This isn’t a phone for spec junkies. It isn’t even pretending to be that phone. It’s a phone with modest hardware and an equally modest price of $379. It’s small for an Android phone coming in at 6 inches tall by 3 inches wide and has a 6.53-inch LCD around the front. Here are the full specs. I fell into the same trap I’ve seen a few others fall into when talking about any phone that runs /e/OS 1.0 — I’ve tried to shoehorn Google stuff back onto it.
The /e/OS operating system’s creators have been active for a long. For the past five years, the software has been usable on a few commercially available Android phones like the Galaxy. If you weren’t up to installing it yourself, you could even purchase the phones with the software already loaded. The Murena One, a phone owned by the e Foundation, is currently available. After using it for a few weeks, I have to say that it embodies everything I appreciate about Android. Most likely, not even most individuals, would choose this phone. However, it serves as a demonstration of the coolness of open-source software (like much of Android) and how you can have a smartphone that
It’s worth noting you can still definitely do that. With support for the microG project, a slimmed-down version of Google’s proprietary additions to Android, you can have apps like Gmail, Google Photos, or Maps running through the Applab store. It works for the most part, and you’ll find almost every app you would find on the real Google Play store.
The phone comes with all the basics installed: a web browser, email client, calendar, maps, text messenger, and all the rest. A ton of other apps, like Signal (my preferred messenger client), are readily available through the phone’s built-in app directory. Of course, you also get access to third-party app stores like F-Droid if that’s how you want to get your apps.
But if you do this, just know you’ll still have a better experience buying a “regular” Android phone. I decided to wipe the device, scrap all the words I’d written, and start over with what I had versus trying to add more Google to “plain” Android. I’m really glad I did. It allowed me to focus on all the things the e Foundation gets right while knowing that the things missing were just a quick install away if I needed them. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
Just because there is no Google baked in doesn’t mean you don’t have access to a robust set of cloud services. Every device comes with a Murena cloud account that provides an email address, backup space, cloud connectivity for your calendar, contacts, documents, and essentials, as well as 1GB of private storage for everything else. The biggest difference though between the Murena One and every other commercially available phone running Android is inside the settings app. There you’ll find all the information you would ever need to know about how apps can access your information, how they can track you, and even how you can provide a fake location for the pesky apps that demand one.
You will never find this with any phone that uses Google’s services out of the box. I imagine much of it is a direct violation of the GMS agreement between Google and phone makers that allows the latter to include all the Google-y bits without paying. It’s also a very good thing that should be on every single Android phone.
In the end, this is what Android is all about, the free and open parts, anyway. A company like the e Foundation can take what is there (though /e/OS is a fork of LineageOS, which is forked from AOSP, the point still stands) and make a really good smartphone with it while excluding Google from the picture.