Despite making Android an open source project in 2007, Google replaced some OS elements with proprietary software when Android gained popularity. /e/ Foundation has replaced the proprietary apps and services with MicroG, an open source alternative framework which minimizes tracking and device activity.
It’s FOSS received Fairphone 3 with /e/ OS preinstalled, an ethically created smartphone from the /e/ Foundation. I used the device for a month before returning it to them and I am going to share my experience with this privacy device. I forgot to take screenshots so I’ll be sharing the generic images from the official website.
Experiencing the /e/ mobile operating system on the ethical Fairphone device
Before I go any further, let me clear that Fairphone 3 is not the only option to get /e/ in your hands. The /e/ foundation gives you a few smartphone options to choose if you are buying a device from them.
You don’t have to buy a device to use /e/ OS. As per the /e/ Foundation, you can use it on over 100 supported devices.
Despite I enjoyed using the Fairphone 3, and my personal beliefs are in line with the Fairphone manifesto, I won’t focus my attention on the device but to the /e/ operating system only.
Apps with rated privacy
I used Fairphone 3 as my daily driver for a couple of days, to compare the usage with my “ordinary” Android phone in reality.
First and foremost I wanted to see if all the apps that I use, are available at the “App Store” /e/ foundation has created. The /e/ App Store contains apps with privacy ratings.
/e/ OS app store has privacy ratings of the apps
I could find many applications, including apps from Google. This means that if someone really wants to use some Google service, it is still available as an option to download. Though unlike other Andriod devices, Google services are not forced down your throat.
Though there are lot of apps available, I could not find the mobile banking app I use in the UK. I have to admit that the mobile banking app can contribute to a level of convenience. As an alternative, I had to access a computer to use the online banking platform if needed.
From a usability point of view, /e/ OS could replace my “standard” Android OS with minor hiccups like the banking apps.
If not Google, then what?
Wondering what essential apps /e/ OS uses instead of the ones from Google? Here’s a quick list:
Magic Earth – Turn by turn navigationWeb-browser – an ungoogled fork of ChromiumMail – a fork of K9-mailSMS – a fork of QKSMSCamera – a fork of OpenCameraWeather – a fork of GoodWeatherOpenTasks – Task organizer Calendar -Calendar: a fork of Etar calendar Bliss Launcher and overall design
The default launcher application of /e/ OS is called “Bliss Launcher” which aims to an attractive look and feel. To me, the design felt similar to iOS.
By Swiping to the left panel, you can access a few useful widgets /e/ has selected.
Search: Quick search of pre-installed apps or search the webAPP Suggestions: The top 4 most used apps will appear on this widgetWeather: The weather widget is showing the local weather. It doesn’t automatically detect the location and it needs to be configured.Edit: If you want more widgets on the screen, you can add them by clicking the edit button
All in all, the user interface is clean and neat. Being simple and straightforward enhances a pleasant user experience.
DeGoogled and privacy oriented OS
As mentioned earlier /e/ OS is a Google-free operating system which is based on an open source core of Lineage OS. All the Google apps have been removed and the Google services have been replaced with the Micro G framework. The /e/ OS is still compatible with all Android apps.
Key privacy features:
Google search engine has been replaced with alternatives such as DuckDuckGoGoogle Services have been replaced by microG frameworkAlternative default apps are used instead of Google AppsConnectivity check against Google servers is removedNTP servers have been replaced with the standard NTP service: pool.ntp.orgsDNS default servers are replaced by 188.8.131.52 and can be edited to user’s choiceGeolocation is using Mozilla Location Services on top of GPS
Please be mindful that using a smartphone, provided by /e/ foundation doesn’t automatically mean that your privacy is guaranteed no matter what you do. Social media apps that share your personal information should be used under your awareness.
I have been an Android user for more than a decade. /e/ OS surprised me positively. A privacy concerned user can find this solution very appealing, and depending on the selected apps and settings can feel secure again using a smartphone.
I could recommend it to you if you are a privacy aware tech-savvy and can find your way around things on your own. The /e/ ecosystem is likely to be overwhelming for people who are used to of mainstream Google services.
Have you used /e/ OS? How was your experience with it? What do you think of projects like these that focus on privacy?