My friends and family know I’m on a bit of a crusade. Or maybe they would say I’m over-principled. I’ve felt a creeping sense of dread for a very long time about Facebook, and Google, but it started to crystalise when the Snowden leaks happened. A lot of techies already knew what was being done, and a lot of it was out in the open already.
Ditching Android then. It’s a shame, Android has been good to me. My first smartphone was the HTC Desire, which I got in 2010 to celebrate getting my first job. I knew a few people with a smartphone already, but they were no where near ubiqutious.
I followed it up with the Nexus 4, which I did 2 screen replacements for.
Then the Oneplus One.
Then briefly a 2nd hand Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
That’s 4 phones in 9 years, which means I’ve kept them slightly longer than average. At no point have I spent a more than £400 on an individual phone.
I’ve had a go, now and then, at using non-google Android. My first experiment was with Cyanogenmod on the HTC Desire. I had purely practical reasons for this: The proximity sensor had gone bad and always detected an object in proximity. This meant that if I initiated a phone call, the screen would turn off and then just stay off. If I was trying to call a system that required touch tone typing, then I couldn’t use the keypad. I couldn’t hang up, either. If the other party didn’t hang up, or the I needed to terminate the call myself, I would pull the battery.
There was one workaround for this, which was to use headphones. I think that disabled the “screen off” function even if the proximity sensor was always reading 1.
I installed Cyanogenmod on it, rooted it, then played around with the settings and filesystem to disable the sensor entirely. It worked, and the phone kept me going for another year or so.
For the Nexus 4, I kept using standard Google Android, and used it happily until my 2nd screen replacement broke, which was around the time OnePlus launched the OnePlus 1.
OnePlus One came with Cyanogenmod on it, a custom build of it by OnePlus. Although knowing what I know now I wouldn’t be suprised if it was leaking all my data to a Chinese company instead of an American company.
Eventually I got fed up with the defaults on the OnePlus and installed LineageOs on it, which has so far been my favorite android variant. Because it’s just Android!
Using Android without google services has become a lot harder than it used to be, and I think the main reason is Google Cloud Messaging, or Firebase.
Google Cloud Messaging is an inspired way to work around a problem that Android apps have always had, and when it was first implemented it vastly improved battery life and data consumption.
Trying to use any app that wants to send you notifications without using GCM is basically impossible. A good example is Whatsapp. I have issues with Whatsapp but I’m not Richard Stallman, and I’m not a hermit, so I have to make some concessions. Whatsapp is currently one of those concessions.
But using Whatsapp on an Android phone without GCM or google services installed means notifications or often delayed, or never show up at all unless I go to the app and manually refresh it. Something I did notice is that switching between wifi networks, or switching from Wifi to Mobile data would trigger it to fetch messages, so often I would arrive home from work, my phone would join my Wifi network, and I’d suddenly get all the messages I’d missed that day.
The Email app I used, K9 mail, had the same kind of issue. But this could be configured to explicitly poll for new messages every so often, which works fine…..but kills your battery.
I liked LineageOS a lot, but getting it working, and also using GCM, involved a lot of hassle and tended to break when I updated. Microg, which provides Google Services for Lineagos, is great but tends to fall over on update.
I’ve had enough of the fiddle. I’m trying to force a version of Android into my use case, instead of seeking out an alternative. What I’m doing will always be hard and fiddly.
Around this time I was also looking to get a new mobile. The OnePlus 1 has been a good workhorse but it’s starting to die. Too much of the hardware is failing.