Tired of Android? You don't want to be tied to a proprietary ecosystem? Security and privacy are becoming increasingly important for smartphone users, but what's the answer?

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

If you want an alternative operating system, Linux is usually the answer. But which Linux smartphone operating systems can be installed today? If you want to replace Android with Linux, you should try the following distributions.

Originally published by Ubuntu developers Canonical, the most popular Linux mobile operating system, Ubuntu Touch, is now managed by UBports.

Ubuntu Touch's approach to smartphones is smart and deals with the lack of apps by natively delivering social, messaging, and photo tools. It does this in the form of scopes, different pages of the home screen that provide custom messages, weather, apps and social networks.

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

Perhaps the greatest strength of Ubuntu Touch, however, is convergence.

This is a system, similar to Samsung DeX, where the mobile device is connected to a wireless HDMI device, keyboard and mouse and used as a desktop computer. The only real difference between this and your desktop Linux device is that the phone has an ARM processor.

Devices currently supported include Volla Phone, Fairphone 2, OnePlus One, and the BQ Aquaris Tablet. Many other phones can run Ubuntu Touch – check the list of supported phones to learn more.

PostmarketOS (pmOS) describes itself as a "true Linux distribution for phones" and is a version of Alpine Linux for smartphones.

After years of development, pmOS is currently in the beta phase to create a sustainable mobile operating system with long-term support.

Currently supported devices include the Samsung Galaxy A3 (2015) and A5 (2015) and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini Value Edition, as well as the following:

  • ASUS MeMo Pad 7

  • BQ Aquaris X5

  • Motorola Moto G4 Play

  • Nokia N900

  • PINE64 PinePhone

  • PINE64 Pine Tab

  • Purism Librem 5

  • Wileyfox Swift

A variety of devices can run pmOS, including Amazon Fire HDX and Google Nexus devices.

By offering multiple desktop environments, the pmOS project looks good to achieve its goal of creating a long-term sustainable mobile Linux operating system.

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

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

The full version of Sailfish X costs around $ 50 and is only available in 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 supports Android apps. So if that works, it's worth trying out this mobile Linux operating system.

Simply referred to as "Debian for Mobile", Mobian is a Linux smartphone operating system that has been in development since 2020. It is available for phones and tablets, and there is also a version of x86-based devices such as standard PCs, laptops, hybrids, and Windows tablets.

  • Freedom 5

  • OnePlus 6

  • PinePhone

  • Pine Tab

  • Xiaomi Pocophone F1

  • Surface Pro 3 tablet

Mobian looks like a solid Linux operating system for cellphones, but if you don't have a suitable device, consider an alternative.

As the successor to webOS (an early HP own challenger to Android and iOS), LuneOS is based on Linux. Intended to run on Android phones, LuneOS should work on the device if the target hardware has a CyanogenMod or LineageOS ROM.

Although LuneOS has been in development since 2014, it is still in alpha development. This can be found frustrating. However, the biggest effort for webOS is in the smart TV space, so it seems unlikely that LuneOS will break through as a Linux phone distro.

Other Linux Mobile projects

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

PureOS

As a security-oriented Linux smartphone operating system from Purism, there is currently no way to download and install PureOS. Rather, it is the standard operating system for Purism's first phone, the Librem 5.

Potentially the most secure and private mobile platform ever relies in large part on the Librem 5 hardware, which includes kill switches for camera, microphone and connectivity. This is probably why this Linux mobile operating system has not been officially released for other hardware.

Plasma mobile

If you run a Linux phone distribution and don't like the way it looks, take a look at Plasma Mobile. It is not a Linux-based mobile operating system, but a desktop environment.

This is a smartphone-focused twist on the popular Plasma, which is widely recognized as one of the best Linux desktop environments out there. The aim of Plasma Mobile is to become a "complete and open software system for mobile devices".

You can run Plasma Mobile as an alternative desktop with postmarketOS as well as dedicated mobile builds from Manjaro ARM and openSUSE.

PinePhone and postmarketOS devices can be used with Plasma Mobile. It also works with x86_64 based phones and tablets, as well as in a virtual machine.

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

Related: How Librem 5 Affected the Linux Desktop

Can you replace Android with Linux on a tablet?

Some of the devices that these Linux phone distributions work on are actually tablets. Most of these are Android tablets, although you can install Linux on a Windows tablet using Plasma Mobile.

As with the various smartphones, you need to check each Linux mobile operating system for compatibility. While you can't replace the Android operating system with Linux on most Android tablets, it's worth investigating just in case.

However, one thing you definitely can't do is install Linux on an iPad. Apple keeps its operating system and hardware tightly locked, so there's no going for Linux (or Android) here.

Your smartphone deserves it: replace Android with Linux

Amazingly, there are five different Linux builds that you can install on your mobile phone:

  • Ubuntu touch

  • postmarketOS

  • Sailfish operating system

  • Mobian

  • LuneOS

As people become more privacy conscious and demand more control over their phones, Linux is becoming increasingly popular for mobile devices. Be one step ahead of the curve – if your phone supports Linux, learn how to replace Android with Linux today.

How to run Linux on Android devices

Do you want to run Linux on Android? Here are methods for unrooted and rooted devices to run a Linux desktop on your phone.

Continue reading

About the author

Christian Cawley
(1485 published articles)

Deputy Editor for Security, Linux, DIY, Programming and Tech Explained and a really useful podcast producer with extensive experience in desktop and software support.

As a contributor to Linux Format Magazine, Christian is a Raspberry Pi tinkerer, Lego lover and retro gaming fan.

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By Christian Cawley

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