Linux Could Set Your Smartphone Free

But be ready to tinker

Key Takeaways

  • A new Linux-powered smartphone could offer more freedom than iOS or Android. 
  • But the $399 PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition doesn’t offer the wide variety of apps that are available with more mainstream phones. 
  • Several other smartphones on the market don’t run iOS or Android.
Someone standing near an LED wall looking at smartphone.

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

Imagine that you could do nearly anything you want with your phone set free from the boundaries of Apple and Android. 

The new Linux-powered PinePhone Pro offers a phone untethered to a company’s ecosystem. The makers of the PinePhone phone claim you’ll even be able to choose different operating systems. 

"As Linux is an open-source operating system with lots of also free software, there won’t be annoying advertising in apps,” Linux developer Niko Sagiadinos told Lifewire in an email interview. “You have total control of your phone and applications as you can decide which mobile user interface you want to use.”

No Restrictions

Pine64 is gearing up to ship the PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition for $399. The PinePhone Pro can run different varieties of ARM-based Linux releases. 

The phone’s specs are solid, although they can’t compare with the top-end phones from better-known brands. The Explorer Edition comes with 4G DDR4 RAM, 128GB of eMMC storage, a 13 megapixel Sony primary camera, an 5MP front camera, a 3.5mm headphone jack with mic, worldwide LTE, and pogo pins for an external keyboard and back cases. The Linux phone also has a Micro SD Card slot for up to 2TB additional storage and a removable 3000 mAh battery. 

The manufacturer claims that tasks such as opening applications, browsing the internet, interacting with the user interface, or watching videos are on par with recent mid-range Android smartphones. When docked and connected to an external monitor and keyboard and mouse, the PinePhone Pro can be used to surf the web, use the terminal or an office suite, watch 1080p videos, and even light photo editing. 

For enthusiasts willing to take some extra steps, Sagiadinos said a Linux phone could offer many advantages over iOS and Android. For example, a Linux phone comes without unnecessary but non-deletable apps on your device. Some techies like to 'root' their Android phones to give them extra capabilities not approved by the manufacturer, but that wouldn’t be necessary with a Linux phone. 

If you’re looking for a phone that’s not running iOS or Android, the new PinePhone isn’t your only option. For example, there’s the Librem 5, a smartphone that focuses on user privacy while featuring an open-source operating system called PureOS. There’s also the Pro 1X which has a separate QWERTY keypad that runs Linux, Ubuntu Touch, Lineage OS, and Android. The Volla Phone runs the Ubuntu Touch operating system, so it should be easier for beginners to use than other Linux phones. The Volla has an Octa-core MediaTek processor along with a 4700 mAh battery.

Caveat Emptor?

But even the manufacturer of the PinePhone says Linux isn't for everyone. 

"Contemporary mobile Linux operating systems have a way to go before they can be considered true alternatives to Android or iOS," Pine64 writes on its website. "While mobile Linux isn't in a state that could satisfy most mainstream electronics consumers, we recognize that a sizable portion of our community is ready to make the jump to a Linux-only smartphone today. The PinePhone Pro has the raw horsepower to be your daily driver, granted you're ready to accept the current software limitations."

Pine Phone Pro docked to a computer.


Allan Buxton, the director of forensics with the cybersecurity company Secure Data Recovery Services, told Lifewire in an email interview that a Linux phone could be a better choice than Android because it could circumvent Google's user data collection and advertising practices. For example, he noted, Google does not permit ad blocker extensions on Chrome for Android. 

Buyer beware, though. 

"Like all computing environments aimed at consumers though, Linux isn't a feature so much as a question mark," Buxton said. "They'll need to develop some incredible features in order to capture growth from the enthusiast market into anything approaching a market share."

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