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Librem 5, an open-source Linux phone

June 12, 2018 — BarryK

We all recall the failed attempt by Canonical to crowd-fund a phone that would run Ubuntu Touch. More recently, another group had a go, a company named Purism. Their crowd-funding proposal was for the Librem 5, a phone that would run PureOS, their security-focused flavour of Linux.

Purism aimed for at least US$1,500,000, but reached US$2,479,000, so a success, and the project was underway. Crowd-funding page here:

https://puri.sm/shop/librem-5/

I was initially interested, but then it seemed that they were going to use the NXP i.mx6 CPU, which is 32-bit and very long-in-the-tooth. So, I lost interest, but it got piqued a few times, when there were some interesting announcements that came to my favourite Linux news site, lxer.com

A couple of those news items were that UBPorts, the team who are continuing to develop Ubuntu Touch after Canonical dumped it, signaled their intention to port to the Librem 5 phone. Also, the developers of Plasma Mobile, another Linux-based phone OS, will be doing the same.

So, there will be a choice of three OSs, most interesting.

I found out just a couple of days ago, all the latest happenings, at their blog:

https://puri.sm/posts/tag/phones/

They delayed the project a bit and decided to go for the i.MX8M CPU, a somewhat more modern and power-efficient 64-bit chip. That got me interested again. However, this chip is not really designed for phones, and does not have a modem (to provide the 2G/3G/4G connectivity). The modem has to be a separate chip, and I looked up the specs on the modem chip that will be shipping with the developer-kit, and it lacks 4G 700MHz (B28), a frequency extensively used by Telstra here in Australia.

So, interest waned again. However, I then read something most interesting, that the modem will plug into an m.2 socket in the phone, so they will be able to provide the right one for different regions of the world. I don't know if it is quite that simple though, as the antennas have to be tuned.

I was also pleased that they decided to go for a bigger screen. Originally, it was going to be 5 inches, but they have now upped it to 5.5 or 5.7, with 18:9 ratio.

I don't know if this phone will ever become more than a toy for developer-nerds like myself, but I decided I'm in. I contacted them after the deadline had expired for ordering the dev-kit, but they reckoned that they could find one extra for me, and accepted my late order.

Note for anyone else who wants to get involved as a developer: you will have to wait until the phone arrives in January (or more likely later, based on my previous experience with crowd-funded projects). The dev-kit is just a one-off production-run, and it is intended that development can be on the phone itself after it arrives.

So, a i.MX8M-based board, costing US$399, which came to AU$527, due in August/September ...so, I guess that I will have to pay GST when it arrives here. Specs are here:

https://puri.sm/posts/june-1st-last-call-for-librem5-devkit/

Here is a recent render of what the phone will look like:

photo

This is the layout of the dev-kit:

photo

I am intrigued that the dev-kit is pretty much what will be in the final phone, and that everything is going to be open-source, with all hardware specs published, and lots of guys working on getting the hardware to play nice with Linux.
I wonder how many of those interfaces will end up in the phone ...notice the smartcard socket.

My plan, after the dev-kit arrives, is pretty wide-open at this stage. Lots of learning to do of course. 

Tags: tech

Telstra mobile now works well

May 28, 2018 — BarryK

Well, well, this is interesting. I posted about issues with my Telstra mobile connection, domain-name-resolving and downloads hanging:

http://bkhome.org/news/201805/trouble-with-telstra-mobile.html

So, I bypassed the wifi-router, plugged a wifi usb dongle into the desktop PC, so it talks directly to my phone. My phone is my only means of Internet access, using the new Telstra "unlimited data" plan. This is a simplistic sketch:image

As soon as I did that, removed the router, the problems disappeared. For several hours afterward, have been very happily surfing and downloading.

The router is my local network, and bridge to the Internet via wifi to the phone. Why is it causing problems?

Actually, I have two wifi-ethernet-routers, and I am currently using the old one, TotoLink model N1000R+:

http://bkhome.org/news/201712/toto-link-wifiethernet-routerrepeater.html

It worked OK with Optus. I might try my newer one:

http://bkhome.org/news/201712/totolink-a2004ns-fast-wirelessethernet-router.html

Anyway, it is good to know that there is a fix.

Tags: tech

Trouble with Telstra mobile

May 27, 2018 — BarryK

I recently signed up for Telstra's new "endless data" mobile plan:

http://bkhome.org/news/201805/telstra-69-byo-endless-data-mobile-plan.html

At first I was pleased, however, I have been experiencing a couple of problems...

Firstly, my browser often reports "temporary failure in name resolution". Hit the button to retry, and it is usually OK. But, this is happening often enough to be very annoying. It also happens when I use 'wget'.

The second problem is the worst. When I attempt to download large files, the download just stops partway through. That's it, stopped, have to try and download again.

I reported this yesterday when trying to download a file from ibiblio.org. I resorted to using "wget -c <file>" and when it stopped (several times), hit ctrl-c then reran it.

Today, had to do the same with mozilla.org, to download firefox. Was getting both of the above problems. The first problem, wget reported:

wget: unable to resolve host address ‘ftp.mozilla.org’

Then had to do that ctrl-c and rerun 4-5 times.

A quick google shows that I am not alone. For example:

http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/2532107

...however, that is not a mobile data connection.

I turned on QoS on my router, thought maybe slowing it down might help. Nup. Also tried rate-limiting with wget. Nup.

Well, I'm stuck with Telstra for 12 months, will just have to "get by". One thing I might try, is go somewhere else, see if it is just an issue at this location. I checked, Telstra have no issues reported for this area.

EDIT 28 May 2018:
Found the cause of the problems, see this later post:

http://bkhome.org/news/201805/telstra-mobile-now-works-well.html

Tags: tech

Telstra $69 byo endless data mobile plan

May 10, 2018 — BarryK

There is a revolution happening here in Australia. Two of the major telcos have released "endless data" plans for mobile phones.

Apparently, there are such plans in some other countries. but this is a first for Australia.

Vodafone's endless plan is $60 per month, you get 40GB, beyond which it is shaped, that is, restricted, to 1.5mb/sec (mega-bits per second, which is about 150 kilobytes/sec):

https://www.vodafone.com.au/plans/unlimited

It also includes 2000 minutes of international calls to selected countries.

This is a much better deal than Telstra, however, you do have to be in an area with a Vodafone tower not too far away.

Telstra has much better coverage in rural areas, which is one reason that they can get away with charging more. For example in one country town, Dumbleyung, Vodafone and Optus only have 3G coverage, Telstra has 4G.

The Telstra deal is also 40GB per month, tapered to 1.5mb/sec, but costs $69 per month. Also, there is no free international minutes:

https://www.telstra.com.au/mobile-phones/plans-and-rates/byo-unlimited-mobile-data-plan

image

I have signed up with Telstra for 12 months.

Already I have tested it on a country trip, and got continuous coverage throughout the trip.

One issue with Telstra, they use the 4G 700MHz band (B28) in most rural areas, and only one of my phones has it. Unfortunately, my favourite phone, my LG Nexus 5, does not have 700MHz.

As my phone is my only means of Internet access, and I use it as a wifi hotspot (tethering) for my desktop PC and laptops, I am very pleased to have the 40GB -- real luxury, as my prior Optus account was only 10GB per 28 days!

Yes, the Telstra endless-data plan does allow tethering.

One website that I found to be extremely helpful is this, as it enabled me to determine what frequencies the telcos were transmitting on at various rural locations:

https://oztowers.com.au/

Whistleout has excellent overage maps, that easily compare the three telcos. For example, looking at the small town of Dumbleyung:

https://www.whistleout.com.au/MobilePhones/Search?calls=10&sms=50&data=500&customer=Personal&address=Dumbleyung,+WA+6350&tab=postpaid

...scroll down to see the map.

Tags: tech

Going for Gapps on Nexus 5

March 30, 2018 — BarryK

Much as I like the concept of microG, I have 95% decided to go with LineageOS and picoGapps. Mostly because I want Google Play Store.

However, still trying to minimize the googlification of my phone, so picoGapps seems to be the best choice. It only has one app, Google Play Store, and minimal Google infrastructure, as this table shows:

image

The table is from here:

https://www.mobipicker.com/gapps-download-google-apps/

As well as all that we read about Google collecting data on us, there is something else that causes me some concern...

The first time that I boot LineageOS with microGapps, the Google Terms and Conditions displays. Including this little gem:

Google Services

Install updates & apps
By continuing, you agree that this device may also automatically download and install updates and apps from Google, your operator and your device's manufacturer, possibly using mobile data. Some of these apps may offer in-app purchases.
You can remove these apps at any time.

...why did the word "Microsoft" come into my head as I read this?!

Tags: tech

Testing LineageOS with picoGapps on Nexus 5

March 28, 2018 — BarryK

EDIT 20180402:
Conclusion about SafeInCloud
EDIT 20180330:
Went through install of LineageOS and picoGapps again, attempting to fix SafeInCloud. See dark-red text below.

So far, have been playing with LineageOS and microG. Follow the posts from here:

http://bkhome.org/news/201803/google-maps-on-lineageos-microg.html

I decided that the testing is incomplete without trying OpenGapps, which installs the official Google Play Services, instead of microG.

This has to be installed in a certain specific way. OpenGapps must be installed immediately after LineagOS is installed, and before LineageOS first bootup. This summarises how I did it:

I downloaded the smallest Opengapps, 'picoGapps', to my computer (which only has the 'Play Store' app):

http://opengapps.org/?api=7.1&variant=pico

With computer connected to phone, and talking to each other by 'adb' (with USB cable):

Note: TWRP is already installed, with USB-debugging and APK-sideloading enabled in the Settings.
Install TWRP: http://bkhome.org/news/201803/nexus-5-updated-to-android-810.html
Sideloading: https://linuxconfig.org/sideload-apps-from-ubuntu-to-your-android-device 

pc: # ./adb reboot recovery
ph: Wipe -> Format Data
ph: swipe -> Wipe -> Advance Wipe -> tick all checkboxes -> swipe
back, back, back -> Advanced --> ADB Sideload -> swipe
pc: # ./adb sideload lineage-14.1-20180322-nightly-hammerhead-signed.zip
ph: back -> ADB Sideload -> swipe
pc: # ./adb sideload open_gapps-arm-7.1-pico-20180327.zip
ph: Reboot System -> swipe

This time, using my new Google account, I installed SafeInCloud from the Google Play Store -- and paid for it (again, because previous payment was on my main Google account).

SafeInCloud works, except for one important detail -- cannot save the database to local storage. This seems to be an issue with how LineageOS is setup. The error notification is from Privacy Guard:

"SafeInCloud will not be able to access personal data"

...and I was unable to bypass or disable that!!!

Another very interesting point: with LineageOS/microG, I just sideloaded the SafeInCloud .apk, and it already thought that it was the paid "Pro" version, has the extra Pro features and did not ask for money, and both online sync and local saving worked.

Another thing to consider is that microG is an open source non-commercial project, written for the users, with heaps of configuration options.

So, this experiment looks like it is coming to a halt. If I go back to microG, should be able to use YalpStore to install the paid-for SafeInCloud from my new Google account.

Sideloading the older SafeInCloud .apk from my Mlais phone, it works perfectly, local backup and restore works. The problem is with the latest version in the Google Play Store. Makes no difference whether using picoGapps or microG, the latest SIC from Play Store won't save locally. I am currently communicating with Andrey, the developer of SafeInCloud.

Andrey, the SafeInCloud developer, sent a special debug version, and I returned a test file. His conclusion:

I see no errors in the apps log. It seems that LineageOS does some "tricks" with the Android's content provider system, which causes the problem. Unfortunately, I cannot test it myself.
Well, the older version of SIC works! Perhaps time for me to look for another app.


Tags: tech

Google Maps on LineageOS microG

March 27, 2018 — BarryK

Continuing to have fun with LineageOS and microG on my Nexus 5. I posted about the installation yesterday:

http://bkhome.org/news/201803/lineageos-with-microg-on-nexus-5.html

The ROM image also contains 'F-Droid', which is an app store, with only free apps. I had already installed 'FFUpdater' to install Firefox.

I also installed 'Safe In Cloud', a paid app, by sideloading. I extracted the .apk from my Mlais phone, then installed it to my Nexus, as explained in the above link.

YalpStore

I then discovered that F-Droid has an app named 'YalpStore', which can install apps from Google Play Store. If the phone is not rooted, it requires that sideloading be turned on in the Setup, developer's section.

YalpStore can even install paid apps, however it requires logging into my Google account. One of the main things that I am aiming to avoid is any automatic login to Google on my phone. This is a huge security weakness if someone steals your phone (especially as I only have swipe-unlock!).

Anyway, YalpStore seems to have a problem with Google's 2-step authentication, which is what I have -- new login sends an sms to my phone, with a pin.

But, YalpStore downloads free apps from Google Play Store, that works great.

EDIT 20180328
The security weakness of the phone automatically accessing my Google account, is easy to avoid -- create another Google account. Which I did, using a different backup email address. Gmail on this new account is empty, so not bothered if anyone is able to get into it.
I also installed the 'Gmail' app, via YalpStore, as some apps, such as 'TurboScan', use it to send emails (in the case of TurboScan, to send scanned images).
Note, apparently it is possible to install Google Play Store on a LineageOS/microG system, haven't tried that yet.
It should also be possible for YalpStore to access paid apps, paid-for on the new Google account.

microG

There are a lot of settings for microG, the replacement for Google Play Services. I discovered this website, with tutorials for configuring microG:

https://shadow53.com/android/no-gapps/setup-guide/microg/

Also, it is very helpful to read the six-part "No Gapps" tutorials, starting here:

https://shadow53.com/android/no-gapps/setup-guide/0/

But, what about Google apps, such as 'Google Maps', can they run on microG?

Google Maps

That website shadow53.com has a compatibility chart for Google apps on microG, and lists alternatives:

https://shadow53.com/android/no-gapps/alternatives/

There is a "?" against Google Maps compatibility. Hmmm, went ahead anyway, used YalpStore to install 'Google Maps', and it seems to be working.

Note, there is 'Google Maps Go', a light-weight alternative, however it is just a frontend to the web browser access to Google Maps, and requires Chrome browser. I am using Firefox.

I think though, Google Maps is only using GPS. microG setup can turn on location via the provider's network towers, but as I don't yet have a sim in the phone -- or rather, I do, an old expired one -- that is ok.

Next, need to go for a drive, see if can direct me....

Tags: tech