Tested: PinePhone Braveheart - Sat, Aug 15, 2020
Linux on MY phone? It's more likely than you think!
With lengthy shipping delays due to COVID-19 I finally received my PinePhone Braveheart Ubports Edition. I took the time to try several software options and configurations to see how usable it can be.
I received the Ubports Edition which was installed out of the box. The UI design is fairly polished, and I find the interface reminiscent of Android but with that Ubuntu touch. Pun intended. The app selection is very limited, being mostly webapps, and I couldn’t get the native Linux app support working.
I don’t think you’re supposed to do this, but instead of running an update through the System menu, I did an apt upgrade after remounting the system to r/w. Everything seemed to be mostly fine but I had trouble with my screen staying on even when the device was locked after that.
Overall I found Ubports frustrating to use as an advanced user. I want the power of a full Linux system, and Ubports is too limiting.
First thing I noticed was the installer has some neat features like encryption and ssh out of the box. I quickly learned about the Phosh mobile shell, it’s exactly what I expected from a Linux phone - a desktop-like experience where I can run full Linux apps. I discovered that I strongly prefer using Gnome GTK3 applications on a touchscreen. Those huge menu bars actually make sense on a phone but you will need to edit the Phosh configuration to set scaling from 2x to 1x. Otherwise, many applications will be unusable.
Overall PostmarketOS was great.
As a NixOS user on the desktop, I was excited to try it on my phone. I had no trouble building my initial image and copying it to a MicroSD card, but unfortunately it doesn’t do much if it’s not configured and I had trouble getting any usable configuration to build.
I have hope this will become a great option in the future.
Manjaro Plasma Experience
I think the Plasma Mobile experience has a lot going for it, the interface is good to use but I discovered a lot of issues with this release. The brightness can be set so low that the display turns off. The KDE software manager is unstable, so I uninstalled packagekit and just used the terminal. I was also getting these weird lines on the screen.
I found this release disappointing, but Plasma seems like it could end up being a good UI in the future.
Arch Linux ARM Experience
This has been my distro of choice for the PinePhone so far. It’s a lot like the PostmarketOS experience but better with all the advantages of using Arch Linux. With full access to the AUR you’ve got more software than you could shake a stick at.
Out of the Software options I’ve tried so far, I would rank them like this for an advanced user:
Best: Arch Linux ARM
Okay: Manjaro Plasma, Ubports
For an amateur user I can only suggest Ubports, it’s the only system that is super user-friendly.
There’s a wide range of other options I haven’t tried yet, including:
- Mobian (Debian)
- KDE Neon
You can find a full list of PinePhone software releases here.
Every application needs to be tested. For example media players like deadbeef, vlc, and mpv do not work well with a touch screen or Phosh. However, Gnome Video (totem) seems to be well suited for mobile use.
There’s also one annoying problem that every OS has had, when any audio plays the speaker makes an annoying high pitch noise.
Is the PinePhone ready as a daily driver? Not yet, but it’s certainly fun to tinker with.
Want to contact me? You can do so on Matrix @noderunner:matrix.org