For me digital privacy is a huge point, reading that most free Apps sell our data sparked a thought. Android is open source but is nowadays heavily tied to Google non free services. I tried to free myself and asked myself:
Can you go fully open source with your phone and avoid using Google Software?
So I flashed LineageOS on to my One Plus 5T and started my journey. LineageOS, which is an open source fork of the stock AOSP ROM, is already open source and comes with all the basic features I need. The ROM features some enhancements like Gestures, Fingerprint enhancements and comes with pretty good defaults, it should provide a better Android experience in general.
It also comes with a bunch of apps like a Camera, Web Browser and Music Player. It basically features all apps that are necessary for your every day phone usage, while not bloating it with Apps you will never need.
Since many apps need Google Play services, which is needed to better communicate with your phone for things like using system notifications or embedding Google Maps inside another app, there was a workaround needed. I discovered microG which emulates the proprietary Google Play services and replaces them with free software and tricks most apps into thinking that you have play services installed.
I got some necessary software that exceeds the basic features of the ROM, those include:
- App Store
- Note taking application which syncs
- Maps and Navigation
When hearing about open source apps many people instantly think of featureless, badly designed software which was developed by a small team and is just “functional”. For many apps this may be true, no one can expect one single person or a small team to have expertise in the complete stack. I try to shine positive lights on the apps presented here and encourage you to also try them.
Let’s start the list with the most important app, F-Droid, which is actually the app store I use to install all my other apps.
is an open source app store, that has its own repository instead of just accessing Google Play store through an . It features fully open source apps and also warns you about unwanted behavior. It is amazing to browse all the open source apps like , and .
You can view the licenses and F-Droid also offers a button to donate to the developers. However, it does not feature preview screenshots on all apps because not all developers are willing to upload them. It often feels like a surprise box because you cannot always how an app will actually function. All apps which are featured in this post are from F-Droid and if you care about open source apps you should give it a try.
Beside the tested apps I also installed Opentask, DAVdroid and DuckDuckGo which will become handy later on. My most used app is the Messenger, I use it every day and this is next to F-Droid my second most important app.
Since Telegram open sourced all their apps, I was happy to see that their latest version also found place in F-Droid.
Telegram is a big favorite of mine, I was actually using it before this test, and I am really happy with it. It has a lot of features like Stickers, better performance and 2x speed on voice and video messages.
Even though Telegram is more like open core instead of fully open source, it provides the source code for its Android and iOS apps. Telegram invites developers to build on a secret chat which uses end-to-end encryption, where your Data never touches their server beside the normal chat which uses client-server-client encryption.
The only downside I could find was this: Let’s say you send more than 5 images which are automatically grouped by telegram. You are not able to swipe through the images inside this group, you actually need to select each image one at a time.
I also use Telegram to share some files, images and links between my notebook and my smartphone, which also works great and is often faster than using my cloud solution. Since I take a lot of notes I needed a note taking app which also syncs, I could use a simple open source Markdown editor and just sync the files via my cloud, but I still opted for better all in one solution.
I was a happy Google Keep user until I found StandardNotes. This service is really impressive not only because it is developed by one single person, but also because it features encryption, syncing and many other add-ons.
The pro version costs around $49 and lets you use Markdown, Vim and some other handy features. It is fully open source and also provides a client for every major platform including Linux. There are some features missing like live Markdown previews and a share button (to quickly save your links) on the Android app.
You can also host your own Blog on StandardNotes that you can style with CSS and publish articles directly through your App. You can also save images inside your notes. Even though StandardNotes needs a lot of work it is actually quite usable and became my daily driver.
While Google Maps is a top-notch application which fulfills nearly every wish and more, I installed an open source alternative called Maps. Maps is a fork of Maps.me which replaces their proprietary libraries. It also lets you record your routes and is comparable to Google Maps performance wise.
You download an offline map, as long as you have enough free storage on your device. It also lets you save favourite locations, and supports points of interest, like restaurants, ATMs etc.
I am a big fan of OpenStreetMaps because it is easy to get involved and invites everyone to not only use the maps but also to edit them, which benefits everyone. Alongside Maps, StreetComplete is also a great way to playfully complete OpenStreetMaps. It asks you about places near you like the surface of the street, if buildings are still constructed and if a street exists where none is listed.
Like most people I plan my day using a calendar. Google Calendar was a great companion not only providing a modern looking interface it also enabled shared calendars. Since I sync my calendar with my notebook and other devices, I needed a “middleman” which takes care of the hosting.
I got myself a free server where I installed Nextcloud on it. Nextcloud provides an all in one solution to problems like: calendar syncing, contacts and also file sharing. I opted for the Calendar solution and also sync my contacts with it, the file sharing solution is too slow for my use cases. I installed DAVdroid which is also available in F-Droid to sync my contacts and calendars.
For my calendar app, I opted to use SimpleCalendar, which provides basic functionality like adding, editing and deleting events. I use it every day and is running great.
But there are some downsides to the app, like I cannot share my calendar easily, and features like adding an event from an email or text message is not possible anymore.
SimpleCalendar does what you expect from it and I honestly need to say when it comes to Calendars there are many more alternatives like Etar.
AntennaPod replaces CastBox as my podcast player. AntennaPod is a little rough looking in my opinion, but you should not be deceived by its looks. You can stream or download Podcast from iTunes, Gpodder and FYYD, if this is not enough you can also import RSS feeds.
The settings are overwhelming and it is rare to see such a diversity in options. One of the handiest features is smart delete and smart play which lets you delete podcasts that you have already listened to.
Here are a couple of other apps that I tend to use on a daily basis too:
- Voice – Audio book player with modern interface and good features.
- NewPipe -Lightweight YouTube player with download functionality, play in Background and sync your
- Transportr – The public transport companion that respects your privacy and your freedom. Transportr is a non-profit app developed by people around the world to make using public transport as easy as possible wherever you are.
Of course there are many more open source application which deserve a closer look. Replacing proprietary Software with FOSS is quite exciting because you no longer feel like the product being exploited.
For most people open source means free (as in beer), but I am happy to pay for an open source app because this often leads to higher quality features and enables the developers to expand their business.
I’ve found apps like StandardNotes to be a great open source alternative, whilst also being able to earn money to pay the server costs and developer(s).
I would like to create more awareness of FOSS and would like to make people aware that often open source does not necessarily mean a drop in quality, but enables open security audits and generates more trust and transparency in a company.
Have you found any great open source alternatives to common proprietary apps? If so, tell me about them in the comments below.