The Cosmo Communicator is a smartphone that looks like a tiny laptop thanks to a design that includes a backlit keyboard that’s just (barely) big enough for touch typing.

First unveiled in late 2018, the Cosmo Communicator began shipping to backers of a crowdfunding campaign late last year… but one promised feature was missing at the time: support for Linux.

At launch, the device was basically a fancy phone that ran Google Android. But now Cosmo Communicator maker Planet Computers has released a version of Debian Linux plus the tools to install it, making it possible to switch between Android and Debian depending on whether you want to use the device as an Android phone or a little Linux computer.

There are some other Linux phones starting to come to market including Purism’s Librem 5 and Pine64’s PinePhone, but those are touchscreen-only devices that work best with a mobile-friendly shell environment.

Since the Cosmo Communicator has a 6 inch touchscreen display positioned above a QWERTY keyboard, it can run a desktop environment like KDE Plasma with support for desktop versions Linux apps including VLC and Firefox.

Installing Linux involves installing a new build of the TWRP custom recovery utility on the phone, and then using that to install a custom Debian image. The files are available to download for free from the Planet Computers website, but the company is also selling 16GB microSD cards with TWRP, a rooted Android kernel, and a Debian image for folks that would rather just by a card with everything pre-loaded.

With a MediaTek Helio P70 processor, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 2160 x 1080 pixel display, and a 4220 mAh battery, the Cosmo Communicator certainly isn’t the most powerful phone on the market. But it’s one of the only games in town if you want a phone with a keyboard designed for touch typing (rather than thumb typing as you can do with the F(x)tech Pro1.

And it’s an upgrade from the previous Planet Computers device — the Gemini PDA. While that older model has a similar keyboard (and better software support at this point), it has a smaller screen, and less impressive specs.

The newer model also has a 2 inch touchscreen display on the outside of the phone that allows you to make calls or view notifications without opening the device.

That said, before pulling out your wallet to buy a Cosmo Communicator for £666 (about $860 US), it’s worth reading through the comments on the Indiegogo page for the device — some folks who backed the campaign a year ago still haven’t received their phones yet and others have run into some hardware problems.



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14 Comments

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  1. Have Gemini and Cosmo.

    Have Debian on both devices and it works well.

    Agree it would be nice if there was an optical mouse and buttons. But the mouseless option available does work well with finger and tapping on screen.

    Have also used a tiny USB mini-mouse on Gemini when using it on a desk surface.

    Very pleased with the Cosmo and Gemini.

    Almost all backers have received their Cosmos.

  2. Are there any videos of people using Debian on this? I’m skeptical how usable it is without a mouse pointer and carrying around a mouse would diminish the appeal of this.

    1. I’m interested in seeing videos of people navigating websites and the desktop with tiny and/or mouse hover elements. Images and screenshots of a Linux DE and applications aren’t enough to convince me that slapping a Linux distro on this is more than just some neato thing to play with for a few minutes.

    1. The gemini had two ways around that

      1. A relative touchpad using part of the screen
      2. Keynav which I have used many times. It divides the screen into 4 quadrants. Pressing an arrow key say left divides only the left two (original) quadrants into another 4 quadrants and so on, with exponential reduction. The center point is also the most location. 3 other buttons are mapped to left click, middle click and right click. Once the center point is on what you want to click pos a mapped button and the mouse cursor warps and clicks.

      Watch a YouTube video if you are really curious about keynav. Obviously not great for games, but great for moving and clicking without a mouse.

      1. @sword,

        A relative touchpad using part of the screen

        Do you know of any videos showing people use this?

    2. Yeah, without a mouse pointer, I wouldn’t consider this as a UMPC. I’d use GPD’s MicroPC even though it’s larger. Too bad my MicroPC has a dead battery, broken hinge and GPD support doesn’t respond even before the forced shutdowns in China.

      1. I’m always on the lookout for UMPCs. I also think the GPD MicroPC is the best UMPC at this moment.

        I’m saying this while my MicroPC also experienced the dead/non-charging battery issue. It happened while GPD/China is in partial shutdown so I don’t expect a new battery anytime soon. I haven’t bothered emailing GPD yet since I doubt I’d get a response right now anyway.

        I’ve seen keyboard based mouse movement like keynav and it’s too cumbersome to be worth it for me. I’d rather even use a tiny optical thumb mouse.

    1. It appears that Brad switched blog operators. I think he used WordPress before, I don’t know who he is using now but I like the changes so far.

      1. This is still clearly a wordpress site. I can’t imagine the difficulty of migrating 10000 articles to another site building platform. The theme was changed a bit, partially because phones.

        1. That is correct — the old theme was a heavily modified version of the eleven40 Pro theme for the Genesis framework, while the new theme is based on Genesis/Essence Pro.

          My plan had actually been to migrate to a different theme and framework altogether in an effort to make the site work better for mobile visitors whether viewing the full site or an AMP version after clicking a Google search/Google News link. If you visited on Saturday, you probably saw a version based on the Stoked! theme.

          But after spending most of the day poking around with that theme, I realized that with some CSS customization, Essence Pro would better fit our needs.

          That said, I’m still making more CSS tweaks — the fonts are a little smaller today, and I’m still working on some image placement issues.

          And because nothing’s ever perfect, I’ll probably continue tweaking for the next few weeks before deciding it’s good enough to give up. 🙂

    2. Yeah, it seems to be optimized for mobile now. Too bad it looks bad on a desktop. Just looks like a mobile site on a desktop. Lots of wasted space.