RogerBW's Blog

Entering the 21st Century 15 May 2018

I've finally found a smartphone that falls within my parameters for the three Ps: price, performance and paranoia.

I was looking vaguely at Fairphone 2 because I like the modular nature of it, but it's pretty old hardware, and software support for Fairphone 1 was dropped extremely fast when the 2 came out, which suggests that longevity is not the goal they claim it is.

So instead I went for something that could run LineageOS. This used to be CyanogenMod: a cut-down Android, omitting most of the bloat and all the proprietary Google bits (especially the GMS spyware). That does mean I can't install most big-name apps (the Google App Store relies on GMS so I need to download the APK from somewhere else, and they can't rely on any other GMS features, which oddly enough Google encourages app authors to use), but I don't want to pay the price for that anyway.

The most recent good hardware this will run on is the Nexus 6P, so that's what I have. (One can't get them new any more. They're about £180 from Computer Exchange; I paid rather less to a private seller.) I did need to buy a USB A to C cable to hook it up to a real computer. The battery lasts just about a day if I'm careful; I have a 12Ah portable battery that I've used to run a Raspberry Pi, and I plan to use that if I'm out all day without a chance to leech power.

Yeah, the baseband processor still gets to look at all of the internal memory. But at least there's another party involved that cares about such things.

It takes a nano-SIM; I bought one from a three.co.uk shop.

Installation of LineageOS was fairly straightforward, using Debian/stable's adb and fastboot to load up TWRP (a boot loader) and then the current LineageOS build. Some things to note, though, if you're doing this:

  • Follow all the unlocking steps under the adb installation instructions as well as what's in the main installation notes, even if you've already installed adb from somewhere other than their recommended source.

  • You should not try to re-lock the bootloader once it's all over. This will apparently send it off down a rabbit hole of doom. Just ignore the Dire Warning on boot.

  • If you want to use a SIM in the phone, you need to set the initial security level to "none" or "swipe", or it'll just come up "No SIM installed". (This is a Device Protection Feature, apparently.) Once a SIM has been recognised, you can go back to whatever security you prefer.

  • If you want to use F-Droid as a source for programs, the easiest way to get it onto the system is by "adb install" down the USB link. Downloading from the built-in web browser left me with a file that apparently couldn't be run. There may be better ways of doing this, but I already had adb up and running…

My impression of Android so far is that each app has its own data storage space, and they communicate with the core and each other via some sort of Java-ridden IPC. Then there's "Storage", which is mounted at /sdcard, the general storage area for things like pictures and downloaded files.

The built-in web browser is tolerable for basic stuff, and I'm not doing anything complex yet. It does have google as its home page; for the moment I've set it to the non-existent http://localhost/ simply so that it doesn't fire up external network access the moment I start the browser. (I'm not a home page sort of person.) DuckDuckGo can be configured as the search engine.

Messaging works all right. I haven't tried it as a phone (indeed, I'm keeping my basic small Alcatel phone for now, for the few actual voice calls I make, since its battery lasts nearly a week). Contacts was able to import a VCard file (filtered from my master file). The camera program doesn't have a manual white balance setting, but can at least disable the silly fake shutter sound.

It doesn't like to play with libmtp (or there's a setting I've got wrong somewhere), but gphotofs supports PTP and that works for getting pictures off the thing. Life would be much easier if it just exposed the relevant bit of filesystem as USB Mass Storage, though. (There's supposedly a way round this, but it doesn't quite work: two devices show up on USB, but they come back "no medium found" when one tries to mount them. "Doesn't quite work" seems to be a minor recurring theme.)

F-Droid as a source of more programs is quite pleasant to use, but for some reason it's infested by bitcoin-related software. It has no rating system or even a download count, and its search may show you something from several years ago as readily as code that's still being actively maintained.

So what's running on the thing beyond the basics?

Termux because this is a computer and it should have a command prompt. Also Perl. And units, because not enough people use it. And, obviously, openssh, which is how I intend to get at email on the go. I've bought a Bluetooth keyboard to go with it, which is working well so far.

LinPhone to talk to the SIP server on the local network (Asterisk). This makes my phone an extension of the landline when I'm on the local network. Also it can receive SIP TEXT for quick SMS-style messages.

Maps which lets you download selected map data (OpenStreetMap). Basic "where am I" and route planning.

MPDroid to control my mpd server and thus the music when I'm hosting a party, though the web interface I wrote is easier to use.

Xabber to talk to the local XMPP server (and get a different set of notifications from the local network).

Open Camera gives rather more manual control than the built-in thing. (Still no manual white balance though. This may be a hardware limitation!)

Signal, which I haven't used yet, but Bruce approves. Yes, this means I have four separate places for short text messages – each via different channels. That's just fine with me.

Bookmarked so far on the web browser: my mpd controller, traintimes.org.uk, the Wellington beer board, and the camera that looks over the 3D printer.

I'm still trying various approaches while looking for a sensible way to connect the system calendar to my existing CalDAV server, and I haven't yet set up OpenVPN, but these should both be possible. I'll probably set up K-9 Mail with a secondary account.


  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:03pm on 15 May 2018

    Woe! Woe! The end times are surely upon us!

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:10pm on 15 May 2018

    The end times started in 1914, and all the good souls were assumed into heaven before either of us was born. Haven't you been keeping up?

  3. Posted by John Dallman at 06:43pm on 15 May 2018

    adb is good. As soon as I got it running and started looking around, it was clear that this was the right management interface for me.

  4. Posted by Michael Cule at 07:53pm on 15 May 2018

    Didn't they retcon that? Seems hard to keep recruiting people if 'yer all damned' is part of the pitch.

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