The Pinephone is a smartphone that runs mainline GNU/Linux software instead of Android, and the software is still a work in progress. I've had a Pinephone since about May of 2020 and have been watching the rapid growth of the software ecosystem for it, so this blog post is kind of a "status update" in the form of screenshots of various apps that are already running great on this device.
I'm not a software developer in that space, so props to the whole open source community that's making this all come together!
The question is: "is this phone daily driver capable yet?" and to that I say: it's getting close! I haven't yet tested putting my SIM card into the phone and trying voice calls and SMS texts, but I've heard from others that these are working and reliable for a long time. MMS picture messages are still a work in progress though, and they say the phone doesn't wake up quickly if an incoming phone call comes in while the phone is sleeping.
All that aside, the big apps for me to have working to call this a daily driver phone should include:
And: I have basically all my bases covered and then some! This blog post goes through some of my favorite apps that work well on Linux mobile.
The Pinephone is a new smartphone in the works that will run mainline Linux as its operating system instead of Android, and already has a lot of Linux distributions that run on it. The idea is it would run all the same Linux software you get on desktops, servers or Raspberry Pi's and give you a private alternative to Android devices which send a lot of data up to Google.
They've already released some phones, and I have one that came installed with Ubuntu Touch, and I've been testing the operating systems as they progress. Linux on Mobile is still very early, most graphical apps don't fit on the tiny screen size of a smartphone, battery life can still be improved, camera quality can be improved. But progress is advancing rapidly and there's a growing number of apps that work and provide basic "smart phone" functions: calls, texts, email, calculator, calendar, maps, password manager (KeePass), web browsers.
My dream is to use a Pinephone as my daily driver, but it's still got a long ways to go, and I got impatient and instead installed a de-googled Android ROM onto my existing Pixel phone.
And having used both Linux and Android on mobile, I've determined that a de-googled Android ROM is a very solid alternative to a Linux phone while you wait for Linux phones to get better:
When we're talking about "Linux" the operating system, we really mean one of the thousands of Linux distributions that exist out there. Linux itself is just the kernel -- the lowest level part of the operating system that deals with hardware, drivers, process and memory management. A distribution is all the stuff on top: the software, the desktop environments and so on.
Most Linux distributions can be called "GNU/Linux" because they include the Linux
kernel and a suite of software tools from the GNU
project. These are mostly command-line programs like
less as well as
deeper system components like the GNU C Library
(glibc) which is used by basically every program on the system.
People will often tell you: it doesn't really matter, all these distributions
are running more-or-less the same software and the biggest differences between
them is their package manager and
what format their software is shipped in. On Fedora you might
dnf install firefox
dnf update thunderbird whereas on Debian you would
apt install firefox
or on Alpine you'll
apk add firefox. Just learn
the set of commands for your distro of choice and you're good. Software on
Fedora-like distros come in .rpm packages, Debian-likes come in .deb, but mainly
you'll install software through the official repositories of your distro.
But there's more differences between the distros that they don't tell you about:
The Pinephone is "an open source smart phone supported by all major Linux phone projects." I'd been keeping my eye on these things for a few years now and finally got the Pinephone in my hands earlier this week to try it out.
The idea with devices like this (as well as the Librem 5 phone) is that it's a smartphone that runs standard mainline GNU/Linux software instead of Android. This means root passwords (or sudo), SSH servers, full admin control of the device, and ability to run all the familiar Linux software that you get on a desktop PC, server, or Raspberry Pi type of device.
Importantly this means no Google Play Services or built-in spyware and the user is in control of their device. More privacy, but not necessarily more security.
See also: I'm maintaining a Linux on Phones page on my site's wiki to collect notes, config tweaks, software I found that works and so on.