De-bloat Android for privacy and freedom
The invention of smartphones was a mistake. This guide attempts to control some of the fallout!
This guide is quite interesting as it balances privacy, freedom, minimalism and ease:
- Privacy: prevent some information snooping.
- Freedom: using open-source apps where ever possible.
- Minimalism: configure the phone to be a minimal distraction-free device.
- Ease: easy setup using what you have, no rooting or custom roms.
If you agree with those values, and wish your phone could be more like that. Keep reading.
- Disable all non-essential notifications
- Under Accounts in Settings, log out of Google and anything to do with your phone manufacturer.
- Think of the phone as a tool, remove all distractions, keep only essentials.
You should try to only install apps from F-Droid. This is an alternate store offering only open-source Android applications.
The apps here will tend to be lighter and more trustworthy than ones from the Play Store. Of course not everything can be done with apps from F-Droid, since most popular phone apps are really just portals to proprietary services.
If you want to access proprietary services from your phone, I would suggest trying to use the web app over installing the app on your phone. WebApps from F-Droid can help with this. Start by opening a URL for an app you want to use. Then in order for the site to work properly, you will usually need to unblock some third-party domains. Once done you can save it as a Webapp, then you can add it to your homescreen.
To make this even more seamless, go into the settings and turn on both "Hide actionbar" and "Hide only for shortcuts". This way the top bar will be hidden when launched from the homescreen.
However, if you must use the official app, you have a number of ways to install it:
- Google Play: can only use if it's installed, and you are logged into a Google account.
- Aurora Store: will grab apps directly from Google Play using default or provided credentials. If you want to login with your own account, don't use any other Google account besides a throwaway, since using Aurora is against the ToS.
- APKMirror, a trusted app repository, mostly direct rehostings of Google Play or F-Droid.
Sadly many of the core apps that were once part of Open Source Android (AOSP apps), have been replaced with proprietary apps on most new Android devices. Thankfully F-Droid has a selection of replacements for us to use instead.
For the phone and SMS functions you have Simple Dialer and Simple SMS which can be set as the default phone and sms app respectively.
For contacts, I have not been able to find a good app from F-Droid. Therefore I have decided to get the AOSP version from LineageOS. The easiest way to do this is to grab it from APKMirror. Just be warned, that package provides
com.android.contacts. So if you already have an AOSP contacts app installed it won't work.
Other useful Simple apps include Simple Gallery (for photo viewing), and Simple Calendar (for a Calendar with reminders), the later makes my entire homescreen (more on that later).
Simple Calculator and Simple Clock is here for those who need that functionality.
Editor is a tiny text editor that I use to make notes and edit text.
Material Files is the best file manager right now.
OpenBoard gives you the AOSP keyboard back!
I tend to keep the camera app that comes with the phone. Otherwise OpenCamera is a good and quite advanced camera app. Make sure to enable Camera API 2 if you have a newer phone.
Shuttle is hands down the best (local) music player on Android, now open source and on F-Droid! Really wish I had used this one earlier.
As far as web browsers go F-Droid's version of Firefox "Fennec" is probably the top choice. Exactly the same as Firefox from the Play Store, but with some tweaks to remove some tracking and Google Play dependencies.
If you are after a distraction-free launcher, then look no further than KISS launcher.
In most cases your phone comes with a lot of bloat. Thankfully using the ADB (Android Debug Bridge) from a computer gives us the power to rectify this. You don't need to root your phone in order to do this.
By using ADB to uninstall, you prevent the apps ever loading into memory. It is even more powerful then disabling the app in the settings, as ADB allows you to uninstall nearly anything.
Keep in mind that uninstalling system apps through ADB will only remove them from your user's session. They will still be present on the system partition, and therefore will be restored after a factory reset.
With great power comes great responsibility, so be careful not to remove critical apps or you could bootloop your phone. Which would require a factory reset with
fastboot, and would delete all your data in the process.
For getting ADB and fastboot set up, I would encourage you to checkout a good tutorial.
Then we will use the Universal Android Debloater script to remove the apps. Either use git on your computer to clone the repo, or download the source code as a zip. Then run the bash script, which is easier on Linux or Mac OS. Windows users should try to use the WSL method detailed, or just use a Linux Live USB instead.
Instead of just running the default lists, you should look under the
lists folder and include/exclude any packages mentioned in any of those lists. You can do this by "commenting out" the package by adding a hash (#) before it.
Here is what to look out for:
- Google: Will remove most Google apps including "core" stuff like Phone and SMS. But keeps Maps and Gmail in my experience. I suggest modifying the list to keep or remove what you want. Keep in mind installing the essential apps listed above should replace most of what Google offers.
- [Phones brand]: Just be warned that uninstalling too much here can easily cause a bootloop. If you could test these lists on your phone and report any breakages that would be great! Otherwise I suggest taking a very conservative approach: Only uninstall apps that appear on the homescreen, and any apps that are clearly for some cloud/online service.
- Carriers: If your carrier offers some special feature then maybe exclude it. Otherwise safe to remove.
- AOSP: Some lesser used "core" Android functions might get removed. Otherwise totally safe.
- Misc: This will remove lot's of crapware, including all Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft apps. You should exclude the stuff you use. On the Qualcomm list, make sure to exclude
com.qualcomm.qti.telephonyserviceotherwise calls won't work properly, an issue has been raised and it excluded by default soon.
More F-Droid Apps
A few more F-Droid apps I recommend:
- OsmAnd - OpenStreetMap-based GPS map viewer and navigator.
- OpenKeychain - GPG key management. Used with Password Store.
- Password Store - Simple password manager that is compatible with
- QuickDic - Offline translation dictionary.
- Syncthing - Local network folder synchronisation.
- FairEmail - Email client if you want it.
- NetGuard - Block network access per app basis.