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Linux-powered handheld is like a PocketChip on steroids

Nov 25, 2019 — by Eric Brown — 1558 views

[Updated: Nov. 27] — Source Parts has opened $199 pre-orders for a Linux-driven “Pocket P.C.” handheld with an Allwinner A64, 2GB DDR3, 32GB eMMC, 4x USB Type-C, keyboard, 5-inch HD touchscreen, WiFi/BT, and optional LoRa and GNSS.

In June, Source Parts went to Kickstarter to resurrect the design of the now defunct Next Thing’s open-spec Chip SBC as a $49 and up Original Popcorn SBC. Also on tap were two “Super Popcorn” models that swapped the Chip’s Cortex-A8-based Allwinner GR8 for a quad-core, Cortex-A53 Amlogic S905D or octa-core -A53 S912. The all-or-nothing campaign for the Popcorn products reached only $5K of its $250K goal.

Over the summer, Source Parts, which is now selling its products under the Popcorn Computer brand, said it planned to launch the Original Popcorn on Amazon in October, but it’s still not available. Meanwhile, the company has launched its own pre-order campaign for a Pocket P.C. handheld computer, a rev’d up spin on Next Thing’s PocketChip. Source Parts co-creator Jose Angel Torres was lead electrical engineer with Next Thing and helped develop the keyboard-enabled PocketChip and Chip Pro Dev Kit.



Pocket P.C. prototype design
(click images to enlarge)

This time around there’s a more feasible $50K goal and no all-or-nothing claims. Assuming the Pocket P.C. is funded, the expected ship date is May 2020. Otherwise, it may still go forward, but would likely ship later.

Unlike the Original Popcorn, we saw no open hardware claims except for the availability of open-source keyboard and LED controller firmware. The system will ship with Debian 10 based on mainline Linux and is compatible with Gadget OS and Buildroot.

The specs are considerably more advanced than the $69 and up PocketChip, which used the same Allwinner GR8 found on the Chip. The price is also a lot higher: there’s a discount price of $199, off the standard $249, and a version that has a LoRa wireless transceiver for $299. Both models include WiFi and Bluetooth.


PocketChip

Like the PocketChip, this “hacker terminal on-the-go” has a small QWERTY keyboard mounted under a screen. The 59-button, USB-driven silicone keyboard with RGB backlight can be programmed by the user. It sits beneath a 4.95-inch IPS touchscreen with 1920 x 1080 resolution. This is a big improvement over the 4.5-inch, 480 x 272-pixel touchscreen on the PocketChip.

The Pocket P.C. shopping page lists only an unnamed, 1.2GHz quad-core, Cortex-A53 SoC, but on the Popcorn Computer forum, Source Parts disclosed that “currently” the SoC of choice is the Allwinner A64, the SoC behind Olimex’s A64-OLinuXino and SinoVoip’s Banana Pi BPI-M64, among other community-backed SBCs. Source Parts says that the prototype is based on the Kettlepop, a compute module that was originally equipped with the GR8, but has now apparently been fitted with an Allwinner A64.

The Pocket P.C. ships with 2GB DDR3 and 32GB eMMC and offers an internal microSD slot with support for up to 256GB. You also get 2.4GHz WiFi with Bluetooth 4.0.

There are 4x USB Type-C ports, up from two USB ports on the PocketChip. Two of them are host ports, including one with power delivery (PD) support. There’s also a PD-ready device port and a serial console port. You can plug into audio using third party USB-C headphones, including mic-equipped models that would enable VoIP phone conversations. There’s also a 3200mAh removable battery and an Infineon Optiga Trust M secure element.

The “Pocket P.C. w/ LoRa” version adds a Murata CMWX1ZZABZ-078 LoRa module with support for EU868, US915, and AS923 bands. The Murata module integrates a Semtech SX1276 ultra-long range wireless transceiver. The LoRa model also includes a U-Blox CAM-M8Q GNSS module for location, which can operate concurrently with LoRa.

A very busy YCombinator Hacker News thread on the Pocket P.C. includes discussions about the Next Thing Chip products’ flaws, as well as comments on the new design. It also discusses the pros and cons of other Linux handhelds and phones.

We were tipped to today’s launch by a reader named Mike Caronna. There was also a Nov. 14
Liliputing story about the Pocket P.C., which noted that the use of periods in P.C. might be an attempt to avoid a lawsuit from Microsoft over its defunct Pocket PC handheld. Then again, it might simply be a nod to the Chip, which was annoyingly spelled C.H.I.P.

 
Further information

The Pocket P.C. is available for pre-order at $199, or $299 for the Pocket P.C. w/ LoRa. Shipments are expected starting May 1, 2020. More information may be found at the Pocket P.C. page and more should eventually appear on the Source Parts Popcorn Computer website.
 

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