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I Have a Pinephone, Finally

Bought it!

I finally bought a Pinephone. I was excited about it from the moment I heard about it 2 years ago but held off on buying it for a long while to let the software mature. After using it for one week, I’m overall disapointed with it but don’t regret buying it one bit. I thought it would be closer to a ‘daily driver’ after a few years in development but am still impressed and excited about the possibilites for mobile Linux in the future.

Software

Manjaro KDE

When it arrived, it was preloaded with Manjaro KDE. I used that for a day but it was really rough around the edges. I installed the 1 GB of updates and it was a bit nicer but not to my liking.

PostmarketOS + Phosh

The next day I tried postmarketOS (pmOS). It is a much nicer experience out of the box. Phosh comes closer to a ‘mobile phone’ experience that a typical android/iOS user would expect. Some of the apps are really well suited for mobile. Dino-im is one of the best apps on it. Flatpak is integrated very well into the Software app. Ultimately, I liked it much better than Manjaro KDE but there were not as many apps available for it as I would’ve liked. I also had to give Mobian a try, too!

Mobian + Phosh

Another major issue that really pushed me to install mobian is the easy ability to upgrade the distribution without upgrading from an sd card. The use of Tow Boot, a universal phone bootloader, is very cool, too! Why should every phone distribution have to include its own bootloader? Think of Tow Boot of the grub of linux mobile.

Installing Tow Boot was very easy. I now still have the sd card I installed Mobian from in my phone. If there is ever an issue with my phone, I can hold up (or is it down?) to boot from the sd card. I can also press down while booting up the phone to use my phone as a USB drive.

Using Mobian is very similiar to pmOS because they both use Phosh. In the terminal, I can use my familiar “apt install” debian commands that I’m very used to. One annoyance for me is that Dino-im is still the non-reactive version (pmOS has the reactive version!). Mobian seems to have lots more apps available but debian packagers definitely move a bit slower than other distros in making official packages.

Hardware

The hardware is pretty impressive for an ‘open’ device. It has hardware ‘kill switches’ to turn off things you don’t want. The case is easy to take off and replace. The battery can be removed. Unfortunately, the sd card and sim card cannot be put in without taking out the battery. I really dislike taking out the battery because it is really hard to pry it out. I use a metal ruler to pry it out but am very worried I will pierce the battery one day. The phone heats up a lot with normal use. It doesn’t burn your hand but it gets really warm. The phone only has 3 GB of RAM which gets used up pretty quick. The battery life is OK but cannot last as long as any average Android phone.

Since this is more like a mini linux computer than a mobile phone, you can do lots of the same things you can do with linux. You can run an ssh server on your phone that makes it easy to login to your phone and use the terminal. You can use the convergence usb hub to hook it up to a monitor or keyboard. You could use this in many interesting ways.

It feels like the whole open-source community is building awesome software (LineageOS, apps on F-Droid) but building it for closed hardware. It’s a shame that the open-source community isn’t getting more behind pure linux phones. I hope that development will be helped again with the release of the Pinephone Pro.

Software Fragmentation

I really thought that the software would be in a more polished state after 2 years. There are really too many operating systems available for linux phones - Ubuntu, Manjaro, Mobian, pmOS and another dozen that are smaller. If they worked together more we might be farther along.

There are so many version of different apps. For web browsers alone there is gnome-epiphany, firefox-esr, angelfish, firefox, and a more. The choice is great but what if there were just 3 that worked incredibly fast and fit incredibly well on the small screen?

Why isn’t there an app store that works for all the OS’s? Luckily there is Flatpak and that is actually quite cool.

Final Thoughts

I am proud to own a linux phone and support freedom. I just wish it could be my ‘daily driver’. I’ll talk about my journey into making it a ‘daily driver’ for me in another post.

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