Liberate Your Device!
Even though Android is mostly Free Software, devices usually come with proprietary software and services that prevent people from using them in an independent and autonomous way. Liberate your Android device: learn how to regain control of your data, with a free operating system and free apps!
For beginners it is easiest to start with liberating mobile apps. We introduce to you dedicated Free Software app stores and present some apps for the most common use cases, for example messaging, navigation, or games.
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, and is itself proprietary software. It is recommended to not use this market at all.
The F-Droid initiative was started to change the sad Free Software app situation in the Android world. It builds a repository of easily-installable Free Software apps for the Android platform. There is an Android client application that makes it easy to browse Free Software applications, install them onto your device, and keep track of updates. Apps available on F-Droid do not contain hidden costs, are safe for children, and are transparent about possible antifeatures.
The F-Droid repository contains details of multiple versions of each application. You can also easily create and add own repositories. But since the initiative is very active, developing in a decentralised fashion and open to collaboration, creating own repositories is not really necessary. Its goal is to include all useful Free Software Android applications and to keep up with their updates.
We collected some information about how you can help out F-Droid.
Selected apps for common use cases
Nowadways, we fortunately live in a world in which we can choose from various Free Software apps for almost any use case. This sections aims to present a small selection of apps which are fitting for starters. By no means can such a list be ever perfect for every individual case. We also recommend you to look at the complete F-Droid repository or app recommendations by PRISM Break, Me and My Shadow, or Security in a Box.
In F-Droid you can find many web browsers for different audiences. Probably the most well known is Mozilla's Firefox Mobile which is available in a completely Free Software edition as Fennec. Another alternative is Firefox' GNU rebranding IceCatMobile. Users who prefer lightweight and privacy-aware apps may also want to try Firefox Klar (also known as Firefox Focus).
K-9 Mail enables its users to add multiple email accounts and offers a wide range of options. It also supports integration with encryption apps like OpenKeychain and is able to read GnuPG encrypted messages.
The situation of Free Software apps for instant messaging is complicated. While there are 100% Free Software solutions like Conversations and Zom (for XMPP/Jabber, iOS users can use ChatSecure), Delta Chat (using email) or Riot.im (using Matrix), they probably will not be very widespread among your friends because their user bases are relatively small. Other apps are completely or mostly Free Software but have other antifeatures like dependencies on non-free servers and libraries, or no server federation, for example Signal or Wire. There are several initiatives to make instant messaging as free, secure, decentralised, and user-friendly as possible, and we hope to be able to make clearer recommendations in the future.
Plenty of Free Software apps aim to make you enjoy audio and video on your mobile phone. Notable apps are NewPipe as a lightweight interface for YouTube which adds some unique features, the VLC Player for videos, or RadioDroid to listen to thousands of radio stations. Podcast listeners may like AntennaPod.
When you are travelling, your mobile phone can be a helper for you. Transportr knows public transportation networks of countries and cities all over the world. OsmAnd serves detailed offline and online maps of whereever you are right now, and also includes navigation when riding your bicycle or car.
F-Droid contains various mobile games for almost any taste. For example puzzlers may enjoy 2048 while block sandbox fans can play Minetest in single as well as multiplayer mode. For fans of 1010! there is 1010! Klooni.
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 mostly free, many phones ship with proprietary components and add-ons. Some phones also have a locked boot loader which prevents you from booting and installing other operating systems. If you want to buy an Android phone, make sure that the boot loader can be unlocked.
On some devices it can only be unlocked with clever hacks and their manufacturers tend to declare your warranty void when you unlock their device's boot loader. But, given European Directive 1999/44/CE, just the fact that you modified or changed the software of your device, is not a sufficient reason to void your statutory warranty. See Carlo Piana's and Matija Šuklje's analysis for more information. There are also companies that ship their devices with an unlocked bootloader or provide you with the means to unlock it. Besides that, it is a good idea to check if there are free versions of Android supporting the device.
Replicant is a distribution of Android that is 100% Free Software. Since it does not use any non-free drivers, it currently works on a limited number of devices.
LineageOS is a version of Android which you can use without a Google account. Even though it is usually more free than the software your device comes with, freedom is not its main objective. While LineageOS works on most Android devices, it makes use of non-free device drivers and firmware which are fetched from a device and included in the ROM. LineageOS is the most popular fork of the discontinued CyanogenMod project.
LineageOS does not contain Google Play services by default which is good for your freedom. However, if you really need some of these proprietary apps or libraries you can try the Free Software implementation microG.
We collected information about how you can help to ensure that LineageOS and other operating systems become as good as possible, and how to identify and remove non-free parts.