3 Linux Smartphone Operating Systems You Can Install Today
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Sick of Android? Don’t want to be part of a proprietary ecosystem? Security and privacy are becoming increasingly important for smartphone users, but what is the answer?

Is it possible to abandon Android and iOS for another mobile operating system?

When you want an alternative operating system, Linux is usually the answer. But what Linux smartphone operating systems are available to install today?

1. Ubuntu Touch

Originally released by Ubuntu developers Canonical, Ubuntu Touch is currently being maintained by UBports. This means that Ubuntu’s abandoned mobile operating system lives on.

Ubuntu Touch’s approach to smartphones is intelligent, dealing with the lack of apps by providing social, news, and photo tools natively. This is done in the guise of Scopes, different pages of the Home screen that provide customized news, weather, apps, and social networks.

It works well, too, although there is always a time when apps are needed.

Perhaps Ubuntu Touch’s greatest strength, however, is Convergence.

This is a system, much like Microsoft’s Continuum and Samsung DeX What Is Samsung DeX? Use It to Turn Your Phone Into a Computer What Is Samsung DeX? Use It to Turn Your Phone Into a Computer Did you know that modern Samsung phones have a desktop mode feature called DeX? Here's what it is and how to give it a try. Read More , in which the mobile device is connected to a wireless HDMI device, keyboard, and mouse, and used as a desktop computer How to Turn Ubuntu Phone Into a Desktop PC With Convergence How to Turn Ubuntu Phone Into a Desktop PC With Convergence Newcomer to the mobile space, Ubuntu Phone, has its own mobile-to-desktop software. If your device is compatible, and running the OTA-11 update (or later), you can turn your phone into a PC. Read More . The only real difference between this and your desktop Linux device is that the phone has an ARM processor.

Currently supported devices include the handsets where Ubuntu Touch came pre-installed, along with the OnePlus One, Fairphone 2, and Nexus 5 (Hammerhead). Many more are in active development, such as the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus 3.

2. Sailfish OS

Jointly developed by Jolla, Mer (a middleware stack developer), the Sailfish Alliance (a group of corporations) and community members, Sailfish OS is a continuation of abandoned operating system MeeGo, itself based on Maemo and Moblin.

The latest version of Sailfish OS is known as Sailfish X, which runs on Sony Xperia X devices. Unfortunately, Sailfish OS is not open source, and the free version is a time-limited trial.

The full version of Sailfish X will set you back around $50, and it’s only available within the European Union, Norway, and Switzerland. As noted on the website:

“…the use of our website and services to purchase Sailfish X outside of the Authorized Countries is prohibited.”

Sailfish OS has Android app support, so if that appeals, this OS is worth trying out.

3. Plasma Mobile

Perhaps the most exciting option on the table is Plasma Mobile, a smartphone-focused spin on the popular Plasma, the latter deemed one of the best Linux desktop environments The 12 Best Linux Desktop Environments The 12 Best Linux Desktop Environments Picking a Linux desktop environment can be difficult. Here are the best Linux desktop environments to consider. Read More .

Having gained a lot of attention during 2017 (mostly due to Ubuntu abandoning Ubuntu Touch), Plasma Mobile’s aim is to become a “complete and open software system for mobile devices.”

Currently compatible with the Nexus 5 (Hammerhead) and OnePlus One, Plasma Mobile (based on Kubuntu) is also available for Intel-based PCs and tablets, thanks to an Arch Linux-based version.

There’s also multiROM support for the Nexus 5 (Hammerhead), enabling you to run Plasma Mobile alongside your preferred custom Android ROM.

Perhaps the best thing about the Plasma Mobile project is that you’re able to run desktop Plasma apps and widgets, as well as Ubuntu Touch apps. This gives the project a wider selection of apps than Ubuntu Touch.

Other Linux Mobile Projects

As of this writing, three other notable Linux mobile projects are underway:

Halium

Intended as a system to improve future Linux mobile projects, Halium’s aim is to “unify the Hardware Abstraction Layer for projects which run GNU/Linux on mobile devices with pre-installed Android.”

There’s also an intention to standardize other software and improve Linux access to audio, camera, GPS and other hardware.

As you may imagine, if successful, this will make it far easier to install Linux on smartphones.

PureOS

A more complete project is coming in the shape of a mobile version of PureOS, the privacy and security-focused Linux distro from Purism.

Currently there is no way to download PureOS for mobile, but Purism’s first phone, the Librem 5, will be released in 2019. This will be the most secure and private mobile device yet, and much of this will rely on the PureOS operating system.

postmarketOS

Describing itself as “a real Linux distribution on the phone” postmarketOS (pmOS) is a version of Alpine Linux for smartphones.

Currently in early development, the aim of pmOS is to create a sustainable mobile OS, one with long-term support.

A wide number of devices can run pmOS, including the Amazon Fire HDX, Google Nexus devices, and Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets.

At this early of pmOS development, however, few of these devices have a full set of features. However, in offering multiple desktop environments, the pmOS project looks well-placed to fulfill its aim of creating a long-term sustainable mobile operating system based on Linux.

Apps That Install Linux on Android

If you’re desperate to have Linux in your pocket but don’t have any of the devices listed above, there are alternatives.

These enable you to run Linux (or give the appearance of running Linux) from the comfort of your Android device as an app. A rooted phone The Complete Guide to Rooting Your Android Phone or Tablet The Complete Guide to Rooting Your Android Phone or Tablet So, you want to root your Android device? Here's everything you need to know. Read More is necessary in most cases, but these are mostly offering emulation.

KBOX

A tool that doesn’t require root, KBOX is described as “a project to create a miniature Linux distribution for non-rooted (i.e., unmodified) Android devices, providing a Linux-like console environment.”

As such, it features many command line utilities, but is unavailable in Google Play. Instead, you’ll have to visit the website to download and install the APK. Make sure you understand the pitfalls of installing apps from third party sites beyond Google Play before proceeding.

Download: KBOX (free)

Linux Deploy

Rather than a command line environment with some Linux tools, you may prefer something like Linux Deploy, from Google Play. Requiring both a terminal emulator and a VNC client to be installed—as well as a rooted phone—Linux Deploy enables you to choose from several different distros. These are installed in a disk image on your device storage.

Once installed, however, you’ll be able to access a Linux desktop environment on your phone or tablet.

Download: Linux Deploy (free)

Your Smartphone Deserves Linux

In short, Linux is available for many smartphones already, and we’ve seen several great Linux tablets too. But there’s a long way to go. Linux distros on mobile devices are rare but need your support.

If you have one of the devices mentioned or linked to above, please try out a compatible Linux mobile distro.

Spend a few days with it to see how it works out for you. Then let the project community concerned know how it went. Let them know what worked, and what didn’t.

If you can code, why not offer the benefit of your experience to one of the development projects? Better still, you could even start developing your own mobile version of Linux using the Halium project.

Have you tried a Linux mobile operating system? Found it too hard to install? Well, don’t worry too much, you can run Linux on any Android smartphone How to Run Linux on Android Devices How to Run Linux on Android Devices Want to run Linux on Android? Here are methods for both unrooted and rooted devices to get a Linux desktop running on your phone. Read More .

Explore more about: Linux, Operating Systems, Ubuntu.

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  1. Nicolas Hainaux
    November 29, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    Maybe eelo is worth mentionning too, isn't it?
    http://eelo.io/

  2. venus
    October 30, 2018 at 3:38 am

    i have a question, can i install ubuntu touch in my cherry mobile phone? it's a local philippine phone if you ask. is it compatible?

  3. Peter
    January 5, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    As far I know Google compiled Gentoo like I did and changes called today's Android. As soon a Linux version can make calls and text, I'm on board - I would change to any carrier. I would love to get rid of googlespy. How about all the Linux project focus together getting a realistic product out - this would fly. We are current in the 80' of desktop computers = today with phones. I have the feeling Microsoft would support a combined effort wit Linux. I can see a phone carrier would join the group. I do not like AT&T but AT&T has their roots on Unix. It's all about power and market shares. Single projects will not fly, combined effort would.

    • Ivan Castilla
      February 2, 2018 at 2:43 am

      Same here

  4. Patrick
    January 4, 2018 at 7:57 am

    While I'm a big fan op the iPod, I'm also looking for something to put on a cellular other then Android. Not that I need it, I have my iPod. but just for fun. It would be cool to have a cellular running all the apps but to be able to block all incoming calls for instance. I don't like phones and I don't want a phone because I have an email address & that is enough for me. So if Linux is blocking my phone calls then It might be worth checking out a couple of things and toying around with it...

  5. Eddie G.
    November 14, 2017 at 4:05 am

    I dunno, I think because I'm a "purist" by nature that I'm not realy interested in putting Linux on my phone. Hear me out: Although the current state of affairs is that everyone and everything is placing every bit of data in the cloud, I for one do not believe in that premise, and so i don't place pictures, documents etc in the cloud, nor do I need a phone that does. Having said that, I don't really pay attention to the millions of apps on my phone. At the end of the day? the ONLY thing I REALLY want my phone to do? is CONNECT to someone else when I make a PHONE CALL! So I don't think I'd want an OS on there that might prevent that one particular event from taking place. This is not to say that I'll just accept Android "as-is". I prefer using unlocked and rooted phones to give myself the best of both worlds, I can install a plain vanilla version of Android minus all the bloat from Google...and I get the peace-of-mind knowing that the phone on my OnePlus 3 will work every time with no issues. For developers, this might make more sense as they could promote the building of the kernel a bit....other than that? especially with the various OS'es and the demarcation of the ones who are buggy, slow, and missing essential pieces of software, I'll just stick to my OxygenOS that came with it and the LineageOS that I installed on another one.

  6. Heimen Stoffels
    October 12, 2017 at 11:15 am

    You forget to mention LuneOS.

  7. Paul
    September 20, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    The gigantic problem with (real) Linux on phones is that all of these OS projects use different bases.

  8. aleksd
    September 18, 2017 at 2:45 am

    You're already running the best Linux based mobile OS out there if you're using an android device.

    • Steve
      September 22, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      Very true. But Google keeps loading up their OS and software with bloatware/spyware in order to obtain ever MORE information about you to sell to marketers. It has gone beyond disturbing. I just want an OS (Linux?) and the basic apps (calendar, calculator, phone, test message app, possibly maps) on my device. I don't want any and all of my use/databases/pictures/info retrieved and sent to Google partner marketing agencies for targeted ad campaigns.

      Also, the bloat bogs down perfectly usable phones with high res cameras and displays that are only a few years old.

      • Jim
        November 30, 2018 at 7:54 pm

        I agree, I shut their GPS location off but somehow Google manages to turn it back on all the time. I get the how was your visit here, how was your visit there. A I am not interested in sharing every detail of my life, and B I don't want Google to know. I would use Apple if it was more affordable, but the prices are crazy.

    • Steve
      September 22, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      One of the "original" Linux phones was the Palm Pre. PalmOS was an awesome OS. It was somewhat ahead of its time. It was very user friendly and had a great user interface. It's too bad that Palm did such a terrible job of delay after delay, rolling it out then not marketing it very well. Another dead Linux project...

      It's to bad that someone can't pick up the old PalmOS and run with it. I heard that LG bought it for their products.

    • Christian Cawley
      September 28, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      You're not wrong, but I think for many people Linux = FOSS, and Android does not how any sign of appreciating the philosophy in the way ubports, Plasma mobile, etc do.

  9. Larry
    September 18, 2017 at 12:59 am

    I like the article. I do wish you were a bit more realistic and less optimistic. Ubuntu Touch is, realistically, dead. I hope they can revive it but I'm not counting on it. I'm no expert but I think it's the shear volume of phones that's the problem. That's allot of drivers that need to be written. You can see from the their web page that what's under development is very old (e.g. S3, LG4...etc)

    The other OS's have the same problem. Maybe, one day, a law would require phone manufacture's to develop drivers for at least the top 5-10 operating systems to increase competition and customer choice; until then, it looks like the project Halium you mentioned might be our only hope.

    Currently, I'm not sure there is allot of hope for people like us, who want an open and free OS with root access on "OUR" devices. So we can remove anything we don't want (i.e. bloatware!..Facebook!).

    I believe Sailfish is currently being developed, but only for relatively low end phones in India as far as I can tell. I looked into the Turing phone but it appears to be a load. The one that was released was buggy and underwhelming, except for the price tag and their future plans are questionable. I asked them about getting a refurb, they said maybe next week; that was months ago.

    I'm skeptical of PureOS. First Sailfish will currently run Android Apps; not well from my understanding but it's a real leg up and it hasn't really caught on in the west. Second, $600 for a 5" phone that's not out for at least another year? Sounds like it might be another Turing.

    My current phone is a Samsung J3. I bought it off of craigslist new. It's cheap phone with locked down Android and a lousy camera but it wasn't pre-loaded with lots of bloatware and it cost me under $100 new. Unfortunately, after the first update, it had installed Facebook. It did let me disable it though. I'll try and root it when I have time.

    Kbox sounds interesting. I may have to try that. I have Termux now and it's allowed me to install Linux command line utilities from, well... the command line

    Thank You for the article,
    Please keep us updated. Especially on Halium!
    Larry

  10. Prashant
    September 16, 2017 at 5:01 am

    Any linuk for meizu m2 note

  11. Surajit Pal
    September 16, 2017 at 3:17 am

    I am a android user..wants to make a change by using linux in my smartphones
    i have asus zenfone 2 laser with 2gb ram varient is that for using this os?..plz suggest me the best o.s for my device...let me know whether linux platform has volte supported or not?

  12. skierpage
    September 16, 2017 at 3:15 am

    You can install a Linux distro on any desktop or laptop PC made in the last decade and it will more likely work than not. The reason for the pitifully constrained lists of supported hardware for these fine mobile OSs is the also the main reason why phones stop getting Android updates after a couple of years: the appalling lack of source code for the device drivers for phone hardware.

  13. Strahl
    September 16, 2017 at 2:11 am

    I installed Plasma Mobile on my Nexus 5, because I really like KDE/Plasma with Linux. I seriously thought the KDE team was trolling with it, it was that bad. I'm not even exaggerating when I say I couldn't get it to do a single thing, past once I got it to open the volume panel (but I couldn't actually change the volume and had to restart the damn thing).

    That was several months ago though, maybe there's been some improvement, but I'm not sure it's worth giving it another chance.

  14. rachit gupta
    September 16, 2017 at 1:41 am

    Android is also based on Linux

  15. rachit gupta
    September 16, 2017 at 1:40 am

    Android is also based on Linux.

  16. João Rezende
    September 16, 2017 at 1:40 am

    "Although Android is based on the Linux kernel, it cannot really be considered Linux."

    Erm, why?

    • Larry Chase
      September 16, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      Yeah, it may not be GNU/Linux, but it is definitely Linux.

      If it weren't so tightly grasped in the tendrils of closed-source code, there'd be a much smaller divide.

  17. Tj
    September 15, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you for this list. Nice to know Ubuntu touch still lives on. I think I'll have to dig out my Nexus 5