1 Year of a de-Googled Android phone - my experience

I am writing this to encourage any people, who might be on the fence about switching to de-Googled Android phone, to jump in. It’s not going to be a painful experience…hopefully!

So, it has been exactly 1 year today since I switched to de-Googled Android.
It has been a mostly smooth experience, there were a few rough edges along the way but overall, it has definitely been worth it.

What I chose

I got a Pixel 6a, and installed CalyxOS on it, with microG enabled. I evaluated the different options that were available and, in the end, went with COS because I was personally interested in using microG first, and if I ever need to, I can use an alternative such as GrapheneOS and Sandboxed Play Services. Also to note - you can choose to use Calyx and disable microG, for whatever reason.

What do I do with my phone?

I pretty much use my phone for the usual stuff - calls, text, maps, banking etc. I don’t game on my phone. I don’t use some Google services such as Google Home, Gmail, and Chrome browser, so avoiding these was pretty easy.

Day to day usability

The first question everyone asks is about app compatibility - where microG works, it works amazingly (this is about 95% of apps in my experience). Where it doesn’t though, there much can’t be done to fix the issues. I will detail them in the next section.

The main reason for dependencies on Play Services on my apps usually boil down to Location, Push Notifications and SafetyNet (soon, to be replaced with Play Integrity). Here’s my experience with all of these :

  1. Push Notifications - Work perfectly fine. No issues for mail apps like ProtonMail and messenger applications like WhatsApp. The microG settings in the OS that lets you see every app registering for receiving Push Notifications, and, if needed, de-register them or disable Push Notifications altogether.

  2. Location - microG handles location mainly through using Mozilla Location Services* and GPS. Location works perfect - I disable Location services most of the time and have set apps requesting location to use location only while using the app, so, for me, apps are a bit slower to pick up location. But this is very much due to the way I utilise the permissions on Android, not a microG issue.
    Same as above, you can view all apps using Location in the microG settings (though this is also possible withing the regular Android Settings app). You can also choose to enable/disable how microG requests Location from Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS, Mozilla Location Services* etc.

  3. SafetyNet - I was astronomically lucky to find out my bank app doesn’t use SafetyNet (same as previous 2 cases, microG settings has a page where it tells you what all apps use SafetyNet). For whatever reason though, Uber apparently does.
    The SafetyNet bypass on microG is not enabled by CalyxOS by default, however. One must manually enable it.

The issues

With what I mentioned above, with all of the positives, there are some potentially deal-breaking things to note

  1. SafetyNet is going to be deprecated in favour of Play Integrity next year. This will require a rework from microG’s end to support spoofing/bypassing the integrity checks.
  2. The microG SafetyNet bypass has apparently been broken for some time already, and doesn’t work well.
    For example, I mentioned Uber using SafetyNet in the previous section. Uber recently started checking SafetyNet status and redirects you to a different UI if it detects you having not passed. The app is usable but certainly not the same as a non-de-Googled Android experience.
  3. Because of 1., apps like Google Pay do not work. While this can seem like a +ve, if you absolutely need GPay for payments, de-Googled Android is sadly, not a choice.
  4. Mozilla Location Services shut down recently (which is why I was marking it with a * - microG added a way to configure custom network providers under microG Settings > Location > Three dots > Configure service URL), and therefore there is a hunt for a replacement for these services.
    (If you were on a de-Googled Android that didn’t use microG, you will be unaffected by this. GrapheneOS’ sandboxed Google Play Services relies on Google for network location info.)

Fixes/stopgaps for the issues

For each of the issues :

  1. No real fix in pretty much every de-Googled Android atm. Play Integrity is hardware backed, unless your firmware treats your Android distro as stock (basically, doesn’t show you a warning everytime you reboot), it is rather difficult to spoof.
    However, many apps request a basic integrity check instead of a strong one, and for CalyxOS in specific, there is a thread and work being done in the background to at least bypass the basic integrity
  2. This is a problem that isn’t work fixing, SafetyNet is due for the chopping block in January 2025.
  3. Find a banking/payments app that doesn’t depend on SafetyNet and can work without it. My banking app currently works fine for me as a replacement.
  4. There are promising alternatives such as positon.xyz and beacondb.net but they are brand new and very small projects, so caution is needed to trust these projects.

Non-serious issues include lack of quality of life features - no voice features, no Google Lens, no Nearby Share, no custom Lockscreens, none of the custom Pixel features such as call screening, Extreme Battery Saver, Live Translate, Live Caption, app suggestions in launcher etc.

Conclusion

Would I go back to normal Android? Never, unless I run into a critical app compatibility issue that can’t be mitigated.

I reckon you will have a similarly smooth experience even if you choose something like GrapheneOS or DivestOS. GOS’ Sandboxed Play Services and
projects like microG are extremely mature and drop-in replacements for app compatibility.

Also with both of the above mentioned options, you can simultaneously use their compatibility layers while creating profiles with microG disabled (on COS) or without Sandboxed Play Services installed (on GOS) to evaluate if you absolutely need a compatibility layer.

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