Since Apple decided to install spyware on iOS devices, I decided to finish my migration from Apple’s platform. I started my migration a couple of years ago because I didn’t like the direction Apple stared taking macOS (becoming more and more like iOS) or its computers (becoming more like iOS devices in that they lacked end user replaceable components). I planned to migrate from the iPhone once the PinePhone or another device capable of running mainline Linux matured. But as I noted at the start of this post, Apple forced me to move my timeline forward.
I started looking at available Android devices as soon as I read Apple’s announcement. I wanted Google in my life even less than Apple so my first criterion for an Android device was that it could be flashed with a Google free firmware like LineageOS. The most commonly recommended phones I came across for LineageOS were Google’s Pixel lineup. OnePlus devices were also popular recommendations. But both lineups tend to be higher tier, which means more expensive. My phone is really a glorified portable web browser, media player, and secure messaging platform. I don’t play games or anything else hardware intensive on my phone. Higher tier phones are wasted on me. The other downside to both of those lineups is that they cannot be easily repaired by end users. The FiarPhone lineup has always appealed to me because they’re designed to be repaired by end users. While they’re pricey, I’m willing to pay a premium for repairability. However, the FairPhone lineup is only supported on European carriers and I’m in the United States.
My search eventually lead me to a newer manufacturer called Teracube. Specifically the Teracube 2e. While the Teracube 2e isn’t as repairable as FairPhone devices, it does have a user replaceable battery. In addition to that it has a four year warranty and a flat flee of $59 for repairs (which includes screen replacements). The hardware specs aren’t great, but they’re appropriate for the asking price of $199.
I tested /e/OS first, but I couldn’t stream audio over Bluetooth. My Bluetooth headphones would connect to the phone, but there was no way to make the audio play over them. Since I use my phone to play music in my car through a Bluetooth to FM transmitter (my vehicle predates built-in Bluetooth and also lacks an aux input), Bluetooth audio is an important feature to me. Besides the Bluetooth audio issue, I only have nice things to say about /e/OS. It’s worth a look if you’re in the market for a Google free Android firmware.
After /e/OS I installed and tested the LineageOS firmware linked above. So far it is working well. Bluetooth audio works. Wi-Fi calling doesn’t work, but that’s a known issue that is being worked on by the developer (and clearly stated upfront). I live in the middle of nowhere so my cellular signal is crap at best and nonexistent in my basement. But I don’t make many standard cellular calls so I can wait for the functionality to be implemented. I also ran into an issue with the Android version of Apple Music. When I played music through Apple Music, it would begin stuttering horribly after a short while. Everything I’d read online lead me to believe that the Android Apple Music app was a shitshow so I wasn’t too surprised. I installed Spotify and so far it hasn’t given me any issues (I was planning to migrate from Apple Music to Spotify eventually because the latter provides an official Linux app, but that timeline has been pushed up too).
So far my experience, which only a week (hence this post is an initial impression, not a review), with LineageOS on the Teracube 2e has been positive.
The Teracube 2e hardware has so far fulfilled my needs. The device isn’t as fast as my 2020 iPhone SE, but it’s also not as expensive (the base 2020 iPhone SE is twice as expensive). There is 64 GB of onboard storage, which isn’t enough for me. However, it has an SD card slot (a novel ideal that no iOS device has). While the hardware in the Teracube 2e only officially supports SD cards up to 128 GB, I installed a 256 GB card (this one) and it has been working flawlessly (if you want 256 GB of storage on the 2020 iPhone SE, you will have to pay $549). Like the 2020 iPhone SE, the Teracube 2e also has a fingerprint reader that makes unlocking the device faster (but I have my doubts that it’s anywhere near as secure as the iPhone fingerprint sensors).
The Teracube 2e also includes a couple of features that I consider nice bonuses. First, it has an indicator LED. Rather than turning on the entire screen for a few second to show that a notification has been received (as my iPhone does), the Teracube 2e blinks an inoffensive (in other words it doesn’t light up the entire room) white LED. That takes me back to my Palm Treo days (I really miss Palm OS). Another added bonus is the standard headphone jack. You can plug in any set of headphones without needing a dongle.
I’ve only found a few dings against the Teracube 2e. The first and most obvious one is its potato quality cameras. I wouldn’t normally ding a $199 device for having crappy cameras, but there are devices in this price range with better cameras. This isn’t a major problem for me because I only use my phone camera for documentation purpose (for example, taking a picture of wires before disconnecting them). But if you rely on your phone camera for even semi-serious photography, you will find the Teracube 2e lacking.
Another ding against the Teracube 2e is the lack of a silence switch. This is a feature that I fell in love with back when I was carrying a Palm Treo. It has also existed on every iPhone that I’ve owned. Having a simple physical switch on the device that lets me silence the phone is convenient. The last ding against the phone is the design of the SIM slots. Inserting a SIM into the phone is easy. Getting a SIM out again is a challenge. I wish there was an eject button like the one that ejects the SIM tray on an iPhone. This isn’t a major issue though because I don’t regularly insert and remove SIM cards. But it would have been nice when I was switching between the Teracube 2e and 2020 iPhone SE on the first day.
I’ve been getting along well with LineageOS. I haven’t encountered any showstopping problems, which is somewhat surprising to me considering I’m running an unofficial beta build. It doesn’t include Google’s proprietary applications (although they are available separately if you need them), which includes the Play Store. This can be worked around though. First, there is F-Droid, which is a store for open source Android applications. If you need applications from the Play Store (which I do), there is the Aurora Store, which allows you to install free applications from the Play Store anonymously (it might work for paid applications, but I don’t need any of those).
One of my biggest gripes with iOS is that backups require either a computer running iTunes or an iCloud account. I used iTunes running on my 2012 MacBook Pro to perform local backups because I didn’t want to upload all of my data to Apple’s servers. Booting up a computer periodically for a single task is an annoyance. Fortunately, LineageOS solves this by allowing me to backup my phone to my self-hosted NextCloud instance using Seedvault. My NextCloud server is automatically backed up by my backup server so I get snapshot backups using this method.
I enjoyed some conveniences back when I ran both macOS and iOS such as the ability to receive and send text messages from my laptop. I lost those convenience when I moved to a Linux laptop. I’m happy to say that I’m enjoying those conveniences again with LineageOS, KDE Connect, and GSConnect. KDE Connect is an Android application that enables a number of features such as the ability to share a clipboard between a desktop/laptop and an Android device and the ability to send and receive text messages from a desktop/laptop. GSConnect is the GNOME plugin that interfaces KDE Connect on the Android device with a desktop/laptop running the GNOME desktop environment (for KDE users there is an application called, surprisingly, KDE Connect). I ran into a bug where leaving the Run Command option enabled in GSConnect causes the GNOME desktop to freeze for a second every few seconds. Disabling that feature fixed the problem (there is a bug report open about this and I did leave a comment on it).
Overall my initial impression for this setup is good. Google free Android builds are probably the least terrible option at the moment for smartphone users who care about their privacy. There are several Google free distributions of Android to choose from including LineageOS, /e/OS, GrapheneOS, and CalyxOS. The latter two are only support on Google Pixel devices though (technically CalyxOS supports Xiaomi Mi A2, but only for Android 10).