Linux Smartphones is a website dedicated to covering the emergence of smartphones designed to run free and open source software (FOSS).
While Google’s Android operating system is an open source OS that uses a Linux kernel, many key apps and features are proprietary. That includes the Chrome web browser, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, and the Google Play Store.
Apple’s iOS is even more of a walled garden. The only way to install third-party applications that aren’t available through the App Store is to jailbreak your phone and likely void your warranty.
By contrast, Linux phones like the Pine64 PinePhone and the Purism Librem 5 are FOSS devices that are designed to run GNU/Linux distributions such as Ubuntu Touch, postmarketOS, Manjaro, or PureOS. Developers have worked to make those operating systems phone-friendly by adding support for small touchscreen displays, cellular modems, and other phone hardware. But the user has far more control over the software that runs on these phones.
You can view or alter the source code, run GNU/Linux applications ranging from a terminal to desktop software like LibreOffice, or even switch to another operating system, often with minimal fuss.
These are still early days for Linux phones, and the first devices to ship are still a bit rough around the edges in terms of both hardware and software. As of 2020, these are devices for enthusiasts rather than the general public. Some features may not be fully functional and others may take a little bit of work to get up and running.
There’s also far less software designed specifically for Linux phones than there is for Android or iOS, which could make it hard to find the apps that you may be used to using on a phone. But there are advantages to using Linux on a phone that go beyond the ideological search for software freedom.
Thousands of desktop Linux applications already support devices with ARM-based processors, which means you can install and run those programs on a Linux smartphone. Not all will be optimized for a small screen, but connect a PinePhone or Librem 5 to an external display and you can use your phone like a small, low-power desktop computer.
My plan for the Linux Smartphones website is to highlight some of the latest developments in the Linux phone space and offer news, how-to articles, and other relevant information to Linux phone users as well as folks who may be interested in learning more about this exciting new space but who may not be ready to buy their first phone just yet.