Troubles with the PinePhone Keyboard and a disappointing mitigation

Troubles with the PinePhone Keyboard and a disappointing mitigation

April 23, 2024
pinephonekeyboard, PinePhone

The melting plastic and the smoke #

The PinePhone keyboard contains a battery, which will be used to charge the PinePhone when the keyboard is attached. Althrough there are existing warnings on the pine64 wiki which sums up to ‘don’t charge or connect anything to your pinephone’s type C interface when the keyboard is attached’, my two pinephone keyboards still managed to fry themselves, with one releasing stinky magic smoke and the other melting the plastic around the pogo pins on the pinephone backplate.

This all happened while the pinephone’s type C interface being physically block when attached to the keyboard. In the first case, the keyboard’s controller PCB blew up when I tried to charge it, in the latter case the keyboard somehow overheated and melted the plastic near the pogo interface on the phone side.

Pine64 provided me a free replacement keyboard after multiple emails back and forth, but according to Pine64 there will be no more free replacement for me in future, and there is no guarantee that this will not happen to my replacement keyboard.

The cost for replacing all the fried parts with spare parts from the Pine64 store is about 40 USD (pogo pins + backplate + keyboard PCB), and considering this problem is likely to happen again, I don’t think purchasing those parts is a wise decision.

Mitigation #

Both the melting plastic and the magic smoke originated from the fact that charges are constantly shuffled around when the keyboard is attached to the pinephone, and since the keyboard can function independently from the battery, we can disconnect and remove the battery from the keyboard case to make sure it will not blow up again. After such precedure the keyboard will keep functioning althrough the keyboard-attached pinephone might flip over much more easily due to the lightened keyboard base. Be aware that the keyboard isn’t designed to be taken apart, and doing so will likely result in scratches on the case. As for me, I’d much rather have a keyboard case without builtin battery than have something that can overheat or blow up.