So I recently grabbed a PinePhone, because my old Galaxy S9+ has been dying a slow death. The old one started out being finnicky about docking to the car, then charging became an intermittent hassle, then the screen started to die slowly. So it was time to get a replacement. Might as well go with something very different and out of place, eh? Why not take a look at the only generally available smartphone that was running an upstream version of Linux?
So I grabbed a PinePhone back at the end of August. It took until late September for delivery to go out. Pine64 is shipping them out to the US in batches. But waiting a month isn’t so bad when it’s a device you’ve been wanting.
So the phone arrives, I promptly pop out my nano SIM, place it into the micro SIM adapter, and slide it into the phone. I boot up, connect Manjaro to my home Wifi, and am ready to upadte. But… I have no idea how to do that. I’m a Fedora user, and Manjaro is not built on the same technology. OK, so I finally figure that out.
sudo pacman -Syyu
Boom, everything is up to date. I disable Wifi, and try to bring up a browser to test out mobile data. No luck. I’m not getting anything.
As an AT&T customer, I stopped by the local AT&T store and got them to register the phone’s IMEI and get a new SIM just in case there’s an incompatibility there. Nope, there’s nothing. But I’m able to make a phone call. So that’s promising.
After a week of back and forth between Fedora and Manjaro, I did finally get
data working, sometimes, in Manjaro after I ran
from the terminal. It’s still more flaky than in Fedora, but it does get
the job done some of the time.
As I mentioned above, I’m a Fedora user. So I went and grabbed the Fedora image based on Btrfs. I burned it to a spare SD card I have, and dropped that into the back of the PinePhone. One nice thing about the PinePhone is that it will boot off the SD card if there is a bootable one in place before it drops back to the internal ROM. This allows me to test out as many different distros as I want, easily, without needing to walk through the slightly more complicated process of burning the images to the internal memory or losing the step there.
So I boot up Fedora and run its updates.
sudo dnf update -y
Error. There is an existing package,
pinephone-helpers, that cannot
update from 0.2.0 to 0.3.0 because it is… conflicting with itself? OK,
that’s weird. But we can work around that very easily.
sudo dnf remove pinephone-helpers
sudo dnf update -y
sudo dnf install pinephone-helpers
Now, my system is fully updated (as of time of writing, these images are in Fedora Rawhide, which will become Fedora 36; 35 is about to land in stable). Immediately I noticed an improvement over Manajaro’s Plasma Mobile.
First, and immediately obvious to me, Phosh has a button in the lower right that makes it easy to toggle the on screen keyboard on and off. This is a huge boost to usability. In Plamsa Mobile the keyboard will sometimes fail to appear when tapping into a text box, most frequently in the browser. This little button in Phosh, though, allows me to quickly bring up the keyboard without having to blur/focus/blur/focus until the phone brings up the keyboard of its own volition. HUGE usability bonus that Plasma KDE would do well to emulate.
Secondly, and maybe more significantly, Fedora quickly brought up mobile data on AT&T’s network without a hiccup. No switches, no changes, no questions to ask or forms to fill out. It just comes up and works! So, that big issue is resolved.
Except for one thing. I need to chat with my wife, so I gave her a ring from the phone. No audio. She can’t hear me, I can’t hear her. Huh, that seems a bit strange. Phone can do everything but make calls? So I pop into the settings menu and bring up the sound page. Fedora can’t even see the audio hardware in the device. That sounds like the root of the problem.
Lots of other people are over in the IRC room for #fedora-mobility are having issues with their audio switching between calls and playback when the phone app starts, but no one else is having absolutely no luck in the audio department. But it’s not a hardware problem, as the audio works just fine in Manjaro.
Based on the discussions in the room, I swap out pipewire-pulseaudio for plain pulseaudio, then reboot.
sudo dnf swap pipewire-pulseaudio pulseaudio
Suddenly my audio is working great, and the Settings app can see the audio devices on the phone! Huzzah! But it won’t switch to call audio unless you do some finagling on the command line after every reboot. Developers are working on that.
Bring the experience together
So here I am, on the one hand I have Fedora
- Audio only working with pulseaudio (funcitonal but laggy)
- Call audio still won’t go through, without some finagling
- Data works marvelously
- Phosh is a delight
While on Manjaro
- Audio works fine, including with calls
- Data started working after I ran the helper scripts, but is flaky
- Plasma Mobile is still tough to navigate with
Overall, I prefer the keyboard on Plasma Mobile more, I just wish it was easier to control like the one in Phosh is. I admit that I’m much more accustomed to Gnome and its apps and navigation than I am to KDE, as I have exclusively been in Gnome for most of the past decade. So there is a familiarity there. The same goes for Fedora versus the Arch world that I’m not really familiar with.
I haven’t come to a final conclusion which operating system I will use. Some of me wants to stick with Fedora, both because of their upstream first mentality, and because I am already intimately familiar with their systems and setup.
Anyway, that’s a whole lot of stream of consciousness of what I’ve been thinking regarding my Pine Phone, and of course the Pro is now recently announced and I would love to get my hands on that, too, if the existing one proves to be a reasonable daily driver.