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What are Linux phones? Which are the best Linux distros? Which Linux phone to buy in 2023? Let’s answer everything in this ultimate beginner’s guide to Linux phones!


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Linux phones run a Linux-based OS or distros. 
  • Best Linux distros for phones include Ubuntu Touch, portmarketOS, Manjaro Linux, Mobian, and PureOS.
  • The best Linux phones you can buy include PinePhone Pro, Volla Phone 22, Volla Phone X23, PinePhone, and Purism Librem 5.

Linux Phones: What Is It?

A Linux Phone runs a Linux-based operating system. 

Linux is a family of Unix-like operating systems based on the Linux kernel. There are many Linux operating systems, including Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, Manjaro, Fedora, Arch Linux, etc. 

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Linux is also available for smartphones. Most Linux operating systems supporting ARM devices can run on smartphone hardware. Still, some operating systems have specialized smartphone-specific ports based on the desktop OS, such as – Ubuntu Touch and Mobian. Some Linux phone brands have their own custom Linux distribution shipped only through their phones.

Linux Phones can run either of these operating systems – a desktop Linux distro or a Linux distro made for phones. 

Isn’t Android Also Technically Linux?

Well, no. 

Android is based on the Linux kernel and other open-source software, but it doesn’t count as a Linux distribution.  

A kernel is the core of an operating system that manages a computer system’s hardware and software interaction. 

As mentioned, Android is based on the Linux kernel. Still, the developers have modified the Linux kernel heavily to match the requirements of running it on a smartphone. Android still uses the Linux kernel, but it is a totally different operating system, a closed-source one, with the Google apps, and it goes totally against the principles of Linux.

Linux Phones vs Android Phones: No Need For A Comparison

Linux isn’t going to replace Android as an operating system anytime soon. Linux on phones isn’t anywhere near close to being compared to Android phones. Android, introduced first in 2007, is miles ahead; comparing them is impossible. Most Linux phones are like Android phones of the early 2010s now. But you won’t be looking to buy a Linux phone if you don’t already know that. 

Linux Distros For Phones

Like the Linux Distros available for PCs, Linux is available in different flavors. Let’s briefly talk about some of the popular Linux distros for phones.

Ubuntu Touch

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Ubuntu is undoubtedly the most popular Linux distro, and Ubuntu Touch is the mobile version of it. When the project started, it was expected to come pre-loaded on several phones. Ubuntu for Android was a variant of Ubuntu dedicated to Android phones meeting a set of preset requirements. Ubuntu Touch runs the Unity user interface, giving it a similar user experience to the Ubuntu desktop.  

It was an official project of Canonical when it started, but they stopped supporting it in April 2017. UBPorts, a community project for developing and maintaining Ubuntu Touch, then adopted it. Ubuntu Touch is available for select Android devices as an aftermarket software.

postmarketOS

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postmarketOS is a Linux distro for smartphones based on Alpine Linux distribution. It can run desktop environments like Phosh, Plasma Mobile, and Sxmo.

postmarketOS is a lightweight Linux distro, with the base installation taking up less than 10 MB, excluding the kernel. Also, postmarketOS says it avoids Android’s build system, and the whole OS is divided into small packages, enabling users to install it on any device using the same CPU architecture.  

Manjaro Linux

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Manjarois is a full-sized Linux distribution for PCs and ARM-based smartphones and tablets. It ships by default with smartphones from Pine64. Manjoro Linux supports Phosh Desktop or Plasma Mobile desktop environment. Manjaro is based on Arch Linux and focuses mainly on user-friendliness and accessibility. 

Mobian

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Mobian describes itself as a “Debian derivative for mobile devices.”

Mobian is basically Debian but optimized for phones. Mobian comes with the Phosh graphical interface. Pine64 released a special Mobian Community Edition of PinePhone that came pre-installed with Mobian and supports all Pine64 devices. It also supports a select few Android phones.

PureOS

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PureOS is a Debian-based Linux distribution available only for devices made by Purism. It is available for Purism Librem 5 smartphone. It uses GNOME or KDE Plasma interfaces. 

Best Linux Phones 2023

PinePhone Pro

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PinePhone Pro is the flagship smartphone from PinePhone, the biggest Linux smartphone maker in the US. Pine64 offers a completely open-source Linux phone, giving users access to open smartphone hardware. Even though described as a flagship by the company, it still can’t be compared to modern-day Android phones in terms of pure specs.

PinePhone Pro comes with a 6-inch LCD panel with a resolution of 720p. It is powered by Rockchip RK3399S chipset and has 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. 

PinePhone Pro now comes preinstalled with Manjaro Linux with Plasma Mobile as the default desktop environment, giving it full Linux compatibility. Users can also install any ARM-based Linux distribution because PinePhone uses the mainline kernels.

PinePhone Pro is available from the Pine64 website.

Specifications

SpecsPinePhone Pro
Display6-inch IPS LCD
1440 x 720 pixels
Gorilla Glass 4 protection
ProcessorRockchip RK3399S
RAM4 GB
Internal Storage128 GB eMMC
Back Camera13 MP 
Front Camera8 MP
Battery3000 mAh with 15 W Charger
Price$399

Volla Phone 22

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Volla Phone 22 might be the most usable Linux Phone of 2023. Unlike other phones in this list, it has modern Android phone features such as a full-screen display with a notch and a high-megapixel camera. The display is a 6.3-inch IPS panel with Full HD resolution. It is powered by Mediatek Helio G85 SoC, which is more powerful than any other phone listed here. It has a 48 MP primary camera with an 8 MP secondary camera that supports ultra-wide and macro shots.  

Volla Phone 22 has a choice of a de-Googled Android OS called Volla OS or Ubuntu Touch. You can choose which version to get at the time of buying.

Volla Phone 22 has completed the campaign and has started shipping. You can get a Volla Phone 2 from Indiegogo itself if you’re from the US. If you’re in Europe, you can buy from the Volla website.

Specifications

SpecsVolla Phone 22
Display6.3 inch
2340 x 1080 pixels
ProcessorMediatek Helio G85
RAM4 GB
Internal Storage128GB
Expandable via microSD
Back Camera48 MP primary
8 MP ultra wide + macro
Front Camera16 MP
Battery4500 mAh
Price$462

Volla Phone X23

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Volla Phone X23 is the only rugged Linux phone! It is tough with military standard MIL-STD-810H protection and IP68 dust and water resistance. 

It is powered by Mediatek Helio G99 SoC, which is more powerful than the one on Phone 22. It has more RAM too, 6 GB. Like Volla Phone 22, you also get an option to choose between Volla OS or Ubuntu Touch. It is available on Indiegogo in the US, like Phone 22. If you’re from Europe, you can get it from the Volla website.

Specifications

SpecsVolla Phone 22
Display6.1 inch
1560 x 720 pixels
ProcessorMediatek Helio G99
RAM6 GB
Internal Storage128GB
Expandable via microSD
Back Camera48 MP primary
8 MP ultra-wide + macro
Front Camera16 MP
Battery5000 mAh
Price$566

PinePhone

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PinePhone is the first launch from Pine64, which was released in 2019 and is still in production, keeping up with the promise of 5 years in production by the company.

PinePhone features a 5.95-inch IPS LCD with a resolution of 720p. It is powered by an older Allwinner A64 chipset. It comes in two variants – one with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB internal storage and the other with 3 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage. 

PinePhone used to come without any OS installed, but now it comes pre-installed with Manjaro with Plasma Mobile desktop environment. Users can install any Linux distribution for ARM devices on the phone, even though the phone-specific Linux distros mentioned above would work better.3

You can buy the PinePhone from the Pine64 website.

Specifications

SpecsPinePhone 
Display5.95-inch IPS LCD
1440 x 720 pixels
ProcessorAllwinner A64
RAM2 / 3 GB
Internal Storage16 GB / 32 GB eMMC
Back Camera5 MP 
Front Camera2 MP
Battery3000 mAh with 15 W Charger
Price$149 / $199

Purism Librem 5

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Purism manufactures smartphones and laptops and was founded in 2014 when it started crowdfunding its Linux laptop. Librem 5 is the company’s first smartphone, announced in 2017 as a crowdfunding campaign. 

The phone features a 5.7-inch IPS panel with a 720p resolution. It is powered by NXP i.MX8M chipset has 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage. It has a 13 MP back camera and an 8 MP selfie camera. 

Purism Librem 5 features PureOS, a Mobian (Debian) based operating system that is maintained by Purism for its Librem lineup of laptops and smartphones. 

Purism Librem 5 is available from the Purism website.

Specifications

SpecsPurism Librem 5
Display5.7-inch IPS LCD
1440 x 720 pixels
ProcessorNXP i.MX8M
RAM3 GB
Internal Storage32 GB
Back Camera13 MP
Front Camera8 MP
Battery4,500 mAh 
Price$749

Installing & Running Linux on Android Phones?

So, we looked at the best Linux Phone of 2023. But if you’re not satisfied with the options, there’s a different route to get Linux on your hand – installing Linux on Android phones.

Installing Linux on your phone is pretty much like installing a custom ROM. You’re replacing the Android OS on your phone with a different OS. You will have to unlock the bootloader of your phone and might need to have a custom recovery (for example, TWRP). 

Ubuntu Touch might be the easiest of the bunch to install, as it doesn’t need you to tinker with the custom recovery. You only need to have an unlocked bootloader. Ubuntu Touch supports many Android phones, and if your existing phone is on the supported list, you can try Ubuntu Touch by installing it! Ubuntu Touch is installed by UBPorts installer software, which takes care of the OS installation completely. 

There’s a nifty tool called Can My Phone Linux?, which lets you determine if your phone can run Linux and which Linux distribution supports it. Many of the latest phones are yet to be added to this tool, but it works fine for most older phones. 

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