Pinephone Review: Why the Linux Community NEEDS this Phone

Originally published at: Pinephone Review: Why the Linux Community NEEDS this Phone – LearnLinuxTV

The Pinephone is a Linux phone that is a great idea, but currently flawed and buggy. But despite the quirks and instability, this phone is VERY important. In this review, I’ll give you guys my thoughts on the Pinephone – and whether or not you should consider buying it.

My first posting here. I normally write comments on Youtube, but owing to the size of this one I figured that this would be a better place for posting it.

I’ve been investigating privacy concerns and phone choices over recent months, and frankly I’m getting more upset about the lack of choices as time goes by. Right now the primary choices are Android, iOS, and KaiOS (for dumb phones) where Google owns KaiOS. In each case, the manufacturer is making a product where they relinquish very little control over to the phone’s buyer. This is especially true with Apple’s iOS, where Apple’s emphasis on preventing end-users from repairing their own phone (e.g. cracked touchscreen) is a really anti-consumer strategy. In Google’s case, they have so much data telemetry spying going on, and there isn’t a way to switch it off. If Google offered a Setting: Privacy On/Off button inside the phone allowing the user to choose to stop all telemetry to/from the device - but they don’t. It goes against their business model. Continuing that trend - so you decide - I’ll buy a dumb-phone, and Google controls those items too. Google uses their Android phones to seek out other devices and then report back to Google, with time and location information. They keep their map of wifi access points, phone MAC addresses well and truly up to date. Google know where my wifi router is, inside my home thanks to triangulation. Even if I stopped using any Google equipment, and I changed my router (SSID, MAC address) my neighbour’s Android phones would report the changes back to Google. Google and Apple are using our purchased devices to do their spying for them (and using our processor cycles and internet bandwidth for that purpose).

I’ve been keen on Linux smart devices for many years - Sharp Zaurus handhelds, Nokia N900 (running Maemo Linux), Nokia N9 (running Meego Linux), Linux desktop (I prefer Debian). One of the only reasonable choices for a Linux phone nowadays is to buy a secondhand Android phone (Sony Xperia), unlock the bootloader, and flash Jolla’s SailfishOS onto it. This is still a fairly locked-down Linux option, but it isn’t full of the telemetry like the Big Tech options.

I have started the painful (for me) transition away from using Google services to trying to achieve personal privacy. My approach has been to purchase a decent secondhand phone which has a community-supported build of LineageOS. This build is a very lean version of Android where the LineageOS community has built a system from AOSP, added some useful apps, and not added any Google Services. Then, as an end-user, you can use the phone without needing a Google Account to operate it, and there is no telemetry software onboard. If you choose, you can add GApps services back into the system, which makes LineageOS turn back into regular spying Android, but at least your phone is running recent Android and you’ve cleaned off a bunch of preinstalled junk. Things are proceeding okay with my de-Googled Android, using the F-Droid repository instead of Google Play Store, but I’m still getting very frustrated with it all.

I noticed that Android 6 (on my daily-driver old phone) allows me to run an Rsync Server on that phone where I can sync a decent chunk of the file-system off the phone over wifi to my Linux PC. Trying the same on de-Googled Android 11 (LineageOS 18), and the Rsync Server app is very restricted (no read or write access) to most of the file-system on the phone (making the cool sync app fairly useless on a modern phone). Which brings me back to: Ahhh, Wouldn’t it be great to run a real Linux OS on my daily-driver phone.

I know you’re keen on Manjaro, but it’d be good if you could try out the range of distributions (and display managers) on the Pine Phone. Some of the distros are likely to be much more solid and useable than others. Looking forward to more of your videos examining the phone further.