PineTab running Mobian and GNOME: an iPad replacement?

I am gradually weaning myself off Apple's products. I've switched from a MacBook Pro to a Microsoft Surface Pro running Debian (which I really like), and I've moved from an iPhone and Apple Watch to a OnePlus 6T running /e/ (which is okay; I'd prefer Linux to Android but I'm not there yet) and a PineTime watch (which has impressed me no end).

The next item on my list was my iPad, and that was proving tricky, as I didn't want an Android-based tablet.

That said, my tablet usage is pretty limited:

  • reading my RSS feeds
  • Twitter and mastodon
  • web browsing
  • watching videos (via Jellyfin)
  • occasionally reading, but rarely replying to, email, and instant messages (I prefer to use my computer, or my phone at a push)

And, well, that's it. I don't read books on it (I prefer my Kobo Clara HD eReader for that (in conjunction with the excellent calibre eBook management tool)), or use it for anything unduly demanding.

Surely I could find a replacement?

The pine64 PineTab: a Linux-based replacement for my iPad?

I've had a fun time experimenting with some of pine64's range of devices. I love the PineTime, rather like the PinePhone but find it a bit slow (so I am looking forward to the PinePhone Pro), and didn't get on too well with the PineBook Pro (which has been rehomed). So the PineTab was an obvious contender, if only I could get hold of one.

I bought one secondhand but in really rather good condition, bar from a slightly annoying ding on the screen, from a kind chap who lives not too far away from me. A smooth transaction and a couple of days later, I had a PineTab with keyboard in my hands. But I had no time to tinker with it, beyond opening the box, until yesterday.

Setting up the PineTab with Mobian

Installing Mobian

Since I wanted full disk encryption, I set it up using Mobian's latest weekly installer, following the same process as the PinePhone.

It worked fine, and was completed within about 10 minutes.

Installing gnome-desktop

I am not a huge fan of the Phosh desktop environment. (At least, I think it is a desktop environment.)

I get why it exists, and it works pretty well on the PinePhone, but I wanted to try "normal" GNOME on my tablet.

This might be a mistake, but it's easy enough to do and easy enough to remedy if it is a mistake.

Once I had Mobian up and running, I checked for, and installed, software updates:

sudo apt update && sudo apt update -y

I then installed tasksel:

sudo apt install tasksel -y

I used that to install GNOME. I was expecting GNOME 3, but I got GNOME 4, which is fine:

sudo tasksel install desktop gnome-desktop

I then removed Phosh:

sudo apt remove phosh -y

I was left (perhaps not surprisingly) with a blank screen, so I powered the PineTab off then on again, and logged back in. GNOME. Excellent.

I removed the GNOME games metapackage:

sudo apt remove gnome-games -y

And, finally, I removed the remaining Phosh components and the games themselves:

sudo apt autoremove -y

Changing the mobian user password

By default, when you set up Mobian, you are prompted for a digit-based passcode. I'd prefer something a bit more secure, at the cost of convenience, so I changed it.

I could not do it using the GNOME GUI (in Settings), so I just used passwd at the terminal. Sorted.

Other bits

I've not really finished setting it up, as I have things like dnscrypt-proxy, wireguard, and setting up ssh keys, still to go, along with various security-related bits and pieces. But I think I have done most of it.

Software

The PineTab is not particularly snappy (at least, not the way I have set it up) and I wanted to keep the software load relatively light.

Reading my RSS feeds

At the moment, I'm just using the freshrss web interface, via Firefox.

Twitter and mastodon

I like the cawbird client for Twitter, and tootle (via snap, sadly) for mastodon.

Web browsing

Firefox, and Tor Browser.

Each is sluggish.

Watching videos (via Jellyfin)

I installed the jellyfin client, but it was quite chunky (around 500MB), given the 350MB KDE platform dependency.

It also did not work: I could not get it to play a video.

Since the jellyfin web interface is rather nice, I will probably use that instead.

Email, and instant messages

I have installed Evolution, so I can do PGP'd email.

I have not bothered with element or Signal, since I have them on my phone and on my computer.

I'm impressed, but...

I'm impressed with it. Very impressed with it. For ~£100, I have a capable, if sluggish / one-main-task-at-a-time, mini-laptop.

And that might be where I have gone wrong, as I don't want a mini-laptop. I want a iPad-replacement tablet.

I want a device which doesn't need to do much, but I want it to do it quickly and conveniently. Firefox takes 30 seconds to open, which is about 25 more than I'd be willing to accept. For example.

I will see what I can do, but it may be that my approach has been all wrong. And that's fine; this is a learning exercise as much as anything.


Author: neil

I'm Neil. By day, I run a law firm, decoded.legal, giving advice on Internet, telecoms, and tech law. This is my personal blog, so will be mostly about tech stuff, cycling, and other hobbies.

You can find me (and follow me) on Mastodon and Twitter.