PinePhone OSes: postmarketOS

postmarketOS Jun 16, 2020

postmarketOS, the supreme Linux distro for phones. Even iPhones can run postmarketOS, but does that mean it's good. Let's find out.

History

The history of postmarketOS is not very interesting. It was launched on May 6th 2017, with support for the Nexus 4 and Galaxy S2, with a Weston graphical user interface. Overtime, postmarketOS got support for more and more desktop environments such MATE, XFCE, GNOME, Phosh, Plasma, Plasma Mobile, and soon, even Lomiri. postmarketOS also added support for more and more phones, starting with only two phones, and today booting on over 200 phones.

Installation

Installing postmarketOS is a lot more difficult to install than most other OSes because you have to build it yourself. It is very customizable and supports almost any UI you want, but because of the extra options, it can be harder to install. As a summery, you have to install pmbootstrap, configure pmbootstrap, build an image and flash it to the SD card. I have a full guide on how to do that here.

UI

It's kind of hard to discuss the UI since you can use whatever UI you want on it.. You can choose a desktop UI like MATE, Xfce, GNOME, and Plasma. Or you can use a mobile UI like Phosh, Plasma Mobile. The choice is up to your. Plasma Mobile has the most features, but in my experience it is very buggy. Phosh is less buggy, and feels more complete, but Phosh is also very new, and GTK apps are still being worked on for it.

Apps

Default postmarketOS Phosh Apps

If you chose Phosh as your UI, there are 7 apps preinstalled. A phone and messaging app, GNOME Web, Cheese, Extensions, S ettings, and a terminal emulator. I don't know why extensions is preinstalled because Phosh can't run GNOME Extensions, and Cheese also doesn't do anything because it can't detect a camera. There also isn't an app store preinstalled, so you have to install gnome-software in order to install apps without using the command line.

Default Plasma Mobile Apps

If you chose Plasma Mobile as your UI, there are 9 apps installed. A file manager (Index), Kirigami Gallery, Phone Book, Pix, Spacebar (messanging app), a terminal emulator, a phone app, web browser, and camera app. Interestingly Plasma settings does not come preinstalled by default, which means it is impossible to connect to wifi without using nmtui. Like Phosh, Plasma Mobile does not come with an app store, so you would have to install discover.

If you install postmarketos-ui-plasma-mobile-extras instead of postmarketos-ui-plasma-mobile, than you will also get a not taking app, a XMMP/Jabbor client, a public transport app, a text editor, a document viewer, an email client, a music player and calendar. I kind of wish that phosh got it's own postmarketos-ui-phosh-extras, but unfortunately, it doesn't.

postmarketOS is based on Alpine Linux, and uses Alpine Linux's repository for most of the apps, and there are a lot of apps missing on Alpine Linux's repository, so you are going to have to use Flatpaks for a lot of them, despite postmarketOS not offically supporting them. Some of the biggest missing apps I noticed were Lollypop Music Player, and Pure Maps.

Web Browsing

On postmarketOS with Phosh, GNOME Web is very slow, and when it eventually does load websites, it is very choppy when you scroll around. But atleast the UI works well on GNOME Web. Firefox's UI does not fit on the screen in portrait mode and many websites get cut off. Firefox also crashes frequently, and the browser is set to a desktop user agent, so you get desktop sites (unless the site can adapt to a small screen). Fortunately, if Firefox doesn't crash, websites run great for the most part. On the Plasma Mobile side, Anglefish opens, and the UI seems mobile friendly enough, but I can't get any websites to load. So the web browsing experience on postmarketOS needs some improvement.

Community

postmarketOS has a very big and active community. From Matrix and IRC, to Twitter and Mastodon, and of course a Reddit community because there's a subreddit for everything. But postmarketOS is missing a forum with GitLab issues, Reddit, and IRC/Matrix posing as somewhat of a replacement. Luckily, there is a PinePhone forum section for postmarketOS.

Conclusion

I believe postmarketOS is a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of operating system. It can run on more than 200 devices, but not a single one supports every feature (the PinePhone is almost there). It also supports almost every GUI you can think of, but it's also missing several mobile apps.

I think postmarketOS is worth giving a shot, but keep in mind, that it's not going to usable as a daily driver OS, even in comparison to other PinePhone OSes.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.