It’s not an Android phone in one important way — there are no Google Play Services on board. This means that you won’t have the Google Play Store, and your apps or buying history won’t trail you from other Android phones. It’ll be a big leap for many Android owners who are used to Google, but one that a vocal minority has been agitating for as the company has increased its control over the operating system.
Murena, a tiny startup, made headlines this week as a result of its latest Android phone release. This Murena One phone is the company’s first phone, and it’s known for preloading outdated Android phones with a modified version of Android. It’s a flat-screen slab with excellent features, including a MediaTek CPU, a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, a 48-megapixel back camera, and a 25-megapixel selfie shooter, making it a normal $400 phone. Murena’s smartphone is powered by the privacy-focused, iOS-inspired /e/OS, which is more significant than the features.
The need for de-Googled phones comes from a good place. There are few ways to use an Android phone in 2022 without giving over your data to Google. It’s the same with Apple, but Apple always offered no alternative. Where Android used to offer apps for browsing the internet, a gallery app, and a messages app, and other basic necessities, Google has slowly replaced all those with its own equivalents. There’s no internet app, but you’ll find Google Chrome, no gallery but Google Photos, no mp3 player but YouTube Music. It’s hard to avoid Google on an Android phone even if you choose to install non-Google apps. If and when you do download apps from the Play Store or manually find their APKs online, many apps require Google Play Services to function properly.
For most people, this is a nonissue. For some, there’s a need for privacy and a discomfort with handing Google the keys to their online life that drives a search for Google-free smartphones — but not too free an experience. A smartphone that doesn’t support Uber, Google Maps, or Spotify would be less than ideal. With third-party and independent Android operating systems, developers have created frameworks like /e/OS. It’s something that can be loaded in to provide the bare minimum of Google apps and services while keeping as much data as possible from Google, and it’s this that Murena is using. Paired with the Murena App Lounge, which provides access to Google apps (once you sign in to your Google account), it shows the limitations of the de-Google ambition. It’s all well and good to want a Google-less phone, but very few people are willing to accept it.