Sxmo is a collection of simple applications designed to run on Linux phones. It’s not a full-fledged operating system, but rather a lightweight and speedy user interface and set of apps that runs about as well as any software I’ve tried on the PinePhone so far.

But Sxmo isn’t necessarily for everyone. You have to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the gestures and button presses needed for navigation, and get used to the idea of using simple menus and text boxes in places where you might normally find full-fledged applications. It’s not exactly the most intuitive software available for the PinePhone.

It is getting easier to use all the time though – in December the developer added gesture controls, and this week the developer introduced Sxmo 1.3.0, which brings a number of performance and usability enhancements.

Sxmo, which stands for Simple X Mobile, isn’t an operating system in its own right. Instead it’s a UI and set of apps that runs on top of postmarketOS. The latest disc image is just 230MB and includes a few key applications including the Firefox, Netsurf, and Surf web browsers, a calculator, and terminal.

You navigate the operating system using a series of menus. You can swipe down from the top of the screen or press the volume-up key to open the system menu, which lets you launch applications or adjust settings.

When you’re using an app, swiping down from the top of the screen will bring up an application-specific menu, with options such as copy and paste, view history, or enter a URL, depending on the application.

Sxmo may be simple, but it’s also powerful and versatile – you can open multiple applications at the same time and arrange them in a grid and switch the layout with a series of button presses. There’s support for virtual desktops, which allows you to have a whole different set of apps on a second, third, or fourth screen. And you can even use it to do phone things, like make phone calls or send text messages… you’ll just have to do that in a text box rather than a full-fledged app with its own graphical user interface:

Among other things, Sxmo 1.3.0 brings improvements to the navigation menu that make it easier to interact with the software via touch. Now instead of reacting when you first touch the screen, the dmenu will react when you lift your finger. This allows you, for example, to swipe your finger up and down until the correct option is highlighted and then lift your finger to execute. Alternately you can use the volume keys to navigate up and down and the power button to execute, but I find that touch is generally the faster way to go.

Version 1.3.0 also features bug fixes and performance improvements including support for receiving a phone call when the phone is suspended, and a screen lock feature that turns off the display to save power when you’re not using it.

I’d held off on recording a video of Sxmo in the past, because every time I set out to make one, I found myself forgetting how to do something or other — like I said, it’s simple, but not necessarily intuitive. But I finally got around to recording an overview, so here’s what Sxmo looks like in action:

If you want to learn more about Sxmo and how it works, here are some key resources:

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  1. SXMO is very usable. What most people do not realize is that it is based off of the Suckless software suite. https://suckless.org/

    The old school Linux user will love SXMO, but the new school Linux/Android/Apple/Windows users who are accustomed to point & click or tap & swipe will have a learning curve to get back to and learn the basics of Linux and the pure keyboard method.

    The Suckless DWM (dynamic window manager) has been around for a long time. Everything Suckless, is more based on keyboard input rather than click & point, or with phones tap & swipe. I use DWM on numerous servers were I need a graphical display, and on desktops & workstations. DWM is small, fast, and uses very little resources. Hence perfect for phone use.

    For the real Linux user SXMO is perfect. As it has everything you need to control everything via the keyboard. Since PostmarketOS sits on top of the Alpine Linux OS. A user can install anything that is available via Alpine Linux, as well as custom configure to ones liking. For instance SXMO uses the VIS editor which is similar to the old VI editor, unless you are familiar with the commands, there are lots of guides online, you will be lost right off the bat.

    What I do for ease of use is install Nano and make it the preferred editor. Nano is not nearly as capable as VIS or VI, but for basic file editing & programming is works just fine, with no fancy commands to learn. This is were Alpine Linux comes in, via the terminal as root simply do “apk add nano” and Nano is installed. Then add a file named editor.sh to /etc/profile.d/ with “export EDITOR=nano” and root will use Nano instead of VIS as the preferred editor.

    Since Alpine Linux uses ash via busy box, which is somewhat limited in comparison to Bash. Simply install via the Alpine Linux package manager “apk” Bash & Bash_completion, then change /etc/passwd users shell to bash. You will see the user listed at the end of the line /bin/ash simply add a b to make it /bin/bash and that user will now use Bash. Populate the users home with the usual .bashrc .bash_history .bash_profile .bash_logout files and custom configure to your liking. Add “export EDITOR=nano” to the .bash_profile and that user will now use Nano as the preferred editor.

    Everything that SXMO does is via text files. Therefore it is easy using a terminal to configure any aspect. Since doing so via the virtual keyboard and small screen of the PinePhone is possible. Doing so via ssh from a workstation/desktop/laptop can be a little easier, specially when using tools like tmux https://github.com/tmux/tmux/wiki to easily switch between multiple programs in one terminal.

    SXMO is Linux underneath, learn Linux, and you will be able to do anything that can be done with Linux. No walled gardens, no reliance upon Corporations intent on keeping you in the dark and continuing to pay for no other reason than to increase their revenue.

    The Only Limitation to Linux is your Imagination.

  2. “It’s not exactly the most intuitive software”

    I recently tried this on my Nexus 5 and thought the system was locked up at first. I noticed it was actually responding when I tried to use the power button to reboot.
    I played around a little with the interface and blew it away though. No way was it anything like usable.