De-Googling my phone
My phone has been struggling lately. It’s a 5+ year old device from an obscure manufacturer that was already classed as low-end when I bought it. And that’s fine by me! It serves me well and, save for its disappointing battery life, does everything I need it to. But it’s been sluggish for a while now, to the point where I genuinely thought it was not long for this world.
The concept of custom Android ROMs is no stranger to me and no stranger to this phone either, but I had never tried one that didn’t include Google Services out of apprehension.
These performance issues made me finally move forward and look for something that could possibly rejuvenate my phone experience. My personal choice was LineageOS or, more specifically, LineageOS for microG, a fork that renders the installation of any Google service or app unneeded1.
But why pick this one and not other privacy-focused ROMs like GrapheneOS or /e/OS? Well, I most definitely do not own a Pixel device, so the former is instantly ruled out. The latter was something I seriously considered, especially since it’s one of if not the only custom ROM that still actively supports my phone.
What ultimately drove me away from /e/OS was:
- It’s attached to an organization
- It’s already based on LineageOS
Even though LineageOS stopped supporting my device earlier this year, there’s still a relatively recent build of it available. Why use anything that is attached to some folks who may or may not end up selling my data anyway when I can simply drink from the source and get the same (and arguably better) experience? LineageOS it is.
Installing the ROM
The LineageOS wiki has detailed articles on how to install their ROM that also apply to this specific fork. Like I previously said, this wasn’t my first time installing a custom ROM on my phone so there was an already existing familiarity present and a lot less steps to follow.
One thing I noticed was that this ROM was half the size of any other I ever installed, as the others usually came with a bunch of Google apps and services built-in. Over 400 megabytes of useless garbage discarded and because of that the flashing process was also a lot faster.
I had no issues whatsoever. It felt pretty nice to not be greeted by a Google screen on startup.
While backing up my data I realized that the overwhelming majority of apps I had on my phone were installed via F-Droid and other open-source repositories. Even though this has been a conscious choice I’ve made over the years, it was still a positive quasi-surprise to palpably see how little I actually rely on closed-source apps.
This ROM comes with the F-Droid Privileged Extension, making the installation process so easy that it’s virtually identical to using the Play Store, automatic updates and all.
And closed-source apps?
From my understanding, most apps should work just fine without Google Services. At most, you won’t be getting push notifications but the app itself should function as usual. There are, of course, exceptions2 and that’s precisely why I chose the microG fork of LineageOS. All I needed to get those apps working was to download Aurora Store and get them set up like I would have from the Play Store, with the additional benefit of not having to use a Google account at all.
I thought I’d have to spend hours troubleshooting incompatibilities and other issues but to my surprise pretty much everything functioned out of the box, my banking app included. The only thing I couldn’t get to work at all was a Paypal-like service that can be easily accessed from a browser, which I personally don’t mind doing.
I’ve been using this ROM for almost two weeks now and I’ve got nothing but praise for it. My impressions are strictly anecdotal but it’s pretty clear to me that my battery life has improved quite a bit. Most of the performance issues I was having are also completely gone and my phone no longer struggles with basic tasks like it used to.
I honestly can’t see myself ever switching to another ROM and if I get another phone in the future I’ll probably install this on it too. The idea of de-Googling my device felt so daunting because of the cascade of issues I was told I would have. And hey, maybe that’s true for some people, but it definitely isn’t true for me.
This whole debacle got me thinking about the state of operating systems (both for desktops and mobiles) and how many hoops we have to go through in order to be in control of objects we, by all accounts, are already owners of.
Everything is an oligopoly nowadays, and that’s especially pervasive in the tech industrial complex. Giants like Microsoft, Apple or Google occupy so much of the market share that to most people they seem like the only option. And in some cases, they truly are.
It makes me want to pull my fucking hair out.