Best mobile device
Last updated: November 18, 2020
Here's the best mobile device: The Light Phone.
Why: This minimalist smartphone was NOT designed by Google, Apple, or any other Big Tech company. Instead, two Brooklyn-based designers - Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang - created a sleek, non-distracting phone that makes calls, sends texts, and doesn't do a whole lot else.
Business model: Revenue from device sales, and without the surveillance and tracking that Google and others rely on.
• Web: thelightphone.com
• Find a used flip-phone on eBay or at your local phone store.
• Use a landline phone only.
• deGoogled smartphones from /e/, aka the e Foundation based in France. (The project was originally called Eelo but had to change its name due to trademark complaints: source.) The phones are new Fairphones or refurbished Galaxy devices, running /e/OS, a "'deGoogled' version of Android OS" running "an Android OS core, truly open-source, with no Google apps or Google services accessing your personal data." A PCMag review (Oct 21, 2019) was mostly positive, while InfoSec Handbook (Dec 2019) found small amounts of data still being sent to Google.
• Fairphone, a line of Android phones built from materials sourced fairly (no conflict minerals, minimal environmental impact). We don't recommend Android phones, due to Google's intrusive surveillance of all Android devices, but if you have to use an Android phone, Fairphone is a less toxic option. (Along the same lines, Back Market sells refurbished Android and Apple devices.)
• GrapheneOS, an "an open source privacy and security focused mobile OS with Android app compatibility." This requires a fair amount of technical competence to install, much like our browser recommendation of Ungoogled Chromium. But given that, it's possible to replace Google's surveillance software with GrapheneOS on a Google Pixel phone.
• Librem 5, a smartphone based on PureOS, "a fully free, ethical and open-source operating system that is not based on Android or iOS." However, the phone is expensive, at $799 (or $2,000 for the made-in-USA Librem 5), and the battery life is short: just three to five hours, according to Techradar (May 4, 2020). The Librem 5 is made by San Francisco-based Purism, a "social purpose corporation."
Interesting but not available
• Volla Phone, a German project featuring hardware (made in Germany by Gigaset) running Volla OS, "an operating system based on a free open source alternative without Google apps and services." There's also an option to install Ubuntu Touch instead. Volla was funded by an Indiegogo campaign and seems to be planning to ship by end-of-year 2020.
• PinePhone, a Linux-based smartphone developed by Pine64, a team that designs and ships open-source devices from Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China. According to the store, the PinePhone is not yet shipping but is available for pre-order.
• BoringPhone, a stripped-down smartphone designed by a New Zealand startup. The phones run LineageOS, "based on Android with mostly free and open-source software" (Wikipedia). As of November 2020, the phones are listed as "sold out."
Best VPN (new: posted on Nov 24)
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