If you’re interested in using Android without Google and you don’t want all the Googly-ness of it, there are ways to go completely Google-free. With the right set of tools, you can have a truly open Android experience.
Right from the start we’ll be honest and say it’s not easy using Android without Google, but it is possible. If you want a more convenient life, then you need to sign right in when prompted. The big miss if you don’t is the Google Play Store. But here we’ll show you how to get around that and various other obstacles along the way.
Over the past few years, I made a big change to the way I use my phone. I decided to use Android without Google.
Can I use Android without a Google account? As it turns out, giving up Google is possible, and the experience isn’t nearly as bad as you might think.
This is a look at what I’m still able to do on Android without relying on any of Google’s services. Including Google Play Services, and what I have had to give up.
Why Would You Want to Do This?
Here’s the thing: for most people, Google is what makes Android good. Google services, Google Play, and constant sync with your Gmail account are some of the most valuable things in Android.
But a lot of people take issue with Google knowing that much about how they use their phones. So the thought of an Android device just doesn’t work for them. If you find yourself liking the idea of Android but would rather not have the Google part of things, then a Google-stripped Android phone might be a good solution for you.
Of course, this requires some tinkering. You can’t just strip Google from any existing phone. You’ll be removing the Google-fied operating system that shipped on the phone and replacing it with an alternative and some phones are better for that than others.
Only a particular set of people are willing to give up access to the Play Store and Google’s suite of apps. That said, you may be one of them. There are many reasons why you might want to use a Google-free Android phone. Here are some of the big ones.
1. Google Has Gotten Out of Hand
When I first started using Google, it was to perform searches. Then it became a way to manage mail, which then turned into a place for instant messaging. Later, Google became a way to look at maps, which morphed into a GPS replacement steering me around town. Still further, it became a place for writing documents and storing files.
Google became a way to browse the web and sync every page I visited. Then it turned into a way to download and manage apps, track Android devices, and wipe them remotely. Search on Android became Google Now, which then became Google Assistant, a digital assistant that uses everything Google knows about us based on our activity.
I’m not inherently against sharing any of this information with a company, but to share it all with one company is a bit much. This leads us to the next reason.
2. You Want to Increase Your Privacy
Google Play Services runs in the background on every Android device that ships with the Play Store. This helps Google perform a number of tasks, from installing apps remotely to pulling up your location. These services also give third-party apps access to some of that functionality.
Opting to use Android without signing into a Google account reduces some of the information you’re giving away. That said, it won’t suddenly turn your device into a ghost. The act of pinging and connecting to cell towers makes mobile phones inherently trackable. But making this change reduces some of the information that you generate and share.
3. You Like Open Source
Android is an open source operating system, but most of the software that we use on our phones isn’t. If you’ve ever wanted to use only the open source bits, the easiest way is to replace your phone’s default firmware with a custom ROM.
This way, you know you’re getting the parts Google contributes to the Android Open Source Project. Sure, there are some proprietary bits that get your phone’s radios and sensors to work. But that’s the same compromise many of us make when we install Linux on our PCs.
Since it’s really hard to know which apps in the Play Store are open source, avoiding it entirely decreases your likelihood of installing something closed-source. You will still need to get apps from somewhere, but we’ll come back to that.
Why Shouldn’t You Go Google-Free?
You’re curious about using a non-Google Android phone. But hold on. Here are some reasons why you might want to exercise restraint.
1. You May Have to Give Up A Lot of Apps
You might not be able to continue using much of what you rely on right now. Saying goodbye to Google means losing out on the many Android apps that Google makes.
If you choose to go a step further, and use only open source software, like I did, this is even more drastic. Say goodbye to social networks, music streaming services, popular games, most navigation tools, cloud storage providers, video streaming sites, and many productivity tools.
There are alternatives to some of these apps available. But if you want to go 100% open source, you’re going to miss out on quite a bit.
2. Slower Updates
Alternative app stores may provide access to a good number of apps you would find on Google Play, but updates don’t roll out as quickly. Some of these sources fall weeks or months behind.
This isn’t solely a matter of losing out on the latest features either.
3. Security Risks
Slow updates can leave you open to known vulnerabilities. But that’s not the primary security risk you open yourself up to. The most common way to compromise a device is to install malicious software, typically unsuspectingly. Using an alternative app store means allowing your device to install software outside of the Play Store, opening yourself up to these kind of attacks.
Unfortunately, this is a trade-off you have to consider for yourself. Do you rely on the added security that comes from only installing software from the Play Store? Or do you get your apps from elsewhere and run the risk of getting your hands on something that hasn’t been vetted?
What Apps Can You Use Out of the Box?
Even without installing a single app, our smartphones are already capable of doing a great deal. You can place calls, send text messages, take photos, maintain a calendar, listen to music, solve math problems, take notes, and browse the web without looking for additional software.
This is already more than what feature phones can do, and let’s be real, millions of people are still carrying one of those around without it having a negative effect on their lives. You can turn your Android phone into an advanced dumbphone and stop there.
How functional your phone will be out of the box depends on the manufacturer. LG, HTC, and Samsung devices come with a number of pre-installed apps you’ll only find on each company’s devices. These apps will continue to work without syncing your phone to a Google account.
On a Pixel device, the situation is a bit more challenging, since these devices come loaded with Google software. Even if you remove all the apps that require a Google account to function, you will still lose some features in the apps that remain.
For example, the dialer app still works fine, but it doesn’t automatically pull down contacts, and you can only pull up numbers that are saved to your device. The camera app take photos, but it doesn’t offer to automatically back them up to Google Photos. Play Music only plays files stored locally.
Frankly, this situation didn’t bother me. Despite the wide availability of music streaming services, I still buy albums and store my music locally. Even with access to cloud services, I back up much of my data to hard drives. When given the choice to sync my browsing history and tabs, I decline.
These are all habits I formed due to limited data plans, spotty coverage, inconsistent access to a reliable internet connection, and discomfort at the thought of trusting companies with such personal data. I say this to stress that there may be other benefits you lose by giving up Google that just didn’t occur to me, due to the way I use my phone.
That said, I needed more apps than this to continue doing what I expected from a smartphone.
How Do You Get More Apps Without Google?
There are a number of alternative app stores for Android, but I’m only going to go over a couple. Which one you prefer will vary depending on why you’re choosing to use Android without a Google account.
I didn’t just opt to use a smartphone without Google. I also wanted to exclusively use open source software. Because of this, I chose to install F-Droid, an app store of sorts that only contains free and open source software. Linux users may find that it feels more like a software repository. The service keeps logs of new apps and lets you revert to older releases if necessary.
F-Droid contains over a thousand apps, and I find I can get by using just its selection. That said, I don’t play many games on my phone, nor do I use it to browse social networks. Folks who do won’t find what they’re looking for here.
The Amazon Appstore has been around since 2011 and now contains over 300,000 apps. If you don’t trust Google but still want your software distributed by another well-known name, Amazon may be the way to go. This is the default app store on Amazon Fire tablets, and its collection is large enough to keep folks who buy those devices satisfied.
The Appstore lacks access to Google software, but you shouldn’t have much trouble finding alternatives. You will also find apps from the major social networks. But for the privacy-conscious, I don’t see how trading Google for Amazon is at all an improvement.
Other Google Play Alternatives
In addition to F-Droid and the Amazon Appstore, there are a few other Google Play alternatives. You might also consider checking the LG app store or Samsung’s app store if you own one of their devices.
Download Apps Directly From Your Browser
Though getting your software from an app store is the recommended model, you also have the option to download apps directly from websites. This is risky, so be careful which websites you trust. Some notable options include CNET and APK Mirror.
The downside to this approach is that you will not get automatic updates, which is a security vulnerability. I would suggest considering this as a last-ditch option for those must-have apps that you can’t find outside of the Play Store.
Replacing Must-Have Android Features
Yes, a smartphone is pretty smart just the way it is, but there are some features that many of us aren’t willing to give up. What you put into this category will vary. But these are the categories where I had to go searching for good options.
Search and Web Browsing
I don’t use my phone to browse the web all that much. When I do open a web browser, it’s usually to search for something. So I was very happy to find that DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn’t track you, has an Android app that combines the two experiences into one.
You can perform searches and open the resulting page all in the same place. You can also drop a widget at the top of your homescreen where you would usually see Google.
If half of your searches are on Wikipedia, you may want to install its dedicated Android app. That route is much faster than going through a browser.
Google Maps may work without an account, but I had already cut down on my usage even before giving up the Play Store. Instead I tried options like Sygic and Nokia Here. These apps are still available in places outside of the Play Store.
Since I decided to go the open source route, I eventually settled on OsmAnd. It’s not nearly as flashy as other navigation apps, but with the option to download free maps of most of the world, it does have its advantages. I recommend pairing OSMAnd with an address-locating app like Acastus, because the app is pretty bad at recognizing street addresses on its own.
Podcasts are a major form of entertainment for me. My previous favorite podcast app was BeyondPod, but now I’ve started using AntennaPod.
There are only a couple other options available in F-Droid, but if you aren’t working with that limitation, you shouldn’t have any problem at all finding a good podcast app in your alternative app store of choice.
Notes and To-Do Lists
I really like Google Keep, but I’m not a fan of the way it syncs everything to the cloud. This means I’m also put off by Evernote and similar alternatives. I prefer apps that only store my notes locally. Fortunately, there are quite a few options:
Really, That’s All You Needed?
Pretty much. My device came with a decent music player, and so does the OS that ships on most phones. If you need a recommendation, try Shuttle, which is available on the Amazon Appstore. You can also find Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora there.
On the social network front, there’s Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. Amazon’s store is absolutely loaded with games, too.