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The world of Linux Handhelds in 2018 (giantpockets.com)
220 points by ekianjo on Mar 4, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 126 comments

I used to be sort of obsessed with some kind of handheld Linux machine. Devices I've had included:

HP 200 LX with 40MB PCMCIA storage. Tried to run a cut-down 16-bit version of Linux on it, but I don't think I ever got that running properly.

Original Sharp Zaurus, the first Linux PDA. Tried to run Linux on a Compaq iPaq at some point too.

Asus EEE PC 401 with the 7in screen and 4GB of storage. The first of the netbooks. Performance and build quality were not good. But it was very cute.

HTC ADP1 (G1), the first Android phone. Decent keyboard, terrible battery life. Connectbot was awesome for SSHing into remote systems, and local development was slightly possible with a Linux chroot environment.

Samsung Sidekick 4G. By far the best keyboard on any handheld device I've ever tried. Great feel, and I could get up to 30wpm. I was also able to set up a chroot environment. Had to modify the keyboard map to enable the last few ASCII characters not normally available via Fn keypress.

The idea was that I'd be able to do some software development on the go. But that didn't really work out either.

The device I'm most happy with so far is my current Chromebook. I've got a full Ubuntu environment via Crouton on a 128GB SD card, though most of the time I'm just SSHing into a workstation. Light, cheap, and with a long battery life. The keyboard is good enough that I'm running at nearly full speed, though I do miss my dedicated caps-lock.

I am still sad that things in the form factor of the Oqo never caught on:


With a modern multitouch screen and a slide-out keyboard it could be both a capable tablet, and do a lot more... The surface book is too large.

edit: this thing too, the whole 2007 era "UMPC" fad:


imagine the same form factor but with modern processor/screen/battery tech, 802.11ac dual band wave2 wifi, a few USB type C ports on it.

Like you, I have an almost obsession-level fascination with Linux on palmtops. I think I can trace it all the way back to seeing a young John Connor ‘hack’ an ATM or something in the watershed Terminator 2 movie when I was a kid.

Like you I've had an HP 200LX (the closest I've come to Connor's pocket Atari-or-whatever), a Compaq iPaq, a PSION Series 7 ‘netbook’, and (most recently, not Linux-related) an Apple eMate 300 (the clamshell, translucent, school-oriented Newton ‘laptop’ variant).

Joining the club, I've had the same obsession with portables. The first portable device I tried to shoehorn Linux onto was a Fujitsu Stylistic 2300 from the late '90s (attempt made in 2001). From there I tinkered with the Sharp Zaurus series, the HP palmtops, and the Netpliance iOpener "web appliance", which I had running Slackware Linux. I carried that contraption to college and used it as a demonstration of the power of Linux to my NA instructor's delight.

I always wanted the eMate 300 having never owned a Newton. I also was a PalmOS fanatic from about 1999 through the late 2000s, with my first "smartphone" a Treo 650 after having owned over a dozen Palm devices previously.

I had an eMate 300 for taking notes in college (2006-2007)! I replaced the batteries and put in a wifi pcmcia card - it got like 24 hours of battery life and was super rugged. It was really great as a distraction-free school machine.

Young John Connor used an Atari Portfolio for that ATM hack [1]

[1] http://www.ausretrogamer.com/arnie-and-the-atari-portfolio/

But which Chromebook is it and is it good? (touchpad, smooth two-finger scrolling, screen etc.)

I'm not OP, but I have a similar setup and use an Asus C201P, which was $179 when I bought it. It's got an ARMv7-based dual core 1.8GHz processor with 16GB of internal storage. It's really surprisingly good for the price point, but the hardware doesn't compare to a $2k machine obviously. The crouton setup isn't perfect right out of the box. The brightness and volume buttons don't work immediately, and because I'm too lazy to configure hotkeys, I just use the terminal to adjust those. I haven't been able to get virtualization to work due to difficulties with the chroot environment. It does mostly work though.

This setup obviously isn't the best or strongest, but it was good enough for me to get through university. Nowadays, I mostly use it for local password management, torrenting, uploading ebooks onto my kindle, and running network scans, then I use ChromeOS for the rest.

I've got an Acer R11. Reasons for selection include:

1. Flip it completely open and use it as a tablet. Unfortunately, at around 1kg in weight, it doesn't quite work as well as a regular tablet, and I haven't used that mode much.

2. Early support for Android apps. This works OK.

3. Decent keyboard. It is close enough to full-sized that I've got decent speed on it. I really miss caps-lock though.

4. Low weight (for a laptop) and good battery life.

5. 4GB RAM and decent processor (for a Chromebook). Lots of Chromebooks may only have 2GB.

6. SD Card slot.


1. 1366x768 screen. It doesn't bother me in practice, but I'd have preferred full HD.

2. Dual-core processor. At the time I bought it, Acer had quad-cores with 2GB of RAM, or dual-cores with 4GB RAM, and I opted for the latter. I've more recently seen them selling with quad cores, 4GB RAM, and 32GB internal storage.

I'm not super picky about the touchpad and scrolling, though I'm sure it is not as smooth as other devices. I do bump the touchpad with my palms enough that I've needed to disable tap-to-click though.

I loved my asus eeepc even though I only had one GB. Had a full LAMP stack and it was great for airplane rides. I miss it- and wish there was something comparable today.

There is. The HP Stream and other things are like EeeePCs except faster, with more ram and more storage.


Acer make similar things. There are also things even cheaper from Light in the Box and other Chinese stores:


Actually, these things are so cheap that the it may well be part of what killed palm tops. Every time I look at a Palm top unless it's this kind of price it's too expensive. That and getting a keyboard and getting a shell on some Android device.

Those are rather larger. The eee was great for travel- even in economy seats it was convenient to use.

I have pretty much every Linux handheld ever made, and my original First Batch Open Pandora is still the one I go to for my casual gaming needs. The reason is that the community around this device continues to produce absolute gems for the machine, as can be witnessed in what would have to be one of the most underrated app-store/repo's around:


My next-favourite device is the GPD Pocket. Its simply a great Linux workstation - near-perfect hardware design (unibody: yay! shitty keyboard: boo!) and - since its Intel - pretty much everything you could want to run on a machine this size is just an "apt install" away. Paired with a couple of iControlPads' (lol!), this is pretty much the ideal portable gaming rig.

I can't wait for the Pyra, and if there's a GPDPocket2, I'm definitely in for that. I'd love to have a device that delivers the community and form-factor of the Pyra, with the materials (unibody) and architecture (Intel) of the GPD Pocket some day. In order that we get there, I'm supporting any of these companies that push us closer .. even though, of course, a Switch or an Android tablet would probably be a better investment for gaming needs. ;)

I really like the Pocket; everyone (including you) complains about the keyboard but it just takes a few days to get used to it imho. It has stellar battery life (ubuntu + i3wm gets me well over 20 hours while coding). For casual gaming my OpenPandora is still my go to. Indeed a Switch seems tempting but I like having a device I can code on, again, stellar battery life, and I have spare batteries for the thing so I can go hiking for days and do some gaming + coding at night. Can't wait for the Pyra indeed.

My ideal device would have unibody, swappable battery and 3g, so the Pyra. The Gemini seems great but not sure about the battery life on it. Or the Linux support although they seem serious about it.

I got used to the keyboard eventually, but it was devilish few weeks until I did. As a vim user, the placement was bonkers .. but a bit of retraining of muscle memory was, admittedly, in order anyway.

Pyra is going to be great - only wish it had the Pocket form-factor/design ethos. The chunky plastic is a bit gauche for my tastes, and if we think the Pocket keyboard is terrible, well .. Pyra ain't no better! (Have played with a prototype for a few hours .. that muscle memory thing ..)

I remapped the keyboard for Vim but as Vim user and i3wm user I actually imagined it would be easier for ‘us’ and to me to was.

And yes you are right about the Pyra but I love the community. The lifetime of the thing will be long like the Pandora. It costs a lot but he, it outlives all phones by quite a bit with my usage. But yes for the casing my dream would be Pocket unibody, Zaurus swivel, a Gemini/Psion keyboard and exandable and community like Pyra.

With this pocket pc revival it might happen.

My entire argument in favour of the OpenPandora pretty much boils down to this: http://repo.openpandora.org/?page=detail&app=package.starcra...

I mean... what else do you need?

I've never had much success programming on it, though. Not for want of trying. I even ported Propeller IDE for giggles. I think I've just never given the keyboard enough time to build up any sort of muscle memory with it. This is the same issue I have with the GPD Pocket- as much as I love the size and aesthetic, I'm convinced the keyboard will render the thing useless and relegate it to the bottom of my plastic tub of technology remnants.

> I'm convinced the keyboard will render the thing useless

I find it quite comfortable for 10 finger typing after getting used to it. I am not much more ineffective using it than a full keyboard. But it definiteiy needs practice; I think being a touch typist helps, but the q/tab are definitely really annoying to finally get out of your system.

The Pandora is far worse for that but even with that I wrote games on the device itself. It does make me feel a lot better on train/plane trips than just fiddling with my phone, but ofcourse that's a matter of taste.

The Pocket seems dubious to me - the article got my attention, but the price tag I'm seeing on Amazon ($600+) makes me shy away. Refurb 11" MacBook Airs are in that range, plus any other number of low-end Windows laptops, or even hacking away at a Pi-Top.

I want something that fits in my pocket; the Pocket does. It is not phone size but for me it is comfortable and it has a lot longer battery life. The air is too big for what I use the Pocket for.

Yeah, it's expensive, but it has a pretty high resolution screen and it is pretty small. Definitely easy to carry compared to a laptop+charger.

You can get it on AliExpress for under $500.

+10 for the OpenPandora, the community is incredible. It really gives me hope and confidence that the Pyra- while it may take a while to gain momentum- will be an incredible platform for many, many years. That said while I have a first batch Pandora and a silver 1Ghz unit I don't game much anymore and they're a little neglected. I enjoy breaking them out every now and then to find dozens of updates to various PND apps and check up on what's new.

I love having a complete set of Robert's visually consistent emulator front-ends.

Don't get me started on iControlPad :D I've never seen a "lol" so loaded!

I'm keeping a close eye on the Gemini since I love the form-factor and my phone is getting a little crusty. The GPD Pocket has definitely also tempted me.

The GPD Win 2 is taking preorders right now.


27% off too

Another Pandora fan here - I think this is really the unsung hero of the Linux handheld world. Such a great community!

I pre-ordered the Pyra and have been following its development ever since. IMO, many companies could learn a lot from them. Despite being such a small team they give out regular updates and are completely transparent. I think as long as you're honest about what's going on people are very understanding about delays and many other issues.

For an example of a massive hardware screw-up, take a look at the Jolla tablet. They barely gave any updates, always pretending everything was great, and suddenly they're out of money and cancelling the whole thing. Springing that up out of nowhere completely killed my trust with them.

I'm still on the sidelines with the Pyra, but keen to see how it pans out! It's looking really really close now, though.

Two Months?

How could they not mention the most important and groundbreaking one, although it doesnt release in 2018. https://puri.sm/shop/librem-5/

That's true. We need a phone running a pure Linux userland.

The Nokia N770-N9 saga was too good to be forgotten. IMHO, Librem should include some form of physical keyboard to take full advantage of Linux. GNOME is already quite touch friendly, but still.

Aside, Jolla seems to be going to be purchased quite soon. I hope the new owners try to come up with a new business model that involves open-source. Sailfish failed to attract a critical mass of developers due to closed components and never meeting their own open-sourcing promises.

Jolla is very much in survival-mode. Their priority is to build a sustainable business. Making Silica open source is not aiding that sustainable business in the short term.

Be aware, making software open source involves a lot of work. You don't just throw stuff over the fence and be done with it. You need to maintain it, review and apply patches, answer questions, write docs. That doesn't come free, and doesn't help the cause of surviving in the short term.

Just look around at all the businesses that have failed to make a sustainable business out of mobile linux phones. Ubuntu Touch is dead, and forked into UBports. Firefox OS is dead, and forked into something else. Purism has a good marketing team, but they are just starting. It is not easy to create a sustainable business out of this. And users are very critical and often demand feature parity with iOS and Android.

You need to maintain it, review and apply patches, answer questions, write docs

I don't understand this. None of that is necessary at all in order to release the source code. Just make it available to download. Heck, you can even "protect" it (nominally) with a download code that you ship along with the device, like you find with music.

Even then you need to vet it beforehand, if it all legal and clean to offer as open source download.

Building a phone isn't easy (obviously ;)). Been there myself and it may not even be due to incompetence from Purism's side. Your leverage as a small manufacturer with low quantities is just almost non-existing. Their main problem is probably not going to be on the software or hardware design and I think they can probably get a good working dev-kit out in Jun-2018 as they state. Their main challenge is probably going to be on the mechanical design, if they want to mass produce something that is on par with other phones out there quality wise.

I don't know anything about their team and their experience, but that Jan-2019 release date could shift quite a bit. Especially if they need custom tooling or non standard parts. 6 months will evaporate really really fast, when retooling or changes in material is involved.

I love the project though and I hope they succeed. I have been looking for something like this and I will surely buy one, if they can deliver.

I have my preorder in for a Librem 5 and I kind of hope they just give up trying to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung on making a super slim form factor. I don't know how much it simplifies the mechanical design but I'd love a phone that just throws a huge battery in even if it's twice as thick as an S9.

My last Samsung phone ended up being more than twice as thick anyway due to needing a Mophie external battery case just to make it through a full day of ordinary use. My ideal is a phone with a huge battery and sturdy enough not to need a protective case, if that makes it 16mm+ thick I'm absolutely fine with that.

The main focus on on devices that have physical controls, not just touch screens. But yeah, it could be worth mentioning anyway. And PostMarketOS at the same time.

My personal take on Linux handhelds is that they're held back by their user interfaces. None of the options I've seen have the polish of iOS and Android; they just look ugly and painful to use. On desktop this is 1. improving and 2. partially masked by the paradigm that you're supposed to "get work done", but mobile is in a large part still a platform for consumption and issues such as these make it difficult to seriously use them as such.

The Linux users/developers ecosystem is dominated by techies who mostly find the typical Android/iOS user interface inadequate; very far from the normal phone/tablet user: we love to use the shell to get things done or spend time customizing the system here and there, therefore the lesser incentive to have a finger oriented interface. Most people looking for native Linux handhelds probably either don't need/like that interface, or adapt better to its absence. I agree that the typical Joe User wouldn't find Linux appealing for that reason, anyway Gnome 3 attempts to fill the gap and it's usable even on my old Atom netbook. I then switched back to Xfce, but if I had a Linux tablet that would be the choice. https://www.gnome.org

> The Linux users/developers ecosystem is dominated by techies who mostly find the typical Android/iOS user interface inadequate

I think this is a shame, honestly. It’s really optimized for the needs of the minority and keeps it away from the majority.

That's a good thing, the majority isn't a good target group.

It’s a good target group when determining defaults. I’m not saying that we should remove all customizability; rather, I feel that out of the box a device should serve the majority of people.

I agree not nearly enough thought is being put into the defaults.

But the majority of Linux users are "techies", thus the defaults should cater to them.

The benefit of Linux is that you can customize it for deferent groups of people: that’s what distros are. You can have one where the defaults cater to technical users and one where it’s focused on the needs of the general population.

Part of the problem is ugly or inadequate defaults. I wish more UX and UI designers contributed to open source projects.

Agreed 100%. As an example, Xfce defaults to (if one doesn't choose an empty panel) a two panel strips model: one in the upper side, one in the lower part of the screen. Now, who is the most likely user of Xfce, which is considered a lightweight desktop manager? I'd say mostly not-so-much-powerful-laptop/netbook or small pc users with no screen estate to waste. Most small laptops have 768 vertical points, and wasting part of them with redundant graphics is a bad choice. On all installation I move all icons from the lower panel to the upper one, delete the lower panel, often set the workspace number to 1 and delete the workspace chooser, add a few launchers (audio, bluetooth where needed etc.), move the upper panel to the bottom, delete the standard menu in favor of the whisker menu, reduce the panel vertical size to 26 pixels and set a dark theme. On some machines I also create some launchers for Rox-Filer windows (shell aside it's absolutely the fastest thing for navigating directories, copying/moving files etc.) pointing to most used directories (Home, Documents, Audio, NAS storage if any, etc). The result is a much more useable desktop although still user friendly and uncluttered.

I use Linux on the desktop and this is my biggest gripe their too (well it’s the same on BSD too, nothing Linux specific). Sometimes I wish the desktop environments were a bit more opinionated like MacOS (but without all the restrictions). I’m keeping a close eye on elementary OS to see where that ends up.

I've found nowadays I want a desktop that stays out of my way as much as possible. Preferably it should be lightweight and responsive.

I can still remember when I first started using Linux how excited I was that you could customize everything. I spent hours tweaking KDE to look just how I wanted it. Right down to the appearance of the clock on the system tray. Then AIGLX came out - I spent even more time compiling kernel modules running custom compositors etc so I could have wobbly windows and a spinning cube to switch virtual desktops. You know what for all the time it took me to get everything working it solved precisely none of the issues I had.

Nowadays (10+ years later has it really been that long) I don't care about any of that I've come to the realization the desktop just doesn't matter it's the applications.

I use the computer to run applications (be it firefox, emacs, terminal emulator, whatever else I need to get work done) make it easy for me to launch applications and make it easy for me to toggle between applications. Other than that stay out of my way.

I think a lot of long time users end up feeling the same way which leads to conclusion a lot of techies don't care about the desktop. Which I think is true but not for the reason you think.

I had the same opinion - I even used windows 7 for years because I didn't really care to configure anything. I switched when I discovered tiling window managers, and application launchers. I think the ergonomic benefits have kinda paid off - since I think using fuzzy searches to do almost everything, splittting and killing my windows as I need them, on as many desktops as I want - is a way more sane user interface than the default floating window + desktop idea, if much less friendly to somebody who isn't expecting it.

What desktop environment do you use now? What you are asking for does sound like the reason why people who use GNOME like it. It is focused on having sane and opinionated defaults but it is still tweakable via advanced settings (tweak tool, dconf) and extensions.

I use i3 with some GNOME services. I tried full GNOME late last year, but I much prefer a proper tiling window manager. On MacOS I used SizeUp which fulfilled my requirements pretty well, but AFAIK there isn't something like that for GNOME.

If it weren't for elementary OS, I would have probably never switched to Linux as my primary driver. elementary OS Luna (0.2) was the first Linux distro that I've used full time. Freya (0.3) was a bit of a mess that made me switch to GNOME, so I haven't even tried Loki (0.4).

I'm really looking forward to their next release, especially ever since they've announced that they're gonna consider the next version to be the first one that's production ready (and therefore switching the version number from 0.4 to 5.0).

I'm for sure gonna get back to it as soon as they release the first beta.

more opinionated like MacOS (but without all the restrictions).

Isn't this a contradiction? Pick for you, but still let you pick?

I think this might be possible: all you need to do is provide a good default. Most people will just use that, but those who don’t want it are free to pick something else.

In complicated systems this just leads to literally everyone being unhappy: You get vocal users who's weird combination of settings lead to edge case bugs, leading to devs getting stretched thin playing whack-a-mole and neglecting the needs of base case users.

Yes, but this is a practical rather than an inherent issue. You’ll see these crop up anytime you have a lot of people using something.

Honestly not really. Complexity breeds bugs simply due to surface area, and complexity grows exponentially with features (as in, each boolean option you add doubles the number of states your system can be in).

Isn't one of the main criticism of GNOME that it's too opinionated?

There is nothing wrong with being opinionated, see Rails and DHH - it's not everybody's cup of tea, but it worked well for the audience it was designed for.

As I understand the issue most people have with GNOME is the choices the developers seem to be making are making the UI prettier, but making the UX a lot worse. Plus the out of the box defaults are pretty bad - if you install GNOME on Arch it's going to be completely different to a customised distribution like Fedora Workstation.

And those people are exactly the reason why Linux will never be the OS of choice on desktop for the vast majority of people. Which it should be, because it's a great piece of software, underneath the horrible UX.

In this sense, Linux already is the OS for hundreds of millions, in the form of Android.

It just got a very different UI and somehow reworked userland.

Is this what you'd prefer on the desktop, too?

Personally, I think so. Leave the custom Arch or Debian builds for those who need it, and have a polished Linux distro “for the masses”. That’s basically what Chrome OS is, and it’s pretty popular (though, I’d like it if it was more customizable like Android is rather than just being a web browser).

well that opinion is expressed by people who want nearly zero opinion OSs.

Opinionated and restrictive goes hand in hand...

The Pandora "simple mode" is pretty nice .. I haven't seen any problems with usability in this mode. There's even a very nice interface for access to the community repo that is actually easier to use than the App Store on iOS!

So I think you should probably update your experience.

Would you consider Sailfish to be a Linux handheld OS? And its predecessor Meego on the Nokia N9. Those are nice to use. The all-swipe interface would be perfect for a modern all-screen device like the iPhone X as well. No need to kludge in support for a home button.

I'm keeping it modular and simple: Jolla's Sailfish X on a Sony Xperia, and a Jorno bluetooth keyboard.

All my development tools run on a native terminal (Emacs, SBCL, Erlang). SSH 'just works'. Android apps too, if I really need any of them.

Basically, for my needs, it's an ultra-portable computer with the benefits of telephony. (And protected - on trips - in an absurdly over-the-top armored case by Love Mei.)

Is it difficult to install Sailfish on the Sony Xperia?

No, it's not hard and it's officially supported by Jolla. Note that Sailfish X is a commercial product, it costs 50 EUR:


Thanks, it looks like a VPN is needed to purchase from the US.

You can put a Linux in a chroot on most (? all?) Android devices , even non rooted https://www.xda-developers.com/guide-installing-and-running-... and the Moto Z family has a landscape keyboard upcoming https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/physical-keyboard-mod-for... so that should be a contender too, I feel.

It's not optimal because your have to go thru Android anyway and since Android phone end up having a very limited lifetime of updates you will have to run a chroot on top of an unsecure/obsolete Android version over the long run.

There's Lineage OS

Do you still have to download their builds on shady servers?

Build yourself, using your own signing keys and your own patches (if you need any - I do).

There are various Docker images with everything necessary in the Dockerfile and user needs to only specify the device's model name (and any extra options, like build type).

Takes some time but the only thing one needs to trust is the source code (which is nearly impossible to fully audit, though)

It has auto-updates built in, not sure about where they're hosted, though. Still probably more trustworthy (and up to date) than the stock OnePlus Android builds that my phone includes by default (OP3).

What kind of security attack vector are you finding on a offline gaming device with 6-12 month old Android?

Why would it have to be offline?

I've got a Motorola Droid 4 sitting in a drawer, that I no longer use - it's got a slide out hard keyboard - I think I'm going to give this go and see how useful it is.

I carry a Bluetooth keyboard with me anyway so this sounds like the way to go. Or to skip the chroot bit (so things like '/etc/hosts' can be edited). Maybe 2:1 tablets with the detachable keyboard could be an option, however, why learn a new keyboard, a cramped one at that?

GNURoot Debian is broken in Android Oreo, and nobody seems to be in any hurry to fix that. Termux still works well, though.

Check out Noodle Pi – http://noodlepi.com

It’s the world’s smallest and lightest handheld computer. And unlike most of these devices with tiny built-in keyboards, it features a modular docking system so you can dock it with a range of different keyboards, from a tiny thumb keyboard to a full-sized one, or a gamepad.

Noodle Pi can be assembled, disassembled, repaired and upgraded by users, with no soldering or tools required. Being powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero, it also runs entirely off a MicroSD card, which greatly facilitates physical security for your system. You can just remove the MicroSD card and keep it physically secure, rather than having to secure the whole device.

There are also a number of wearable configurations possible with Noodle Pi, including a wrist dock that enables wearing it as a wrist-watch, a belt holster, and a clip holster. Lanyard holes in all the docks facilitate even more wearable configurations.

Review of Noodle Pi by Bryan Lunduke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82_bPWyrPFc

> It’s the world’s smallest and lightest handheld computer.

Only for very specific definitions. Some phones are smaller than that, and there are GNU+Linux wrist watches.

Phones aren't PCs. They are crippled and locked-down devices. Of the ones that are capable of running a full Linux distro, I don't believe any are even close to the size of Noodle Pi.

I'm not aware of any Linux wristwatch or any other computer that's in production and available to buy that is smaller than Noodle Pi. If you know of a Linux wristwatch that's for sale commercially I'd love to know about it.

The only Linux wristwatches I see in a quick online search are two prototype devices, one made by Steve Mann and the other by IBM. Neither of those devices were actually usable as a PC, or available commercially. Mann's actually relied on a second hidden wearable computer to provide the actual processing power.

> Phones aren't PCs. They are crippled and locked-down devices.

We have differing definitions. I might concede phones as separate from "PCs", but the original phrase was "handheld computer", which most phones are. Yes, many are locked down at the bootloader level, but they're still general-purpose computing devices. With Termux or a chroot, you can even get GNU goodness on them. Even without that, Android/iOS are as much computers as Windows S devices; they can run programs compiled for that OS, and have normal full-function CPUs, GPUs, and network stacks. The default use-cases are restricted, but worst case you can flip on the switch for sideloading APKs and run any code you want.

> Linux wristwatch

Prepare to be amazed(1) :) https://asteroidos.org/ is a proper GNU/Linux system for hardware that shipped with Android Wear. It's running a tiny QT GUI on the touchscreen, but you can SSH in (https://asteroidos.org/wiki/ssh/) and get a normal system, systemd and all.

(1) I mean this sincerely; it still amazes me every time I look at what they've built.

Yes, for the sake of precision I should probably have used the term “PC” rather than “computer”. I thought the meaning was pretty clear from the phrase “handheld computer”.

AsteroidOS looks very cool, thanks for the link. But a watch "running a tiny QT GUI on the touchscreen”, and which you can only really use as a computer by SSHing in via another computer, is not a PC, by any reasonable definition.

I'm aware of many little devices that can run Linux, but they're not full-fledged PCs unless they have reasonably sized screens and enough processing power to run regular PC apps in a usable manner.

Neither is a phone, which is neither marketed as a PC (or a “computer”), nor able to run any apps that aren't written specifically for Android / iOS, without all sorts of complicated shenanigans to jailbreak its lock-down, which is designed precisely to prevent it from being used as a general purpose computer.

Some people can “skate” on a bicycle while standing up on the seat and handlebar. That doesn’t mean a bicycle is a skateboard. Especially if they had to first break built-in protections in the bicycle specifically designed to prevent them from doing that.

Also sideloading APKs is a far cry from “run any code you want”. Can I run a GTK app written in Perl on an Android phone by sideloading an APK?

Your account has promoted the Noodle Pi repeatedly over the past several weeks... What's the threshold for spam?

As far as I can tell, parent mentioned Noodle Pi five months ago, and today is only the second time. Compared to that, I’m the biggest Apple shill around.

This is ad copy which I find dubious. It's neither the smallest nor the lightest and having a SD card which you could pop out but no reasonable person would does not increase security. It's also 200 usd for quite frankly a bad computer you will never use.

I think you're paying for the form factor.

I agree the ad-copy is bad taste, and ignored it, until I came across the Noodle Pi mentioned again in another article. It's pretty interesting and tempting. The creator's talents is with the device, not the advertising.

I really like the idea of having the Gemini or Pocket for occasionally writing on the move, but I don't think I can justify them at that price. Is there any cheaper option for somebody who's not too bothered about Linux or powerfulness? I note the cool but ancient Psion 5mx still seems to go for £200 or so on ebay. Is there any kind of pocketable writing workhorse in production at a sensible price?

How about keyboard + storage + minimal display? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaSmart

I actually picked up a couple of these with the idea of putting a PiZero in them. There's a good bit of space in the area on both sides of the screen. If we could make the keyboard recognizable by the pi in some capacity (perhaps with an arduino translator), definitely some possibilities.

Can't deny the price is right but the keyboard looks a bit too big and the display too small and limited. Interesting device but I think I'd rather schlep my (also not quite portable enough) netbook than that.

Sloppy article. The Gemini is shipping now and a, eh, handful, have landed in early backers hands. The question of future support have come up repeatedly and Planet Computers understands this and have promised to "open source what they can". While this leaves a lot of question, the specifically mentioned boot loaders. Thus, bleeding-edge Linux support might depend on community support, but it's not impossible.

> Gemini is shipping now and a, eh, handful, have landed in early backers hands

the same can be said for the GPD2, but that does not make it "officially released" until you can purchase it anywhere, anytime.

If you consider indiegogo 24/7 online, accessible through a browser, you can purchase the GPD2 anywhere, anytime. Delivery is a bit delayed while they still build them though.

> While this leaves a lot of question, the specifically mentioned boot loaders.

How about graphic drivers? is the Mali GPU properly supported in the mainline kernel?

Interesting thread, going to check out it and the OP. I've entertained thoughts of getting a handheld pocket Linux-based device. Would want a way to type on it to do light programming though, without it being too awkward or slow. A while ago, had almost decided to buy a Nokia N900 based on a glowing description of it by an acquaintance who had one, then did not buy it due to a couple of issues - read a negative review of one component of it (a USB connector, IIRC), and it was also discontinued, IIRC.

Apropos of the OP, anyone know what happened to LinuxDevices.com? It used to be a decent news site about the topic. Maybe it got acquired or closed down.

I don't know about LinuxDevices.com, but have you looked at the Neo900 project? They're updating the internals of the Nokia N900, and their plans include fixing the USB connector. Even though their specs won't be brand new, I think its a quite interesting project as it will be libre software from the bootloader up, and they're designing the circuits to be able to definitely power off the GSM chip from the CPU, so that you can control it, not vice verse (since there's no libre GSM chips available).

Just saw your comment now ...

Thanks for the info. Interesting generally, and also that they plan to fix the USB connector. Will check out Neo900.

Hmm... with standalone HMDs coming out this year, I wonder what might be the VR equivalent of linux handhelds?

HMDs based on qualcomm's snapdragon 835 vr chipset are android, so perhaps someday linux on android on HMD.

But you can also think of HMDs as merely fancy monitors. And use a bluetooth keyboard (for flexibility). Leaving you with simply a portable headless linux box. Acting as a wifi hub.[1] Serving say a WebVR RDP client to the HMD.

So imagine a standalone android HMD (like [2]), decorated with a linux single-board computer. Or several. Maybe with power from the HMD battery (~4k mAh) via USB. So power-on all, run chromium in the HMD, browse to the linux board, run Xpra RDP in stereo. For passthrough AR, one often wants more cameras and associated computes than an HMD provides out of the box (for dynamic range, and high-res narrow-FoV to see lecture slides, and fisheye for better situational awareness (eg on public transport), and optical tracking of hands and keyboard and such). So imagine a Pi-based ecosystem of linux HMD-mounted symbiotes. And any boards with their own battery, and not doing camera, can stay in a backpack or pocket, simply connected by wifi. Thoughts?

Linux headhelds.

[1] https://learn.adafruit.com/setting-up-a-raspberry-pi-as-a-wi... [2] https://www.anandtech.com/show/12297/lenovo-details-its-stan...

The Pockulus C.H.I.P. (http://pockulus.getchip.com) is a Linux-based headset. It's meant to be a bit silly, but it's real, it's Linux-based, and it's a headset.

I'd be happy to have a retractable USB HMD monocle for any computer, be it Linux or otherwise.

Can any of those run GNU/Linux without any blobs? That is, with the linux-libre kernel and no proprietary graphics drivers?

Not that I'm aware of. The only phone project I know that's trying to run libre software from the bootloader up is the Neo900 (new internals in a Nokia N900 case). And in the case of the GSM module, if I understand correctly, they're designing a circuit that guarantees you can power it off from the CPU. So basically, their architecture is to not trust the modem, since its running proprietary software.

I would venture and say that none can, but it seems like the GPD Win 2 may be able to run on the mainline kernel with pretty much everything working out of the box, except the touchscreen and the gamepad controls.

No. They can't.

For years I was reluctant to type with a tactile screen, but after trying the "swype" mode to type, I found that I'm actually faster with it than with a classic keyboard. So a keyboard now seems obsolete for me. I admit that there are still issues with it, like for example this annoying bug when it does 2 words suggestions

However, I still have to find an adequate solution to efficiently type code (offline or online, but both should be possible) using an android, as gboard is definitely not designed for it.

There are apps available that can run python or other interpreted languages, so you can connect a real keyboard on an android, but even small keyboards are rarely high quality.

I guess a solution would be some tactile keyboard app that is designed for programming.

I suppose you mean touch screen, which is pretty much the opposite of tactile.

Now Swype is going, can you recommend anything in it's place?

Google keyboard or Gboard has swype like feature for a while now. Other options are SwiftKey and choorma keyboard

I've got the GPD pocket, haven't had much time to use it because of a baby being around (she's pretty interested in it though). i wish the keyboard was better, I would probably use it more if it was.

I have the GPD Win 1 (Windows only) and while it's a pretty good pocket computer, I'm reluctant to ever buy another product from them because the support is lacking at best.

Several users have had batteries swell, and GPD has not provided any avenue for these users to get replacements. Some members of the community have stepped up, but the batteries are subject to shipping rules, so people in some countries are still out of luck.

Isn't a battery a battery? Anything that fits, with the right pin outs, works?

No. Without getting into too much detail (the /r/gpdwin subreddit can provide more info), the battery has to be a specific voltage, high drain and a specific size because the chassis has very little room in it. There are knockoffs of the battery on AliExpress, but people who have bought them have reported having all sorts of problem with them.

The unit also won't work without a battery on AC power only, because it looks like it was made with pre-existing tablet guts in that it only gets power from the battery irrespective of whether it's charging or not.

And given that the OEM batteries are subject to expansion, there's no reason to think that an OEM replacements wouldn't either.

FWIW, the GPD Win 2 doesn't have these issues, because it has a different design.

What I hope to see (and would like to buy) is the one with form factor of VAIO UX or OQO. I think current technology of ARM can make this happen again with longer battery time.

I've used VAIO UX with arch linux and the keyboard is sufficiently comfortable enough to run emacs for "mobile coding" :)

I had high hopes for the pocket C.H.I.P last year but it kinda fizzled out and ripped off a bunch of people.

I have one and it's neat in a retro kind of way; sorry to hear it's gone badly.

Android phones and tablets don't count as handhelds? ;)

From a users perspective android doesn't really count as Linux.

I was thinking just the same. In the article and these comments, everything _except_ Linux is being talked about.

These all seem like weird compromises satisfying neither to people who want to do serious computing nor people to just want to play some games on the go.

The Pyra's PowerVR GPU is disappointing. I wonder how good power control will be without a free driver.

Skip the keyboard and add another screen with stylus support.

None of these work without binary blobs.

rip Ubuntu Edge...

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