In this article I cover the process for installing CalyxOS on an Android phone.
CalyxOS is a privacy focused Android ROM maintained by a US nonprofit called the Calyx Institute. It has a mostly reasonable set of defaults for semi-technical users. For example, it doesn’t include Google Apps, but it does include MicroG and the Aurora store to allow most apps from the Play Store to install and work.
Compared to a stock Android install with Google Apps, Calyx leaks much less personal data to Google and doesn’t let Google push arbitrary updates to your device.
Compared to a custom install with something like LinageOS, Calyx provides an easier install and a better default out of the box experience at the cost of some flexibility.
For more of my thoughts on different Android ROMs, see my post on that topic.
Step 1: Find a Compatible Phone
In the US in 2021, most phones have locked bootloaders. That means they can’t install any custom ROM.
CalyxOS limits that even further: it only works on recent Google Pixel devices. Note that custom ROMs never work on phones from Verizon.
For this install I’m going to be using one of the older supported devices, a Google Pixel 3a. These are available for It’s pretty great: it’s got a headphone jack.
Step 2: Install
Go to calyxos.org and follow the directions.
I’m going to be working from Linux.
First, we need to enable developer mode, which then lets us enable USB debugging and OEM (bootloader) unlocking.
Then we download some pre-reqs, the flashing script, and the image.
Then we run the script.
At some point the phone will prompt us to unlock the bootloader.
That’s it - we’ve got a fancy new OS on the phone. The final step is to use F-droid and the Aurora store to install whatever apps we want.
The script makes this pretty straightforward. You can pay other people to do the install for you, including buying a phone from CalyxOS developers themselves, but there is a big downside: You can’t delegate your digital autonomy; trivially if you have someone else do it then they’re in control.