Android vs FOSS Phones

To achieve my aims regarding Convergence of mobile phone and PC [1] I need something a big bigger than the 4G of RAM that’s in the PinePhone Pro [2]. The PinePhonePro was released at the end of 2021 but has a SoC that was first released in 2016. That SoC seems to compare well to the ones used in the Pixel and Pixel 2 phones that were released in the same time period so it’s not a bad SoC, but it doesn’t compare well to more recent Android devices and it also isn’t a great fit for the non-Android things I want to do. Also the PinePhonePro and Librem5 have relatively short battery life so reusing Android functionality for power saving could provide a real benefit. So I want a phone designed for the mass market that I can use for running Debian.


One thing I’m definitely not going to do is attempt a full port of Linux to a different platform or support of kernel etc. So I need to choose a device that already has support from a somewhat free Linux system. The PostmarketOS system is the first I considered, the PostmarketOS Wiki page of supported devices [3] was the first place I looked. The “main” supported devices are the PinePhone (not Pro) and the Librem5, both of which are under-powered. For the “community” devices there seems to be nothing that supports calls, SMS, mobile data, and USB-OTG and which also has 4G of RAM or more. If I skip USB-OTG (which presumably means I’d have to get dock functionality via wifi – not impossible but not great) then I’m left with the SHIFT6mq which was never sold in Australia and the Xiomi POCO F1 which doesn’t appear to be available on ebay.


The libhybris libraries are a compatibility layer between Android and glibc programs [4]. Which includes running Wayland with Android display drivers. So running a somewhat standard Linux desktop on top of an Android kernel should be possible. Here is a table of the LineageOS supported devices that seem to have a useful feature set and are available in Australia and which could be used for running Debian with firmware and drivers copied from Android. I only checked LineageOS as it seems to be the main free Android build.

Phone RAM External Display Price
Edge 20 Pro [5] 6-12G HDMI $500 not many on sale
Edge S aka moto G100 [6] 6-8G HDMI $500 to $600+
Fairphone 4 6-8G USBC-DP $1000+
Nubia Red Magic 5G 8-16G USBC-DP $600+

The LineageOS device search page [9] allows searching by kernel version. There are no phones with a 6.6 (2023) or 6.1 (2022) Linux kernel and only the Pixel 8/8Pro and the OnePlus 11 5G run 5.15 (2021). There are 8 Google devices (Pixel 6/7 and a tablet) running 5.10 (2020), 18 devices running 5.4 (2019), and 32 devices running 4.19 (2018). There are 186 devices running kernels older than 4.19 – which aren’t in the supported release list [10]. The Pixel 8 Pro with 12G of RAM and the OnePlus 11 5G with 16G of RAM are appealing as portable desktop computers, until recently my main laptop had 8G of RAM. But they cost over $1000 second hand compared to $359 for my latest laptop.

Fosdem had an interesting lecture from two Fairphone employees about what they are doing to make phone production fairer for workers and less harmful for the environment [11]. But they don’t have the market power that companies like Google have to tell SoC vendors what they want.

IP Laws and Practices

Bunnie wrote an insightful and informative blog post about the difference between intellectual property practices in China and US influenced countries and his efforts to reverse engineer a commonly used Chinese SoC [12]. This is a major factor in the lack of support for FOSS on phones and other devices.

Droidian and Buying a Note 9

The FOSDEM 2023 has a lecture about the Droidian project which runs Debian with firmware and drivers from Android to make a usable mostly-FOSS system [13]. It’s interesting how they use containers for the necessary Android apps. Here is the list of devices supported by Droidian [14].

Two notable entries in the list of supported devices are the Volla Phone and Volla Phone 22 from Volla – a company dedicated to making open Android based devices [15]. But they don’t seem to be available on ebay and the new price of the Volla Phone 22 is E452 ($AU750) which is more than I want to pay for a device that isn’t as open as the Pine64 and Purism products. The Volla Phone 22 only has 4G of RAM.

Phone RAM Price Issues
Note 9 128G/512G 6G/8G <$300 Not supporting external display
Galaxy S9+ 6G <$300 Not supporting external display
Xperia 5 6G >$300 Hotspot partly working
OnePlus 3T 6G $200 – $400+ photos not working

I just bought a Note 9 with 128G of storage and 6G of RAM for $109 to try out Droidian, it has some screen burn but that’s OK for a test system and if I end up using it seriously I’ll just buy another that’s in as-new condition. With no support for an external display I’ll need to setup a software dock to do Convergence, but that’s not a serious problem. If I end up making a Note 9 with Droidian my daily driver then I’ll use the 512G/8G model for that and use the cheap one for testing.


I should have checked the Mobian list first as it’s the main Debian variant for phones.

From the Mobian Devices list [16] the OnePlus 6T has 8G of RAM or more but isn’t available in Australia and costs more than $400 when imported. The PocoPhone F1 doesn’t seem to be available on ebay. The Shift6mq is made by a German company with similar aims to the Fairphone [17], it looks nice but costs E577 which is more than I want to spend and isn’t on the officially supported list.

Smart Watches

The same issues apply to smart watches. AstereoidOS is a free smart phone OS designed for closed hardware [18]. I don’t have time to get involved in this sort of thing though, I can’t hack on every device I use.

3 comments to Android vs FOSS Phones

  • Larry Doolittle

    Pretty sure there’s a typo in there.
    > There are no phones with a 6.6 (2013) or 6.1 (2012) Linux kernel and only the Pixel 8/8Pro and the OnePlus 11 5G run 5.15 (2021).
    Shouldn’t those first two years be 2023 and 2022?

  • I agree with Larry. Also, the first table seems to have two columns swapped.

  • Fixed the column titles and the years, thanks for pointing this out.

    I guess I’m getting old, 2013 seems like yesterday. ;)