Mobian is a mobile Linux distribution based on Debian. Designed to run on phones and tablets compatible with mainline Linux kernels, the operating system originally supported just three devices: the PinePhone, Librem 5, and PineTab.
But now the team has announced initial support for a few more devices: the OnePlus 6, OnePlus 6T, Pocophone F1 smartphones and Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet.
As for the newly supported phones, they’re are all models with Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processors, which makes them the most powerful Mobian-compatible devices to date (although they lack features like hardware kill switches and rely on closed-source firmware for things like the GPU and wireless radios).
Well, sort of compatible. Mobian for these devices is still very much a work in progress – there’s support for hardware-accelerated graphics, WiFi, Bluetooth, the touchscreen display, and hardware buttons. But the modem, sound, and cameras are not working yet, which makes it difficult to Mobian as a daily driver on any of the new phones.
Support for these Snapdragon 845-powered phones was made possible by an effort from the postmarketOS team to mainline more devices, which led to a series of patches to add compatibility with Qualcomm’s 2018 flagship smartphone processor.
Prior to those updates, developers who wanted to get a mobile Linux distribution up and running on these devices would have needed to use a hardware abstraction layer like Halium, which basically lets Linux communicate with the phone’s hardware by using Android services.
You can find instructions for installing the latest builds of Mobian for the Pocophone F1 and OnePlus 6 and 6T at the Mobian Wiki.
Adding support for the Surface Pro 3 was likely the easiest step, since Microsoft’s tablet features an Intel processor that’s already supported by Debian’s AMD64 kernel. The advantage to installing Mobian rather than plain Debian is that you get a touch-friendly operating system out of the box.
The Mobian team notes that the Surface Pro 3 is also its first supported device that can use an upstream GRUB bootloader, and all of the tablet’s hardware works out of the box, including the cameras.
While the installation instructions may also work on other Surface devices as well as other Windows tablets with x86 processors, it’s only been officially tested on the Surface Pro 3 and the developers suspect that touchscreen support may not work on Surface Pro 4 and later hardware.