PinePhone OSes: Mobian

Mobian Jul 04, 2020

Mobian has been getting a lot of praise from the PinePhone community. But is all that praise warranted? Well, it might be.


On February 4th, the PinePhone developer a-wai announced Debian+Phosh, a build of Debian with Phosh and some Linux applications. It worked exclusively on the PinePhone and used the Phosh desktop enviorment. There were not any special repositories or packages, and the bootloader and kernel were "binaries squeezed into the image".

After around 3 months, on May 14th, the Debian+Phosh team announced Mobian. Mobian was a still Debian with Phosh, but it now had a custom repo, and some changes under the hood in order to make Mobian easier to port to new devices. Right now, Mobian only supports the PinePhone, but in the future, they would like to port it to the PineTab and Librem 5.

Thanks to a-wai for answering some questions I had about the history of Mobian.


Installing Mobian is very easy, download the img, plug in the microSD card, and flash it using something like balenaEtcher.


If you want to flash it to the EMMC, download the Jumpdrive img, flash that to the SD card, insert the SD card into your PinePhone, plug in your PinePhone to your computer and boot your PinePhone, and that should give your computer access to both the SD card and the EMMC. Than you can flash Mobian to the EMMC using Etcher.

You may need to use a tool such as Gparted to expand the partition to be more than 16 gigabytes if your microSD card is bigger than 16 gigabytes.


The Phosh UI

Mobian is using Phosh desktop environment. Phosh is a shell that uses GTK applications instead of QT applications like on Plasma Mobile and Lomiri. It's UI is really simple to navigate. To go to the overview, click on the arrow button on the bottom. The overview will show up with your open apps at the top, as well as a list of all your installed apps under it. If you tap on the status bar on the top, it will bring down a notification center like panel. I do wish that the notification center was a swipe down instead of a tap, because I find myself frequently opening that notification center when I am trying to reach something on the headerbar.

Given that Phosh takes advantage of the GNOME Ecosystem significantly, most of the apps follow the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines, so basically all apps have a similar design. If you use Phosh with GNOME apps, the experience in terms of design, can rival iOS.


Preinstalled apps on Mobian

Mobian comes with a lot of preinstalled apps out of the box. It ships with everything you might need out of the box, but there's a couple pre-installed apps that are very similar to each other. Mobian ships with both GNOME Web and Firefox, which means there are two preinstalled web browsers, and Mobian ships with Purism's messanging app, Fractal, and Telegram which means there is 3 messaging apps.

Most GTK apps will run flawlessly on Mobian, although some apps are a bit slow because they are made for the Librem 5 which is a device with better specs. QT apps also run surprising well on Mobian despite using Phosh as a DE.

One issue with Mobian is that adding Flatpaks is a huge pain. Flatpak is preinstalled, but it doesn't come preinstalled with Flathub, so you have to manually add Flathub. Also, for whatever reason, Flatpaks take forever to install. It took me almost 40 minutes just to install PureMaps off of Flathub, so installing Flatpaks is a nightmare.

Web Browsing

Like on postmarketOS, the web browser experience needs to improve. Both GNOME Web and Firefox are very slow, and scrolling is very choppy on GNOME Web. Although Firefox is slow, Firefox seems crash less on Mobian than it does on postmarketOS, and the UI adapts slightly better to mobile on Mobian because it puts the extra buttons in a menu. Overall web browsing isn't great on Mobian, but it is slightly better than on postmarketOS.


Mobian has a semi-active Matrix channel, but that's the only community space for Mobian other than GitLab and the Mobian Wiki. Mobian's Matrix is decently active, but it doesn't compare to the likes of the postmarketOS and UBports communities.


Mobian is a great choice for those who want Debian on the PinePhone, and a great choice for people who want to try out Phosh. It still is still a bit buggy with Phosh, but not nearly as buggy as some of the other Phosh OSes I've tried. Overall, check out Mobian, it is a very good OS.

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