2013-09-16

Using Android phone without Google account

If you have ever wondered how usable Android phone is without having Google account, most probably you have already discovered the ugly truth - Android phone is a trap. There is no visible chance to have a smartphone (with apps and so on) without having Gmail account. Majority of Alternative Markets, like GetJar, are available only from Google Play. Sadly, most developers publish their Android apps only in Play store. You can't download or buy their apps from developers websites. You can't even download APK files to your computer using fake gmail account. And when you give up and enter your Gmail credentials in your Android phone there is no turning back - you can't just disconnect your phone from Google.

In this article I share my experience and guidelines on using Android phone avoiding Google Play store.

Step one (reinstall) Root your phone and get rid of the original firmware! I would recommend to install the fully free Android distribution Replicant from replicant.us. However the list of devices they support is quite short. My HTC Desire is not among supported devices so I have not tried it. For the rest there is Cyanogenmod which provides firmware from many Android phones, including my HTC Desire.

Step two (don't spoil it) On Cyanogenmod (and any new Android phone) during the first bootup, you will be asked to enter Gmail credentials. NEVER EVER do it. Do not enter false email, just skip the process. Earlier releases of Cyanogenmod shipped without Google-essential apps, and if one wanted them there was a method how to install them. The latest Cyanogenmod ships with built in GMail, Market, Talk, Google search and Car Home. It is impossible to uninstall these apps. The only thing you can do is to never configure your gmail account in your phone.

Step three (install apps) Using computer or the built-in web browser go to f-droid.org. Download and install F-Droid. It is a market-like app containing only free, open source Android apps. Here is the list of apps that I have found to be useful:

  • Web browser Zirco (because you can't trust the built-in browser);
  • Firewall DroidWall. There is also the newer AFWall+ which is based on DroidWall but it was not working on my phone;
  • Maps & Navigation app OsmAnd. You can get the latest version from their own server, but it is also on F-Droid;
  • RSS reader Sparse rss;
  • GPS tracking app Aripuca GPS Tracker. This is the only GPS tracking app that works properly on my phone and is available outside of Google PLay. I have also tried GPSLogger and OSMTracker, but no luck with them (keeps crashing and rebooting my phone after several minutes of working);
  • Tor (anonymity) client Orbot.
  • File synchronization ownCloud. On Google Play you have to pay for this app. In F-Droid it is for free;

What is not working I still have not found a solution to synchronize phone address book and calendar with my ownCloud server.