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Going Google-less: How to install a custom Android ROM with no Google apps or services - Android Police
With online privacy at a greater and greater premium with each passing year, it's understandable you might want to avoid sharing your data with big
This story was originally published 2020/04/17 8:43am PDTon Apr 17, 2020 and last updated 2020/04/26 2:37pm PDTApr 26, 2020. With online privacy at a greater and greater premium with each passing year, it's understandable you might want to avoid sharing your data with big corporations whenever reasonably possible. You might even have considered just how feasible it is to go Google-less on your Android phone, given that Android itself is an open source operating system. There are definitely some practical obstacles you'll face, though, the first and foremost being Google Play Services. It's the proprietary software that holds together many essential Android features and connects them with first and third-party apps. Without it, many apps won't send you push notifications, be able get your location, or backup their app data, among other things. Enter microG, an open-source replacement for Play Services. It can replicate a lot of these functions and makes it possible to use an Android phone without any Google apps. I personally accept that there's always going to be some inherent privacy trade-off when you're using an incredibly useful, always-connected mobile device powered by an ad company, but I'm interested to see if there's at least a way to remove the ad company from the equation (Apple phones aren't inherently better, either). It's probably still not feasible to go fully open source on Android, though you might be delighted to learn that it's possible to reduce your dependency on singular data aggregators like Google. To go fully Google-less on your phone, you'll need to install a custom ROM that supports microG. Depending on your device, this is a more or less involved process. You will lose all data stored on your phone in the process, so be sure you have backups. If you make a mistake, you might end up with a permanently bricked, unusable paperweight, so please double- and triple-check what you're doing, read through all instructions before you start the process, and make sure you understand. While you might not like Google as a company, it still has to adhere to privacy regulations. That's not true for open-source ROMs potentially created by bad actors going after your data. LineageOS and microG should be sufficiently peer-controlled, but there's no guarantee. Be aware that you could always fall for someone shady when you're tinkering with your device, and that the risk is greater the more obscure the ROM you choose is. Find a suitable ROM With a little work, any custom ROM can run on microG, but there are easier and more difficult ways depending on your preferences and LineageOS support for your device. microG's LineageOS builds The simplest solution is using the ROM provided by the microG developers: They offer a custom version of LineageOS that comes with microG out of the box. However, only devices officially supported by LineageOS are on this list, so if you're using a phone like any recent Pixel, you'll need to go another route. Head to microG's download site and see if your phone is among those supported (search Google for "[your phone] code name" to make sense of the items on the site). For installation instructions, go to LineageOS' wiki and search for your handset. Using this path, you won't need to install microG separately; it comes with the ROM. You'll also find F-Droid pre-installed, the marketplace for all kinds of free and open source (FOSS) Android apps. Other than that, LineageOS is left untouched and includes the all thoughtful Android enhancements the ROM is known and loved for. Other ROMs If your phone is not on microG's list, things get a little more complicated. As stated in the box above, be extra careful about selecting an unknown ROM generally, bigger players like LineageOS are more peer-controlled than others. On microG's website, you can find a small selection of other recommended ROMs. When you go through the installation process, skip installing any Gapps package and instead flash NanoDroid (instructions) on your phone after the ROM, which will take care of getting microG working. If your ROM doesn't support signature spoofing, which allows microG to pretend it's Play Services, NanoDroid will also patch the system to support that. Many ROM developers deactivate signature spoofing for security reasons, since an app pretending to be another app can potentially wreak havoc to your phone. If you carefully screen applications you install, that shouldn't be an issue, though. It's also likely that spoofing is not too widely exploited for hacking in the wild since only a small, mostly informed attack demographic exists. There are already many articles out there explaining how to install custom ROMs, and since the process differs slightly for each, you're better off referring to the instructions that come with the custom software you end up choosing. For a more general and easy-to-read guide, check out How-To Geek's excellent custom ROM installation article. Personally, I recommend LineageOS because it supports a plethora of phones and is mostly stable compared to other options out there. Set up microG Now that you've got your ROM installed and ready to use, you'll need to jump through a few more hoops before everything is set. Look for the microG app on your phone and open it. Up top, there's a Setup section with a Self-Check. Tap it, and you'll see a checklist of necessary features. Most of the boxes should be ticked already, but you'll need to get the remaining ones working so you can fully enjoy your phone. Find the System -> battery optimization entry and tap it, then choose Allow. This will turn off battery optimization for microG so that it can run in the background without restrictions otherwise, apps relying on the service might misbehave. To make map apps and others that rely on your location work, leave the Self-Check section of the app and go to Configuration -> UnifiedNlp Settings. In there, you need to configure network-based geolocation and address lookup, which looks more complicated than it is: Just check the boxes next to the respective services. You can simply check the box on each setting to make location-based applications work. After that, all the boxes in the self-check section should be ticked, and you should be all set to use your phone. However, some apps might require one piece of Google software that microG can't emulate: Google's Firebase Cloud Messaging, the company's push notification service. To use it, you'll also have to enable Google's device registration. That's the one part of Google you'll have to allow in on your Google-free ROM. The good news is that many apps don't need the service at all (e.g., Signal and Telegram), so you might not have to activate it in the end. At least you can manually adjust the GCM settings in microG through the overflow menu on the top right. Potential issues Forgoing Play Services comes with a few caveats: For one, your contacts, SMS, and device data won't be backed up to Google's server, so be sure you save or sync them to a location outside of your phone. For another, there's a whole list of microG bugs and issues on Github, the biggest ones being no Chromecast support, no Wear OS support, and no geofencing but since we're trying to avoid Google apps here, the first two shouldn't be too problematic. Google apps replacements Avoiding Google apps means avoiding the Google Play Store. Thus, you won't be able to use paid Play Store apps or access in-app purchases. If you're looking for open-source software, it makes sense to limit yourself to the alternate app distributor F-Droid, which lets you turn on automatic updates. If you're looking for more common, commercial apps, check out our own APK Mirror. We can't push software updates to your phone, though we offer a Pushbullet service that informs you when we add new releases. You might also look into the Amazon App Store, but I don't think replacing one big conglomerate (Google) with another (Amazon) is the best solution for this guide. The basics: Phone, Messaging, Contacts, etc. Most custom ROMs already come with pre-installed phone, messaging, and contacts apps, so you won't have to worry too much about finding replacements for these. In many ROMs, these apps are part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and have been developed by Google, but their code is open source. Thus, you're technically still using a Google product, but it doesn't come with the same baggage. If you fancy some more advanced or more aesthetically pleasing apps, check out QKSMS for messaging (APK Mirror, F-Droid), Open Contacts (F-Droid), or Simple Mobile Tools. Browser The only real alternative to a Google browser on Android is Firefox. All other browsers are based on Google's open-source Chromium web rendering engine. That makes them technically independent from Google as a company, but you're still using software at least in part created and directed by Google. The latest beta version of the upcoming new version of Firefox (Firefox Preview) already feels pretty stable and might be a worthy competitor to Chrome once it reaches stable. On my microG system, I didn't run into any issues using it as my default browser. You can also try Chromium-based commercial alternatives Vivaldi, Samsung Internet, and Microsoft Edge. Email If you need a powerful, commercial service for your emails, Outlook is a great alternative to Gmail. Of course, there are also FOSS apps that can replace proprietary software. FairEmail is among a few recommended solutions and goes out of its way to protect your privacy by only loading relevant parts of mails, potentially avoiding tracking pixels and other means of following you around in your inbox. Navigation Google Maps is arguably the gold standard of navigation, but there are other options depending on your needs, you might be better suited with a closed-source application than an open-source one, though. Citymapper and Moovit are good alternatives if you're looking for public transit navigation in bigger cities, and you might be well equipped with your local transport agency's solution, too, depending on where you live. On the open-source front, we recommend OsmAnd, Maps.me, and Axet Maps, all built on the community project OpenStreetMap. Cloud storage My preferred cloud storage is Microsoft OneDrive, but strangely enough, this is the only app that straight out refuses to work on my microG build. It immediately crashes upon startup, even after manually permitting it to read the file system. Dropbox works just fine, though. If you're looking for an open-source project, Nextcloud (APK Mirror, F-Droid) is among the better options. It lets you choose your own hosting service or your own server, but keep in mind that there's a reason why there are paid cloud storage solutions out there you'll need to monitor for attacks yourself, keep your server up to date, and pay your ISP some extra money to get fast upload speeds. We also collected some more open-source alternatives to Drive in a roundup. Photos You can replicate some of Google Photo's unique backup features with another cloud provider, but you won't find a platform that intelligently sorts your images and tags your friends, family, and pets as reliably as Google's machine learning algorithms. That said, if you're looking for a simple gallery app, Francisco Franco's Focus Go is a capable, lightweight alternative to whatever pre-installed solution you find in your ROM, and if you fancy something more capable, F-Stop should be your go-to application. We've also rounded up a few more photo apps. Notes and text editing If you're looking for an all-round alternative to Google Keep, you don't need to look further than the free Simplenote, brought to you by Automattic, the company behind WordPress and WordPress.org. It features markdown support and synchronizes across desktop, mobile, and web applications. Many people even use it as a text editor. In contrast to OneDrive, Word is also fully functional on this Android build and, in my opinion, superior to Google Docs. There are also some open-source alternatives for Keep. Social Media Google doesn't have a social network of its own anymore, but you're probably still interested to know if any third-party solutions work on the microG build. My go-to social networks Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit run without any problems, and Facebook and its Messenger are also well-behaved. Due to the lack of the Play Store and thus access to in-app purchases, I couldn't use my preferred Reddit client Sync ad-free, but there are also completely free and open-source applications out there like Slide (F-Droid, APK Mirror) that you might enjoy more than Sync. Music and Podcasts One of the most beautiful audio players out there happens to be on F-Droid, so I can wholeheartedly recommend checking out Phonograph (F-Droid, APK Mirror) as an alternative to whatever pre-installed music app you previously had on your phone. If you're a Spotify subscriber, I'm sorry to inform you that the streaming service is not available outside of the Play Store on Android. You'll have to switch to an alternative like Deezer or Tidal. While Pocket Casts isn't downloadable outside the Play Store, the open-source AntennaPod is (F-Droid, APK Mirror). Its player design might be due for a refresh, but other than that, it looks like a fine alternative to many proprietary solutions. Video There isn't any replacement for the vast network of content creators that is YouTube, but other streaming services work with little to no issues. Netflix (APK Mirror) instantly runs smoothly on my build, though to get Amazon Prime Video, you'll have to download the Amazon Appstore first. You can safely uninstall it once you've got the streaming service. I missed Chromecast support dearly, but since the Cast protocol is a proprietary Google technology, it makes sense that microG doesn't support it. I could still access all of my streaming services on the big screen through my Playstation, so it's merely a different solution. Password Manager Choosing a password manager for this build was an easy feat for me since I already rely on an open-source solution: Bitwarden. Its F-Droid variant comes without Google's push service and is completely open source, but you can also get the regular version from APK Mirror. If you've relied on Chrome for password syncing, I can only recommend you to switch to another solution otherwise, bad actors have access to all of your logins if your Google account gets hacked. Keyboard During this test, I realized how fond I've grown of Gboard. The pre-installed AOSP keyboard is pretty similar to it, but it lacks some more advanced features like voice dictation and swipe to delete. I still found it okay to use, and there's always SwiftKey, Fleksy, or if you're feeling particularly adventurous Typewise. Verdict During my experiment, I didn't run into any real deal-breaking issues. Sure, not accessing Google apps hasn't made my job easier, and a non-functional Spotify could be more than an annoyance for many, but I was surprised by how well Slack, Twitter, Telegram, Citymapper, Firefox, and others worked without regular Google Play Services. The apps that come with a fresh install of Lineage OS microG. I don't think I could've gone fully open source, though I rely on Slack for work, and judging from my detours with open-source navigation apps, I'll be much happier with Citymapper. It's still refreshing to see that you can diversify who provides your software. In 2020, it remains hard to go Google-free on Android, but those who are truly obsessed with staying away from the search company can get more than basic functionality out of their devices. In the course of this experiment, I've realized that I wouldn't even want to lose access to many Google services. I found myself missing basic things like convenient contact sync and more advanced features such as device backups and products like YouTube, Google Maps, and more. My colleague Corbin takes a closer look at numerous open-source alternatives to Google apps on Android, so if you'd like to find more FOSS apps, head here. If you're looking for an easier way to remove Google from your life, consider an iPhone, but keep in mind that you'll just trade one big tech company for another.
18 new Android games from the week of April 20, 2020 - Android Police
Welcome to the roundup of the new Android games that went live in the Play Store or were spotted by us in the previous week or so. Today I have the
Welcome to the roundup of the new Android games that went live in the Play Store or were spotted by us in the previous week or so. Today I have the surprise release of Fortnite, a fantastic turn-based adventure game in the This Is the Police series, and the regional soft-launch for a Crash Bandicoot auto-runner. So without further ado, here are the more notable Android games released during the week of April 20th, 2020. Please wait for this page to load in full in order to see the widgets, which include ratings and pricing info. Looking for the previous roundup editions? Find them here. Games Fortnite Android Police coverage: Fortnite lands on the Play Store as Epic abandons fight against Google fees Welp, hell has apparently frozen over, and so Fortnite is finally available on the Google Play Store. For some reason, Epic Games thought it was a good idea to cut out the middle man to offer Fortnite through its own launcher for Android, but this plan has clearly not worked out, which is why the studio has tucked tail in order to launch Fortnite on the Play Store. Of course, the battle royale game wasn't released without a scathing statement from Epic that pretty much amounts to baseless fear-mongering. Way to go Epic, you're making gamers proud. Monetization: free / no ads / IAPs from $4.99 - $99.99 Rebel Cops Android Police coverage: This Is the Police tactical spinoff Rebel Cops shoots its way onto the Play Store Rebel Cops is a spinoff title from Weappy Games' This Is the Police series of adventure games. Unlike the previous entries, Rebel Cops is a turn-based tactical game similar in style to the X-Com series, though this title's mechanics are much more simplified. Now, that does not mean there is no depth within Rebel Cops since many of its campaigns can last up to an hour, so careful strategic play is still a prerequisite. Sadly the long sessions mean this is a title that's difficult to just pick up and play while on the go, but if you're looking to sink your teeth into a worthwhile strategy game, then it's definitely a title worth picking up. Monetization: $7.99 / no ads / no IAPs Crash Bandicoot Mobile Android Police coverage: Crash Bandicoot Mobile is a new auto-runner from King, now available in select regions We first learned about the existence of Crash Bandicoot Mobile back in February, after two enterprising fans dug up evidence of its existence. To this day, King has yet to officially announce the title, but since it was released on the Play Store this week in select regions, it's clear the game should be officially coming to the West sometime soon. More or less, Crash Bandicoot Mobile is an auto-runner, and it's pretty basic at that, but this genre does fit well within the theme of the Crash Bandicoot franchise, so at the very least, Crash Bandicoot Mobile has that going for it. Monetization: free / no ads / IAPs ? Conduct AR! - Train Action There's no denying that Conduct AR is an adorable augmented reality game. I mean, who wouldn't want to set up their very own old west railway through AR? Primarily this is a puzzle game, and spatial awareness is the key to success, which is a mechanic that works wonderfully through the use of AR since you can view each of the game's levels from all sides. Monetization: $1.99 / no ads / no IAPs Mr Pumpkin 2: Walls of Kowloon Mr Pumpkin 2: Walls of Kowloon is a new point and click adventure from Lilith Games, a dev that's been dumping new releases onto the Play Store for the last couple of weeks. My guess is that this uptick in activity has something to do with the fact that people across the globe are stuck quarantining at home, which is why gaming has seen a rise in earnings over the last month. Luckily Lilith Games is a competent developer, and so I'm more than happy to see a bunch of new releases from the studio, including the launch of Mr Pumpkin 2. Monetization: $1.99 / no ads / IAPs from $0.99 - $4.99 Zelle -Occult Adventure- Zelle -Occult Adventure- comes from Odencat, the developer behind Bluebird of Happiness, Snowman Story, Town of Tides, and many other quirky pixel-based games. Just like every other offering, Zelle is an adventure game, but this time around, you can expect a peculiar horror theme where you will be filled with dread one moment, and filled with affection in the next. Seriously, don't miss out on this one folks, the price is worth the journey. Monetization: $4.49 / no ads / no IAPs GoNoodle Games - Fun games that get kids moving GoNoodle Games is an educational release designed around keeping your kids active. Since so many of us are currently stuck at home self-quarantining, I would imagine it can be tough to ensure your kids are getting exercise, or at the very least, getting their energy out so that they aren't an annoyance all day. Well, if you'd like to get your kid jumping and running around, GoNoodle Games can help with this endeavor. Essentially this is a title that offers a mini-game collection, and these mini-games are all themed around real-world movement. Monetization: free / no ads / no IAPs Gumslinger Gumslinger may be a game about awkward controls, but it works with the theme of the title wonderfully. It will be your job to gun down your enemies in one-on-one shoot-offs. Each character has their own health bar (just like a fighting game), and so it will be your job to whittle down your enemy's health before you bite the dust. In order to accomplish this task, you'll shoot awkwardly at your opponent until they are dead. It's a simple setup that allows for an enjoyable game, so do yourself a favor and check out Gumslinger, it's a hoot. Monetization: free / contains ads / no IAPs Growtopia Beta Growtopia Beta is just that, the beta release for Ubisoft's popular sandbox game. Typically beta releases exist so that users can test new features before they appear in the stable version. So if you'd like to help the game's devs with things like testing new localizations, then you should install Growtopia Beta to see what's up. Monetization: free / contains ads / IAPs ? Noesis : the brain game Noesis is a cognitive puzzle game where you'll use your imagination to find logical answers to each of the game's puzzles. Sadly user reviews mention that some of these puzzles are difficult to figure out, and even though standard hints are offered for free, logical hints come at a cost, and with the current balancing of the title's puzzles, there's a good chance you'll get stuck despite the game's free hints. Monetization: free / contains ads / IAPs $0.99 a piece Comedy Night - Live Comedy Simulation Comedy Night is a simulation game where you can stand on a virtual stage to tell awful jokes in a virtual room of strangers. You can choose to participate in the audience or to go on stage, and you can even customize your avatar. Currently, performance isn't great, but that's probably because the game has to maintain a connection to multiple people in a single room while also allowing voice chat, so it would seem the game gets bogged down easily. Still, it's kind of fun to interact with people in a comedy club setting, so at least Comedy Club brings something new to mobile, which is refreshing, to say the least. Monetization: free / no ads / IAPs from $0.99 - $18.99 Jeopardy! Words Jeopardy! Words is an early access release that combines elements of classic word games like crosswords, anagrams, and word searches. Of course, most of these mechanics have nothing to do with the core game of Jeopardy, and so the show's familiar branding is clearly being used to get people interested in what is yet another free-to-play word-based puzzle game filled with in-app purchases. What is a cash grab? Monetization: free / contains ads / IAPs from $0.99 - $49.99 BLADE XLORD Blade Xlord is directed by Hisatoshi Hayakashi, the developer behind successful Square Enix mobile games, such as Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and Last Cloudia. Of course, Blade Xlord has been published under a different studio, so it has little to do with Square. Sadly the game plays just like every other free-to-play idle RPG on the Play Store, and while the graphics are phenomenal, the auto-based gameplay stinks. Yep, this is yet another idle game that plays itself, and of course, it's filled with greedy monetizationwhat a surprise. Monetization: free / no ads / IAPs from $0.99 - $79.99 Earth WARS : Retake Earth Earth WARS : Retake Earth may not be the most eloquent game title, but when has that stopped mobile devs? Daerisoft describes the game as an action RPG, which holds true. You'll spend your time traversing gorgeous 2D environments, and so you'll have many enemies to contend with, along with some enjoyable boss fights. Sadly the touchscreen controls aren't great, and so many of the game's Play Store reviews mention this problem specifically. Worse yet, the game is monetized poorly, which is expected of a free-to-play release of this nature, but it's still disappointing to see all the same. Monetization: free / contains ads / IAPs from $2.49 - $79.99 MASS FOR THE DEAD Mass for the Dead is the latest release from Crunchyroll Games, and so this title is themed around one of the company's animes. Like most anime-inspired titles, this release is a cash grab that plays just like every other team-based RPG. This means auto-play is included, and you can even speed up this auto-play in order to grind even faster. Yep, this is a game that plays itself, and it even included mechanics so that it plays itself faster than the competition. Talk about a pointless game. Monetization: free / no ads / IAPs from $0.99 - $99.99 Recontact London Have I traveled back in time to the '90s, why are full-motion-video games making a resurgence? You'd think at this point we'd have moved beyond FMV games since we can now display 3D graphics without issue. I suppose there is a sense of nostalgia in playing such a game, and so if you'd like to revisit the clunky nature of an FMV title, the early access release of Recontact London is an alright. It will be your job to solve a cybercrime as a cyber-detective by solving puzzles, much like any adventure game. There are five puzzle types in total, and the storyline is neverending, so it would appear you can play this release for as long as you can stand it. Monetization: free / contains ads / IAPs from $0.99 - $99.99 Hellopet House Hellopet House is an adorable early access release where you'll collect pets while building a base (your in-game Grandmother's house). Sadly Grandma has gone missing, and so you'll have to complete cooking, gardening, and crafting tasks in order to refurbish your Grandmother's house, all while collecting adorable pets. As you would expect of any free-to-play collection game, Hellopet House is already monetized aggressively, despite the fact it's an early access release. You see, the devs don't care if the game works correctly. The only thing that matters is that people are spending money on Hellopet House, even in early access. Monetization: free / contains ads / IAPs from $0.99 - $99.99 Dirt Bike Unchained At this point, Red Bull is synonymous with extreme sports, so it's no surprise to see a dirt bike game released by the company. Despite what you may be thinking, Dirt Bike Unchained is a full game, and not some casual timewaster, though it is monetized aggressively, which feels more like Red Bull is trying to cash in on the lucrative mobile gaming market, instead of creating fun games that promote the brand. So what do you say, would you like to sink endless amounts of money into a game that essentially serves as an advertisement for Red Bull? Monetization: free / contains ads / IAPs from $1.99 - $99.99 Know A Worthy New App? Let Us Know! If you have an application in mind for the next issue of the roundup, feel free to send us an email and let us know. Important: there are 2 requirements in order for the app to be considered, listed below.
- the app's launch date has to be no longer than 2 weeks ago
- it has to be original, ground-breaking, well-reviewed, interesting, fun, etc - the cream of the crop