Smartphones are a nightmare for privacy and personal data security.
One of the best options for a safe phone is an Android phone with a custom ROM that doesn’t include the standard apps and libraries from Google.
Finding a phone that supports custom ROMs can take some effort, and then getting a ROM installed takes more effort. It’d be nice to just buy a phone already set up with Google-free Android, but there aren’t that many good options out there.
Rob Braxman - the “internet privacy guy” sells pre-installed “deGoogled” Android phones. Let’s see if his offering is a good deal.
Selection and Pricing
Rob offers several models:
- Google Pixel 3 & 3 XL for ~$400
- Google Pixel 4 & 4 XL for ~$650
- Moto G7 for ~$330
- OnePlus 6 for ~$400
He also offers an installation service on a customer-provided phone for $130.
Looking at eBay for used phone prices, it looks like he’s charging a bit over market. But there’s an excellent reason for this: Ordering used phones doesn’t always succeed.
In addition to the obvious problem of getting defective phones, there’s a widespread problem of mislabeling phones. For many of the phones he provides there’s an unlocked version that supports custom ROM installs and a locked (usually Verizon) edition with a locked bootloader that prevents custom software installs. The unlocked version is worth more, so frequently the locked version is mislabeled.
Overall the selection and pricing is reasonable. My only complaint is the lack of the Google Pixel 3a - that model has a headphone jack.
I ordered a Google Pixel 3 on Wednesday, April 21st.
The phone shipped 2-day US priority mail from California to Massachusetts and arrived on Saturday the 24th. That’s pretty quick.
Packing was fine - bubble wrap around phone. Loose wall wart and cable. No documentation included - would have liked to see an indication
Settings -> About Phone Shows:
- Device Name: BraxOS
- Build: Lineage something
- Duck Duck Go
- K-9 Mail
MicroG - Registers phone with Google. This is a risk to both privacy and autonomy.
Brax.Me - Rob Braxman’s social network. Sure.
Waze - Unlikely to be more secure than Google Maps. It’s owned by Google, after all.
- Phone arrived in mint condition.
- Lineage OS and a reasonable set of software came preinstalled.
- MicroG is a privacy risk that should be carefully considered.
- One issue: It looks like there’s no automatic updates for software installed via F-Droid. I’ll need to fix that to make this usable.
- Conclusion: Overall, Rob Braxman is providing the service of preinstalling a custom ROM without Google apps reasonably well at a decent price.
This worked fine. Needed to contact Verizon to activate, but that sounds like a Verizon problem.
Needed to install Magisk. This was more complicated than expected, but did eventually work.
- Install Magisk APK
- Unpack boot.img from Lineage OS zip (requires unpacking bin; don’t use some other boot.img)
- Copy to phone, patch with Magisk app, copy back, fastboot flash boot
This seems to work at the moment.