If you value privacy and use a smartphone, you have a problem. Both Apple and Google constantly collect data about you. A Vanderbilt University study found, for example, that Android sends data to Google even if your phone is idle with Chrome running in the background at a rate of 340 times a day.
Murena and Mandrake Linux founder Gael Duval was fed up with it in 2017. He wanted his data to be his data and he wanted open source software. Almost five years later, Duval and his co-developers released Murena One X2. It is the first high-end Android phone using the open source Android /e/OS fork to hit the market.
The privacy heart of Murena One is /e/OS V1. There have been many attempts to create an alternative to Google-based Android and Apple’s iOS (Ubuntu One, FirefoxOS and Windows Mobile), but all failed. Duval’s approach is not to reinvent the wheel of the mobile operating system, but to cleanse Android of its creaky features that invade Google’s privacy and replace them with privacy-respecting ones.
To make this happen, Duval started with LineageOS, an Android-based operating system, descended from the failed CyanogenMod Android fork.
It also combines features from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) source code trees.
In /e/OS, most (but not all) Google services have been removed and replaced with MicroG services. MicroG replaces the Google libraries with purely open source implementations without links to Google services. This includes libraries and apps that provide Google Play, Maps, Geolocation and Messaging services for Android apps.
Also, /e/OS goes to great lengths to free you from higher-level Google services. For example, Google’s default search engine has been replaced by Murena’s own metasearch engine. Other Internet-based services, such as Domain Name Server (DNS) and Network Time Protocol (NTP), use non-Google servers.
On the operating system, you will find free applications from Google. This includes a web browser; an email client; a messaging application; a calendar; a contact manager; and a map application that is based on Mozilla Location Service and OpenStreetMap. While it’s not quite here yet, Murena is also working on her own version of Google Assistant, Elivia-AI.
It can also run many, but not all, Android apps. You will find these applications in the App Lounge of the operating system. The /e/ application installer relies on a third-party application repository called cleanapk.org. Some Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are also available through the /e/ app installer.
With its emphasis on privacy first, the app store also gives apps a privacy rating. Tells you about the program’s privacy settings and what information the app shares. It’s up to you to decide if an app’s usefulness is worth the privacy compromises. But with this information, Duval told me, “You can make an informed decision.”
There’s still one big problem: App Lounge still relies on you signing in with your Google account. In short, App Lounge is primarily a gateway to apps from the Google Store. Munera assures me that the Hall anonymizes your data, except if you use applications that require payment. Still, this is annoying for people who want to cut all their ties with Google.
The fundamental problem is this: Muena does its best to separate its operating system and apps from Google, but it can’t, yet, replace Google’s e-commerce and software store system.
However, you can download only programs without a connection to Google, but there are not many of them. If you go this route, you probably won’t be able to use many of the apps you currently use every day.
As for /e/OS itself, it does not capture any user logs, application usage, or track user location. And, /e/OS goes to great lengths to protect your accounts from Google’s nosy ways.
For example, most applications rely on cloud backends for their services. So, Muena replaced Google Cloud services with Murena Cloud. There you’ll find storage, email, and even an online office suite, powered by the open source OnlyOffice. And, unlike its corporate rivals, Murena promises that its cloud services (just like its phone and operating system) put privacy first.
Murena Cloud comes with 1 GB of free storage; It also offers cheap storage plans starting at $20 a year for 20 GB of storage.
If all you do is look at the hardware features, the Murena One is a good 4G LTE smartphone, but not exceptional. It is powered by an octa-core MediaTek processor backed with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. If you need more storage, you can always add an SD card. It comes with a 6.5-inch screen.
The cameras are nice. On the display side, you get a 25-megapixel camera for selfies. On the back there are three cameras with resolutions of 5, 8 and 48 megapixels.
The phone also includes a dual SIM slot so you can enjoy two phone lines with one phone. As someone who will be doing a lot of international business travel again, this is a very useful feature. The Murena One is compatible with European carriers and most US and Canadian carriers.
Murena One will launch in June in the US, Canada, Europe, UK, and Switzerland for $369.
If you want an alternative phone, Murena works with Fairphone, the social enterprise that designs sustainable phones. Gigaset, Teracube and other phone refurbishers also offer a variety of /e/ Murena smartphones, with mid to high specs, for all budgets.
You can also download and install /e/ if you have one of these 240 different smartphone models. This includes phones from Google, HTC, Motorola, OnePlus, Samsung, and Xiaomi. It is not available through any original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or carrier at this time. The operating system is free.