After using /e/ OS on a Fairphone 4 for nine months as my primary phone I want to share my experience, leanings and thoughts with you. It is a long read, not really technical but from a user perspective. My day job is in IT business development and I am also a part time but professional photographer.
I guess we are all in this forum for more or less the same reasons. Idealistic motivations, better privacy and more control over the device that has become an almost unavoidable tracker and archiver of our lives for the benefit of businesses and governments. But also it is the fun of tinkering and being part of a community that gives us options. A lot of what I read in the forum is about the latter.
I found /e/OS after searching for Linux phone alternatives. After flashing and testing an old Samsung S3 mini with /e/OS for a while I bit the bullet and ordered a Murena Fairphone 4. The fresh air in my digital life arrived in January this year. I started to transfer my smartphone life to /e/OS and gave my iPhone 12 Pro to my wife
My learning curve was twofold. Getting all necessary apps up and running and to do essential things like banking, email, messaging, connecting to healthcare and government institutions and some apps related to work. Secondly, coming from the Apple ecosystem, Android was mostly new to me.
Upfront I knew compromises and sacrifices would have to be made. To name a few: Camera - as a photographer, even with the stock Fairphone OS it would not have met my wishes. I bought I high quality very compact camera to compensate for that. And also some tasks where pushed to my iPad and / or the browser instances even though a proprietary app was available and functional.
All in all I tried use /e/OS as my daily driver for everything. At least to some degree.
How much key institutions in our daily lives rely on and choose to be dependent on Google and Apple becomes clear when you actually try to not use Google or Apple. I found that bunch of, absolutely necessary things, (for me), are impossible or difficult to accomplish without an Apple of Google fueled app.
For example in the Netherlands, every government service and healthcare organizations require the use of an app called DigiD to sign in. The app installs but does not work on final steps because it relies on Google infrastructure not present in MicroG, I assume for good reasons . Most of my banking apps do work with the exception of one that is important for my business. The same goes for an app to get access to my insurance company.
The standard and alternative navigation apps are respectable (OSMand+ is phenomenal vby the way), but let met down for pratical use in critical moments. Moments when you need everything to work fast and reliably.
A real world example from my life: Imagine me on a business trip running around an airport, checking in, paying for stuff, re-booking a canceled flight on the go in an airline app and when arriving finding the right train or taxi stand, all the while having (video)calls for last changes on the meeting,… my Murena phone is just not suitable for that task,… yet. I totally realise many of the solutions to make things work better are not necessarily a task for /e/ but for app developers, writing apps that are not or less dependent on Google infrastructure. I also understand that the path of least resistance is often chosen by app developpers to keep development cost down.
Now, don’t get me wrong I totally love my Murena phone, I will stick with it. I genuinely feel free and unobserved when it is on me and I value that lot. It can do 90% of the things I need in my private life and some of the things I need in my business life.
For what it cannot do I have a refurbished iPhone 13 mini with a second SIM card with the same number. It is a powerhouse in a small form factor, I can alternate between phones quickly with airplane mode. When at home and on private trips by default I only use my Murena.
One nice side effect of my two phones approach is that, with exception of one banking app, I am now using exclusively open source apps on my Murena phone. WhatsApp, (and Signal for practical reasons), transferred to the iPhone. They can only be registered to one phone at the time even when the phone numbers are the same. So now I discovered Wire and Element. Both which are great messaging alternatives in their own right. In a way my de-googled phone has become more pure.
The e.foundation and the whole initiative to offer an alternative to Google and Apple is very necessary. Fantastic work has all ready been done by Gaël and the development team. They have my full support and respect.
What I learned is that there is no perfect solution to be completely free of Big Tech just yet. Unless you want to disconnect from the real world. It is a constant balancing act between pragmatism and protecting your privacy. We should be realistic, patient and not expect /e/OS to be the holy solution just yet. It needs a chance, time and nurturing to develop into the promise.
I also came to realise that while as a person you can do a lot to protect your digital life. But as individuals, or even as the larger group taking privacy seriously, we are no match for the power of big tech followed by the masses who don’t care or are unaware. I am not anti Google products, they have some great solutions but we all (the masses) should take offence against them selling our personal information to the highest bidder.
So broader awareness, (tough cookie), and governmental legislation catching up with reality are important ingredients as well to limit Big Tech Digital Wild West Practices. The European Union is making some good moves now but way more needs to be done.
In the meantime I will continue to support e.foundation’s work for and will keep enjoying my Murena phone with /e/OS.