Let’s are honest, Linux phones have a long way to go. We are living in an age where almost every smartphone that exists is controlled by one or two companies on the software side. While there are tons of hardware vendors fighting their arse off to conquer the market, the OS choice is pretty limited. Almost every third competitor that came has long gone and those included some mobile Linux OSs too. But still, in recent years, we are witnessing a sudden rise of Linux powered smartphones. One of them is Pinephone CE.
Guess when it all started and how the first Linux phone looks like. I’m giving you an image. This is a phone by Motorola that is powered by Linux from 2003. It had internet functionalities, media players, calling, and much more. It ran Java apps that were built specifically for it. Motorola chose Linux for few causes, such as no cost for the operating system, faster development, and control. We have seen many Linux phones after that. The Nokia N9 and N950 ran Linux based Meego OS and were very successful at that time. There are some modern devices that ran Linux. Some models from Meizu runs Ubuntu touch, a discontinued project by Canonical later picked by the community and reincarnated as UBPorts. And that brings us to our most current options, Librem 5 and Pinephone CE. But the thing is, all these years between, and we haven’t yet seen a worthy opponent for the big guys.
Some of you may already know about Pinephone CE, the community edition of Pinephone. It is being manufactured by Pine64 and maintained by the community. It’s not a great phone, and the specs aren’t that good either. But its the first iteration and I hope everything will improve soon. Pinephone comes with various OSs including PostmarketOS, UBPorts, Manjaro Mobile and etc.
The sweetest promise for this device is, an Android port is coming. And if you compare it to Librem 5, it’s priced relatively low. Librem 5 costs about seven hundred dollars while Pinephone CE costs about a hundred and fifty bucks. If you want to check out the specs comparison of both of these devices, here is an illustration from OMG Ubuntu.
As you can see, Pinephone is close to Librem 5 in spec but priced nowhere near high as what Librem 5. So the majority will go for a Pinephone instead of Librem 5. I hope Pinephone released another model with 4GB of RAM and 64 GB of faster storage.
I personally don’t want to buy any of these devices, yet I want one. These are sort of a novelty in the current situation and as I said earlier, Linux phones have long ways to go. So while I won’t use a Linux phone for my daily driver, I still feel the interest to own one. To be honest, a desktop OS on the phone is too powerful and you can have more control over it. You are no longer locked out of accessing your mobile operating system and you can do stuff that is interesting.
Let’s just skip iOS and talk about Android. While it is an open-source operating system and there are definitely options if you want a privacy friendly mobile OS, it is still locked down. Also, you can’t do much with Android despite it having a Linux kernel. On Linux powered phone such as Pinephone, you can dual-boot different OSs and run whatever you want. There is a community where people can share ideas and make great things. Current mobile OSs lack that thing.
You can start a server with your phone from anywhere, run terminal apps right in your mobile, you can crack wifi passwords without a laptop. You can do many things with these devices. The possibilities are endless if we get a good device with better hardware and modern functionality and support.
It won’t, yet. If I want a privacy friendly device right now for $150, I would buy a Redmi note 8 and flash /e/OS in it. It will solve my privacy issues and I can keep my vast catalog of Android apps. Currently, there are many apps that are convergent and can run both on Desktop and mobile well. But many apps are hideous when you try to run them on mobile.
Also, there aren’t many apps geared for mobile Linux devices. Heck, Lubrem 5, and Pinephone themselves are not yet ready for the majority. So there won’t be a solution to this issue anytime soon. There are still many issues with the OS. While UBPort is much polished and good looking, other ones such as Librem OS and postmarket looks unpolished and ugly. Some have performance issues and break on the mobile view. Luckily, Pinephone CE is available with UBPorts and this is a huge thing for those who want a unified mobile experience. UBPorts have a good amount of mobile apps too and you can check them out here.
There are some issues with these devices too
The display on Pinephone is not good. It feels yellowish and too warm. The LCD panel isn’t that great and the screen to body ratio is relatively low. It looks like a phone from 2016 and is not something very aesthetic or visually pleasing. Both Librem 5 and Pinephone is chunky. But, Librem 5 looks like a rugged brick phone while Pinephone is tolerably thick. Processors in these devices can’t compete with modern smartphone chipsets and I don’t know how Librem 5 is that much pricy with this kind of SoC. I think they want to spend the earned money on making more powerful devices, but who knows. Also, the memory and storage amount isn’t great either.
While I have many complaints about Pinephone, I do have high hopes that it will continue to grow and the community will find out great ways to improve the device and the software experience. It can be a big thing in the near future and manufacturers have to work harder to bring more powerful devices. If you ask me what kind of specs and features do I want in a Pinephone, my answer will be like this.
- Pinephone with two models, a smaller compact one and one with a bigger display.
- A full-screen display isn’t necessary, I still like the Oneplus 5T display. So a Pinephone with AMOLED with such kind of display would fit nice.
- Pinephone running on modern SoC such as MediaTek Dimensity 800 and 4/6/8 GB of RAM would be bonkers.
- 128 GB+ UFS 3+ storage with disk encryption.
- UBPort with the latest Ubuntu and more polishes.
- Fingerprint unlocking feature.
- A good camera with better camera software and state of the art computational photography algorithm.
- Support for 5G and Dual-SIM support.
Currently, we are far behind this but I really hope some company will do it. And then I will hop in to buy one as my daily driver.
Pinephone CE is a great device if you are an avid Linux enthusiast and a tinkerer. It’s modestly priced and comes with many optional OSs. Linux on mobile devices is a powerful tool and you can do things others can’t with locked-down mobile OSs. But I think most of us will have to wait before we get to the point where Linux powered smartphones can replace our current smartphones. I have high hope it will turn into reality in the near future.