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The PinePhone As A Phone

A Mastodon hellthread sprouted the argument on whether the PinePhone should be judged as a phone or a computer. Well, I intend for it to be a replacement for my current phone, so let's see how it stacks up against what it's replacing. The PinePhone here is a PinePhone 3GB/32GB Convergence Edition running Manjaro Phosh Beta 12. It is on Ting (T-Mobile network) in the US. Since we're judging this as a phone, the convergence features will not be reviewed. Its competitor is a Samsung Galaxy S4 running Android 5.0.1 (Lollipop) on Verizon.

Exterior

The Galaxy is smaller than the PinePhone and both have a camera in the front and back, side volume buttons, side power button, a removable battery, slots for a SIM and MicroSD card, and USB power input on the bottom. The cameras for the Galaxy are bad, but the cameras on the PinePhone are Bigfoot sighting level bad, so the Galaxy wins this one.

Connectivity

Both the Galaxy and PinePhone do 4G. I barely use mobile data on the Galaxy. Mobile data is shockingly expensive on Ting so I haven't tested it. As for wifi, the PinePhone only connects to 2.4 GHz networks while the Galaxy also connects to 5 GHz networks. Both have Bluetooth but I leave that off all the time.

Calling and Texting

Both make calls and send/receive texts. Supposedly, the PinePhone has issues with MMS messages. I don't send any so I wouldn't know. Both happily pull my contact list down from NextCloud. One thing that the PinePhone is currently lacking is the swipey keyboard. It would make texting easier, but seeing as I'm currently writing this article on the PinePhone, it's not a show stopper.

User Experience

Ok, this is where things really separate. Manjaro and Android are both Linux, but where they ended up are quite different.

Android has had 6 years (at time of release of 5.0.1) and two massive companies (Google and Samsung) behind polishing the apps and OS to a mirror shine. Almost 7 years on, it's starting to no longer be supported by newer apps, some others make it strain, and some others just don't work at all!

PinePhone has had 2 years for the Linux communities to each write their own version of the OS from scratch. Manjaro Phosh is the most functional version I've found. Some apps work perfectly well, others have some minor scaling issues, some others are nigh unusable, and in rare cases (I'm looking at you, LibreOffice Calc) it just doesn't run! Manjaro doesn't control the app environment like Android does, so if it doesn't work right, they have far more excuses.

Phosh has a ways to go to get to where Android was then. For example, I've accidentally opened the menu 5 times and an app 3 times since the start of this article because the app drawer open button is right above the space bar! I guess you have to put it somewhere when you don't have a physical button for it, but that's a terrible place. Maybe slide it open from the side like Ubuntu Touch?

With that out of the way, Phosh and PinePhone have the ability to improve, unlike the Galaxy S4. Android 5.0.1 was released in November 2014 and the only things that have been upgraded since are apps and Google Play. Manjaro Phosh is under constant development. A new beta image will probably be out by the end of August.

What may end up being the tipping point, should it ever work quite right (in the PinePhone's defense, it has troubles on PC too) is Anbox. It is an Android emulator. If you have an Android app you desperately need to work, you can try to get it working in there.

Internet

This may be a bit of a weird tradeoff depending on what sites you visit. Not every site realizes that the PinePhone is indeed a mobile device. This may cause the view to become quite cramped because it won't load the special phone version of the site. Firefox does support zooming in and out via two finger gestures, so it's not the end of the world. The upside to this lack of recognition is that sites won't cross their arms and force you to use their app instead. The main point against the PinePhone is that the video acceleration in Firefox is absolutely dreadful!

Office Stuff

Some people answer emails or check their calendar on their phone. Some even try to run their business off it! These people are usually either managers or are running their business out of their truck.

On the Samsung Galaxy, all of it is smooth sailing so long as you're using the Google apps and your Google account. Things get rockier when you leave that world as it depends on what you replace it with. With the PinePhone, you bring your own email and anything else you want to plug in. There are built-in integrations with Google, Facebook, Nextcloud, Microsoft account, Flickr, Foursquare, Microsoft Exchange, Last.fm, a media server, IMAP and SMTP, and Kerberos.

For an apples to apples comparison, I'm using an email here and Nextcloud for the rest. Email is equal across both phones. The Samsung app is a bit nicer looking but both are just as good. The Samsung calendar app will crash if you try adding anything to it. The PinePhone Calendar app is glitchy but actually works. Nextcloud Deck works great on Android. The PinePhone equivalent is To-Do, which throws an error when you try to update anything and is limited in what you can view. Nextcloud files are available via the Nextcloud app on both phones and works a bit slowly in Android. Unfotunately, it doesn't work at all on PinePhone because you can't configure it. And you can't configure it because the window is too wide to get to the right buttons to continue the process.

Conclusion

I guess it really depends on what you want from a phone. If all you want is something that you can call or text from, this will do. If you need to surf the web from your phone, it's a tossup which is better. If you need a specific app, look before you leap. If you want to run your office off your phone, it depends on your own setup. If you want really popular walled garden apps like WhatsApp, Tiktok, or Facebook, it'll probably never happen on the PinePhone and soon won't work on the Galaxy. If you want to take pictures, don't get either one because they both suck.

Day 29 of #100DaysToOffload


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