Samsung Galaxy Tab 9.7" and postmarketOS: initial impressions

Photo of postmarketOS's welcome screen, in landscape mode, on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 9.7

I have wanted to replace my iPad with a Linux-based device for a while so, when I saw that postmarketOS ran on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 9.7", from 2015, I was keen to give it a go.

I found one on eBay for the seemingly reasonable price of £50 delivered, so I took a punt.

(I love the idea of breathing new life into old(er) devices, in addition to wanting more control over what my device does (and does do).)

Installing postmarketOS

I installed postmarketOS on the Galaxy Tab from a machine running Linux.

The official instructions were almost correct and complete.

Here's what I did:

  • Download lk2nd-msm8916.img from Releases page on Github.
  • Boot your phone to bootloader (download) mode by holding Volume Down and Home while powering up and then press the Volume Up button.
  • Follow lk2nd instructions to install lk2nd. Basically flash it to boot partition (heimdall flash --BOOT lk2nd-msm8916.img)
    • I built heimdall from source; the instructions are at the end of the README. It did not work with the (very old) Debian package. I did not need to change any udev rules.
  • Follow Qualcomm_Snapdragon_410/412_(MSM8916)#Installation to install postmarketOS.
    • I installed fastboot from the Debian repos (apt install fastboot -y).
    • I am using the Phosh image; I might try the plasma image next

The installation completed in about six steps.

Basically, it was very easy. What I was expecting to be an evening's project took about 10 minutes.

Initial impressions

I'm used to Debian-based Linux, so postmarketOS is (under the hood, at least) rather unfamiliar to me. I'd prefer a Debian-based environment, to be honest, but oh well.

My initial impression is that I am sceptical it is an iPad replacement, but that I reserve my judgment.

Wi-Fi connected without a hitch. I have not tried WireGuard yet.

The Galaxy Tab's screen is of a noticeably lower resolution than my iPad. But since my iPad was a 2019 model (I think), and the Galaxy Tab is from 2015, that's no surprise.

It is also no surprise that the Galaxy Tab is slow. But is it too slow? Perhaps. There's a noticeable lag when launching software, but, when launched, it is not so bad.

I have installed:

  • cawbird, as a Twitter client (so far, so good)
  • Tootle, as a mastodon client (so far, so good)
  • Gnome Reader, as an RSS client (no good for my needs; I need something to log into FreshRSS)
  • the Bitwarden plugin to Firefox. It's not a great experience, but it does - sort of - work

Note that charging does not work once you've booted the device. If, however, you plug it in while it is off, it does then work.

Next steps

I want to give jellyfin a try, but I am not optimistic.

I need to find a better (for my needs) RSS reader.

Since I have flashed an image, I do not have full disk encryption in place. Given that I don't intend to store personal data, or anything sensitive on there, this is not terrible, but I'd prefer it was full disk encrypted all the same. So that might be something for me to work on. Update: I did, and it works flawlessly.


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.