Pinebook Pro – Hackable ARM64 Linux Laptop for $200

The Pinebook, released in 2017, was–and still is–an exciting product. The company responsible, PINE64, created a low-powered, low cost ($99) System on a Chip (SOC) laptop. But while the Pinebook is fantastic for tinkering and basic Internet usage, it was never intended to be a day-to-day laptop replacement1. Rather, it provides tinkerers a way to learn Linux and ARM without the need of a separate single board computer (SBC), keyboard, mouse and screen.

PINE64 has firmly established itself as one of the most highly-respected SBC manufacturers in the world, and the Pinebook proves that they refuse to be put in a box. Led by their founder TL Lim, PINE64 are a creative and innovative company, with a solid grasp on the needs of not only the makers and tinkerers, but also of the free and open source software fanatics, as well as the hardware hackers. All this while demonstrating a clear understanding of what the related community mentality is all about. Put all these traits together, combined with the talents of the wonderful people who comprise the PINE64 team, and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with, with a company whose products appeal to a very wide range of users.

Now, it’s 2019 and the Pinebook is evolving.

Today, PINE64 is unveiling the new Pinebook Pro, which is going to change the exciting world of SOC laptops.

With a target price of just $199 USD, the expectations surrounding the Pinebook Pro are quite different than those of the original Pinebook. I had the privilege of chatting with Lukasz Erecinski from PINE64 and he believes the 64-bit ARM Pinebook Pro could be used as your daily laptop, offering a compelling alternative to a mid-range Chromebook with some impressive specs for the price.

During our discussion, Erecinski says, “It is much more powerful than the Pinebook, it has much more memory; 4 gigs of RAM, and we expect that this could really be a daily driver.”

This changes everything. Erecinski says that there are “so many people out there who take a Chromebook and transform it into a Linux laptop. We looked at that market and we thought, what about a proper laptop? A real laptop replacement based on ARM64 architecture that is built from the ground up with free and open source software in mind, having features which you rarely find on high-end or mid-range Chromebooks such as a lot of internal storage, a 1080p IPS panel, as well as high-quality materials for the build.” He goes on to explain, “We’re using aluminium alloy for the Pinebook Pro.”

A First Look at the Pinebook Pro

Erecinski says of the Pinebook Pro, “in a sense, it is a part of the RockPro64 lineage: it features the same SOC, same memory, and we expect it to be completely compatible with the single board computer that we had rolled out last year.”

From the Pinebook Pro to the Open Source IP Camera “CUBE”, a retro gaming case, and an updated Rock64 and H64 – PINE64 has more to tell you about… Watch the full interview with Lukasz Erecinski on my YouTube channel:

The Pinebook Pro has a 14″ IPS LCD screen at full 1080p resolution, plus support for digital video output via USB-C. By default, the Pinebook Pro comes with 64 GB of eMMC storage, has a 10,000 mAh battery, and like we’ve come to expect from PINE64, the Pinebook Pro is built to be hackable.

The folks at PINE64 are freaking awesome and know how to show their community love. As a way to thank their community, they’re doing something more: If you are a registered user in the PINE64 forum, PINE64 will upgrade the eMMC in your Pinebook Pro to a whopping 128 GB eMMC, no extra charge!

The original 11.6″ Pinebook (2017)

The original Pinebook–as awesome as it is in its own right–feels cheap. It’s plastic. It’s white. It looks and feels a bit like a toy. The Pinebook Pro however feels solid with its magnesium alloy (aluminium) body, which also has a much higher-end look to it with an attractive matte black finish. It’s super thin, which really gives it that look of a much higher-priced laptop.

As was the case with the original Pinebook, the Pinebook Pro features minimal branding. Take that as you will, but I think it gives the Pinebook Pro a very refined look. I can’t stand the apple on the back of a Macbook, and I loathe the bevelled Dell logo on the back of my i7, so I greatly respect this choice by PINE64 to keep the chassis clean, allowing me to either go for that sleek, professional look, or plaster it in stickers to my heart’s content.

The Pinebook Pro has enough power to handle HD video beautifully, and to top off the viewing experience, it has built-in Bluetooth 4.2 to connect your headphones or other Bluetooth device.

Digging deeper into the system, like the RockPro64, we’ve got a Rockchip RK3399 Hexacore SOC, which contains the Dual Cortex-A72 + Quad Cortex-A53 64-bit CPU. The Pinebook Pro has 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM.

The Pinebook Pro also features a PCIe x4 slot which will allow the addition of a m.2 NVMe SSD.

We also find a MicroSD card slot, audio output, USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, 802.11ac WiFi, a 2 MP forward-facing webcam plus built in speakers and a microphone in the Pinebook Pro.

PINE64 have included a barrel jack for charging, which I personally prefer. However, they’ve again heard the cry of the community and made it so you can also charge the Pinebook Pro via the USB-C port.

According to Erecinski, the original Pinebook is not going anywhere. He also shares that PINE64 will be offering an optional upgrade kit for users to be able to upgrade their standard Pinebook to a more Pro-like model.

PINE64 is working on ways to bring down the cost of shipping for the Pinebook Pro, and in the process they hope those improvements will trickle down to the regular Pinebook line as well.

Erecinski says the target release for the Pinebook Pro is the second half of 2019. “The first prototype is here. We’ve got three prototypes. They will go to three key projects that we’re working with.” That is to say, developers of the coming operating systems for the Pinebook Pro. “We want to have at least two or three operating systems in place for when it rolls out,” says Erecinski. “We’re also going to have a scheme where other developers will get their units a bit earlier, ahead of users so they can port their OS to the Pinebook Pro as well.”

Pinebook Pro System Specifications

  • 14″ 1080p IPS LCD panel
  • 64GB of eMMC storage
  • Black magnesium alloy body
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Digital video output via USB-C
  • Audio aux out / UART
  • USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports
  • 802.11ac WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM
  • Charging via barrel port or USB-C
  • Rockchip RK3399 Hexacore SOC
  • 2mpx front-facing camera
  • Microphone
  • Speakers
  • Slim and slick design with minimal branding
  • PCIe x4 that can take a m.2 NVMe SSD
  • Price: aiming at $199

33 Years Later… Still Hidden Secrets Discovered in NES “The Legend Of Zelda”

SKELUX has discovered and posted a video unveiling Minus Worlds found in The Legend of Zelda, which was released on Famicom in 1986 and Nintendo Entertainment System the following year.

Hard to believe that after 33 years there are still hidden secrets in this classic title, but it appears to be true! Judge for yourself – here is the video.

Google Home Mini vs. Amazon Echo Dot 3 – December 2018

They cost the same. They look similar. They boast the same features. They use up the same amount of desk space. So… Which is better leading into 2019? Okay, Google or Alexa?

This month, I set out to answer the question: Which is better? Okay, Google, or Amazon Alexa?

For roughly the price of a Bluetooth speaker, you can have one that also responds to your questions, plays music without having to use your phone or other player, and can even turn on and off lights and other smart home devices if you add some accessories, which are also surprisingly affordable.

In order to provide an accurate and unbiased comparison of the two devices, I wrote a query script and endeavoured to stick to it. This query script was written to try to demonstrate the capabilities of each device with an accurate comparison. Some are for the kids’ entertainment (farts, jokes), while others are very much for our use (shopping list, controlling smart devices). Others can be enjoyed by all (playing music).

Here is the query script we used, and the results of each query:

  • Fart: Alexa farted. Okay, Google did not.
  • Tell me a joke: Both devices told a dad joke.
  • Is Crème Brûlée made of custard: Both provided an accurate answer.
  • Turn on/off the light: Both worked perfectly with our smart powerbar. The word “light” was programmed via the powerbar’s app. It can be set to whatever you like: “Turn on the Christmas tree lights”, for example. The powerbar we use has 4 outlets and each can be programmed and controlled independently of one another.
  • Play some Christmas music: Both played Christmas music even though we do not have accounts on Amazon Music of Google Music.
  • Who is this artist: Both responded to this query accurately.
  • Skip this song: Both devices skipped the playing song.
  • Play music by TheFatRat: Both were able to play music by artist name, even though we do not have that music on our devices, nor do we have accounts with Amazon Music nor Google Music.
  • Remind me in 5 minutes to make coffee: Alexa did this perfectly, reminding us 5 minutes later that it was time to make coffee. Okay, Google however simply told us there was a reminder. We’d have to look at our phone to know what that reminder was. Okay, Google does state you can change settings, but our test was of the out-of-box experience, and at this, Okay, Google failed, while Alexa worked as expected, and actually impressed us with its ability to remind us verbally of what we’d asked.
  • What’s the forecast today: Both devices responded to this query, though the data provided differed between them.
  • What time will the sun go down tonight in Barrie: Both responded with an accurate answer to this query.
  • What’s 5 x 32.5 divided by 2: Both responded to this query with the mathematical answer, 81.25.
  • How much does an Amazon Echo Dot cost: Alexa quoted us a very low price. It was referring to the old 2nd generation device. Okay, Google however, quoted us the correct product (3rd generation) and price. Because I’d expect to find the most current version of any product as the top result, Alexa fails where Okay, Google passes on this one.
  • Find a Starbucks near me: Both devices found the closest Starbucks.
  • How long will it take me to get to Starbucks: Both determined how long it would take, though Okay, Google apparently drives a lot faster. Interestingly, Okay, Google also pinged my phone with a notification which launches the map to take me there.
  • Sing me a song: Both AI’s were able to sing. Neat!
  • Add cookies to my shopping list: Both devices did this perfectly.
  • Remove cookies from my shopping list: Alexa did this exactly as you’d expect: removed the cookies we just added from the list. Surprisingly however, Okay, Google was not able to do this “yet” – which makes me think it is a coming feature in a future firmware update. Though it did mention you can change privacy settings and so-on, but why should I have to change privacy settings to remove something from a shopping list that I had just added to using the same device? Google failed. Alexa passed with flying colors, impressing us again.
  • What’s the temperature outside: Both were able to tell me this based on weather services (ie., I don’t have an outdoor smart thermometer).
  • What’s the temperature in the house: Both devices correctly reported the temperature from my NEST thermostat at home.

And here are some observations I’ve made after using both devices side-by-side for 3 days:

  • There’s one thing I actually hate about Google Home Mini. I want to be able to take my smart speaker with me. When I leave home, I take it to the studio to listen to music. During the Christmas season, I bring it to work to listen to Christmas music in the office. Then I bring it home at night. The Amazon Echo Dot 3 handled this fine: I can add my studio WiFi to the device and it connects and works. Then when I take it home, it connects to the home network, no having to re-configure. The Google Home Mini on the other hand, you have to remove the WiFi network before you leave one location, otherwise you cannot connect to the WiFi at your destination. True story. If I am using Google Home Mini at home and simply pack it up and take it to the studio, it will not work. I can make it work by actually deleting the Google Home Mini from my app and resetting it and re-adding it as a new device. Seriously? On the other hand, if I delete the WiFi from the Google Home Mini before packing it up, I can connect to the destination WiFi, but then if I forget to delete it when leaving there, it won’t work at home when I return that night. Amazon Echo Dot 3 wins this hands down, as the WiFi works as it should. The connectivity of the Google Home Mini absolutely sucks. It’s meant to be installed at one location, and left there. If you plan to move your device around at all or take it with you, go with Amazon’s product.
  • Both devices have a button to turn off mic. Google Home Mini has a mute switch on its side. Amazon Echo Dot has a mute button on top. I thought this would be good for privacy, but find I use it more to prevent my kids from stopping my music to setup reminders for the device to fart.
  • The mute toggle on the Amazon Echo Dot is way better than that of the Google Home Mini. I know, this is a bit knit-picky, but it stands to be noted: you have to pick up the Google Home Mini to mute it. Amazon’s Echo Dot 3, you just tap the botton on the top. This just feels like a design fail to me on the Google Home Mini. The switch feels like it was made to be big and tactile (and hard to switch) as a way of screaming from the rooftop “Look, you can mute my mic and have privacy! I’m not spying on you!” It comes across as awkward and a bit annoying. To top it off, when I pick up the Google Home Mini to mute its mic, I tend to accidentally touch the hidden sensors under the mesh screen, triggering it to start playing music.
  • Amazon Echo Dot seems to be a bit better at listening. Amazon Echo Dot almost always hears me. Google Home Mini had trouble hearing its key phrase if music was playing reasonably loud.
  • Amazon Echo Dot 3 sounds better than Google Home Mini. Sound quality of the Google Home Mini is that of a standard small Bluetooth speaker. It sounds okay. Whereas the sound on the Amazon Echo Dot is impressive. Both sound good, but side-by-side, the Echo Dot sounds remarkable.

If you’d like to see both devices in action as we tested the above script, here is a video. Please turn off your phone’s AI assistant and mute your mics on any smart home devices, since we’ll be commanding them throughout this video.

Who do you feel is the winner? Okay, Google? Or Alexa?

Nerdgasms




I’m going to start posting any little helpful tools I create to make my life easier. I call them Nerdgasms. This list will grow over time, so be sure to check back!

  • Set Linux Time and Date
    NTP won’t help you if your date and time are too far out of whack. This has become even more so of a problem with single board computers that do not have a realtime clock. Power it off too long and you’ll lose your settings. This Nerdgasm is the easiest way to figure out what you need to type into the terminal to set your Linux system’s date and time.



Add A Drive to Linux and Encrypt It




Do you use an external hard drive, USB Flash drive or other removable media for your personal or company backups? Let’s encrypt it! Continue reading


How I Got an Android Smartphone in Ontario Canada for Just $6.25 per Month




My method is not for the person who wants to be able to spend time on their cellphone, chatting it up, nor the person who wants to have blazing Internet speeds on their phone while they’re hiking through Algonquin Park. This is for those of us with very basic requirements, who need a phone out of necessity… for emergencies… and don’t want to spend a bunch of monthly cash to do it.

Let me tell you a little bit about me, and perhaps shed some light on why you may have received an answering machine or two when reaching out to me. I’m not one to spend much time on the phone. In fact, I do almost all my communication either in person or by email.

I’m not a brain surgeon, nor the President of the United States, so I’ve never felt “important enough” to need to be accessible 24/7 no matter where I am. So I’ve never gotten myself into a costly phone contract, because it simply wasn’t a necessary expense.

However, recently we had our new alarm installed at the studio thanks to Froggy.ca, and the alarm monitoring company needs to be able to get a hold of me in event of break-in or other emergency. Otherwise, they might send the Police to false alarms should they occur, resulting in a hefty fine from the local emergency service.

So I started doing research, and realized a few things about my needs.

  1. I am almost always within reach of a WiFi connection, and when I’m not, I don’t want to be. For example, I don’t need to have Internet while I’m at the beach or eating dinner at a restaurant with my darling wife.
  2. I never use the phone. I need it for emergency use only, and perhaps the rare short call, but nothing to warrant the 500 minutes a month of a standard phone contract.
  3. I want a phone out of necessity, not desire for constant contact, and therefore I do not want to have to spend the $35+ per month on a phone contract.
  4. I use an iPod Touch 4 to keep on top of my inbox. I know it’s on its last legs (they’re not built to last), plus I don’t want to have a phone and iPod in my pocket–so a smartphone makes more sense to me than a flip phone. I want to remove the iPod from the mix entirely and just have a single device for both purposes.

With some back-and-forth between the Category5 TV chat room, and discussing with a few friends, I came up with a brilliant solution, and I must say it’s working great!

I now have a smartphone–a Samsung S730m Discovery Galaxy–with no contract, and I pay just $6.25 per month for it.

Here’s how I did it:

First of all, I bought the phone. That’s right. I paid outright for a refurbished unlocked smartphone. I’ve never done this before, but the freedom is wonderful! I got to choose my phone from dozens of available options, and got a great deal (I paid $90 Canadian) since it’s a refurb, and not the most current of phones. Check out the amazing selection on Amazon! One of them is bound to work for you.

By purchasing the phone outright, I am not tied to a contract. It’s how the phone companies get you: they promise a free smartphone, or one for very cheap, but you have to sign up for $35 per month for 2 years (Wind Mobile). So I’ve avoided the contract, and the high monthly fee (but had to pay nearly $100 up front for the device–a fair trade-off).

The other advantage to buying the phone is that for less money in the long run, I actually end up with a better device. The ones being offered at the $35 / month contract level don’t hold a candle to the one I bought for just $90. You can get an unlocked phone for as little as $40 from what I saw, but again, I wanted to replace my iPod Touch at the same time.

Secondly, we know I have easy access to WiFi. What about you? I think it’s pretty rare to be out of reach of a WiFi connection where you truly need it, at least for me. I have it at work, I have it at home, and my favorite coffee shops also give me free access. I do not need Internet while sitting on a park bench watching my kids play. I’d prefer to cheer them on and show some interest in what they’re doing.

So scrub the need to have cellular Internet on my phone. I set the phone to disable using Internet on cellular networks, and I can still have high-speed Internet on my smartphone whenever I am within reach of a WiFi connection… which is practically always.

Third, I shopped around. You’ll never guess where I found my service.

Wait for it…

After weighing about 15 different providers against one another, I walked into my local Petro Canada gas bar and picked up a SIM card and pay-as-you-go minutes. Whaaaaat?

Yeah, you heard me right.

Why did I choose Petro Canada? For starters, it’s easy to activate my phone. I bought the SIM card for $10, which gave me the local phone number and activated my new phone. All I had to do was enter some numbers into a web site as per the instructions, and I was up and running.

Not to mention, you get Petro Points for your phone service. That will mean free gas, free groceries, whatever I choose to redeem them for.

So here’s how I got my phone service for $6.25 per month…

I actually purchased a single $25 pay-as-you-go card. That’s it. Having read all the fine print, Petro Canada’s $25 card expires in 4 months. That’s 4 months of phone service, with no Internet (I’m getting that via WiFi) for just $25, assuming I don’t make an abundance of calls using up the card prematurely (which I won’t do unless there’s an emergency, in which case I won’t mind reloading early). $25 every 4 months is $6.25 per month.

It doesn’t give me a lot of talk time. Roughly 50-100 minutes per month, but that’s actually more than I need.

So for those who are like me and only need cellular service in an emergency or in a bind, I wanted to post how I did it and share with you that you too can get phone service in Canada for just $6.25 per month.

Already have a cellphone? Cancel your phone plan and do what I did if you are paying more than you need to! Even $35 per month to have a “phone for emergencies” is too much now that we know it can be done for so much less.

Please comment below and let me know what you think of my solution, and certainly if you opt for the same, I’d love to know about it.

Here’s a video where Sasha Dirmeitis and I discuss how I did it:




Studio D: Day 17




Wow! We’re really getting into the exciting stuff now.

Christa and her hubby Brad arrived to start putting up the drywall, and my friend Jean Bamford from Labar Sales & Distribution also paid us a visit to figure out the colors for our new studio. I’m glad she came by on a night when Christa was around since it was her who designed our logo and she has a good vision for our image. This is getting exciting!

We also got our first piece of furniture donated by my friend Chelsea: a coffee table!

You’ve got to see the video! So much going on.

Please don’t forget, we need to buy a new video camera for Studio D, and we do not yet have the funds. We need our viewers’ help, and every contribution makes a huge difference. Please consider contributing to this need here:  http://shop.category5.tv/?product=upgrade-the-cameras

You can also read about the camera and post your comments on my blog: http://www.baldnerd.com/new-camera-for-studio-d/

Thanks for all your support!

-Robbie


Studio D: Day 10



Behold, the most epic of all days, day 10  😉

Seriously! Imagine a 10 hour work day where you had the video camera running the whole time thinking “Oh, that’ll be a great idea: means I’ll have a recording to work with”.  And then, sit down in the editing room and gasp and wonder what on earth you were thinking!

So, here it is! Edited down to a 1 hour mega super day special!

On this incredible, productive day, I bought a cute little fridge to keep cream and drinks cold for the studio crew, and also welcomed a viewer–Paulo–into Studio D. He is a combination electrician, contractor and all-round good guy who volunteered to help with a lot of the stuff I’m just not capable of doing… or at least until I’m shown how. He proved to be a great teacher and fun guy to work with … and it’s a good thing too, because it was a LONG day!

Enjoy the special! Make sure you set aside some extra time this week and let’s get these lights up!

-Robbie



Studio D: The Learning Experience




Studio D is an exciting adventure for me and Category5 Technology TV.

One of the coolest things about this project is how much I’m learning. From all the valuable information provided by Andy Christie during our inspection, and the subsequent ripping out of the drywall, to the leak repair and caulking, as well as lighting knowledge provided by Robert. And then to boot, Paulo comes along offering his time as well, and all of a sudden I’m learning how to do electrical work! I’m learning so much, and these skills transcend the Studio D project and will no doubt make me a better home owner as well. Plus, I feel it’s good to learn new things… and be able to then use those skills to help other people when they have need.

It’s been a joy sharing my experiences with you so far as we work toward the completion of studio D. If you haven’t followed along yet, check out the video playlist at the top of this page. It’s raw, largely uncut, and full of great information. But it’s also a lot of fun!

Thank you for your support through this project thus far. If you’d like to contribute, please head over to cat5.tv/studio to find out what ways you can support us.

Thanks!

-Robbie


Studio D: Is This Real Life?




When Bekah and I went shopping to buy our first house, we had a dream: to move Category5 Technology TV into its own space.

That dream took longer than we’d anticipated to come to fruition, but it finally has! Studio D is real! I saw it with my own eye bulbs, and even have the key in my pocket right now!

I met with the landlord at 9:30am today to hand off our insurance papers and receive the key. A wonderful handful of people showed up to help clean the place top to bottom, and we finished cleaning in only 3 hours!

There is some water damage from a leak which we thought was a previous leak, but thanks to a good hard rainfall today, we got to see the water coming in. So at least we know right away what we’re up against. We need to rip out a fair bit of drywall and assess the damage, and repair and paint the whole place. It’s going to be a huge job, but so worth it. Thank you to the volunteers who endeavour to make it possible!

I said to Bekah, the strange thing about Studio D is, the more real it becomes, the more surreal it becomes. I can’t believe it’s finally happening!

The owner of a local wireless ISP came by to assess provision of Internet services, and he noted from the roof that indeed their tower is line of sight, and we should have no trouble receiving a good strong Internet signal.

Step one is complete… the place is ours, and clean. Now to do the repairs and paint. At that time we’ll be ready to start moving our gear.

Thanks all!

Robbie