Nemo Mobile is a community-based project designed to bring Linux to smartphones and other mobile devices. That could describe a lot of Linux distributions these days, but Nemo has been around longer than most, having been in development as far back as 2012.
Recently developers have begun porting Nemo’s open source Glacier UX (user interface) to work with modern smartphone Linux distributions including Manjaro and postmarketOS.
I took a recent build of Nemo Mobile based on Manjaro for a spin, and while it’s still very much a work in progress, it’s a promising alterative to other options including Phosh, Lomiri, and Plasma Mobile.
First a little bit of history. Long before the current crop of Linux smartphones and mobile-friendly Linux distributions were around, Nokia designed a Linux-based smartphone OS called Maemo. It eventually merged with the Intel-backed Moblin project and became MeeGo. And then Intel basically scrapped the idea and Nokia embraced Windows Mobile and sold its smartphone division to Microsoft, which pretty much put an end to MeeGo.
But out of the ashes of that corporate-backed operating system rose a community-supported version called Mer. It’s the basis for Sailfish OS, the commercially-developed operating system from Finnish company Jolla.
Sailfish has a proprietary user interface, while Nemo, which began as a community-based alternative, was designed to use the open source Glacier UX instead. While Nemo was originally based on Mer, this year developers began re-basing the operating system on Manjaro, although the Glacier UX has also been ported to other operating systems including postmarketOS.
All of which is to say that Glacier is both very old and very new at the same time, and it kind of shows.
The build of Nemo Mobile that I tested was compiled on May 20, 2021 and it’s a little unstable (apps and the operating system itself both crash unexpectedly from time to time), and not all that useful (there aren’t very many apps and some of the pre-installed software, like the camera app, doesn’t actually work). Some of the UI elements also look rather dated.
But, the user interface is very clearly designed for touchscreen input, with support for gesture-based navigation.
For example, you can swipe up on the lock screen to dismiss it, swipe down from the top of the display to view a quick settings-like panel or swipe up from the bottom to close apps.
From any app screen you can swipe from the left or right edge toward the center to return to the home screen. And from the home screen you can swipe right-to-left to view a list of currently-running apps, or left-to-right for a notification screen.
Glacier also includes a simple, but touch-friendly Dialer, messaging, and contacts apps, a photo gallery app, music player, as well as a virtual keyboard, and of course, a Settings app.
The problem is that when you open the Settings app on a PinePhone right now, the top won’t be visible, which you cannot access the Date and Time, Desktop, or keyboard settings or adjust the screen brightness.
I know which items are cut off because you can pull down on the Settings screen to see them, but you cannot select them because as soon as you lift your finger, the screen bounces back to its prior state.
While the latest builds of Nemo Mobile are buggy, the user interface is also pretty fluid and responsive, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the developers do next.
If you want to test Nemo or Glacier, you can find the latest pre-compiled images at the Nemo Mobile website, or follow the project Twitter, Telegram, Matrix, or IRC for updates (there are links at the bottom of the Nemo homepage).
You can also find a build of postmarketOS with Glacier UX at the PostmarketOS PinePhone image download page. And you can also try out Glacier on other devices by installing it using a Sailfish OS emulator or VirtualBox image.