My "de-Googled" smartphone

Towards the end of last year I started thinking about getting a new smartphone. My Samsung A3 (2016) was nearly 3 years old, the battery was struggling to get through a day, and apps were becoming too slow. However, I felt an innate rejection of many principles the smartphone industry held dear. Its business model clashed with my desire for sustainability and privacy.

As a child of the analogue-to-digital transition, who still remembers a few phone numbers I learnt by heart as a kid, my use of smartphones is relatively light. I barely get through 1-2 Gb of mobile data a month. In undergrad in the late '90s, my then girlfriend had to strong-arm me into my first Nokia mobile (I promptly loaded Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet child of mine" on as a ringtone!). My first smartphone was a hand-me-down iPhone six years ago from one of my brothers. As I was in the US at the time where getting and owning smartphones for my wife and I felt like an expensive undertaking (especially with limited US credit history), I used this iPhone as a secondary device on wifi while maintaining a basic mobile for calls and texts (it didn't even have predictive text!). So the Samsung A3 was the first smartphone I'd ever used as a primary device.

Fast forward to the end of last year. My research led me first to the Fairphone [1] and then to the German SHIFT phones [2]. I applaud these businesses attempts to create new, fairer business models, rooted in the principles of sustainability, transparency and equity. But they come at a cost and with trade-offs. Less processing power and speed, less design chic, more price. In the end, the main thing that put me off of the Fairphone was the sheer size of the phone.

More browsing. I'm not sure how but after a bit I stumbled onto /e/ foundation [3]. Their ambition of decoupling the smartphone user experience from the OS manufacturer's constant surveillance really resonated with me. There is less ability on the average smartphone to do this than on a desktop and this grates. /e/ OS is forked from LineageOS [4], which is forked from the Android Open Source Project. This "standing on the shoulders of giants" is a curious mix of the spirit of Open Source software and pragmatism. I'm really rooting for Linux-based efforts such as Purism's Librem 5 [5], PinePhone [6], Ubuntu Touch [7], Plasma Mobile [8] etc. to build something from the ground-up but that doesn't solve my daily need right now.

The clincher was a double-header. First, I found /e/ sold refurbished phones pre-installed with their OS. Sustainability - tick. Barrier to entry - removed (I really did not relish the idea of trying to install the custom ROM on my own). Secondly, my phone's battery died. Would not charge. I ordered a black refurbished Samsung S7 Edge and hey presto, Merry Christmas to me!

Unfortunately, my first phone had issues with the headphone jack but replacing it was painless. Configuring the phone how I wanted it was relatively straightforward. There was some frustration with Apps but nothing that was a deal breaker for how I use a phone. I've been using it for nearly half a year now and am happy with my choice. Once again I'm walking a path less trodden and it feels good!

Anyway, that's enough for today - more on my smartphone journey some other time!

[1] Fairphone
[2] SHIFT phones
[3] /e/ foundation
[4] Lineage OS
[5] Purism Librem 5
[6] PinePhone
[7] Ubuntu Touch
[8] Plasma Monile

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Originally published on my Write.as blog
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