Nicholas A. Danes

What's on my phone? - January 2020

Date:

tags: android, linux, technology, minimalism

I’ve seen a lot YouTube videos showing off their phone setups, so I figured why not write a blog post on what my phone setup looks like currently as a means to “snapshot” my technological life. I plan to do one for my desktop as well soon! As with other facets of my life, I try to be digitally minimal as possible, where each app on my phone stays on it due to its utility. If I find myself not using something for a while, or it starts becoming a major distraction, I will uninstall it. A clear example of this is Tusky, a Mastodon client. I uninstalled the app due to it becoming a major distraction for me. I still access Fosstodon on my web browser to make it a little more inconvenient for me to browse unintentionally.

The Phone

Back of my Galaxy S10e with the DBrand "Swarm" Skin (Large Photo)

My current daily driver is a US Unlocked Samsung Galaxy S10e (G970U1) running Android 10 with One UI 2.5. Unfortunately the US Snapdragon variants of Samsung phones have their bootloaders locked, so currently there is no way to flash roms on these phones, leading to planned obsolesence. I bought this back in March 2020 and have been extremely happy with the hardware, since it includes basic things like SD card expansion, a headphone jack, great camera with unofficial GCam support, and guaranteed updates to Android 11 & 12. Hopefully with a battery swap, I should be able to keep this phone for a few years, assuming I can resist my brain being preconditioned to perceived obsolesence.

The Apps

For my apps, I try my best to use as few Google apps as possible, as I’ve been trying to de-Google my life whenever I feasibly can. Although I do install some apps from the Play Store, I try to use apps from the F-Droid, a free & open source (FOSS) alternative app store, whenever possible. Some alternatives lack features or just aren’t very usable sometimes, unfortunately. If you see a category that isn’t FOSS app and you know a good alternative, please let me know by contacting me!

My Home Screen

My current home screen setup (Large Photo). Wallpaper by Damiano Baschiera

Below is a table summary of the apps I currently use on my home screen!

Type App Source
Launcher Lawnchair Google Play
Dialer Google Phone Google Play
Email Fastmail Google Play
Web Browsers Privacy Browser (Web surfing) F-Droid
  Firefox Nightly (Accounts) Google Play
Maps OsmAnd~ (Main) F-Droid
  Google Maps Go (Backup) Google Play
Messaging Signal (Main) Google Play
  Conversations (XMPP & SMS/MMS via JMP.chat) F-Droid
  Google Messages (RCS & SMS/MMS) Google Play
Notes Standard Notes F-Droid
Music Metro Music Player F-Droid
Podcasts AntennaPod F-Droid
Camera Google Camera APK
Money Ally (Banking) Google Play
  Chase (Credit Card) Google Play
  YNAB (Budgeting) Google Play
  Venmo (Send/Receive Money) Google Play
  Splitwise (Bill Splitting) Google Play
One-time Passwords (OTP) Aegis Authenticator F-Droid
Weather Geometric Weather F-Droid

FOSS Apps I recommend (even for non-FOSS advocates)

Even though I think my home screen is fairly organized and minimal, a lot of these apps (like banking) are specific to me only and not things I would recommend to everyone. Many of the Google apps I use, there are just not good FOSS alternatives, at least to me. For example, I used to use Simple Dialer as my dialing app, but I regularly receive spam calls and Google phone is much better at managing/warning me about those types of calls. Furthermore, the UX on the Google phone app is much better than the Simple dialer, in my opinion. For cameras, there is also Open Camera, but the picture quality is poor and requires much more adjustments compared to the Google Camera app, especially in low light. I think if we want folks to switch to more FOSS apps, we need them to be as usable as the non-FOSS ones, or else widespread adoption will not happen. Anyways, of the apps on my homescreen, here are the ones I strongly recommend:

  • Antenna Pod - I used to be a heavy PocketCasts user until the 2.0 upgrade of AntennaPod came out, and the app received a major UI overhaul. The app is great, and provides gpodder support and local backups which I sync to my desktop using Syncthing. Just a great FOSS podcasting app!

  • Conversations - A great XMPP client that works extremely well with JMP.chat, an XMPP-powered VOIP service. If you don’ve know what XMPP (formerly known as Jabber) is, it is a chatting protocol that has been around for years, and even powers many chat services that people use everyday! This included Facebook Messenger and Google Chat before both services discontinued that federation (Source: Zoom). I would love to get more people using XMPP!

  • Privacy Browser - An Android WebView powder web browser with privacy in mind by default. Lots of great features, including disabled JavaScript by default, built-in adblocking, per domain settings to toggle JavaScript, Cookies, etc and more! The developer is also on Fosstodon!

  • Signal/Molly - A centralized end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) messaging app for the masses. Sure it has its problems, but its ease-of-use and barrier to entry are extremely user-friendly. I use this to talk to family and close friends mainly since it requires a phone number. If you don’ve want to use the Google Play version, the APK is available on their website, which is usually is not as up-to-date as the Google Play one, in my experience. There is also a hardened, completely FOSS fork of Signal (Signal is bundled with Google dependencies) called Molly but I have no direct experience with it and would like to test it in the future.

  • Standard Notes - A nice, simple E2EE note-taking app. It supports dark mode, and the premium version ads lots of cool extensions. Personally, the free version is enough for what I use it for since i just need to take plaintext notes on the go. There is also an option to self-host.

  • Aegis Authenticator - A one-time password (OTP) alternative to Google Authenticator with a lot more features. My favorite feature has to be the ability to create encrypted local backups (which I can sync to my desktop using Syncthing). The UI is very nice too!

Other FOSS apps I recommend

There also a number of apps in my app drawer that I regularly use, but don’ve want this blog post to get longer than it already is. I will mention some noteworthy ones below:

  • Markor - A simple Markdown/todo list editor. I mostly use this if I need to update my Theme Journal on the go.

  • NetGuard - An internet firewall to block network access to apps installed on your phone on a per app level using Android’s VPN service. The F-Droid version also allows you to add a hosts file for additional system-wide ad/tracker blocking. This, combined with my NextDNS private DNS over TLS setup gives me fairly good tracking protection regardless of my internet connection.

  • Syncthing - I have already mentioned it a few times above, but I love Syncthing. It is not a cloud service, but a decentralized syncing service that allows you to sync files between devices without the use of cloud storage. I mainly use it to sync photos, documents and android configuration files to my desktop so I can properly back them up. I plan on making a short tutorial on how I do this in the future!

Conclusions

This has been a non-exhaustive look at my phone setup, which is constantly changing. I plan I trying to do these every few months to see how much they change at all. If you have any other recommendations, feel free to reach out!