Android phone without Google. Neither Google apps, nor Google Play services, nor a cheerful Google assistant. No monitoring and reviewing Google data, no constant advertising targeting, no feeling that privacy is pointless. Some companies, such as Huawei, have been forced to figure out how to create such a device. Several others have tried to maintain your privacy and as a way to resist the tyranny of Great Technology. None of this ever worked.

The Murena team has been working on deguling Android phones for the past few years, starting in 2017, when Gael Duval created the operating system he originally called Eelo. “Like millions of others, I BECAME A GOOGLE PRODUCT,” – Duvall wrote in 2017. He said he wants to create something as good as other Android software, without any supervision. “I need something I could recommend to my parents or children,” he wrote. “Something attractive, with guarantees of greater confidentiality. Something we could build in a reasonable amount of time is something that will get better and better over time. ”

The operating system, now called / e / OS, has been available on several devices for some time, but now the product is supposedly ready for prime time: Murena releases what it calls “/ e / OS V1”, along with the first smartphone in history company, Murena One for $ 369.

As a first hardware attempt, it’s pretty impressive: a sleek glass plate with a 6.5-inch display, an eight-core MediaTek processor, a fingerprint reader on the side and three cameras in a small tea on the back. The specs of the photo are also impressive, including a 48-megapixel main sensor on the back and a 25-megapixel pinhole camera on the front for selfies. The camera was the only place Murena seems to have spent here, which, according to CEO Alexis Nottinger, was a necessity. “People are willing to compromise a lot when they move to a more privacy-oriented environment,” he said, “but we’ve seen that the camera is the most likely thing people can be very picky about.”

We’ll need to test them both more before we can make a full verdict, but in my limited testing they’re both seemingly decent cameras, but far from what you expected from a recent Google, Apple or Samsung phone.

Murena One is a fairly simple Android phone, at least in hardware terms.
Image: Moray

To rid his device of all possible remnants of Google, Murena had to create an incredible number of things. The / e / OS software comes with: a special messaging program, so you don’t need Google Messages; Chrome replacement browser a map application that uses OpenStreetMap data instead of Google data; email client, calendar, file storage, contact app and just about everything else you get in the Google Workspace suite; apps for notes and tasks, music and even voice recordings. Moore even plans your own virtual assistantname is Elivia, so you don’t miss Google Assistant.

Mooren has built cloud backends for many of these services, so you can check your email in your mail device / e / OS, but also use your email address / e / instead of ending up at All of your online services run on Murena Cloud, not Google or Microsoft. To some extent, all you’re doing here is switching from one centralized provider to another, but Murena says all of its products are designed with the same privacy versus surveillance principles as its smartphones.

It’s a great effort, but even the Moray can only go so far as to abandon Google. Every company that has ever tried this, from Huawei’s Harmony OS to ill-fated projects such as Ubuntu Touch and Firefox OS, has eventually discovered the same thing: without the Android app ecosystem, your phone is dead on arrival. So, Murena tried to eat his cake and eat it: the company changed the Google Play Store to “App Lounge”, which allows you to set all the basic Android apps – including, yes, made by Google – but don’t have Google brand marks.

However, in order to use the App Lounge, you must accept its Terms of Service, which states at the top that you have two options – log in to your Google account or browse the Lounge anonymously – but in any case your program – download ratios are mostly with Google. You just download the Play apps to another store. The Lounge gets information directly from the Play Store (without telling Google who you are, says Murena) and uses Google for all forms of payment.

The App Lounge has some apps that aren’t in the Play Store, and you can delve into the settings and choose to see only open source apps and progressive web apps, but this pretty severely limits the number of apps available to you.

Connecting to Google is completely contrary to Murena’s promises many of the first Murena testers were insanebut I don’t think the Moray had any choice but to deal with it that way. The “smartphone without Google monitoring” is an attractive idea for many users, but the “smartphone without the applications you need” is a violator of the deal for almost everyone. Nottinger says that, of course, Moore could create a Linux phone that would fulfill everyone’s privacy dreams, but it would not run any applications. And no one would want that. “We need people to find applications,” he says. “Otherwise, we’re going to connect with a small number of people who think the project is great, but that’s the end of it.” Murena is trying to go here on a thin line, but the truth is that this limit simply does not exist. You just can’t get the full Android experience without inviting Google into the equation.

Instead, when you sign in to Google or use its services, Murena tries to mitigate the amount of data that Google may collect. It draws on a project called MicroG it’s essentially a more private clone of some of the libraries that Google requires to run its apps, so you can use apps that require Google Play services without actually using Google Play services. Basically it works, although it took a lot of digging into the settings to actually log in to your Google account on Murena One. I can’t imagine many people buying / e / OS devices and then rushing to install Google Maps and Chrome, but that’s still a nasty mistake.

Moore has replaced most Google services, including maps, with their own.
Image: Moray

Moray’s overall approach to privacy seems to focus less on stopping data collection altogether and more on security through uncertainty. When you enable enhanced privacy in / e / OS, it uses a VPN to disguise your location – either by selecting a “random probable location” anywhere in the world, or by allowing you to choose where you want to be, and even hides your IP address of the sites you visit. It also tries to block trackers in every application you download and seems to do so quite successfully.

However, extended privacy has its trade-offs. For one thing, it’s hard to use weather apps or maps if your phone thinks you’re in Singapore, like mine, when I first downloaded it from my home in Virginia. Many programs are also somehow protected from geography, so I had to turn off all protection for apps like Netflix and YouTube TV. (Oh, yes, and I downloaded YouTube and YouTube TV because Murena can’t replace them, so Google still delivered it to me.) Murena is trying to create a privacy software that allows you to install and forget it, but it took longer to tinker. than I wanted.

The whole / e / OS is still based on Android, of course. The device I use runs a split version of Android 10, based on Lineage OS, a spin-off Android based on the old CyanogenMod project. (It’s a plug! And LineageOS runs all the way up to Android 12, so it’s annoying to see that / e / OS is lagging behind.) And despite all of Murano’s work, it still looks like … Android. The organization said it was planning reconsider the way notifications workfor example, and make other changes to how Android works, but now it’s a simple iPhone-style launch program on top of the regular Android version.

Murena One is an ambitious device, and a / e / OS is an even more ambitious operating system. But so far they’ve mostly shown me how much Google has taken root in our digital lives and how much more control the company has taken over its supposedly open source operating system. It seems like the only way to get rid of Android from Google is to make everything about Android a little worse. And the only way to make it better in the end is to rebuild it from scratch. It will be difficult for anyone, no matter how passionately he believes in the mission.

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