Leaving the “big” ecosystems on your desktop is fairly easy with a Linux laptop or installing Linux manually. Despite this, smartphones seem to be a tough domain for Apple and Google. Are there any Linux smartphones? Let’s have a look at this type of mostly emerging smartphone.
What exactly constitutes a Linux phone?
First, let’s make a technical warning. Both iPhones and Android phones are, in a way, Linux phones, or at least related to Linux. Google has built its Android operating system on top of AOSP, an open source project based on the Linux kernel – the basis of all Linux distributions. The AOSP token is free and available for anyone to modify and use for their own purposes. However, the Android version you are using on your phone is closed source. This means that modifications made by Google are proprietary and not publicly available.
iOS and macOS are descendants of Unix (via the BSD kernel), on which the Linux kernel is also based. However, iOS is largely closed source. Technically, then, iOS and Android are in the same Linux family tree. The main difference is that neither of them maintain the free and open source software tradition. To be clear about what we mean by “Linux phone,” let’s define it as a smartphone with an operating system whose source code remains open source. These phones already exist.
The real Linux phones are there, you just have to find them
If you’re in the market, there are a few retailers that sell smartphones with one or another custom Linux operating system (also called ROM) preinstalled. Some examples are eSolutions with an operating system called /e/OS, Purism with PureOS, Volla with Ubuntu Touch, and Pine64 with a portable version of Manjaro Linux. F (x) tec sells PRO1 X, which actually allows you to choose between LineageOS, Ubuntu Touch, and traditional Android.
These operating systems are often described as being more privacy-friendly than Android and iOS, and some support claiming to have physical kill switches for the microphone and camera. PureOS also boasts Purisms’full convergenceWhich means you can open an app on your phone, then smoothly drag and drop it onto your desktop to continue using it there, and vice versa.
It all might sound great, but start clicking on the links above and if you’re a US reader, you’ll quickly notice something: There aren’t many shipping options outside of Europe and the UK. Additionally, these phones tend to be less than high-end. Don’t expect the great hardware specs offered by the latest iPhones or Samsung Galaxies.
You should also keep in mind that while this isn’t always the case, some of these phones are for enthusiasts, repairmen, and sometimes people with an exceptional need for privacy – not the average consumer. You are likely to encounter problems and may have to have their own troubleshooting service. This is especially true if you’re hoping to run classic Google apps on the phone.
You can turn Android phones into Linux phones
If you are tempted by the idea of trying a smartphone that does not include Google or Apple, it is possible to install the Linux operating system on your Android phone already. Since there are some risks involved with installing a custom ROM, we do not recommend doing this with a phone that you currently rely on. Flashing a ROM is not a simple procedure and involves using tools like ADB.
Undeterred? The best place to start is to see if your phone is supported by looking at the list of /e/OS devices, or the list of LineageOS and Ubuntu Touch. You may also want to check out GrapheneOS and postmarketOS. If you can’t find an attractive Linux ROM that supports your phone, a good plan is to select a device supported by good documentation under your desired operating system. Then you can buy this phone with confidence that your Linux installation should go off without a hitch.
Related: How to install LineageOS on Android