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Linux Distributions

6 Best Mobile Linux Distros & Interfaces for PinePhone

Best Linux Distros for PinePhone
Written by Martins D. Okoi
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The Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53 64-bit SOC-powered PinePhone is a low-spec, 100% hackable smartphone developed by Pine64, a company famous for its affordable laptops and single-board computers.

In my last post on the PinePhone I mentioned that it has support for all Linux Phone-centric projects that there are and today, I have thought it wise to compile a list of the most convenient ones to use.

So, in case you want to experiment with running several interfaces on the device or you want to use the PinePhone for your next project, here is a list (in alphabetic order) of the distros with which you can get up and running with the easiest.

1. LuneOS

LuneOS is the product of the renovation of webOS from scratch using the popular Qt framework among other technologies. As the story goes, webOS was an operating system developed and maintained by a company, Palm, in 2009 until when HP bought it and repackaged it as the operating system for the HP TouchPad and a handful of other devices. 50 days later, HP discontinued all webOS devices, open-sourced the OS’s code and renamed it Open webOS.

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WebOS Ports is an open-source Open webOS-based firmware distribution for smartphones and tablets that aims to bring Open webOS to all available (preferably open) devices. Several LuneOS ports of webOS have been made since then and if you enjoy using webOS and don’t mind the software limitations that currently impede its complete acceptance by the general public then you should check LuneOS out on your PinePhone.

2. Phosh

Phosh (short for phone shell) is a purely free and open-source Wayland shell for GNOME on mobile devices that aims to bring the awesomeness of the GNOME desktop environment to mobile phone users in an easy-to-use prototyping template.

From what I gather about Phosh, it is in heavy development and expected to make its debut by accompanying the release of GNU/Linux smartphones. It is, however, the interface that has been chosen to be used on the Liberem 5 with a touch-oriented design of the popular GNOME DE.

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If you love GNOME and are versed enough in the technicalities of working with shells, then, by all means, give Phosh a try and tell us how your experience goes.

3. postmarketOS

postmarketOS is an open-source mobile operating system that aims to end the problem of receiving firmware updates shortly after buying new phones once and for all while ensuring that users are not restricted by the limitations ingrained in the Android OS or even worse, iOS. It is developed with privacy and security-centric free software at the heart of its philosophy and completely avoids the Android build system by maintaining minimalism in specific parts but yet keeping one device package, among other design approaches.

postmarketOS is based on Alpine Linux (an extremely tiny OS package) and benefits from its ability to run efficiently on any Linux distribution while allowing its users to handpick the features they do or do not want on their mobile system. It runs nicely on at least 100 devices including the Google Nexus 5 and the Nokia N900 so the PinePhone is another candidate.

4. Plasma Mobile

Plasma Mobile is an open-source user interface for mobile devices running on top of a Linux distribution with the aim of making the device on which it runs a fully hackable device. Thanks to its multi-platform toolkit Qt, the Plasma Shell, and the KDE Frameworks extensions, it is built to allow for familiarity and efficiency on desktop computers as well as on mobile phones.

Plasma Mobile is flexible enough to adapt to your user needs in the same way the desktop environment is, it ships with note-worthy applications like Ofono, Telepathy, Pulseaudio, and Kirigami, and offers a silky-smooth interface thanks to its implementation of KWin and Wayland. If you love the KDE Plasma desktop environment then you might just love Plasma Mobile on your PinePhone.

5. Sailfish OS

Sailfish OS is a free and independent mobile operating system built with corporations and governments in mind. It is flexible, secure, adaptable, and privacy-centric to ensure that user data remains completely under their own control.

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Sailfish OS features a beautiful user interface, is compatible with Android, and has the record for the only mobile operating system offering a regional licensing model that can be adapted to specific customer needs.

It is currently in its third major release and is still heavily contributed to by members of the open-source community with both a free version for flashing devices and a paid version for a select number of smartphones with extra features. This makes it excellent for both testing and commercial purposes.

6. Ubuntu Touch

Ubuntu Touch is the mobile version of the popular Ubuntu operating system and it is developed and maintained by a group of passionate volunteers around the world with a single aim of providing mobile phone users with a unique computing experience on their smart devices.

It exists to materialize the initial vision of Canonical’s Ubuntu Touch project by bringing convergence (using the smartphone like a desktop by connecting it to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard) to smartphone users while respecting their privacy and delivering several popular demand applications such as Telegram, Terminal, OpenStore for installing apps, and Dekko 2 for email tasks.

Ubuntu Touch is a neat Linux distro not only if you want to experiment with the PinePhone but also for if you want an alternative to Android or iOS that provides the pleasure of an Ubuntu-ish experience in the palm of your hands.

Why is it convenient to use the PinePhone? Well, apart from running several copy-left-containing Linux mobile operating systems, most of its components are screwed in rather than soldered in place, making it an ideal specimen for experimental uses given that it can be dismantled in under 5 minutes and it is significantly cheaper than its $700 Liberem 5 and $1199 Necuno alternatives.

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About the author

Martins D. Okoi

Martins Divine Okoi is a graduate of Computer Science with a passion for Linux and the Open Source community. He works as a Graphic Designer, Web Developer, and programmer.