Thoughts about tech, programming, and more.

Smartphones: Finding the best of bad options

The iPhone has long been my go-to smartphone. When you use a Mac, an Apple TV, HomePods, and have other Apple devices like AirPods, you simply can't beat the seamless user experience that Apple provides.

Apple has also staked part of their reputation in being a better option for privacy. They often tout their on-device processing of user identifying data as privacy preserving and that you're in control of your data on iPhone.

That's of course what they claim but just because they say one thing doesn't mean we should trust them. Far from that.

However, what I do trust is the fact that Apple has a lot to lose if they are caught engaging in privacy-infringing practices. They have something to lose if they aren't doing what they're claiming.

For these reasons, iPhone has been the obvious choice for me.

But it's been feeling a little less obvious lately. Apple has really been revealing their ugly side. Pulling web apps from Europe and then bringing them back, denying Epic's developer account and then walking back on that, and don't forget their commissions and fee on app downloads - for even free apps!

They're making it harder to be happy using their products. And they're definitely showing that you can't blindly trust them.

So what are the other options?

There are some good devices on Android, there's no doubt about that. But the biggest issue holding me back from Android for the longest time has been privacy.

Android is developed by Google.

Google has never even tried to appear like they care about privacy. The only time they "improve" something related to privacy is when new laws crack down and force them to slither into compliance. Unless they're forced to do it, it's clear that they don't care about user privacy at all. In fact, it's more than just not caring. Google's entire business model of selling ads via search and other channels is based on knowing as much about its users as possible. In other words, Google's business model literally incentivizes infringing on your privacy as much as possible.

That's not great and makes me want to stay far away from Google. However, I wouldn't say that just because Android is developed by Google that it's a Google product per se. Base Android can be fairly de-Googled.

Plus, there's a lot of things you can control on Android. Whereas Apple is as close to zero-configuration as you can get, Android leaves a lot of options open for you to do what you want.

And that's a good thing when it comes to locking down your phone for privacy.

But if we're talking about Android, we also need to discuss the various manufacturers. Not all Android phones are equal. Not even close.

Samsung... I wouldn't touch Samsung with a ten-foot pole. Not only are you entering the Google world on Samsung, but those Samsung phones come littered with Samsung's bloatware apps and who knows what data they're sending back to their own servers. And have you seen their terms of use?? Basically just agree to letting them monitor everything you do on their device. What a nightmare.

I trust Samsung even less than Google. And that's a tall feat considering Google's business model.

There are other Android brands, but it's all the same old story. And the hardware generally is inferior to Samsung with these other brands.

Ironically enough, if I go Android, I think the best option is the Google Pixel.

No bloatware. No additional companies like Samsung trying to obtain as much data from your usage as they can. No outrageous terms of use to agree to.

In addition to that, going with Pixel opens a new door altogether: Graphene OS

GrapheneOS is an open source operating system for mobile devices. It can be installed on various Pixel devices and allows you to install Android apps (although, if I'm going as far as setting up GrapheneOS, I'd probably forget native apps for most things and just use web apps).

That right there is the combo I'm looking for. Private and Apple and Google-less. Not having my data trickling out to untrustworthy companies and no walled in garden that I'm stuck inside.

Of course there is more configuration involved – you even have to install the OS yourself. I wouldn't recommend this as a good option for my mother-in-law, but for me, it might just be time to drop Apple.

I'll have to figure out some new services for core apps, but I've wanted to do that anyway.

I've never liked the idea of using Google Photos or Apple iCloud Photos to store all my photos and I've wanted to move over to my own server for quite a while now. Something like NextCloud.

There will definitely be some conveniences that have to be given up, but that's the trade off.

The only app I am concerned about finding a decent replacement for is Maps. I like Apple Maps. I definitely do not want to use Google Maps. So I'll have to find something else and it looks like there are some other map options on Android. I'd even be willing to pay for a decent maps app.

So there you have it. The Google Pixel on Graphene OS is the best of bad options.

I don't know when I'll pull the trigger but this year might be the year to do it. Who would've thought – a Google-made phone with an Android-based OS is the best option for privacy and freedom from Apple's nonsense. Shows you how bad our options are today; I'd go back to my Blackberry Bold 9780 in a heartbeat.

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Jamie Larson