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Free Your Android

Liberate Your Device!

Liberated Android Robot

You have an Android phone and its manufacturer does not offer you any recent updates? You are faced with the dilemma of either buying a new phone or keeping an outdated device running? Learn on this page how you can install and use a Free Software operating system on your phone that keeps your device up to date.

Installing a Free Software operating system means you often have more control over how long to use your device. In addition, it comes with a lot of other benefits. Free Software gives you full control over your device, you can finally de-install apps you could not before, and you profit from extended privacy protection - just to mention a few.

You can choose among several Android-based Free Software operating systems (also called custom ROMs) or even install a complete GNU/Linux environment. Different operating systems come with different focuses. Some focus on giving users as much freedom as possible, others on privacy, on usability, and more. You can choose for yourself which operating system best suits your needs. Enjoy the feeling of a new operating system; it's just like having a new device.

To have a liberated device you need both the OS and the Apps to be free. To achieve this you can either:

Apps

For beginners, the easiest way is to start with liberating your phone from proprietary apps. There are dedicated Free Software app stores that offer free apps for the most common use cases, for example messaging, navigation, or games.

Operating Systems

Most operating systems on phones you can buy are not free. They contain pre-installed proprietary software which limit your freedoms and harm your privacy. Advanced users should therefore install a mobile operating system that is as free as possible.

Devices

A few devices are already shipped with Free Software by default, so you don't need to liberate them. This is the easiest option for non-technical users.

The apps

For most people, the Google Play Store is the only or the main source for their applications. It doesn't even tell you whether an app is Free Software or not, let alone its license. Unfortunately, most apps from this or other markets are proprietary. Even if you install a Free Software app, there is no reason to trust the downloaded binary. Using Google Play also requires a Google account, which is itself proprietary software. We recommend to not use this market at all.

After upcycling your phone and installing a Free Software operating system on it, you have the choice to manually install non-free software that might affect your freedom and privacy. This is true for GNU/Linux systems as well as custom ROMs. In the latter case you could even re-install the Google software and libraries again. But you do not have to! Keep control over your software and data and use your phone with as many Free Software apps as possible. For many users, liberating their phones is just the beginning of a long journey into a world full of Free Software.

Any proprietary app that you can replace with a Free Software one is an important step towards a more sustainable digital environment, because any Free Software app you download and install will attract developers to invest more resources in further development of the app. And any proprietary app that you replace with a Free Software app is one step out of the dilemma of software obsolescence - as outlined in our study On the Sustainability of Free Software.

In GNU/Linux environments, discovering the full world of Free Software on your mobile phone with ease usually works via their integrated software repository. In the case of custom ROMs, your journey starts with a Free Software app store called F-Droid and a replacement for the Google libraries called MicroG. If you are looking for enjoyable and useful apps you can find inspiration by browsing the F-Droid store or you can look for curated third-party catalogues like Fossdroid or Droid-Break.

  • F-Droid

    The F-Droid initiative has completely changed and facilitated Free Software app availability in the Android world by offering a repository of easily-installable Free Software apps for the Android platform. In practice this means that you can use F-Droid in a similar way to what you might have experienced when using Google Play Store or other app stores. F-Droid makes it easy to browse Free Software applications, install or uninstall them onto your device, and keep track of updates. Apps available on F-Droid do not contain hidden costs and are transparent about possible antifeatures.

    Even if you are still using your stock Android: Installing Free Software apps is possible on any type of Android phone. You can simply install F-Droid and immediately enjoy the biggest Free Software app store in the Android world! Browsers, maps, games, music, chats and more, everything in one place! Every app you replace with Free Software reduces your dependencies on non-free software.

  • MicroG

    MicroG describes itself as a "Free Software re-implementation of Google’s proprietary Android user space apps and libraries". In practice that means MicroG allows other Free Software apps to seamlessly integrate into the Android system without having to use Google software for this. Free Software users get extended application support, privacy-caring users can reduce or monitor data that is sent to Google and especially older phones can expect some battery life improvements.

The operating systems

An operating system is a collection of software that enables you to use your phone and run other applications on it. Even though Android is partially free, many phones ship with proprietary components and add-ons.

Some phones are easier to liberate than others. That is because some manufacturers make it artificially difficult for you, for example by using heavy digital restrictions management. Often they want you to have to buy a new phone instead of renewing your current one. Therefore, many manufacturers also want to discourage you from flashing your phone by claiming that you will lose your warranty. However, according to the analysis of legal experts at FSFE, this will often not be true.

To be able to flash your phone with a Free Software operating system, you sometimes need to unlock the bootloader of your device. The bootloader is an underlying software level on top of which you install the operating system. On some phones it is easy to unlock the bootloader, on others not. Some operating systems can be installed without unlocking the bootloader, others not. Please note that we cannot offer you online or remote help with this process. But you are welcome to participate in one of our workshops.

If you currently need to buy a new phone it is recommended to choose your phone also based on the ease of flashing it. Not only do you make an easier time for yourself but also you support more Free Software phones with your choice. There are also several phones that come with GNU/Linux systems or a custom ROM pre-installed. This is of course the easiest option since they take away all the burden and offer you an easy-to-use experience.

You can install a Free Software operating system on your device yourself. This process is also called flashing. Keep in mind that this might be not an easy task when you do it for the first time. It needs some preparation and research in advance. There is however plenty of information and help available from diverse communities, on the Internet and locally. And if you like tinkering around with technology, you can have fun installing Free Software on your phone pretty soon.

Replicant

Replicant Logo

Replicant "is a free software mobile operating system putting the emphasis on freedom and privacy/security" and is 100% Free Software. Since it does not use any non-free drivers, it currently works on a limited number of devices. List of supported Replicant devices.

LineageOS

LineageOS Logo

LineageOS is a very popular Custom-ROM that works on a huge number of different devices. This is because it uses proprietary drivers and firmware. Even though it is usually more free than the default software your Android device comes with, freedom is not its main objective, running on as many devices as possible is. You do not need a Google account to use LineageOS, neither does it contain Google Play services. LineageOS works pretty well with the Free Software implementation microG. List of supported LineageOS devices.

GrapheneOS

GrapheneOS

GrapheneOS "is a privacy and security focused mobile OS with Android app compatibility developed as a non-profit open source project. It's focused on the research and development of privacy and security technology including substantial improvements to sandboxing, exploit mitigations and the permission model." Graphene OS currently only supports Pixel phones. GrapheneOS does not support microG. List of supported GrapheneOS devices.

CalyxOS

calyx-logo

CalyxOS describes itself as "Privacy by Design". It is not as restrictive as GrapheneOS though and allows optionally the user to install microG. CalyxOS only works on devices with a verified boot, which means the boot-loader is locked and can't be manipulated. CalyxOS also offers to go back to your stock Android, if you change your mind in the future. You probably won't but it's good to know that you can. List of supported CalyxOS devices.

/e/ OS

e-logo

/e/ is "is a complete, fully “deGoogled”, mobile ecosystem". The idea is to form a privacy-enabled internal system for your smartphone with no Google apps or Google services accessing your personal data. Google services have been completely removed and replaced with microG. You can set up an account for advanced backup features. It does support a large number of devices and it is also possible to buy smartphones with /e/ pre-installed. List of supported /e/ devices.

Beyond Android

Despite currently being the world's most used operating system on mobile phones, Android is by far not the only Free Software mobile operating system you can use. If you are curious, there is a lot more to discover. This means you do not need to install any Android based custom-ROM to liberate. Instead, you can install complete GNU/Linux systems or other Linux-based environments on your phone (if supported).

GNU/Linux operating systems usually put freedom first, and their development is totally separate from the Google-dominated Android ecosystem. Even better, the code development does not rely on any other single company either: GNU/Linux systems are developed transparently by large communities around the globe with no single entity that is in control. Code changes can be proposed by any volunteer around the world, and any accepted change is directly visible to everyone. Many developers put efforts into offering backward compatibility of changes and using GNU/Linux you will benefit from many years of support for the operating system on your device.

Choosing a GNU/Linux system for your phone means that some available apps will be different from what you're used to. This might be subject to change in the future though, as more and more Linux based operating systems enter the market. Also you can use third-party software to bridge between native Android apps and GNU/Linux systems or the other way around. However, the more Android apps you decide to bridge and use in your free GNU/Linux operating system, the more you start suffering again from restrictions in the Android world. Sticking to native GNU/Linux apps on your system usually means benefiting from using Free Software and Open Standards. And as more GNU/Linux systems become available on mobile phones, their markets and developments are expected to grow further.

Among the more prominent names are Postmarket OS, Plasma Mobile, Ubuntu Touch, and PureOS.

Other factory free alternatives

Even though this page is focused on liberating your current Android phone, if you are looking to buy a new device, you should also be aware that there are factory free devices in the market that are already sold Free and don't require you to do anything to them after you purchase them.

Nitrophone

The Nitrophone is an Android phone that already ships with Free Software. It's a Pixel device with GrapheneOS installed, so you don't need to do anything to it once you purchase it.

GNU/Linux Phones

If you enjoy diversity and experimenting with technology, many more options are available to you. GNU/Linux phones may one day become a third option alongside iOS and Android. However, today they are still under heavy development so are still considered to be in beta, so they might not be the most suitable option for standard users yet. For those who like to be at the edge of the curve, we currently have some Purism devices and the Pine 64 Pinephone. The purism devices currently ship with PureOS and the Pinephone ships with Manjaro, even though multiple other distributions are supported. The PinePhone wiki, for example, currently lists 21 different Free Software operating systems available running on the PinePhone. And a growing number of companies offer pre-installed GNU/Linux systems on selected phones, including a precisely tailored app environment.

On a Linux phone you can install many Linux distributions and the same software you can install on any Linux PC. Additionally, installation of Android apps on Linux phones is also possible thanks to emulators like Anbox or the newer and more efficient Waydroid.

Regain control of your device!

This page can only provide a glimpse of the possibilities and the benefits of using Free Software on your device. It brings back control over your data, your software, and your hardware to you. If you want to install Free Software on your device now on your own you will find a lot of information on the Internet. If you want to visit one of our workshops check out our workshop page. If you like this initiative spread the word, join the movement, and tell others about our initiative and goals.

Footnotes

  1. The quote has been taken from the Replicant webpage.
  2. The quote has been taken from the Graphene OS webpage.
  3. The quote has been taken from the /e/OS webpage.