Some Linux phone user interfaces, like Plasma Mobile, draw obvious inspiration from other modern smartphone operating systems like Android or iOS. Sxmo doesn’t do that.

It’s a simple, lightweight user interface with a dynamic window manager (dwm) that uses tiling to stack windows side-by-side, atop one another, or a combination. You can navigate using a combination of button presses and touchscreen taps and gestures, and Sxmo comes bundled with a handful of simple applications and scripts.

While it takes a little getting used to, having played around with Sxmo a few times in the past, I’ve found it to be one of the speediest, most responsive user interfaces available for the PinePhone. This week the developers released Sxmo version 1.4 (quickly followed by v1.4.1), and the software has picked up a number of new features and improvements.

One of the changes I noticed right away was the improved support for HiDPI displays which means that text and graphics are rendered a little more clearly on the PinePhone. Menus are also a little larger, and there are icons associated with most menu items and status bar indicators.

Another significant change? The virtual keyboard has been updated to make text entry easier. Fire up the keyboard by pressing the power button once and you’ll be greeted with a modern-looking QWERTY keyboard with a number row, Esc key, Tab, backspace, Shift, Ctrl, Alt, and up and down arrows.

But you can also press the little arrow in the left corner to access additional punctuation keys, Fn keys and more. Press it again and you get another view where the arrow keys dominate the screen. Once more and you get a number pad. And one last time gets you what I’m pretty sure is a Cyrillic keyboard.

Other new features include new default fonts, a new contacts menu, file menu improvements, scrolling improvements, and a bunch of customization options.

Among other things, you can enable haptic and audio feedback for the virtual keyboard, change the wallpaper, and enable a lock screen pin by customizing settings in ~/.config/sxmo/xinit.

You can read more about bug fixes, new features, and other changes in the release announcements for Sxmo versions 1.4 and 1.4.1.

The easiest way to try the latest version of Sxmo is to use a recent build of postmarketOS with Sxmo for the PinePhone, choosing either a postmarketOS v21.03 build or an edge build. Flash the operating system to a microSD card or the PinePhone’s built-in storage and you should boot into Sxmo 1.4 or later.

If you want to make sure you’ve got the latest software follow Sxmo’s instructions for updating all packages to the latest version using either of the following methods:

  1. Open the System Menu, navigate to Config, and choose the Upgrade Pkgs option.
  2. Open a terminal window and type “apk update && apk upgrade -a” (without the quotes).

I’ll note that I had trouble getting that second method to work until I separated the commands and ran them one after the other, first using “apk update” and then “apk upgrade -a.”

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