Take Control of Your Phone with LineageOS
6 Feb 2020
What phone do you have? We’ve all been asked this, and almost everyone has a preference. They might be able to write you an essay on the reasons why, or it might just be a feeling – this or that phone just works for them.
Apple’s iPhones offer sleek design, increased privacy and significant security, but for a significant price. On the other hand Google has its Pixel, and its Android operating system finds its way into myriad phones, varying in brand, price, style and features. They offer little to no privacy, moderate to good security (depending on the manufacturer and other factors) and more customisability. Have I missed anything? Maybe, but you get the point.
There are other phone manufacturers and operating systems I could mention, but we all know that Google has the lion’s share of the mobile market, your grandmother and your dog have an iPhone and at least one of the two companies is probably sitting in your hand or your pocket right now.
That’s okay; as we’ve seen, both companies bring their own advantages to the table and phones really have on average become easier and more affordable than ever to purchase.
But I want to tell you about something better, something which can provide you with a combination of the key positive features mentioned above, including increased privacy and control, good security, no added cost, and all the spirit of the open source community.
LineageOS is a custom ROM based on the Android operating system (OS). LineageOS is possible because Android is open source.
Many people who are happy to put in the effort and tinker with their devices have found Custom ROMs to be a solution to the drawbacks they find with the likes of iPhones and stock Android phones. There are a number of custom ROMs, the more popular choices including CyanogenModOS, ReplicantOS and ParanoidAndroidOS.
No doubt these all come with their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve tried ReplicantOS myself and, personally, I found it to be an unrealistic solution due to its lack of built-in Wi-Fi functionality, significant battery drain and limited number of maintained/compatible devices. But I do admire Replicant’s puristic FOSS vision, so I encourage you to learn more about the project.
I decided to give LineageOS a try – and I’m so glad I put in the time and effort. The project’s own website has a detailed guide on installing its OS, so I’m not going to regurgitate what you can just as easily find there. I used the guide myself and I found no issues with it.
What I want to do is give you a breakdown of the reasons I chose to use, and continue to use, LineageOS as my daily mobile driver, and what I’ve learnt through trial and error both during and since I first installed it. Hopefully the following will provide you with some inspiration as well as some helpful tips which might save you time and stress if you decide to give it a try yourself.
Why I’m using LineageOS
- Privacy. All of the tracking present in a stock Android phone has been removed in LineageOS, leaving me with an operating system which cares about user privacy. Launch almost any app and Lineage’s Privacy Guard becomes active, assuring you that said app “will not be able to access personal data”.
- Apps. Android-based apps (.apks) are widely available. This means that even if you can’t install an app directly through the F-Droid repositories, you can still download and install the .apks of great privacy- and anonymity-focused apps like Signal, Firefox Klar, IceCat and Tor Browser. (If you’re not familiar with IceCat, learn more about it here.)
- Battery. One of the first things I noticed about LineageOS is its impressive battery life. This is presumably due to the removal of bloatware, tracking and extraneous processes which inevitably weigh down the stock Android OS. With my Samsung S5 running LineageOS, I can reach the end of the day with 75% battery life remaining.
- Reliability. LineageOS is snappy, pretty and has presented me with only one minor (but recurring) issue since I first installed it: occasional dropping of mobile data, which requires me to place a call to any number (I just use my provider’s credit top-up number) until I can see “H+” or “LTE” has returned to the top-right of the screen. I will say, though, that I don’t believe this to be a widespread issue; it may only be myself experiencing it, so don’t let it put you off.
- Rootability. Rooting is made easy with LineageOS. Once you’ve installed the required zip file via TWRP, you can make your way through the Developer options and enable root access. This will completely unlock your phone for all manner of admin-level trickery and customisation. But beware: with rootability comes responsibility. Personally I choose to keep my root permissions reigned in by default. This is also generally recommended for security.
Tips for installing LineageOS
- Learn more about the project and the installation process by heading to the official website. You know that cliche about getting your hands on a new product and confidently discarding its assembly instructions? Trust me, don’t do it. LineageOS can breathe a new, freer lease of life into your Android phone, but it has to be done carefully and correctly, otherwise you run the risk of bricking that phone. And that’s never fun.
- Choose a compatible device, then buy two of them. Once you’ve successfully installed LineageOS on your chosen device, you should be familiar with the process. If you’ve confirmed everything is as it should be after a day or two, repeat the steps, but this time on your second handset. This spare handset can now be kept as a backup, burner or travel phone, free of all personal data and unessential apps.
- Make backups. This is easier than ever thanks to the affordability and reliability of storage devices today. So become familiar with the core functionalities of your new mobile OS, install all your essentials, and then back everything up to an SD card via TWRP. I typically do this every couple months, keeping four backups at any one time on my phone’s SD, my laptop and my external HDD.
- Be patient when it comes to customisation. If you’re like me, you love to tinker with the settings and personalise everything down to the colour of app icons. But doing this takes time, which will be time wasted if you spend half a day customising your phone only to wake up the next day with a serious issue you’ll spend another day trying to fix. Ensure everything is running smoothly and securely before you start experimenting with menus, colours and root permissions.
You may have already scanned through the installation guide on the LineageOS website. Either way, you’ll soon see that it’s not too difficult, and even if you get stuck, there are a number of videos online walking you through the process. Remember: as with almost every technical hitch, there’s always someone else who’s been there already. If you get stuck, try the following sites:
I might also be able to help, so get in touch if you have any questions. :)