinebook Really For?

It’s described as an “Affordable, 64-bit ARM based Open Source Notebook” but who is it really aimed at? To be honest, it’s really hard to say. Although the computer comes with some development tools built-in, it would be odd to say “this computer is aimed at developers”. There’s simply not enough reliability for this to be the case.

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The $99 price point might make it ideal for a first computer for children… but Pine themselves seem to discourage this, pointing out that “if you are looking for a device to replace your current work or school laptop, perhaps it’s wise to look elsewhere.”

Odd.

In terms of the price point, build material, and hardware, I would say that if the Pinebook isn’t for children or students, then it really isn’t for anybody. But in truth, this laptop is for anybody. Just be prepared to spend some time breaking in the keyboard.

The Pinebook: Coding, Homework, Shopping and Retro Gaming

It’s light, slimline, runs Ubuntu MATE by default and can do all of the internet, coding, word processing and media playback that everyone needs. The Pinebook will run old games; it will run open source media editors.

But, you’re possibly going to need a better keyboard. Perhaps plug one in, and add a mouse in order to avoid the touchpad, whenever you’re at home. If you’re mobile… well, you’ll have to take your chances.

Come on, it’s only $100! Form an orderly cue, people. Literally, because that’s the only way to order one.

Enter the Competition!

Pinebook 64 Linux Laptop Giveaway

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  1. soumen pal
    October 5, 2017 at 6:02 am

    How i will see the winner list?

  2. shelly field
    October 3, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Amazing laptop. Thanks for the review.

  3. Claudia Moore
    September 28, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    I really could use this, and I think it is exactly what I have been looking for!!!

  4. sheila carter
    September 27, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    hi I'm Sheila thanks for this giveaway I'm entered to win

  5. sheila carter
    September 27, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    thanks for this giveaway

  6. sheila carter
    September 27, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    hi I'm Sheila carter I just want to thank youll for the greastest giveaway

  7. Alfred C
    September 27, 2017 at 9:06 am

    As the review and for light surfing or light documents should working fine. Let me win and hand on it. Thanks guys. :)

  8. garet
    September 25, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    "Controlling everything is a 1.2 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A53 64-bit processor. This is the same CPU found in the PINE A64 single board computer (a Raspberry Pi competitor) and is supported by 2 GB of RAM. Storage is 16 GB eMMC, but this can be expanded via the microSD card slot, up to 256 GB. Two USB 2.0 ports are also available to connect extra devices — such as external storage — to the Pinebook."

    This is the only useful paragraph in the entire review.
    The rest is just your opinion, and very wordy.

  9. Mike
    September 24, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Based on this review, this is a completely useless pseudo-computer. Nothi9ng in this review makes me at all interested in entering this contest or in supporting any of the companies or sites aszsciated with it. If you are at all interested in getting people interested in you or your cause then I suggest you start by offering something in your contest that is a: of interest to a broad audience,b: a useful and functional computer that has broad appeal. This POS does neither.

  10. David
    September 24, 2017 at 5:24 am

    Thanks for the opportunity to try this out, really interesting. I type with a couple of fingers at a time, so, no hardship. I like the fact that it's so light, but has all the ports. How would you get it to run android?

  11. Russell Owens
    September 23, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    cool deal

  12. Randy
    September 22, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I think the main target audience would be someone who wants to learn Linux. You get a cheap machine you can use to learn Linux from beginner to more advanced.

    The keyboard kills this for me though. I will keep an eye on the development of this machine but if the keyboard is as bad as you say and not just a defect for yours in particular, that kills it for me. I type very fast and cannot deal with a keyboard not logging correctly, I would throw it across the room.

  13. Carol Riley
    September 22, 2017 at 4:16 am

    The company that I work for says I have to get a laptop for work by December. My husband is disabled and we just can't afford one. It would be such a blessing to win

  14. Kannon Yamada
    September 21, 2017 at 12:31 am

    Great review Christian. Phoenix OS is going to really kick some butt on this thing.

  15. Brandon
    September 20, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    The idea of lightweight and light-use laptops like Chromebooks or the Pinebook can be especially useful in virtual environments. Our company uses HP thin clients with Citrix Receiver for use with virtual machines- the thin clients themselves are $200 Ubuntu machines with an Intel Atom processor, 2GB RAM, no need for on-board storage (all your files are managed by the virtual machine) and USB/peripheral support. I would love to see something like the Pinebook used around the building!

  16. jymm
    September 20, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Good to see someone trying to make a Linux laptop that does not cost over a $1,000 dollars. A lot of people can't or won't spend that kind of money on a laptop. That means Windoze computers in the lower price range get money and market share as people buy them and wipe Windoze for Linux. I would like to see a decent Linux laptop in the $250 to $400 dollar range. I would certainly buy that. I do think Ubuntu Mate is a good system for that kind of laptop.

  17. Gazoo
    September 20, 2017 at 3:08 am

    Enjoyed the review. Seemed like a very honest piece.

    I thought Pinebook for a while as a curio... ARM, slower processor convinced me that I would probably shelve it. Hearing about the keyboard issue is definitely a deal-breaker - I wonder if this is a widespread problem.

    Would have liked to hear how well it handled online streaming and local video (from usb). Even with the keyboard issue, it might've made a passable low-cost consumption device - videos, web surfing, music, ebooks.

    I think an update on the keyboard issue is important. Is it limited to a few devices or a real issue.

  18. Omega
    September 20, 2017 at 12:38 am

    I'm sitting here thinking this would be great to leave in the car. How many times have I squinted at my mobile phone trying to figure out Google Maps on a small screen. I presume this would take power from my lighter socket and wifi off my phone and hey presto I can see a map at a reasonable resolution and it might keep the kids happy watching youtube videos. Sign me up.

  19. Chris D
    September 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    I think the target audience are students who buying PC for a first time, or someone looking for an ultra-portable secondary PC. I fit into both category, and the only reason I wouldn't get this is that I already have the Windows equivalent and also want hardware fast enough to run Blender. I ended up installing Ubuntu anyway, since Windows was too slow. More manufacturers should start putting a less locked down Chrome OS like OS on these devices. They make their selling point "it runs Windows apps unlike Chromebook's" but they can't even handle Windows 10's start menu.

  20. Asiyah
    September 19, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    I don't mind that the keyboard gives trouble, something is better than nothing, beggars can't be choosers, and I am definitely begging right now, I don't have a computer or laptop, I would love o win this