Trying out Phosh shell on PinePhone and openSUSE Tumbleweed

Trying out Phosh shell on PinePhone and openSUSE Tumbleweed

During my time with Phosh on PinePhone and openSUSE Tumbleweed, I have stumbled on a couple of issues that made clear that the experience still needed some polish. This is not a critic against the Phosh or the GNOME project. I don’t envy the developers that need to ensure that their app works across many form factors.

However, I can see that the additional time that the KDE project has spend on polishing their experience has paid off. In this article, I will describe the issues that I encountered and how you can fix them. I like everyone to try out this GNOME based mobile experience. It’s awesome to see FOSS beyond the PC / Laptop.

Where is my keyboard?

Unlocking your phone and then your SIM card are the number 1 and 2 things to do when you boot up a smartphone. However, its hard to unlock your SIM card without a virtual keyboard. And that was exactly what I encountered.

How do you progress? Click on Cancel and go to the Settings.

There is a category for Accessibility and under Typing you find a toggle for the (on) Screen Keyboard. Hit the switch!

You will find a keyboard icon at the bottom of the phone. Touching this keyboard button automatically opens and closes the virtual keyboard.

Now it is time to unlock that Simcard. Go to the Mobile category and click on Unlock.

Enter your Pincode and now you can make phone calls. The sound quality is excellent.

The GNOME experience, but mobile

Phosh is GNOME. And that becomes very apparent when you go from the full-screen experience to the windowed experience. (Yes, you can do that.) Just drag the title-bar down and your windows are in plain sight.

In many ways you can see that most apps are plain desktop apps (up-scaled by 200%) on a mobile device screen. Take GNOME Software for instance, which is clearly not designed as a Mobile First app. However, it does everything that it needs to do.

The most funny example is when you open LibreOffice. (Yes, you can do that.) It is amazing that you can do this at all. I do recommend that you switch to a Dock and a FullHD monitor to work on your LibreOffice files. You won’t get very far on the PinePhone screen.

Phosh looks good!

The parts that are developed for Phosh are designed to be Mobile First. You can see that the experience is optimized for those parts. Scrolling is relatively smooth (the PinePhone is not the fastest device and hardware acceleration is not working). The general design direction is clean and functional. The Lock screen is a good example of that design esthetic.

When you unlock Phosh, you are greeted by the App grid.

The Phone app is clearly designed to be a Mobile First experience.

When you swipe up, you go back to the Overview, where your open windows (Yes, it does multitasking) are shown above the App grid.

GNOME already featured a very clean and functional look for its apps. That translates quite well to a mobile form factor. GNOME Maps for instance looks quite good. The buttons could be a bit bigger, but it works fine on the PinePhone.

GNOME Weather works as you expect.

And GNOME Web (or Epiphany) works very well as a mobile browser.

The Smartphone app is called Megapixels. That app is still a work in progress. In contrast to opening this app on KDE Plasma Mobile, I can now see colors. The user interface of Megapixels is easy to understand. But there are very few features to work with.

GNOME Clocks could also do better. Everything is very small and there is a lot of unused screen estate. Which is weird, because on my desktop PC the interface looks more mobile friendly. However, there is a minimum width for the window on my desktop PC. Maybe this is what happens, when you make the window even smaller.


I liked exploring Phosh on openSUSE Tumbleweed. I am not in love with the experience, but I do like the way it operates. It’s a very functional experience. For some people, that is all it needs to be. With some love and development from the GNOME community, I am certain that it will reach the same level as polish that the KDE community has.

What I really like about the PinePhone is that I can install any OS to the phone that I like to explore. It is a bit similar to using Virtualbox to explore the various Linux distributions and the various Desktop Environments. You can just wipe your phone and flash another Operating System on it and try it out. Every experience is unique. Although not every experience is right for me, it is fun poking around. And that is what FOSS is all about (for me).

Published on: 4 May 2021

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