Meet my freedom phone.

The humble handset you see above is the answer to a question posed here some 20 months ago: “Is a high-functioning Google-free Android phone even possible?”

Now I’m not a Google hater per se, just a bit twitchy about privacy and interested in choice. What I’ve tried to do here is approximate the Google Android experience without the Google. Consider it a proof of concept if nothing else.

First things first, none of this would have been possible without CyanogenMod — or more specifically the cease and desist order that Google sent its lead developer back in 2009. Whether by sheer coincidence or not, removing Google’s proprietary apps made Cyanogen even more “open” than the stock Android OS.

Similarly, F-Droid is about as close as you can get to a proper Linux software repository on an Android device. Most if not all of the apps that follow are also available on the Android Market proper, but as said market is itself a proprietary Google app F-Droid seems to me the next best choice.

I’ve had my SIM card in this first-generation Nexus full-time for the past week or so. Here’s what I have to report…

Apps that work great:

  • K-9 Mail is hands-down the best mobile IMAP client I’ve used on any mobile device, including BlackBerry. Yeah, I went there.
  • The DuckDuckGo plugin is a bit tricky to configure for the Android search widget, but once up and running provides a perfectly capable alternative to Google.
  • And for entertainment, Frozen Bubble, reddit is fun and the spiffy xkcdViewer should satisfy your cravings for casual apps.

Apps that work well enough:

  • OsmAnd+ brings the OpenStreetMap project to Android, providing a unexpectedly good stand-in for Google Maps. It falls down a bit on search functionality — you can’t actually search for points of interest, only browse the tags for them — but otherwise it’s top notch. Note that  your GPS radio might not lock on to your position immediately, likely due to some missing proprietary Google juice.
  • Mustard is a good (if a bit clunky) alternative to the proprietary microblogging apps you’d find in the official market. For accounts it certainly works better than the official app, a more polished looking product that for me repeatedly locks up almost immediately after booting.

Apps that need work:

  • I had high hopes for Funambol Sync, but support for my hosted SyncML server hasn’t progressed much. Calendars and contacts sync great, but support for notes and to-dos is limited to reading them on a mobile version of my server — which is to say there’s no syncing of them at all.
  • SMS Backup+ provides the same SMS sync support as the latest SyncML spec. Problem is, it won’t back up to any IMAP mail account, just Gmail.
  • SwallowCatcher is an extremely barebones podcatcher — so barebones that the app doesn’t even have a custom icon. Subscribing to podcasts is limited to the direct entry of an OPML feed; I think I’ll stick to Linux Outlaws via Pony Express instead.
Final Verdict
I’m hoping you’ll agree that even without the Google Experience I’ve got a pretty capable Android device with all this good stuff onboard. I’m not yet sure if it’s a permanent solution for me or not; either way it’s a testament to the Android community that such a high-functioning smartphone is even possible without Google’s immediate presence.


  1. Hi have a similar app-state in my Samsung Galaxy SII, but I still would want to go further: install Replicant. I have no time to research how, but I’m sure I will since I hope this little machine to be my phone for a very very long time. 🙂

    Also, as a recommendation that I consider it is the most simple and useful app I have found in F-Droid, “Sound Manager“.

    I will post more things in my website, I hope!

  2. Dude, seriously….

    Your worried about privacy that much… Because you know details of your personal life are so important and sercretive…


  3. Well “dude”, think about this…

    You and your Android device get lost and you find yourself walking across the lawn of someone who, unbeknownst to you, has known ties to terrorist organizations.

    Because Google is tracking you all of a sudden you yourself are flagged as a terrorist, and at the request of Homeland Security (whether you live in the United States or not) all of your electronic communications are now monitored. And next time you try to buy a plane ticket — surprise! — you’re suddenly on a no-fly list. Or worse.

    Now the chances of this actually happening are extremely slim, but it’s possible. And it sure would suck to be that very innocent and very unlucky person.

    … Now do you feel me, “dude”?

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