I am looking for a smartphone, without Google, Apple, or Microsoft.
December 26, 2013 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a smartphone, but do not want to be special friends with Google, Apple, or Microsoft.

In my limited experience with the Android variants, much of what you want to look at immediately prompts you to make a Google account. Want to look at a YouTube video? Google account, please. Apple devices require an Apple ID. My guess is that Microsoft-based phones require a Windows Live ID.

I want a phone which does not require this sort of thing. I only want to pay my carrier and not develop a deep, meaningful, but somewhat one-sided relationship with an additional MegaCorp, Inc.

My needs are modest. I make few phone calls and send less than one hundred text messages per month on my dumb candybar phone. I would like to occasionally look up online maps and check movie showtimes; just basic web browsing, nothing fancy. Check my webmail or something. I am thus far not interested in apps.

I tried out a Nexus tablet and hated it. I could not type well on it. I could not figure out how to close the applications I opened (I would later find out that this is not the "done thing"). I could not find a help function or manual to show me how to close those applications. Essentially, I was confronted with a radically different iconography and workflow without a way to learn about it that didn't require me to go sign up for a Google account and reached maximum disgust in about an hour of fiddling with it. I did not want to learn more about it because I felt like a golden retriever strapped to the steering wheel of a bus going over a cliff, frantically licking the windshield in hopes of accomplishing something but only leaving smears on the glass.

Bonus points for:
* Slider keyboard
* Not having a camera
* Coming with either a dead tree manual or an easily accessible manual on the device itself without having to go to the Internet to read it

In the interests of not getting derailed into why I want what I want, I would like to head off the obvious objections:
1) This is silly, stop caring about this: I still care about this anyway.
2) They don't care about you: What is not logged cannot be hoarked up by the NSA tapping pipes or requested by overly broad inquiries.
3) Just make a fake account: There's reason to believe that is effective for five or ten minutes before you check your email.
posted by adipocere to Technology (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There are Android ROMs that don't require you to have a Google account. My phone doesn't have a Google account associated with it, but I can still view Youtube, get my emails and view Google Maps.

They're phone specific, unfortunately, so I can't tell you to get a specific ROM.

If you don't mind rooting your Android, which is liable to void whatever warranty you have and make your phone explode, there are ways round Google accounts, even for stock ROMs that come with the gubbins.

If you're concerned about what is being reported back to various different places, there are things like PDroid that can further enhance your privacy by blocking app's access to things like your GPS location, your phone book, your text, etc.
posted by Solomon at 9:09 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds like the easiest way to do this would be to buy a 'dumbphone'. Here's a high end one and a low-end one.
posted by tmcw at 9:14 AM on December 26, 2013

You could look into open source phones such as Jolla (that one was developed by ex-Nokia employees, there may be others). This is definitely an area people are trying to move into at least, indicating that you're not the only one who cares, but they're small beginnings so far.
posted by shelleycat at 9:15 AM on December 26, 2013

Hmm, have you looked into the ZTE Open yet running the new Firefox OS? I can't see any mention of account setting up in the getting started bit.

Alas, it has no keyboard, and a camera, and I really don't think it'll have a dead tree manual. But maybe it's an option to look at--it's meant to be open source, and so hopefully it'll not rely on some of the corporate overreaching you're trying to avoid.
posted by foxfirefey at 9:16 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your best option is a rooted and rom'd Android phone of some sort. However, I will say that of the three, the iPhone is the most usable without actually entering an Apple ID. You won't be able to install apps on any of the three without a login ID of some sort, though.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:24 AM on December 26, 2013

In all honesty, and I don't mean this to sound snarky - from reading your post, both the words and the tone, you sound like you don't want a smartphone. Pretty much every smartphone is tied to a MegaCorp; as others have noted, there are ways around this, but those ways are tricky, not easy to set up, and very much the opposite, use-wise, of what signing on to MegaCorp allows smartphones to do so very easily. And even if you find a bare-bones smartphone that does what you want, if you want to install any apps at all, you'll have to give MegaCorp at least SOME information, so.

Pretty much every smart phone has a camera; if slide out keyboards aren't dead yet on smartphones, they will be soon.

Rather than trying to find a smartphone that doesn't do what you don't want to do, get a dumbphone that's exactly what you need. If all you do is call and text, there is absolutely no need for a smart phone; I don't know who your carrier is, but if you're going to stick with your carrier, you can either get a new one from them, or look on ebay for other models that work with your carrier.

Don't feel compelled to get a smartphone just to get one; the way you use a phone reads to me like you don't need one, so get something more simple that you'll be happier with.
posted by pdb at 10:09 AM on December 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Not necessarily helping here as I'm not familiar with the platform, but BlackBerry is still making smartphones (for now). I'm not sure if they meet your other requirements or whether they'll still exist in a year or two, but they're another option.

Also, all of your location data and everything sent over the data network is going to be sent to or intercepted by the NSA no matter which smartphone you buy. Logging is definitely not a requirement for this.
posted by cnc at 10:22 AM on December 26, 2013

Does your current dumb candybar phone have a mobile browser? My last couple of dumbphones could browse the web (very slooooowly) and that was 3-4 years ago. And they were not fancy.

Maybe you'd like something like the Rumor Reflex. I don't know how these do on maps; they probably don't have GPS, but can probably display a small map. Something like this would be more than sufficient for checking movie times though.

I think "feature phone with sliding keyboard" might be what you want, not a true smartphone.
posted by mskyle at 10:23 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Blackberry is great.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

For narrowing down the phone search a bit, try Phone Scoop's search -- it allows you to exclude options you don't want, like cameras, and require a slide or other physical keyboard. Unfortunately I don't think you can sort by release date, so you'll see some phones that are sufficiently old they'll only have WAP web browsers, if any.

You might check for the phone's compatibility with Opera Mini, since that's probably the most useful browser for a phone that doesn't run one of the Android/Apple/Microsoft browsers. One bright spot with slightly older phones is that new discontinued models can be really cheap.
posted by asperity at 10:28 AM on December 26, 2013

Maybe try the last Palm Treo.
posted by cellphone at 11:13 AM on December 26, 2013

I used an Android phone without a Google account for a year or so in there. It worked fine. You can't install apps from the Play store, but you can by downloading APK files directly. Googley apps like Maps and YouTube won't work. But web browsing and phone calls work just fine. Unfortunately you can't just plain uninstall those pesky apps - the interface won't let you. For that you need a custom rom that doesn't include them.
posted by miyabo at 11:24 AM on December 26, 2013

Sounds like the easiest way to do this would be to buy a 'dumbphone'. Here's a high end one and a low-end one.

That would be my suggestion, too. Though, most dumbphones that are internet-capable have cameras, and I think the NSA can track your cell phone whether or not you use an account of some kind.

I bought a used, unlocked one of these to use while traveling abroad, and it was fine. The only thing was using google maps in the browser was kind of slow, and didn't always work as well as the app on my iphone does. If you go the dumbphone route, you should just look up the non-smartphones offered by whatever cell carrier you want to use, and pick the one you like best (i.e. with 3g/4g/whatever and gps and a keyboard)
posted by bluefly at 11:54 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could get a Nokia phone from when they still shipped them with Symbian (before they teamed up with Microsoft). My old E61 did what you want a phone to do.
posted by altolinguistic at 12:27 PM on December 26, 2013

I feel your pain. Android/google phones seem to be more amenable to rooting. Once rooted, you can get rid of the proprietary apps the cellular vendor has put on the phone. Set up a gmail account just for the phone.
posted by theora55 at 12:59 PM on December 26, 2013

Take a look at the Nokia n900, I have a friend who swore by it for a long time, and still may.

From Wikipedia:
The Nokia N900 is a smartphone made by Nokia.[5] It supersedes the Nokia N810. Its default operating system, Maemo 5, is a Linux-based OS originally developed for the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

It fulfills your Sliding Keyboard criteria, as well as your no Apple/G/etc. criteria.

As for the paper manual, I have never seen one new in box so I don't know.

good luck!
posted by naterd00d at 1:29 PM on December 26, 2013

This might not be as forceful a disconnect as you were looking for, but I "root" my Android phones and remove (or freeze) Google+ and Google apps I don't want. Some apps do require Google Talk etc to work, but that's only if you plan on using a Google account, which I do. (I use Gmail, but also having a Google account allows me to backup all my contacts and app data so if my phone dies or is stolen, I still have that stuff synced.) I always immediately root my cell phones and remove the phone bloatware (i.e. crap Verizon or Virgin Mobile etc put on the phone) and Google+, because I hope Google+ dies a thousand deaths.

I had a rooted Kyocera Rise. It has a slide out keyboard, it was easy to root, and my plan was $40 a month for 1200 minutes and unlimited data/text.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:32 PM on December 26, 2013

The suggestions for a modded version of Android are good. CyanogenMod has considerably better privacy controls than stock Android, even down to an incognito mode for apps (not simply for browsing, mind you, for actual apps and what info they can access.) You might even consider going after the new Oppo N1, a new smartphone that comes with CyanogenMod preinstalled. It doesn't have a keyboard, but it's huge (comparable to the Note) so it should be easy to type on. One of its main selling points is a fancy, tilting camera, and I know you're trying to avoid cameras, sooooo...

Maybe another way to go would be an Ubuntu Phone. I don't know that I'd do that personally, though, unless you could find someone who'd had success personally and would agree to help, as it's developer-only at this point, so more or less beta.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:55 PM on December 26, 2013

There's also Tizen, which is an alternative to Android being developed by Samsung and Intel. On the one hand: still corporations. On the other, their corporations who currently have no stake in acquiring or selling your information.

Again, though: this is not a thing a casual user could probably do on their own. I think you're going to find this is something of a recurring problem, though. The current prevailing business model for smartphone makers is to get you to sort of sign on as a member of their commercial ecosystem... exactly what you don't want to do. Although alternatives exist, they're mostly aimed at developers and hobbyists at this point. It can be done, but you'll have to decide if your qualms about avoiding those kinds of ecosystems are serious enough to decide to adopt a new hobby to be able to do so.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:09 PM on December 26, 2013

edit: To clarify my previous post, I got the Kyocera Rise from Virgin Mobile. If you like to avoid being prey for a corporate overlord, I generally recommend Virgin. There is no contract -- you can cancel or change your plan anytime, and you can change phones anytime. Plus, I pay half of what most people I know pay a month, but I get more data and texts (unlimited).
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:24 PM on December 26, 2013

You can run Ubuntu on any Phone with a Dual-Core processor...


Also, things like Cyanogen-Mod for Android could be an option as they are open source and you can modify whatever you like, plus they do not have carrier specific anything on them.
posted by anthroprose at 3:20 PM on December 26, 2013

One option:

1. Get an android phone

2. Root it and install Cyanogenmod ROMs. (Though Cyanogenmod is *starting* to become corporatized, it's definitely no Google/Apple/Microsoft).

3. Don't install any of the Google Apps packages when you install cyanogenmod.


You won't be able to use the "Google Play" store to download apps, but Android lets you install 3rd party apps. You can use the amazon app store (but they're a big corporation at this point too), or other 3rd-party app stores. There's perhaps a bit more risk here...

You obviously won't have the google apps. You'll need to find replacements. I believe the base android package contains an "email" app and a "browser" app, but you won't have a "calendar" app or a "maps" app. You might be able to do "search" via browser / duckduckgo.


If you buy a "nexus" phone (from google), you won't need to bother your carrier to unlock your phone before rooting it. If you buy from a carrier, often you need to get them to unlock it before you root it.
posted by sarah_pdx at 4:51 PM on December 26, 2013

Maybe you should look into Replicant?
posted by lollusc at 5:03 PM on December 26, 2013

Your carrier doesn't need to do anything for you to root a phone. That is wrong info. All rooting does it change operating system of the phone. It's not "jailbreaking" or anything that interferes with the phone's service. With rooting, you can just remove whatever apps you want without restriction -- the normal version of Android forbids you from deleting some apps, such as Google+. Whether it's Verizon or Virgin Mobile or something else, you can root your phone as long as it's a model that has a root method available. (For instance, I can't find a root method for my tablet so I am stuck with Google+ on it.) edit: Looks like that person was only referring to Nexus phones... nevermind.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:49 PM on December 26, 2013

You do not need an Apple ID to use an iPhone.
You do not need to give any money or a credit card to Apple (aside from the purchase price) to use an iPhone.

You also sound like you do not want any smartphone.
posted by now i'm piste at 8:43 PM on December 26, 2013

Try a non-android tracfone or similar. I think that you would be fine with andriod variants as long as you don't install / use google applications (use the mobile web version of youtube and a map service). Other than older dumbphones, you'll have to just put tape over the camera.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:57 AM on December 27, 2013

The LG Rumor line(1,2, Reflex) will do you well. I had the LG Rumour 2 with unlimited 2G data for $5/month . With Opera Mini and Google Maps(not logged in) for finding my way around( but with no gps) it was fine times indeed.

I have an iPhone 5 now but I sometimes yearn for simpler times, before constant notifications and totally selling my soul and personal data to Google and Apple.
posted by Yowser at 3:54 AM on August 25, 2014

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