After testing the /e/ ROM for few days on my OnePlus7, here are my (unprofessional) findings and thoughts:
This ROM is the best idea since sliced bread and I really want to see it getting stronger and more popular! For now, it is not mature enough (some may argue it will never become more mature, but there is a lot to improve both directly to the ROM itself and to the adjacent services).
It may satisfy the needs of a general smartphone user who uses general interest apps (beware that many of the “mainstream apps” are riddled with trackers) OR is someone really concerned with privacy, as there is generally good support for this category of apps.
However, it may fall short if the user needs to use certain banking applications, both because they may not be available in /e/ Apps Store, or because the ROM is being detected as untrustworthy by the app.
Issues that I found with the ROM so far:
- The general UI can be tweaked, for example toggle buttons in settings are very big, giving the sensation of an interface made for people less accustomed with technology.
- The Dark Theme requires improvement (in some screens the icons or fonts don’t have the necessary contrast).
- The lack of an app drawer can quickly clutter the screen.
- The launcher could use a “hidden apps” feature, maybe like the OOS, or another kind of “app vault”.
- Default apps cannot be removed (yet) - I understand this will be addressed in the near future.
- The ROM cannot pass SafetyNet if rooted with Magisk (I did not try other options, as I am using Magisk modules).
Issues that I found with the Apps:
- The Apps Store has a Privacy Meter with a score provided by Exodus Privacy Analyses, which can give a false sense of security. It is a good thing to have such a privacy meter. The issue is with the trustworthiness of the app itself, as the apps come from various stores and the user is not being directly informed about the source and also there is no easy way to check if a certain app is trustworthy or tampered with. I see this as a major flaw in privacy design, as it allows easy backdoors in a ROM that is addressed to privacy aware users.
- There is a feature that allows users to request apps to be added to the repository, but no way to track the progress of that request.
- The default Notes App requires an account, or else it cannot be used. I find this a bit of an “arm twisting” approach. For a privacy-friendly ROM/Service, using accounts and saving data to the cloud should be purely optional.
- Limited support for specialist apps (eg. Banking).
- Camera app has some very laggy features (OSD lines, grid, horizon), also the UI/UX can be greatly improved. The quality of the images is also not the best, it applies too much post-processing especially for highly zoomed images. I got better results with the OOS Stock Camera or the GCam.
- Many apps are not optimized for Dark Theme.
- Regarding the Cloud Service and storage, is it unclear for me yet what kind of encryption it uses. I am always in in favor of Zero Knowledge Encryption. Many people feel their entire life is in their phone, this would potentially make the /e/ cloud service a very tempting target for hackers once the OS becomes more popular. So, a Zero Knowledge Encryption seems to be a must.
One big wish that I hope it will be possible to implement: Many apps that are common and many people use them often (money transfer, ebay, amazon, etc) use A LOT of trackers that collect data about user engagement, ads profiling, crashes, and most of them come from the same provider (google). I haven’t seen yet any app that uses an alternative (privacy friendly) analytics service.
So, my hope is that somehow this ROM will eventually be able to block such trackers and make it possible to use such apps without completely compromising privacy.
I will definitely keep a close eye on the development of /e/ and I will return to it once I will consider it can satisfy me needs as a user. I really hope that it will become a solid alternative for users and also officially trusted by apps like banking apps.
For now, I see no net benefits for myself to use /e/ compared to using the default OOS Rom for OnePlus7 and debloat/degoogle it as good as I can, or even LineageOS. This is because the current limitations of /e/ put me in the situation to cancel the privacy benefits by using certain apps.