eOS deGoogled Privacy Smartphone in the US Review

The two biggest problems with smartphones are:

  1. Privacy - smartphones and their apps reporting where you are at, what you are doing, what you are looking for to third parties like Google and it’s advertising network.

  2. Duopoly - there are effectively two smartphone operating systems and their attendant ecosystems: 1. Android by Google and 2. iOS by Apple. If you want a smartphone you abide by their rules. For Android phones that means your phone is going to report a lot of things about you to the Google mothership. For iOS it means you live in Apple’s walled garden.

We’re Here! You’re Saved.

Enter the e.foundation which believes you should have control over your own smartphone data and it should be private.

A few years ago they launched a project to deGoogle Android which means removing every bit of Google spyware from Android so that one could have an operating system that would run the vast majority of Android’s apps and still keep your information private. They succeeded and created eOS, which is deGoogled Android + their own “Bliss” UI + replacements for Gmail, Google Calendar, Notes, Maps, Google search engine, etc.

A couple of years ago, the e.foundation started selling both reconditioned and new phones with eOS pre-installed throughout the EU and UK. In Fedruary 2021 they expanded selling phones for US GSM carriers in the US.

Hardware

As of 2/27/2021 e.foundation is offering 2 refurbished phones with eOS pre-installed: 1. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and 2. Samsung Galaxy S9.

I ordered the S9 Plus.

The phone looked new when I opened the box. Obviously it had been detail cleaned. The S9’s are a couple of model years old but were so popular that there must be a good supply of trade-ins suitable for refurbishing. Also things like cases are still available with lots of choices.

Frankly, the screen on the S9 Plus is beautiful and better than my iPhone XR. Also, it may be just the fonts used, but the S9 Plus is easier for me to read compared to the iPhone.

The S9 Plus is plenty fast enough too. Perhaps not quite as fast as the XR but darn close. It does not lag.

Phone calls were all crystal clear.

Speakers are excellent. Plus there is a standard audio jack for earbuds.

There is a fingerprint scanner, I think it works. I don’t use bio-metric authentication so I didn’t even try to set it up. No face scanner. I consider both of those a plus over the XR. I set it up with a good old PIN lock and I’m happy.

There is a camera. I’m a bad judge of cameras since all I take are snapshots. The reviews I read say the camera is good. Shrugs.

The point is that even though this phone is a couple of years old, it has held up really well and still feels like a top rank phone.

Activation

You get a little printed Quick Start Guide in the box with the phone. Just follow the instructions. While I was waiting for the phone to be delivered I went ahead and signed up for a free e cloud account and poked around. The account gives you an email address youname@e.email and cloud storage which syncs with the phone. I took the opportunity to import all my contacts into my e account. Spoiler: The contacts all synced over to the phone without a hitch right after activation.

Activation is very similar to activating an Android phone. eOS asks you for your e account email address and password and once entered you just follow the prompts and you are set.

When I put my T-Mobile SIM card in, T-Mobile prompted me to download their official T-Mobile Visual Voicemail app. I think they tried to send me to the Google Play store, but I looked in the e app store and they had the same app so I installed it from the e store. It looks like the Visual Voicemail app works but I have not had enough phone calls to really test it.

That was pretty much it. Activation was easy and over in about 5 mins.

Setup

This was mainly a lot of poking around. The main things were adding my Hotmail and Gmail accounts to the provided mail app. Both worked smoothly requiring only email addresses and passwords. I also tested the SMS and phone to make sure they worked.

Pro Tip: Double check the display settings to make sure the brightness is set to adjust to lighting conditions. Mine was turned off so it was maximum brightness all the time which really sucks down the battery.

Important: eOS did not pick up my APN settings from my SIM card. You should check this under Settings > Network. This caused a problem with T-Mobile data not working at first. I fiddled with it and now cell data is working great.

Software

User Interface (Bliss Launcher)

Bliss Launcher (UI) is the default User Interface. It’s similar to the iOS UI which makes it simple for both Android and iOS users to figure out. So far I like it because it does not get in the way, but I also feel better knowing I can change it if I get bored. You are free to change the Launcher if you want to. There are dozens of free launchers in the app store. This is one advantage of an Android based system.

Apps

eOS comes with open source replacements for the Google apps that normally come with Android. All of them work just fine. I won’t go over each one but I will highlight my observations.

Mail App - I actually think this handles threaded emails better than iOS. I like it.

Browser - the default browser is minimalist and does not suck. If you like minimalist browsers you will like this. However, I replaced it with Vivaldi Browser for Android and haven’t looked back.

Calendar - I like it. It does not sync with Google Calendar which is pretty much the point of deGoogling your phone. It does sync with eCloud calendar so you do have backup on the web. (Frankly it was time for me to move away from GCal anyway.)

Notes - looks workmanlike. However I use Simplenote so I installed that app.

Third Party Apps

Vivaldi Browser for Android - this works great on my ePhone, which makes me happy. I have had no problems with it.

DuckDuckGo Secure Browser - seemed to work. However, sometimes I would find it spontaneously running after unlocking my phone when it should not be. So I uninstalled it. I don’t know where the problem was.

Weather Underground - app works well. There are major privacy concerns with this but I don’t care because I’m a weather junkie.

Simplenote - works great no problems.

I only access Twitter through the browser. It works quite well that way. Skip the official Twitter app because it tracks you.

Disclaimer 1 - I’m just listing my experience with the third party apps I’ve tried. YMMV.

Disclaimer 2 - I don’t use banking apps of any sort. I don’t do Internet banking or allow any online access to my bank accounts. I don’t use ATM’s. All this is to say that if you absolutely must have a specific banking app on your eOS there is no way of predicting if it will work. This is not important to me, but it seems to be important to others so I’m making note of it.

Who is this smartphone for?

Android phone users who are worried about their privacy with Google and third party app providers should definitely consider the e. foundation phone. IMO Google is a bad actor when it comes to collecting personal data on Android or any software, service or device Google makes. My opinion is that you should stay away from anything Google as much as you can.

It’s a harder sell for happy iPhone users to switch. This is not a problem specific to eOS its a problem with Android in general. Android and it’s apps are just not as polished as iOS. Moreover, Apple has been moving towards more privacy in recent years which is a positive thing. The downside is Apple still knows where your iPhone is, who you are, and what you use it for. I take them at their word that they don’t care and don’t snoop, but the data is there for somebody that wants it bad enough. My opinion: I don’t have the same sense of urgency about switching from iPhone to ePhone as I do about switching from Android to ePhone. However, if you are an iPhone user and want to up you privacy game and strike a blow against the duopoly than eOS and ePhone is for you.

Personally I get bored with iOS. I like to configure things my way and too many decisions get taken out of the users hands by Apple. Also, I just don’t like Apple’s walled garden. YMMV.

Conclusions

e.foundation has succeeded in making a good deGoogled privacy phone. Moreover, it is an Android derived phone that can be used as a daily driver, 24/7, with minimal compromise in usablity on the part of the user. It’s not intended to be a bank vault. It is intended to provide reasonable and proper privacy, like a house with stout doors, good locks and thick window coverings which is the exact opposite of Google’s version of Android. Privacy is a basic human right and should be of concern to every smartphone user.

In addition, they have succeeded in providing a mainstream alternative to the current duopoly of Google and Apple for smartphones. It is ridiculous that for almost the entire global population there are only two smartphone operating systems. The e.foundation phone helps break that duopoly, without spending millions of dollars in R&D.

I think most smartphone users can buy an eOS phone and instantly enjoy greater daily privacy than they get with either Android or iPhone.

About the Author: Brad Enslen started out with mobile operating systems with the Palm Pilot. Over the years he has had iPhones, Android phones, Blackberry BB10 phones and a webOS phone.

Brad Enslen @bradenslen

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