Hong Kong's Furi Labs shakes up smartphone scene with dash of Debian

The FLX1 runs its own build of 'Trixie' but has an Android layer

DEVCONF.CZ Furi Labs' FLX1 is a Debian-based smartphone with decent specs at a competitive price.

At any good conference, the "corridor track" is always a highlight and one of the experiences that virtual events so far haven't managed to reproduce. At this year's DevConf.cz, the undoubted highlight of the corridor track for The Reg FOSS desk was meeting the Furi Labs team on its conference stand for its new Debian-based handset.

Despite the market domination of Apple's iOS and the legions of Android devices out there, there are alternatives in the smartphone market, especially for FOSS types who'd prefer to keep their data their own and are willing to sacrifice a little convenience in return for privacy and control.

Several companies offer de-Googled Android devices. The /e/ Foundation's Murena One was the first this vulture got to review, and the company has just launched version 2.0 of its Android variant. We're also testing out a Punkt MC02 at present and a review is coming soon.

There aren't so many phones running totally separate OS stacks, though. There is Puri.sm's Librem 5, which The Register covered when it was announced back in 2017. It puts privacy front and center, but today it's both low-spec and very expensive.

Mainstream phones are of course much more capable, faster, and far cheaper, but there are penalties in terms of privacy, control, ownership of your data, and so on. Particularly at the budget end of the market, devices often get just one update, which is why the postmarketOS project exists. It's not the only such effort, and Furi Labs started out as an offshoot of the Droidian project to create a version of Debian for mobiles.

Furi Labs' FLX1 smartphone is much more current. It's an octa-core device with 128 GB of flash, 6 GB of RAM, a 50 MP camera, and a 5,000 mAh battery, and the company is asking $499 for it. It runs its own build of Debian "Trixie" – the future Debian 13 – with GNOME phosh on Wayland as the user interface. The Hong Kong-based company is working with a Chinese OEM to make sure that there are native Linux drivers for all the device's hardware.

CEO Bardia Moshiri proudly told us that the FLX1 we tried has Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth, all cameras, GPS and so on, all working. They're ironing out some wrinkles with NFC support at the moment, and then the next planned feature is wireless display support. At present, you can't dock the phone and use it as a PC with a keyboard and mouse, which is a shame. Apparently, the IO lines needed for a wired dock were used for the macro camera.

Being old school ourselves, we were pleased to see that it has a headphone socket and a storage card slot. The phone feels great. The UI is exceptionally smooth and slick in use, and it's reassuringly solid and heavy in the hand. Saying that, though, the OS is not completely stable yet. The moment we first picked up a handset, Firefox crashed.

The company is tiny and ramping up the old-fashioned way – without outside investors or VC backing. As such, we suspect that stock is limited and the company may sell out fast. We very much hope to obtain a review model soon. ®

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