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Blackphone and F-Droid for Business Use

I’ve since long been uncomfortable with all the extra software that came shipped with my various Android devices, in particular the phones. Mostly, because I felt it’s a lot of stuff I do not need and have no idea what it’s actually doing - but it certainly was not designed to protect my privacy. Also, I realized that at least on a Sony device I once had, it was eating up a lot of space and battery. But, aside from flashing the phones with e.g. CyanogenMod and not installing the Play store and the various Google apps, well, there was not much one could do.

This has somehow changed for me with the blank” href=“” title=“” onmouseover=“window.status=’’;return true;” onmouseout=“window.status=’’;return true;”>Blackphone, which advertises itself as a security- and privacy conscious phone, built on the Android platform. Blackphone does not come with Google applications (Gapps) like the Play store, Youtube, Maps etc, so for finding and installing applications, you are somewhat on your own. I also feel that installing the Google apps onto such a device would, in the light of the Snowden revelations (e.g. (surveillance_program)”>this one), pretty much invalidate any additional privacy or security one might have gained with the Blackphone, so even if Gapps were available, I would quite certainly not install them.

I am using the Blackphone as my business phone, i.e. I need the phone as a phone of course, and calendar and contact sync, sometimes navigation services to orient myself in the right directions when visiting e.g. a new client, and comfortable access to my tickets for Deutsche Bahn and the like. I also admit being fully guilty of using Twitter, and, well, sometimes Facebook on my business phone, and looking up stuff in the Wikipedia on a regular basis. Oh, and I want to use Firefox as my browser, period.

The challenge was - how do I do that without access to the Play Store and its appications, and I tried as best as I could, being a big fan of FLOSS, to get along just with the Free (as in speech) applications provided in the F-Droid app “store”.

To make it short: While certainly losing a bit of comfort here and there, I can work well using only FLOSS. My choices, from F-Droid, are such:

  • Navigation and Maps: Well’ you really can’t beat Google Maps in terms of simplicity and availability. But OpenStreetMap (OSMAnd~) does the trick as well, with the additional benefit of being available off-line, although I find the GUI pretty complicated and hard to use. That aside, there is GApps Browser, which allows you web-based access to most of the Google services, so when you’re online, that provides an interface to Maps that is slightly less comfortable than what you’re used to from the App, but still usable and very useful. It also gives you, after login of course, web-based access e.g. to Calendar.
  • Calendar: Well, that’s really the biggest problem: I have a very busy schedule, and I need to visually digest a lot of information from several calendars (e.g. business and family matters) when looking at the weekly or monthly view. You only get so far with the standard Calendar application, AND Blackphone does not permit to sync with Google accounts (so no Google calendar access). I have access to my business schedule, which comes from an OpenExchange server, so that’s fine for getting through the day, but for creating new appointments (which I often have to do on-the-fly), I still currently have to use another device, like the Laptop or a tablet that has non-free software on it. I think the only solution to this is to get away from the Google calendar e.g. to OwnCloud (that can be synced without Gapps), and live with the less-great visual presentation of the stock Calendar. That calendar migration remains to be done, but I am sure it’s possible.
  • Contacts: No surprise here, stock Android applications work just fine, and so does sync with Exchange (OpenXchange in my case)
  • Wikipedia: The Wikipedia App is available, no problem
  • Firefox: Is FLOSS, so available.
  • Social Media: For Twitter, I am pretty happy with Twidere, which has a nice GUI and is very functional. For Facebook and the like, I never used the app anyway, to me that’s always been spyware - so I access via browser and log out after, which of course works just fine with Firefox.
  • Deutsche Bahn tickets: Well, I realized the DB Tickets and DB Navigation apps are not strictly neccessary - there also is a browser-based interface available that does pretty much the same, only a bit less comfortably, and tickets can be sent as MMS onto the phone. So, finally, no app needed, the browser does the trick
  • Banking: same story - works fine in the browser, no app neccessary, but I simply did not realize that before. It should be noted that I only use online banking on the phone to look at my accounts, not for any transactions, so if there are limits there, I would not have realized them. 

So - that’s my experiences as far as Apps are concerned; of course, YMMV. I will blog a bit more about the Hardware of the Blackphone and my experiences in the daily business use, and about the purchase and shipment process and my overall impressions withe the device. But not today :)


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