As the end of 2020 approaches, Linux phones still occupy a tiny niche in the smartphone market. But it’s a growing niche. Pine64 has shipped thousands of PinePhones. The Purism Librem 5 has finally begun to ship. And a handful of other phones powered by Linux are starting to ship as well.

While the software that runs on these phones is probably best described as a work in progress, it seems like that progress is accelerating as more phones designed for Linux hit the streets.

Case in point: at least three week two different Linux-for-the-PinePhone teams released major updates to their operating systems.

Manjaro ARM Beta 4 with Phosh for the PinePhone

The Manjaro ARM team has released their four beta just about two months after their first. This release brings faster wake from sleep, longer battery life, better support for the USB-C convergence dock, automatic media mounting, and more.

Some of those improvements come courtesy of these changes:

Other updates include support for double-tap on the lockscreen thanks to a fix to the Phoc Wayland display compositor, a newer version of the Megapixels camera app, and updates to a number of other software packages.

Despite these improvements, there are still some known issues. You might miss some incoming phone calls because it can take too long for the phone to wake from deep sleep. The mic mute button doesn’t work in phone calls. The Megapixels app might not display your back camera. And, as with most Linux distributions designed for phones, you can run many desktop applications on a PinePhone running Manjaro ARM… but the user interface may not be well suited for mobile devices.

You can download Manjaro ARM Beta 4 with Phosh for the PinePhone from OSDN. There are also builds of Manjaro ARM with the Lomiri and Plasma Mobile user interfaces, but these aren’t as up to date and they’re still considered alpha.

Or you can read more about this update in the release announcement at the Manjaro forum.

Mobian December 15 release

This operating system also uses the Phosh user interface, so it looks a lot like Manjaro ARM (and a number of other GNU/Linux distributions for phone). But under the hood this operating system is based on Debian (Manjaro is based on Arch).

The mid-December release features a number of improvements, including:

  • Support for 60 Hz display refresh rates
  • Improved touchscreen response time
  • Better WiFi stability and power management
  • An on-device installer, allowing you to choose your own password on first boot rather than using the default 1234
  • The installer also supports setting up full disk encryption
  • New power management features

The first three items in the list are backports from Megi’s custom kernel for Pine64 devices. While Mobian does not use that kernel, this build incorporates some of its features.

And the last item on the list is a power management driver developed by megi, but instead of including it in the kernel, the Mobian team has moved it to userspace (since it’s a feature that’s unlikely ever to be included in the upstream kernel anyway).

The latest Mobian build for the PinePhone can be downloaded from the Mobian project page. There’s also a new image for the PineTab Linux tablet.

Or you can read more about this release at the Pine64 forum.

OpenSUSE Tumpleweed ARM Phosh December 16 release

Another mobile port of a desktop operating system that uses Purim’s open source Phosh phone shell user interface, openSUSE for the PinePhone has been under development since earlier this year.

A recent OpenSUSE blog post describes how the project came about, and there’s info about OpenSUSE for the PinePhone at the OpenSUSE wiki.

This week, the developers released a new build that, among other things:

  • Updates Phosh to version 0.7.0, Phoc to version 0.5.1, and Squeekboard to version 1.11.0.
  • Adds a boot animation for startup and shutdown
  • Improves phone call audio
  • Allows Bluetooth to work properly
  • Allows users to choose their keyboard language during setup

There are still a few key things that don’t work with OpenSUSE on a PinePhone. You cannot yet use GPS, and the accelerometer is not detected, so automatic screen rotation doesn’t work.

You can find more details in the release notes, or download the latest version of OpenSUSE for the PinePhone from the OpenSUSE website.

While all of these new OS images bring a number of improvements, they’re all still very much works in progress and development continues. Just as I was finishing writing this article, I saw that Phosh version 0.7.1 was just released, bringing several bug fixes and new features.

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