Pinephone Review

My Windows Phone (may it RIP) finally needed to be replaced. I despise iOS and Android, each unintuitive and difficult in their own ways, so I decided to give the Pinephone a try. All that I really need from a phone is to 1) place calls, and 2) send/receive SMS and occasional MMS. Eventually I'll need an authenticator, but I can always carry around the Windows Phone (may it RIP) until then.

Before I do, I'd like to say a few words about the Windows Phone (may it RIP), seven months after it was killed. Microsoft could have been successful with it, but they were too caught up in trying to compete with the iOS and Android. Because Microsoft has been a major player since they were formed, they've never had to learn that you don't have to accept whomever other people think you're competing with -- you can choose your own competitors.

The Windows 10 phone was the best mobile design I've worked with; simple and elegant, it made it easy to do what you wanted and just stayed out of the way. They could have marketed it as the phone for busy people, the people who need to get work done. They could have made well-designed, high quality phones, pushed convergence, and had something business-people would want that made sysadmin's lives easier.

But anyway...

The current Pinephones come with Manjaro Linux and KDE's Plasma Mobile interface.

The Plasma designers clearly put a lot of work into ensuring everything works well, and paid close attention to little details. Actions are gesture-heavy, and there's no documentation to tell you how to do anything -- I found myself just trying various gestures to see if anything happened. If you like iOS or Android, you'll probably like Plasma Mobile. But it just wasn't designed for me.

There were a few things that need improvement -- for example, I'd like to be able to turn an alarm off without entering my PIN first. It was noticeably slow to respond to touch. The haptic feedback on the virtual keyboard needs to be dialed back quite a bit. Occasionally it would just stop responding -- I'd just put it down for 30-45 seconds, then continue whatever I was trying to do.

I switched to PostmarketOS and Phosh. I like the design much better, and the lack of flashiness is probably one reason for the better responsiveness. I've run into more bugs and oddities than Plasma Mobile, but it's already had major improvements in the week I've been using it and I can see further improvements coming. The Welcome screen that opens when you first run is nice.

I'd initially used their stable release, but switched to the edge after the first day. I'm currently trying to figure out what people are working on while creating a list of things I care about; then I'll prioritize my list and get to work. I think I'm going to set up my own package repository and use it both to distribute (at least some of) my phone's configuration, and provide a convenient way to install the applications I'm working on to the phone before seeking to get my work upstreamed. The terminal on a phone just isn't fun.

Recommended applications (thus far):

  • Geary for email; the UI is far better than I'd expected.
  • Lollypop for music; you may want to install gst-plugins-good and gst-plugins-ugly as well.
  • GNOME Password Safe for a KeePass-compatible password database.
  • GNOME Weather for... weather.