I used Android without Google – here are the pros and cons
You can experience Android on a smartphone without any trace of Google software. I know, because I just spent three weeks living like this.
My Android experience without Google was made possible by the e Foundation, an open source developer focused on providing private alternatives to Google. Normally if you install an old AOSP (which stands for Android Open Source Project) you get a barebones system that is quite difficult to live with. You can also install Lineage OS without Google Apps and get a slightly better experience.
However, rumor has it that even in the open source version of Android, there are still vestiges of Google’s influence. This makes sense, as the company does most of the work on the operating system. However, if you want to live totally outside of Google (or Apple in the case of iOS) and still use a smartphone, your options are relatively limited.
Enter / e / OS of the aforementioned Foundation. This privacy-focused software is intended to provide a usable Android experience without Google. On the one hand, there is access to many applications available on the Play Store, which are analyzed and analyzed to determine their degree of privacy protection.
Of course, you can’t just use / e / OS and pretend it’s an experience you’d get straight out of a phone built by Samsung, Google, or OnePlus. There are limits and tradeoffs you have to make to get out of this.
I have installed / e / OS, based on Android 10, on my OnePlus 6 and used it for three weeks. Read on to find out how it went.
What is / e / OS?
At its core, / e / OS is a “de-Googled” mobile ecosystem focused on privacy, as the e Foundation puts it. It’s Android that has been stripped of everything Google, even relatively ad hoc things like using different DNS and Network Time Protocol servers.
The e Foundation has gone to great lengths to remove anything from Google. Location is managed by Mozilla, microG replaces Google services, and connectivity controls do not rely on Google. That’s a lot to sift through, but the entirety of / e / OS remains open source.
This is important because it means you can check the code for yourself to see what / e / OS is doing. This ensures accountability and confidentiality, ensuring that you maintain control over your data, at least at the operating system level.
Since / e / OS is still Android, there are a lot of apps you can install. There are a few ways to do this, from sideloading APK files, installing a third-party store like F-Droid, or using / e / OS’s own app installer. With the latter option, you can access multiple apps from the Play Store, and each comes with a privacy rating so you can see if the app will be a soft spot in your privacy-conscious life.
Using Android degoogle
Once I installed / e / OS on my OnePlus 6, I immediately noticed that by default the entire home screen experience looks very much like iOS. There’s no app drawer for newbies, but there’s also something odd like iOS’s search feature and the Today screen. I understand that / e / OS is as far away from Google as it can be while being Android, but I found that all of this iOS was copying a bit too much.
However, this is only the home screen and you can change it to something else, using any of the best android launchers. For example, the free version of Nova Launcher is available in App Installer. (From what I understand, the app installer is almost like a mirror of the Play Store without tapping into anything paid for.)
While I can download the free version of Nova Launcher, the paid upgrade to Nova Launcher Prime is not available from the / e / OS app installer. This will probably prevent Google’s wrath from descending on / e / OS. I also couldn’t use my banking apps, instead relied on mobile websites.
Despite the absence of Nova Launcher Prime, the app installer has plenty of Android apps that you can get from the Play Store, but its limitations mean all your previous purchases are moot – games purchased, upgrades. premium apps and subscriptions are not. t available. If you’ve been using Android for years like me, this is a big blow.
As soon as you roll down the notification shade or head into settings, Android’s core DNA shines through. / e / OS is currently based on Android 10 – at least the OnePlus 6 version I’m running – so things aren’t as smooth and pretty as they are Android 11 and certainly far from the vision in the next one Android 12.
If you forgo the iOS feel of the action launcher, you can have a much more functional Google-less experience than you’d find on Lineage OS (which simply removes Google Apps unless you install them separately). I used to be passionate about rooting and playing custom ROMs, but these days I just don’t have the time. The fact that / e / OS works so well right out of the box was awesome.
Overall, I didn’t mind using / e / OS for the three weeks I had it as my daily driver. Going back to the OnePlus 6 was more shocking than losing access to a lot of Android features I’m used to. This phone’s camera experience was just awful, especially outside of the software settings of OxygenOS and OnePlus. (OnePlus cameras improved dramatically over the next three years, as the Oneplus 9 proves.)
You can install / e / OS on multiple devices, or you can purchase a phone directly from the e Foundation if you wish. While flashing / e / OS isn’t difficult, preparing your phone can be – I wasted several hours a few months ago trying the ROM on my Essential phone due to issues firmware alignment. I digress.
Android Outlook without Google
Using / e / OS and de-Googled Android in general is certainly not for everyone. He has serious challenges such as the loss of many basic amenities. Plus, e / OS doesn’t run on the newest, best-performing hardware, which often means you’re relegated to devices that are at least two years old on average. However, if you want a lot more privacy in the life of your smartphone, / e / OS is about as good as it gets.
Of course, the availability of applications is the weak point and can always put a damper on your projects. This means that you have to decide what is most important to you. If you are more concerned about privacy, you will need to find alternatives in some cases.
I don’t recommend the Android experience without Google to everyone, but I found the experience quite interesting nonetheless. Like I said, I had more grievances with the hardware rather than the software – the OnePlus 6 is definitely showing its age.
Considering all of this, I don’t think I will continue to use / e / OS as my daily driver. It can be fun to play with every now and then, but I think that’s all it’ll be for me. But if you’re particularly zealous for privacy, your experience may be different.