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:

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.


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.