Being the owner of a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 I decided not only to upgrade the Android version to 6.0.1 with cm13, but also see how far I can get without google apps.
I have nothing against google, they provide valuable services and technology. However, I think their enthusiasm in collecting data has gone too far. I want a good search engine and a reliable mail service, I don’t want a service that logs every single thing I do through my google account, from the search terms I entered to the times I played chess on my tablet. Is all the data collection on your android phone really necessary? Yes, you can opt out of most of it, but still, who goes to the settings, navigates all convoluted and hidden menus just to disable google’s hunger for your data. I’m not paranoid, I just like to stay in control. So I decided to try my tablet without google apps.
Here it gets problematic. Using an unmodified android phone without a google account is flatly impossible and not accessible to the average user since it will not work without rooting your device and installing an alternative android distribution of your choice.
There is no other way of removing google services from your android device than rooting and overwriting the system with another OS. There should be plenty of material on the process around, so I won’t cover it here and focus on my user experience. An android device without google apps does not come without serious drawbacks.
Most importantly, android without google is android without the google play store, which is google’s idea of installing and updating new apps.
There is F-Droid with comparable functionality, but only with open source apps. For apps that are only available in the play store, there is only one way: downloading the apk and installing it manually, which is tedious and a threat to your device security: who would easily trust some 3rd party apk download? The easiest solution here is to retain the old apks you collected from your time on google play store and install them on the google-less device. Needless to say, this method is worthless if you want to install something entirely new.
Furthermore, many google play apps will not work without google play services and refuse to start or malfunction.
Creating a backup of your data is now your own responsibility. No auto-synching of contacts to google anymore. I export them now manually to a vcf file from time to time.
Here a small list of the apps that will cease to work and their replacements. I’m not a heavy user of those apps, enthusiasts might find the solutions frugal and not suitable for their productive use.
-Google calendar: Fortunately, there is a standard calendar application on android with the same functionality. Displaying the events from your google calendar requires a little work though: I used an ics importer from the f-droid repo and connected it to the private url of my google calendar. Problem solved. Beware that this is only a read access, but that is fine with me.
-Gmail app: Android standard email client does the job.
-Google maps: For some strange reason this apk installs and runs without complaining about missing google services.
-Whatsapp is no google app, but I include it since it has a high priority for many people. Whatsapp has its own autoupdate and runs without problems, only displays a warning once when installing. If you keep whatsapp’s history file on the device, it is easy to import your old messages, and you are prompted to do so.
Other apps of choice include mupdf for pdf reading, CoolReader for ebook reading and open cycle maps.
After more than three months without google apps I’m not switching back anytime soon. Certainly this is not everybody’s cup of tea, but maybe my little article has encouraged you to give it a try. Mobile devices are not intended to be very protective of the user’s privacy, so it’s up to you to take a small part of it back.