I’ve run Linux on my personal laptop as a daily driver for many years now, and have grown to love the freedom and flexibility it has given me. Specifically how customisable it is, being able to trust that all the software running on it has my best interests as a user at heart, and the wonderful daily development experience offered by a unix environment.
The only device to perhaps get more use is my phone. My phone is like my laptop in many ways. It’s portable, runs the Linux kernel, and is a critical component of my daily computing needs. However, it is built and programmed by what is probably the largest advertising company on Earth, and one whose reputation for respecting privacy has been on a continuous decline for at least 10 years.
So why do I do most of my communication on a device I’m unable to fully inspect or customise, when that device is replaced more frequently than my laptop and probably costs more? Lack of choice is the obvious answer, which is why I’ve been excitedly monitoring the PinePhone from a distance for a while now.
I want to have a phone that I can trust fully, but it needs to work as a daily driver in 2021 for someone who isn’t willing to be cut off from modern conveniences.
The hardware side of the PinePhone Pro is coming along very nicely but the software sadly isn’t ready for me to daily drive it. So I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what it would take for an open source phone to be ready for me to daily drive.
These are the requirements I’ve come up with:
1. Phone calls
On most handsets, or at least the ones I have spare, the leading Linux distributions aimed at phones do not support making phone calls. This isn’t laziness on the part of the developers, but down to the myriad of undocumented GSM chips in modern hardware and a lack of open source drivers for them.
2. Common instant messaging platforms
I love irc, and I wish it were still the standard for instant messaging, or that xmpp were still loved and supported by the walled garden builders, but unfortunately most people I message on a daily basis through my phone are using Signal or WhatsApp. I want to use an open source device but if that means dropping out of family chats, that’s a deal breaker. I’m not prepared to ostracise myself from non-FOSS communities over this.
3. Web browsing
I’m going to be missing out on a bunch of common apps. That’s a given, but fortunately most services that I use also provide a mobile web interface. So having a decent web browser, preferably with an ad-blocker is a must have workaround.
4. Email client
Like most people, mobile access to my email is critical, whether that’s for accessing theatre tickets or looking up appointment details on the go, it’s mandatory. The client needs to support IMAP and SMTP, and cache my inbox locally so that I can still pull up tickets or similar when I don’t have signal.
5. Full disk encryption
This is also a requirement on my laptop. These devices contain a lot of sensitive information, like our email inboxes or recently taken photos, and are easily stolen or lost. If that should ever happen, I want the peace of mind to know that whatever data is on the device is secure.
The following items are nice to have but I wouldn’t require them before switching to such a device:
- Offline copy of OpenStreetMap
- A decent camera
- More than 24 hours battery life
- Automatic recording of all phone calls
- Good integration with password managers
I also want to spare an honourable mention for the PineTime watch which I have been using for a couple of months now. I’ve not worn a watch for most of my life, and my only previous experience of a smart watch was a Motorola 360G I was once gifted.
I really like the PineTime, for the price it’s a very nice piece of hardware and the fully open source nature of the operating system appeals to me greatly. There’s a few things I’d like to tweak about it if I ever find the time to dig into its guts, but for now that can just be the subject of a future blog post.