Phone Experiment Update

Posted on 2021-07-04

A few months back, I posted about an experiment I was undertaking in using a CalyxOS phone with mostly free/open source software as my daily driver. Here's an update.

First of all, I've switched back and forth a few times. This was to be expected; I've been using iPhones so long that I have lots of muscle and mental memory built up on how to do things. There are, simply, some things that are easier to do on my old phone. But I've mostly found ways to do the same on CalyxOS.

I really like the DuckDuckGo browser included with CalyxOS, but its "burn after reading" privacy model makes staying logged into things a hassle unless you "fireproof" the site (read: exempt the site from the privacy model that is the main reason for running the DDG browser.) For the most part, this isn't a problem; logging in again is easy enough. For some sites, however, it's a pain. I try not to "fireproof" many sites, but it's there as an option.

Speaking of logging in, I downloaded (from F-Droid) an excellent app for the pass password store, which I use to keep track of hundreds of passwords. Combined with the OpenKeychain PGP app that's included with CalyxOS, this allows me to do password autofilling in the DDG browser (and others.)

Another app I've greatly enjoyed is Termux, which provides both a terminal emulator and a comprehensive set of packages running on CalyxOS's Linux kernel. I don't often want to drop into a terminal on such a small device, but with Termux, it's there, and without having to do any additional hacks beyond what was needed to install CalyxOS in the first place (in other words, this should work fine on a stock Android phone as well.)

As for the Aurora app allowing access to apps from the Google Play marketplace, it's a mixed bag. Several apps that I may have wanted to run either are not there at all, or are there but require proprietary Android bits that CalyxOS has removed, making the resulting download unusable. Long term, I've only kept two proprietary apps from Aurora, Twitter and WhatsApp, both of which I use only because too many friends and/or family use them. I'm not a big fan of either, but I'm also not going to convince everyone to drop these apps and use free substitutes. That said, I do use free substitutes when people I want to communicate with also use them, and I've installed things like Tusky for Mastodon and Element for Matrix.

Some things are just easier without the old phone. I had my Smartrip card (for DC area transit) on my iPhone, but am finding the good old physical card is faster. Same goes for tap-to-pay, which I'm not using on the new phone. And the Pixel's fingerprint reader is a hell of a lot more convenient than facial recognition, even as the need to wear a mask in public is diminishing.

Overall, the experience has been positive, if not without the need to make a lot of adjustments to habits and methods. I anticipate I'll stick with this phone for some time to come. If you want to try, I highly recommend it.

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Copyright 2021 Mark Cornick. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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