There is a growing demand for privacy and many people started to acknowledge a problem with the duopoly of Google and Apple in the smartphone market. Smartphones in general are perfect privacy-invading devices and both Google and Apple put their own closed-source code into their phones, and they are pretty open about what this code does: it collects your personal data, every piece it can find.
While you can’t install an alternative OS on an iPhone, you can do it with your Android smartphone. LineageOS is a brave attempt to free the Android OS from the Google surveillance empire. I use it, and it works great but having a clean operating system doesn’t solve the whole problem.
The main issue with LineageOS is that you can’t install it on any Android smartphone. Even worse, they won’t even recommend you any particular smartphone. Choosing hardware for LineageOS is tough, and you shouldn’t expect any serious guarantees on how long they will support your device of choice. It’s not a critique of LineageOS. I use it, and I love it, but this model has some pretty obvious limitations.
I believe that LineageOS is still relevant and important, but it’s also important to explore some alternative ways to protect our data from malicious big tech companies, ISPs and other parties that are able to leverage the weaknesses and gray areas in our smartphones for profit.
One of those ways is to focus on hardware. Having an OS that can run on many smartphones is great, but is’s also important to have a smartphone that can last for years and that can run many operating systems. Here are three smartphone hardware projects I find interesting:
Purism hardware seem to be pretty expensive and also the least open. PinePhone is both open hardware and open software. It can run many Linux distributions and it can also run Android but full compatibility is not guaranteed if you choose that option.
Fairphone seems to be a good option for people who aren’t ready to move from Android to a Linux distro. Both Android and iOS have many polished apps and games, and it would be naive to think that mobile Linux distributions will be able to match all of that any time soon. I don’t like the fact that Fairphone has Google apps and services by default. Of course, you can install LineageOS on your Fairphone, but it doesn’t support it’s newest model, at least officially.
I’m still not sure if Fairphone is better than any usual Android smartphone. It’s expensive, and it does not really respect user privacy. Even their website has an annoying cookie dialog that won’t let you use it unless you surrender your data. Yes, modular smartphones seem like a good idea, and I would really like to be able to use a smartphone for a decade or more and just buy some spare parts when something breaks. But with Fairphone prices, it feels like a rather expensive toy.
I’m not blind, and I see many problems with PinePhones, but I think that it’s the most promising smartphone hardware project out there.