Graphene OS - DIY De-Googled phone explained!

Here is a quick guide I made for friends, wanted to share this on here. This is my .02 and several resources on how to make yourself a private phone, enjoy! I welcome any corrections or additions.


Graphene OS – a de-Googled phone explained!

Your phone is likely the most critical tool you depend on day to day, hour by hour, which means changing things up doesn’t sound very appealing to most. However, a little bit of planning and effort can gain you an immense amount of privacy, and feel quite liberating, by exploring this new device. Let’s walk through the overview of what this entails.

I would recommend buying a Google Pixel phone and using a prepaid SIM card to get a second device up and running in order to get familiar with it for a few weeks, before switching from your daily driver phone over to your de-Googled phone. Mint Mobile and others offer 1 week trial SIM cards for $1 or so, and if that’s not enough time, pay for a month or more at an introductory reduced cost to get you going a little further if you need more time to ‘test drive’ your new de-Googled phone.

Once you are satisfied and confident enough to switch, simply drop your current daily driver SIM card into your de-Googled phone, import your contacts (easily done via USB and/or cable, copying and pasting the .vcf file by exporting and then importing contacts), install a few apps, and you are up and running pretty quickly. Your number stays the same, the new phone will soak up the contacts easily, and you might be surprised at how easy a transition it is for you. If you get frustrated or lost, simply drop your SIM back into your old phone, but I have yet to have any desire to do that myself, based on how easy the new device is to use. Another option is to run your old phone without the SIM if you need to use a specific app, but use wifi or hotspot off of your de-Googled phone to run apps, some may not work if based on the cell number since your SIM is not inserted.

Bottom line is that transitioning from one phone to another does not have to be instant, and there is no ‘point of no return,’ but rather done gradually by using both phones for a period of time as you get comfortable with the new device. Another inadvertent thing that we accomplish by doing this is redundancy, a favorite topic of mine; you now possess two devices, and two SIM cards. Should one fail or be lost, stolen, etc, you can quickly get back up and running with your second device that is loaded already with all of your apps and contacts. Even a phone without a SIM can make an emergency 911 call.

Since we are discussing privacy, and de-Googled phones, I’ll quickly throw in one quick trick if you must or want to carry around your old Google or Apple phone; keep it off and in a Faraday bag when not in use. Your standard phone can be remotely accessed for not only location, but Apple/Google can install software changes/updates even with the phone off, so long as it has power. The only way to defeat this unsolicited connectivity, is ‘putting your tin foil hat’ over your phone (keeping it in a Faraday bag.)

That sounds complicated, what is, and why would I want, a de-Googled phone?”

Today you have only two mainstream options for an OS (Operating System) on a cell phone, Android (Google) or iOS (Apple) which are both extremely intrusive and are essentially your microchip. Using one provides those companies with virtually every move, location, clicks, sound or sight through the various sensors on the device. Cellular devices have far more sensors and much less privacy than a computer, if you value privacy from big tech, and all of the third parties they sell/share data with, the phone is your highest priority to lock down, and should also reinforce the habit of using your computer rather than a mobile device whenever possible. This extra privacy and control over your device and data can be achieved by purchasing certain model cell phones, in this example we will discuss installing Graphene OS on a Google Pixel phone. (Ironic that you can de-Google a Google phone, but currently many believe this is the most secure option to kick Google off of your phone.) Older Pixel phones are not supported any more by Graphene, visit here to see which models are supported before purchasing a Pixel device. Although not covered here, there are other ‘de-Googled’ phones such as Lineage OS or Calyx OS that work on certain other brands/models of phones, so you are not just limited to Pixels if you choose another OS.

*It is critical to purchase an ‘Unlocked’ phone- a phone that is locked by the carrier (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) will not work, unless you can convince the cell carrier to unlock the bootloader, not an easy task. New phones are best practice, and can be found at typical places online, or you can purchase a used one off of Swappa, eBay and other used phone sites. There are unlikely, but potential risks with using a used phone from an unknown source, but the one I use currently was obtained from Swappa, although other phones I purchased new online, and even one in person, using cash.

The quick explanation is that you can ‘wipe’ Google’s software off of the device, and install Graphene OS in its place, which gives you far more control, and starves a ton of data/telemetry from Google and others. While you can still use the Google Play Store and all of its apps on your Graphene phone, it defeats the purpose of a de-Googled phone. You can install apps from F-droid store, Aurora Store, or side load APK files instead, and in some cases such as Telegram for example, you can download directly from their site without Google Play Services. With this phone, you will notice it is faster, and won’t fill up with clutter as fast, and battery will last longer, etc. Although the carrier can still see quite a bit of data including all call logs and text messages, location, etc, we can minimize their prying eyes by using third party apps such as Signal and Wire, among many others for messaging, and services for email such as ProtonMail and Tutanota, to name a couple.

This is the hard fork in the road for many, as some apps may not be available if you choose to avoid Google Play Store. However, many apps will function just fine, the biggest learning curve for most will be not having Google Maps app for navigation. We substitute with another app such as OsmAnd (Open Source Maps app) which operates very similar to Google Maps, or simply use Google Maps in a browser instead (less convenient.) One suggestion for those on the fence or unsure if Graphene OS is feasible for you, is to reduce the amount of apps you use on your phone, and use them on your computer instead. Only use the phone for necessary apps and accounts. That’s another whole can of worms… I strongly recommend not installing any Google, Facebook or other social media apps on your new device, if you must use those data vacuums, save them for your computer to keep your phone in better shape. I won’t go to much deeper on this subject here, but my two cents is that not having instant 24/7/365 social media at your fingertips is a good thing. If you do need to use them on your new phone, do it through a browser to avoid a ton of extra data collection.

Resources on how to accomplish this transition:

  1. Buy a Pixel phone with Graphene OS already installed (more expensive)

  2. Buy an unlocked Pixel phone (new or used) that is supported, and DIY install:

-Detailed information can be found at https://grapheneos.org/ on how to install and use Graphene OS on a supported, unlocked Google Pixel phone if you are familiar with computers and simple programming, or are at least able to follow detailed instructions. Otherwise, you can purchase Pixel phones with Graphene OS pre-installed, but those are quite a bit more expensive, usually upwards of $200-300 extra. For that price, most will want to attempt it on their own first, and while Graphene OS website has all of the steps, it can be overwhelming for some. If it is any encouragement, I was fairly computer illiterate (and in many ways still so) and was able to successfully program not only one, but now a half a dozen devices successfully, which all function excellent to date. Don’t sell yourself short, there is a lot of support available online if something doesn’t go right during programming.

-A second option for DIY programming is found at inteltechniques.com on their Resources page, I personally found these instructions easier and have had 100% success so far with various Pixel devices and models using their method. This method does require a Linux (Ubuntu) computer, and the books and podcasts on his site cover this topic in detail. Podcast Episodes: 232, 233 for recent updates, and other episodes further back. Also, I have found his book a goldmine of all things privacy related (3rd edition, ‘Privacy; How to Disappear’)

If you don’t have a Linux Ubuntu OS to use, you can easily install it on your current computer in ‘dual boot’ fashion, where your existing OS remains, but you simply add Ubuntu. Once Ubuntu is installed, you can boot to either OS and perform tasks normally. If you’re still reading this document and are interested in a Graphene phone, you will likely want to migrate your computing over to the wonderful world of Linux based systems, for nearly identical reasons. (The concept is to migrate away from closed source, proprietary data predators such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google, and to move towards Free and Open Source Software, or FOSS)

*Pixel phone models I would recommend:

4a (4g), 4a (5g), 4xl, 5 (5g) and wireless charging , 5a (5g); 6 is released now, but Graphene OS is not yet available for the model 6, usually it takes roughly a year for developers to create and offer support for a new model. The 6 offers a huge leap in camera quality and other features, and is available in regular and ‘Pro’ models. The Pixel 3 models still have support, but expect these to phase out soon. The 4 models should work for many years to come as they are all 4G LTE, as will the newer models with 5G. I would discourage any 3G phones at this point based on what I’ve learned, and where the cell service is headed, but basically any model/submodel of 4 or 5 will work excellent for quite some time. Compare features and cost to determine what is best for you, but I have not seen a huge difference among any of those models, and the software end of things will look identical regardless of which model you choose.

Let’s talk cost. The device is the largest hit to your wallet, but Pixels can be found for as low as $350 used, upwards of $800 for some new, but this past year I’ve purchased most new for about $400-480. Next will be a second SIM card if you wish to run both phones to test, trial pre-paid SIM cards and monthly service will typically be much cheaper than post-paid accounts that most people use. If you choose to go the extra SIM route, expect about $20/month for entry level plans. The rest (the software) is free! Consider supporting developers if you like their work.

*Recommended apps to install:

OsmAnd Maps app

Blokada 5 (free VPN, or better yet, use a paid VPN or similar service)

Signal for text, voice and video chat

Email client such as ProtonMail.com, FastMail, StartMail, Tutanota, etc.

VLC Media Player

OpenCamera – stock Graphene camera is not so hot

VOIP phone service to use phone with others who don’t have Signal

*Banking software is typically difficult to install without Google services, I would recommend simply using a browser if you need to use your phone for any banking, rather than installing an app that could breach the privacy of Graphene OS.

The great news, is that if you make a huge mistake anywhere along the way in this process, you can simply pull out your SIM, reinstall Graphene/Factory reset the device, and start over, may take about an hour to get the critical stuff up and running depending on how many apps you rely on. You will make plenty of mistakes, many won’t require a reset, simply develop a plan and timeline to reset your phone should you feel like you made enough of a mistake, such as downloading a Google app, and wish to ‘reset.’ In the meantime, you can put your SIM back in your old device until you figure out a new strategy on the Graphene OS phone. The whole thing is not very complex beyond the initial programming, it’s very little different than using a standard Android phone, nearly identical. I’ve only used Apple products for work phones occasionally, and while they are different to a degree, the Graphene Android based phones will require only a soft learning curve initially for Apple users, nothing as drastic as your imagination may lead you to believe. You have the rest of your life to decide what’s best for you, all I can finish off with is that this change to Graphene OS has been a huge positive change in my life, which is why I am compelled to share this possibility with you and others.

There are plenty of reputable privacy experts out there that discuss these and many other strategies in depth, I strongly encourage checking out their content if you think Graphene OS is a good option for you. Using one doesn’t mean that you have to employ every single strict strategy, you can still gain a lot of privacy without going to the full extreme. I’ve used mine for about 5 months or so now and couldn’t imagine using a stock Android or Apple device anymore, I encourage people to share this short guide with others.

(for anyone who must know, my username GrapheneGoat does not imply ‘Greatest Of All Time’, but rather simply a mountain goat, I am a mountaineer, not some self pro-claimed expert at Graphene OS. I simply love my phone, and my family and friends refer to me as a mountain goat based on my need to ascend every peak I can find. Hopefully you knowing that if a not so tech savvy guy like me can do this, you certainly can too!)

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Very nice post. Hope you don’t mind if I use it on my TG channel. :+1:

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Great article. This is my next project and this is very encouraging to me and I hope to others to give it a go. Thanks @GrapheneGoat :+1:

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I went through a similar process with Lineage OS with a Pixel 3 (was only about $150) and came to many of the same conclusions about apps and privacy.
Useful apps I have found on F-Droid:

  • AntennaPod - for podcasts, better than even Apple Podcasts to me
  • Markor - for notes, text files
  • MuPDF - for viewing PDF, EPUB, other reading files (Lineage doesn’t come with PDF viewer)
  • NewPipe - for viewing and downloading youtube videos
  • OpenBoard - alternative keyboard to AOSP keyboard with more options
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Antenna Pod is excellent for privacy, I had been hopelessly addicted to Castbox though, so on my daily driver (pixel 5 w/Graphene OS) I installed it with Aurora without google, works perfect, despite initial scare boxes on the screen and warnings. Clicked through without any google (as far as I know), app functions great and has better features than Antenna Pod, but I believe it to be not as secure as Antenna Pod.

NewPipe, LBRY (Odysee) and Rumble most notably dominate right now it seems, and have found various PDF scanner apps that function OK, not as good as CamScanner yet though. Very much a fan of CamScan’s features/abilities, not so much a fan of their privacy policy and practices/possibilities of invasion of privacy, haven’t used them on the Graphene at all. Going for a desktop scanner instead for the heavy lifting, but the freebie stuff I found so far will work fine for the on the go needs with the phone.

I keep one Graphene OS phone for daily driver trash with some sketchy-ish apps on it, and one that’s a backup (my initial learner device) that is more strict on what I choose to put on it. A phone is critical to my job, so having two makes perfect sense and gives me huge peace of mind.

Thank you all for the positive comments, please critique my work and help me make this better and keep it updated, I don’t have the need or desire to monetize any of this, I just want people to spread the news and info on this stuff, as I believe that the more of us who adopt this mentality and follow through with it, the better our society will be preserved, in the face of authoritarian tech oligarchs who appear to be in bed with a fairly oppressive gov’t forcing medical procedures on us. It won’t stop some of the spying, only some, but think big picture, the less people that have ‘dumb phones’ (smartphones continuously tracking you) the less data the big guys get from us. Small victories are important, and many small victories can equal a meaningful overall victory for how we choose and use our devices.

Run free (open source software) and prosper! -GrapheneGoat

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@GrapheneGoat Many Thanks for this inspiring post!… it really put it all together in easily digestible form! Before I was adrift about how to even start and today I ordered an unlocked Pixel 4 with GrapheneOS and a 3 month SIM card from Mint Mobile to start learning hands on!… Can’t wait… if someone had told me a year ago I would be running Linux on my computers and GrapheneOS on my phone, I would have said… OK… What are those? Thanks again for taking the time to post!

Take Care!

Outstanding, kind of same story here, if someone had told me I would be using a degoogled phone and Linux hardcore a year ago, I might have brushed them off as nuts, “I’m too busy to do all that”

I always was interested in Linux, but never took the plunge until this year, 2021. Here’s the punch line for all this:

You don’t have to plunge into anything!

Both Linux and Graphene can be dabbled at alongside whatever you use now, there should be zero fear of the unknown here.

On ‘go time’ day for my daily driver phone, I was nervous about making the switch, and was pleasantly surprised that within about 2 days, my hesitation and doubts were not only gone, but I gained a huge sense of accomplishment. And I still possess my old device, which can always be fallen back on. But my old Samsung feels “dirty” now, it will probably live in a Faraday bag forever.

I give most credit to Bazzell and his content for showing me the way on both phones and Linux, he was my entry point. From there I quickly got addicted to this stuff.

I hope my story can help others, plus, the more graphene phones out there, the less we stand out. That’s ambitious thinking, but worth trying.

Thanks again and happy new year everyone!!

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It is already working like ripples in a pond… I’ve already converted a few friends to “ Linux Curious “ status with what I have learned here…and, made a birthday gift of a laptop I loaded with Linux Mint… I will be talking to whoever in my life will listen once I get my DeGoogled GrapheneOS phone rolling next week… In the end… Big Tech only has the power we give them… I say “No More”… Each of us that says that, erodes their grip!

Onward We Go Brave Patriots!

:raising_hand_woman:

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Another recommendation is to go for the 128gb size phone rather than the 64gb if possible, left that out.

Also, for OsmAnd Maps app, you can download the entire US (about 9gb) so that you don’t need connectivity/signal in order to view and calculate routes. Google on the other hand provides you only a base map, and fills in areas around you as you bounce from tower to tower, so if you’re offline/out of service coverage, you don’t have that ability beyond a very basic large road map.

OsmAnd works quite well, getting used to it. It has some features that Google maps doesn’t, but it is a little bit of a transition, probably the only major difference for me switching.

But like said, if you get frustrated, just open a browser and use Google maps to get you where you need to go if OsmAnd is giving you grief.

Good luck!

Hey Goat!

I purchased a 64 bit (arrives Saturday) :grinning::+1:… This one is my learner but will likely upgrade once I find my way around with all this stuff! Looking forward to trying the OsmAnd Maps!… As far as streaming music (Spotify) in my car and when I go running… Is the best way to create a second user and use the instructions on the Graphene site to sandbox google play apps and then maybe use the tracker control app also?

Thanks for any insight you can offer!

:raising_hand_woman:

Hi! Very nice, should work fine overall. You can certainly sandbox it, but it appears you can do one of the following two methods:

If you can’t get Spotify to download using Aurora store, then try this direct approach: http://download.spotify.com/android/SpotifyAndroid.apk

It would be good to navigate to your Aurora store and make it the default program to open Google links (Play store) so that will save you some headache when downloading future apps. Hopefully one of those two methods works!

Also, it can be run from a browser using your existing account, but less convenient.

Hi Goat! :goat:

Thanks so much for the quick response!… I can’t wait to get started… I will post what seems to work best and any other findings of note for whoever else is just finding their way with GrapheneOS!

Take Care!

:raising_hand_woman::sunflower::two_hearts:

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Thanks for all the tips. I am looking forward to getting my phone de-googled. I will keep this guide handy. I have a Pixel 4a and have gotten to the part of unlocking bootloader. I unlocked OEM so far. Did you ever run into the issue where your build number doesn’t match any of the versions on developer.google.com (ie. From this step on[Download the factory firmware]corresponding to the installed version of the stock ROM and extract the boot image from the archive). My phone Android 12 version says S2B1.211112.006 but there are no options available with that matching version on the developer website. Thanks for any advice as I am stuck with version to download. Hope this makes sense

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If you have the 4a (4g) model, there is a newer release which coincides roughly when Android 12 came out, the newer one is from about 5 days ago since then, so update to this in the scripts that you copy/paste:

sunfish-factory-2022010500.zip

Whichever version you have, always check Releases | GrapheneOS to make sure you are programming the latest release, and it should work. If you run into hiccups, you can close out the terminal in Ubuntu and simply start all the steps from the top, I had to do this several times on one of my builds (turned out my issue was poor internet via cell, when I did wifi at home, it worked fine)

Are you using the web installer, or a Linux/command line?

Hopefully that new release works for you either way, happy to help as much as I can on this end, good luck!

Thanks for info. I will try that version. This is all new to me as I am switching from iphone 6 to Pixel 4a and don’t have any coding or rooting experience. I have a mac so will use Terminal (until I switch to Linux). I got stuck on the part where my version didn’t match up so wanted to make sure before I went through everything and downloaded the wrong version. My goal is to learn how to do this so I can teach others make the switch. Thanks for your input again! I will keep you posted how it goes :slight_smile:

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Breaking news on Graphene OS if you’re late to the party like me, thank you to the Bones Tech Garage channel on Telegram for noticing this, the Pixel 6 phones are now supported by Graphene OS, that was incredibly fast by the developers!! I was expecting a much longer delay, so this is welcome news that the newest Pixels are supported now.

The Pixel 6 has an insanely better camera, wireless charging, among other excellent features, so if you can afford one, go nuts. With as many devices as I’ve bought this year, I don’t think I can justify buying one yet, but when my youngest kid is ready for his first cell, I will shuffle the deck and give him my 4a and upgrade to the 6 to test out.

As with all things tech, we are constantly in a state of ‘Work in Progress’ to stay updated and at the cutting edge of things.

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Ooooooo!!! Very Nice!… A 6 will be in my future fore sure… I downloaded Open Camera from F-Droid… it is an improvement over the stock app on my Pixel 4 but definitely room for improvement!

:raising_hand_woman::two_hearts::sunflower:

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Graphene OS – a de-Googled phone explained!
updated April 2022

Your phone is likely the most critical tool you depend on day to day, hour by hour, which means changing things up doesn’t sound very appealing to most. However, a little bit of planning and effort can gain you an immense amount of privacy, and feel quite liberating, by exploring this new device. Let’s walk through the overview of what this entails.

First I will walk through an overview summary of what we are physically doing here. In this example, we are buying a Google Pixel phone and using a prepaid SIM card to get a second device up and running in order to get familiar with it for a few weeks, before switching from your daily driver phone over to your de-Googled phone. Mint Mobile and others offer 1 week trial SIM cards for $1 or so, and if that’s not enough time, pay for a month or more at an introductory reduced cost to get you going a little further if you need more time to ‘test drive’ your new de-Googled phone. 3-12 month 4gb plans with unlimited talk/text come in as low as $15/month which I find quite reasonable.

Once you are satisfied and confident enough to switch, simply drop your current daily driver SIM card into your de-Googled phone, import your contacts (easily done via USB and/or cable, copying and pasting the .vcf file by exporting and then importing contacts), install a few apps, and you are up and running pretty quickly. Your number stays the same, the new phone will soak up the contacts easily, and you might be surprised at how easy a transition it is for you. If you get frustrated or lost, simply drop your SIM back into your old phone, but I have yet to have any desire to do that myself, based on how easy the new device is to use. Another option is to run your old phone without the SIM if you need to use a specific app, but use WiFi or hotspot off of your de-Googled phone, some may not work if based on the cell number since your SIM is not inserted.

Bottom line is that transitioning from one phone to another does not have to be instant, and there is no ‘point of no return,’ but rather done gradually by using both phones for a period of time as you get comfortable with the new device. Another inadvertent thing that we accomplish by doing this is redundancy, a favorite topic of mine; you now possess two devices, and two SIM cards. Should one fail or be lost, stolen, etc, you can quickly get back up and running with your second device that is loaded already with all of your apps and contacts. Even a phone without a SIM inserted can make an emergency 911 call.

Since we are discussing privacy, and de-Googled phones, I’ll throw in one quick trick if you must, or want to carry around your old Google or Apple phone; keep it off and in a Faraday bag when not in use. Your standard phone can be remotely accessed for not only location, but Apple/Google can install software changes/updates even with the phone off, so long as it has power and connectivity. The only way to defeat this unsolicited connectivity, is ‘putting your tin foil hat’ over your phone (keeping it in a Faraday bag.)

That sounds complicated, what is, and why would I want, a de-Googled phone?”

Today you have only two mainstream options for an OS (Operating System) on a cell phone, Android (Google) or iOS (Apple) which are both extremely intrusive and are essentially your microchip tracking device. Using one provides those companies with virtually every move, location, clicks, sound or sight through the various sensors on the device. Cellular devices have far more sensors and much less privacy than a computer, if you value privacy from big tech, and all of the third parties they sell/share data with, the phone is your highest priority to lock down, and should also reinforce the habit of using your computer rather than a mobile device whenever possible. This extra privacy and control over your device and data can be achieved by purchasing certain model cell phones, in this example we will discuss installing Graphene OS on a Google Pixel phone, which makes it a ‘de-Googled’ phone. (Ironic that you can de-Google a Google phone, but currently many believe this is the most secure and private option to kick Google off of your Android.) Older Pixel phones are not supported any more by Graphene OS, visit here to see which models are supported before purchasing a Pixel device. Although not covered here, there are other ‘de-Googled’ phones such as Lineage OS or Calyx OS that work on certain other brands/models of phones, so you are not just limited to Pixels if you choose another OS, and both of those OS’s can be installed on a supported Pixel also if you like.

*It is critical to purchase an ‘Unlocked’ phone- a phone that is locked by the carrier (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) will not work, unless you can convince the cell carrier to unlock the phone, not an easy task. New phones are best practice, and can be found at typical places online, or you can purchase a used one off of Swappa, Backmarket, eBay and other used phone sites. There are unlikely, but potential risks with using a used phone from an unknown source, but the one I use currently was obtained from Swappa, although other phones I purchased new online, and even one new one in person at a retail store, using cash.

The quick explanation is that you can ‘wipe’ Google’s software off of the device, and install Graphene OS in its place, which gives you far more control, and starves a ton of data/telemetry from Google and others. You can toggle on/off the various sensors such as location, camera, microphone, etc. to prevent any apps from using them when not needed. While you can still use the Google Play Store and all of its apps on your Graphene phone, it defeats the purpose of a de-Googled phone. You can install apps from F-droid store, Aurora Store, or load trusted APK files instead, and in some cases such as Telegram for example, you can download directly from their site without Google Play Services. With this phone, you will notice it is faster, and won’t fill up with clutter as fast, and battery will last longer, etc. Although the carrier can still see quite a bit of data including all call logs and text messages, location, etc, we can minimize their prying eyes by using third party apps such as Signal and Wire, among many others for messaging, and services for email such as ProtonMail and Tutanota, to name a couple.

This is the hard fork in the road for many, as some apps may not be available if you choose to avoid Google Play Store. However, many apps will function just fine, the biggest learning curve for most will be not having Google Maps app for navigation. We substitute with another app such as OsmAnd (Open Source Maps app) which operates very similar to Google Maps, Magic Earth, or simply use Google Maps in a browser instead (less convenient.) One suggestion for those on the fence or unsure if Graphene OS is feasible for you, is to reduce the amount of apps you use on your phone, and use them on your computer instead. Only use the phone for necessary apps and accounts. That’s another whole can of worms… I strongly recommend not installing any Google, Facebook or other social media apps on your new device, if you must use those data vacuums, save them for your computer to keep your phone in better shape. I won’t go to much deeper on this subject here, but my two cents is that not having instant 24/7/365 social media at your fingertips is a good thing. If you do need to use them on your new phone, consider doing it through a browser to avoid a ton of extra data collection and tracking by the apps.

Resources on how to accomplish this transition:

  1. Buy a Pixel phone with Graphene OS already installed (more expensive but good options exist)

  2. Buy an unlocked Pixel phone (new or used) that is supported, and DIY install:

-Detailed information can be found at https://grapheneos.org/ on how to install and use Graphene OS on a supported, unlocked Google Pixel phone if you are familiar with computers and simple programming, or are at least able to follow detailed instructions. Otherwise, you can purchase Pixel phones with Graphene OS preinstalled, but those are quite a bit more expensive, usually upwards of $100-300 extra. For that price, most will want to attempt it on their own first, and while Graphene OS website has all of the steps, it can be overwhelming for some. Their site offer two methods, one is command line based (more technical) and one is web based (for the less tech savvy.) If it is any encouragement, I was fairly computer illiterate (and in many ways still so) and was able to successfully program not only one, but now ten devices successfully, which all function excellent to date. I have ‘soft bricked’ one phone by flashing incorrect software to it, so follow instructions carefully and you will most likely be successful. Don’t sell yourself short, there is a lot of support available online if something doesn’t go right during programming.

-A second option for DIY programming is found at inteltechniques.com on their Resources page, I personally found these instructions easier and have had 100% success so far with various Pixel devices and models using their method. This method does require a Linux (Ubuntu) computer, and the books and podcasts on his site cover this topic in detail. Podcast Episodes: 232, 233 for recent updates, and other episodes further back. Also, I have found his book a goldmine of all things privacy related (4th edition, ‘Privacy; How to Disappear’ is the most current version just being released)

If you don’t have a Linux Ubuntu OS to use, you can easily install it on your current computer in ‘dual boot’ fashion, where your existing OS remains, but you simply add Ubuntu as a second boot option. Once Ubuntu is installed, you can boot to either OS and perform tasks normally. If you’re still reading this document and are interested in a Graphene phone, you will likely want to migrate your computing over to the wonderful world of Linux based systems, for nearly identical reasons. (The concept is to migrate away from closed source, proprietary data predators such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google, and to move towards Free and Open Source Software, or FOSS) Some users will use Windows, MacOS or various distributions of Linux, you are not limited to Ubuntu by any means for programming phones.

*Pixel phone models I would recommend:

Pixel 4a (4g), 4a (5g), 4xl, 5 (5g) and wireless charging , 5a (5g) or the latest Pixel 6 and 6 Pro also with wireless charging and larger memory, faster speed . The 6 offers a huge leap in camera quality and other features, and is available in regular and ‘Pro’ models, the Pro offers 4x optical zoom and more batter life among other features, but at a large price jump. The Pixel 3 models still have support, but expect these to phase out soon. The 4 models should work for many years to come as they are all 4G LTE, as will the newer models with 5G. Any model/sub-model of 4, 5 or 6 will work excellent for quite some time. Compare features and cost to determine what is best for you, but I have not seen a huge difference among any of those models save for the Pixel 6/6 Pro, and the software end of things will look identical regardless of which model you choose. One key advantage of the 5 (not the 5a, only the 5) is that it has wireless charging feature which I very much enjoy, the Pixel 6 is also a much taller phone for those who want a larger screen.

Let’s talk cost. The device is the largest hit to your wallet, but Pixels can be found for as low as $250 mint condition used, upwards of $900 for some new, but this past year I’ve purchased most new for about $250-480. Next will be a second SIM card if you wish to run both phones to test, trial pre-paid SIM cards and monthly service will typically be much cheaper than post-paid accounts that most people use. If you choose to go the extra SIM route, expect about $15-20/month for entry level plans. The rest (the software) is free! Consider supporting developers if you like their work.

*Recommended apps to install:

F-Droid – App store with trusted open source apps

Aurora Store – App store (many more apps, but best practice is to start with F-Droid to look for needed apps)

OsmAnd Maps app (very full featured maps, you can download maps for offline route planning)

Magic Earth Maps app (easiest to use in my opinion, for driving especially)

Blokada 5 (free VPN, or better yet, use a paid VPN or similar service)

Signal for text, voice and video chat (you can download directly from Signal as APK)

Telegram – You can download FOSS version from F-Droid to avoid trackers

Email client such as ProtonMail, FastMail, StartMail, Tutanota, etc.

VLC Media Player

OpenCamera – stock Graphene camera is not so hot

VOIP phone service to use phone with others who don’t have Signal

Brave Browser – *Currently the privacy and freedom community favorite

Firefox Focus Browser (self destructs browsing history)

Privacy Browser (in F-Droid, shows up as “Mojeek” and produces amazing results)

Antenna Pod – Podcast app

*Banking software is typically difficult to install without Google services, I would recommend simply using a browser if you need to use your phone for any banking, rather than installing an app that could breach the privacy of Graphene OS.

The great news, is that if you make a huge mistake anywhere along the way in this process, you can simply pull out your SIM, reinstall Graphene on the device, (there is no factory reset, you simply start over from step one on installation to reinstall) and start over, may take about an hour to get the critical stuff up and running depending on how many apps you rely on. You will make plenty of mistakes, many won’t require a reset, simply develop a plan and timeline to reset your phone should you feel like you made enough of a mistake, such as downloading a Google app, and wish to ‘reset.’ In the meantime, you can put your SIM back in your old device until you figure out a new strategy on the Graphene OS phone. The whole thing is not very complex beyond the initial programming, it’s very little different than using a standard Android phone, nearly identical. I’ve only used Apple products for work phones occasionally, and while they are different to a degree, the Graphene Android based phones will require only a soft learning curve initially for Apple users, nothing as drastic as your imagination may lead you to believe. You have the rest of your life to decide what’s best for you, all I can finish off with is that this change to Graphene OS has been a huge positive change in my life, which is why I am compelled to share this possibility with you and others.

There are plenty of reputable privacy experts out there that discuss these and many other strategies in depth, I strongly encourage checking out their content if you think Graphene OS is a good option for you. Using one doesn’t mean that you have to employ every single strict strategy, you can still gain a lot of privacy without going to the full extreme. I’ve used mine for about 5 months or so now and couldn’t imagine using a stock Android or Apple device anymore, I encourage people to share this short guide with others.

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Does the pixel 4 work? I noticed it wasn’t specifically listed and can’t find details on that phone but found one used that is just a 4