Pining For A De-Googled Smartphone

hackaday.com
8 min read
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Last summer in the first swings of the global pandemic, sitting at home finally able to tackle some of my electronics projects now that I wasn't wasting three hours a day commuting to a cubicle farm, ...
I found myself ordering a new smartphone. Not the latest Samsung or Apple offering with their boring, predictable UIs, though. This was the Linux-only PinePhone, which lacks the standard Android interface plastered over an otherwise deeply hidden Linux kernel.

As a bit of a digital privacy nut, the lack of Google software on this phone seemed intriguing as well, and although there were plenty of warnings that this was a phone still in its development stages it seemed like I might be able to overcome any obstacles and actually use the device for daily use. What followed, though, was a challenging year of poking, prodding, and tinkering before it got to the point where it can finally replace an average Android smartphone and its Google-based spyware with something that suits my privacy-centered requirements, even if I do admittedly have to sacrifice some functionality.

Setting the Stage

First, a bit of a disclaimer. This article is not a critique of the PinePhone compared to a flagship Android phone. Rather, it's a journey into the open-source world with respect to a smartphone that is designed to run Linux from a person who is willing to go to extremes to use free and open source software (I still use this computer daily, for example) without appearing too crazy. The developers at Pine64 have done an incredible job bringing one of the only Linux-first smartphones to market. I also owe a huge debt to the FOSS community who continues to build and maintain free software for these devices. Even though the experience isn't yet as refined as an iPhone or Galaxy, it's still quite possible to use one for regular, daily use but there are some missing pieces to acknowledge.

I have also been on a journey to remove as much of Google's concerning ecosystem from my life as possible over the last five years or so. Some things are easy, such as using Duck Duck Go as a search engine and Firefox as a browser. Some things were a little bit of a hassle at first, like switching to…
Bryan Cockfield, Tomás Zerolo, Gregg Eshelman, Michael Black
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