De-Googling my phone, reloaded

Three weeks ago I blogged about how to get rid of non-free Google services and moving to free software on my Android phone. I’ve got a lot of feedback via email, lwn, and Google+, many thanks to all of you for helpful hints! As this is obviously important to many people, I want to tie up some lose ends and publish the results of these discussions.

Alternative apps and stores

  • Yalp is a free app that is able to search, install, and update installed apps from the Google Play Store. It doesn’t even need you to have a Google account, although you can use it to install already paid apps (however, you can’t buy apps within Yalp). I actually prefer that over uptodown now.

  • I moved from FreeOTP to AndOTP. The latter offers backing up your accounts with password or GPG encryption, which is certainly much more convenient than what I’ve previously been doing with noting down the accounts and TOTP secrets in an encrypted file on my laptop.

  • We often listen to internet radio at home. I replaced the non-free ad-ware TuneIn with Transistor, a simple and free app that even has convenient launcher links for a chosen station, so it’s exactly what we want. It does not have a builtin radio station list/search, but if you care about that, take a look at RadioDroid (but that doesn’t have the convenient quick starters).

Transport

In this area the situation is now much happier than my first post indicated. As promised I used trainline.eu for booking some tickets (both for Deutsche Bahn and also on Thalys), and indeed this does a fine job. Same price, European rebate cards like BahnCard 50 are supported, and being able to book with a lot of European train services with just one provider is really neat. However, I’m missing a lot of DB navigator’s great features: realtime information and alternatives, seat selection, car position indicator, regional tariffs, or things like “L√§nderticket”.

Fortunately it turns out that DB Navigator works just great with a trick: Disable the “Karte anzeigen” option in the menu, and it will immediately stop complaining about missing Play Services after each action. Also, logging in with your DB account never finishes, but after terminating and restarting the app you are logged in and everything works fine. That might be a “regular” bug or just a side effect without Play Services.

Wrt. rental bikes: citybik.es is an awesome project and freely available API that shows available bikes on a map all over Europe. The OpenBikeSharing uses that on Android. That plus the ordinary Nextbike app works well enough.

microG

A lot of people pointed out microG as a free implementation of Google Play Service APIs. Indeed I did try this even before my first blog post; but I didn’t mention it as I wanted to find out which apps actually need this API.

Also, this really appears to be something for the daunting: On my rooted Nexus 4 with LineageOS I didn’t get it to work, even after installing the handful of hacks that you need for signature spoofing; and I daresay that on a standard vendorized installation without root/replaced bootloader it’s outright impossible.

Fortunately there are LineageOS builds with microG included, which gets you much further. But even with that e. g. location still does not work out of the box, but one needs to hunt down and install various providers. I’ve heard from several people that they use this successfully, but as this wasn’t the point of my exercise I just gave up after that.

A really useful piece of functionality of Play Services is tracking and remote-controlling (lock, warn tone, erase) lost or stolen phones. With having backup, encryption and proper locking, a stolen phone is not the end of the world, but it’s still relatively important for me (even though I never had to actually use it yet). The only alternative that I found is Cerberus which looks quite comprehensive. It’s not free though (neither as in beer nor in speech), so unless you particularly distrust Google and are not a big company, it might just be better to keep using Play Services for this functionality.

Calendar and Contacts

I’m really happy with DAVDroid and radicale after using them for over a month. But most people don’t have a personal server to run these. etesync looks like an interesting alternative which provide the hosting for you for five coffees a year, and also offer (free) self-hosting for those who can and want to.