PinePhone: WireGuard, dns-over-https, and other thoughts

I’ve already written about installing Mobian, with full disk encryption, on a PinePhone, and some initial software notes. This is a bit of an update.

I was pleased by what “just works”

And, no, I’m not overlooking the significant amount of effort which others have put into making it “just work”. The fact it “just works” for me is precisely because it didn’t work for someone else, and they fixed it.

The phone works

I’ve seen some reports that the phone does not wake up quickly enough to enable a user to answer an incoming call, but that’s not my experience so far.

Mobile data works

It was off by default, which threw me for a moment or two, but, once I toggled it on in Settings and added the right APN, it works.

Wi-Fi works

Even with a slightly more complex setup.

Hotspot via Wi-Fi works

I can tether my computer and connect to the Internet. I’ve still got a couple of kinks to work out, which I think relate to the interplay of IPv6 and sharing the phone’s WireGuard session. But, in principle, it works.

Not quite so easy

An always-on VPN, via WireGuard, and dns-over-https

I don’t want any device I own sending traffic over a network I don’t trust, without a VPN session running. I want to use my own DNS server for ad / tracker blocking (while I still can), and for traffic to break out where I want it to.

For WireGuard, I initially followed the blog post linked from the Mobian wiki to use Network Manager. It was making a WireGuard connection, but I could not connect to the Internet.

Try as I might, I could not make it work, so I went with a more basic approach for now: manually configuring WireGuard (basically, just using a configuration generated by algo), and using systemd to start it automatically on boot.

This works but since I’m just using systemd to initialise it, if it were to drop, it would not - as I understand it - reconnect. So not ideal.

For dns-over-https, I am using dnscrypt-proxy, just as I do on my desktop machines. This means that I am using DoH at a system level, rather than just within a particular browser.

Axolotl, as a Signal client

I initially struggled with Axolotl, but I managed to get it installed using the dedicated axolotl-mobian-package. It installs, and works well on a the small screen, but… I cannot get it to connect to Signal.

I think this is a problem with upstream Axolotl, and, basically, is one of the challenges of trying to use an unofficial client.

Not having Signal is a dealbreaker for me, for now, so I am a bit stumped here.

Matrix, via nheko

I got matrix working for messaging using nheko. I have not yet tried voice or video though.

Evolution, for PGP’d email

I use email a lot. It’s probably my primary form of communication. And I like to PGP sign my email, and encrypt it where I can. (Yes, I know PGP is sub-optimal.)

I can’t find a way to do PGP with the native Geary email client, so I’ve installed Evolution. It’s not terrible, when scaled-to-fit and with all extraneous menu and other bars removed, but it’s hardly a slick experience.

I can read email with relative ease, but replying is a chore.

I’m going to see if I can improve this / find workarounds, but it’s a bit of a challenge right now, and, again, this is a dealbreaker, and I want.

Not yet working

Siglo, for the PineTime watch

I am a massive fine of Pine64’s “PineTime” watch. It’s hugely impressive for a such a cheap device.

The suggested software is Siglo, but I’m struggling with it. Even with my PineTime paired with the phone, I can’t seem to get it recognised in Siglo.

I have done basically no debugging, and I have not gone looking for others who have had this problem, so it might be easily fixed.

But, so far, it’s proving a challenge.

A lot of compromises

So far, while I very much like the idea of a non-iOS, non-Android smartphone, I am finding the experience a series of increasing compromises.

That I am having this experience with Mobian on a PinePhone is not particularly surprising, since I found the same when I tried UBPorts on a OnePlus 6T.

Back then, I was not prepared to accept the compromises. They felt just too great.

Now, I’m not so sure. Perhaps I am. But not on the PinePhone hardware.

It is slow / unresponsive

The main compromise is just how slow it is. Opening Firefox takes many, many seconds. Having more than a few apps open is worse.

I think this is down to the relatively meagre specs of the PinePhone, and I would be very keen to seen how it works on the beefier PinePhone Pro.

Software and the small screen

The second is the very limited number of applications which work well with a small, portrait interference.

Of course, pretty much anything which works via a terminal works well, and I am no stranger to managing Linux via a terminal, but I don’t see myself interacting with my phone on a day-to-day basis via a terminal.

If I can get the applications above working, I’ll have the core software for my needs available. And that’s pretty darned impressive, on a Linux smartphone.

What I won’t have is the wealth of applications available in easy-to-use form as I could have on iOS or Android. Things like parking apps, for example, or apps for fuel stations. These are convenient, not dealbreakers, but their absence would be a bit of a pain.

I’m in two minds about mobile banking. Mobile banking apps are, without doubt, convenient, but I am wondering whether I would be better off not having them on my everyday device. Perhaps, instead, they stay on a secondary device. After all, do I really need such ready access to a bank account?

The PinePhone’s camera is not great

Compared with the good camera on my old iPhone, and the frankly excellent camera on my OnePlus 6T, the camera on the PinePhone is not great. I want a good camera immediately to hand, and the PinePhone’s camera just doesn’t cut it for me.

Again, perhaps the PinePhone Pro will offer a solution.