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The Phone Situation 2023-03-14


So Noelle Mitchell is starting a personal blog and happens to be someone I am following via my Mastodon account. She's been learning about making a web site with just CSS and HTML (and specifically without Wordpress)... and I think that is great. She also recently made a post about her phone and I started to reply about my own recent experience with a Pixel phone and GrapheneOS. Then I realized I should be doing this as a snork.ca post instead of a Mastodon reply. So here it is.

I typically run "older" hardware, whether that be desktops, laptops, or phones. Until recently my phone has been a Samsung J2 Pro which I assume by many people's standards today, is garbage. Much of my beef with phones is that they are a security and privacy nightmare. Recently I found myself complaining of this nightmare (as I am known to do) and got some replies from @specter (which now seem to not exist) suggesting that I check out GrapheneOS. Thanks (very much) to that suggestion I ended up getting a Pixel 4a(5G) phone for CAD$200 and slapped GrapheneOS on it. I have been quite impressed with how it has worked out.

Having said that, GrapheneOS is not very hard to install, but it is also perhaps not terribly appropriate for the average user. It is essentially a very minimal Android setup with some nice security features added to it. It has what is basically a Play Store shim that functions and you can add the typical Google Apps such as GMail and Google Maps, but it is better (in my not-so-humble opinion) without them. The icons are boring black and white, and the launcher is pretty basic. I added Droid-ify which has access to a bunch of application repositories (including F-Droid) and Nova Launcher as my launcher, and it runs pretty sweet.

The downside of GrapheneOS is that it runs on a pretty limited selection of phones, all of which are Pixels. It also obviously requires that you build up your Android system (sort of) from scratch, which means doing a little homework. It means being careful (or at least aware) of what you are installing. It means paying attention to security instead of just clicking OK without bothering to read what you are agreeing to.

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Anyways, I think many people buy a phone because it is the "next shiny thing" they can brag about owning, then do not care what OS it runs, and finally just use "whatever application workarounds" they figure are necessary to make shit work. I like to think that it I better to work your way back. Figure out what applications you need, figure out which OS best suits those applications, then find a phone that can run that OS. Will GrapheneOS be a good fit for Noelle? Maybe, maybe not. I think it is worth a look though... and it comes with the added bonus of having a somewhat deeper knowledge of what your phone is doing under the hood.

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