Android smartphones are made to be used with a Google account, Google services and Google apps. But does the device actually work without it? TECHNOLOGY BUTTON did the test and shows how it’s done.
Almost every new Android smartphone asks you to log in with a Google account when you first set it up in order to “get the most out of the device”. In plain language, this means that when you register, you get access to the Google Play Store, the most extensive of all app stores, and can install apps as you wish.
Android without Google – is that even possible?
In principle, the Android operating system does not require Google’s apps, but it is definitely designed to use the company’s services. Without a connection to a Google account, data such as contacts, e-mails, passwords and settings are not synchronized and you cannot access the App Store, which makes the smartphone less “smart”. But if you dig into it, you can definitely experience Android in its purest form with the right apps.
The advantage of a smartphone without a direct connection to Google is that the company can no longer easily access data and use it for advertising purposes. Usually, the tech giant collects almost all of the data that provides it with information about user behavior. These include places that are often visited, which apps are used, when messages are written and which numbers are called, what and where to buy, which pages are visited or what is viewed and heard. The more company apps you use – including Gmail, Maps, YouTube , Chrome, Play Store, Photos, Play Music, and many, many others – the more data you give them.
The disadvantage is that without Google’s Play Store, apps have to be obtained from other sources. Alternative app stores often have a good selection, but publish app updates much more slowly than the Play Store. Missing or late updates leave a lot of room for security holes. Apps from the Google Play Store usually get the patches earlier. In addition, Google scans all apps in the Play Store for malware with its Play Protect service. Especially with apps that are downloaded from the Internet, there is no protection whatsoever, which means that you can quickly catch a virus. Play Protect can also check these apps for dubious behavior and will definitely ask for user permission – but that would give Google more information about its own usage profile.
How to use Android without Google
A login window for the Google account appears during the initial setup. The window suggests that the smartphone will not work optimally without registration. However, ou can safely click on Skip and still use your new device.
When you complete the setup process, the Android interface appears exactly as it normally does. Now the task is to find alternatives for the many apps that are provided by Google. First we need an alternative app store from which replacement programs can be downloaded. We decided on F-Droid because only open source apps are offered here, i.e. programs whose source code is publicly available. With F-Droid you can be sure that you will not be spied on and on top of that all apps in the F-Droid database are free of charge. The app can be downloaded from this page .
F-Droid doesn’t have nearly as many apps as the Play Store or other alternatives like the Amazon Store , but you don’t have to worry about passing on user data. After installing F-Droid, things can really start. We now need to find replacement apps for all of Google’s services like Maps, Chrome and YouTube. Fortunately, in most cases you will find what you are looking for. However, there are limitations, especially with third-party apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Their apps are only available on Google Play, but can also be downloaded directly from the Internet if necessary. A relatively safe site for this is APKMirror , where practically every app that is also in the Play Store can be found.
Replacement for Google Apps in F-Droid
Google Maps → OsmAnd +
OsmAnd + is an excellent alternative for Google Maps, which in addition to standard functions such as navigation comes with a built-in travel guide with information from Wikivoyage and extensions such as a nautical map and contour lines.
Google Chrome → Duckduckgo Browser
Google Gmail → K-9 Mail
Due to the old-fashioned user interface, K-9 Mail looks older than it is, but you shouldn’t be fooled by that. Registering with your own email address, be it Outlook, GMX or the like, works perfectly. The range of functions is also correct once you get used to the app.
YouTube → NewPipe
With NewPipe you get access to the video portal YouTube without running the risk that everything you look at there will be combined into a behavior profile on Google. We liked the app’s interface almost better than that of YouTube itself and even functions such as downloading videos are possible.
Using an Android smartphone without a Google account is possible in principle, but probably only really interesting for a very small target group. By foregoing advantages such as always up-to-date and protected apps from the Play Store, the user gains considerably more control over his own data. But reducing the amount of information sent to Google does not mean that you are suddenly completely anonymous.
The mere fact that cell phones connect to radio masts makes the user traceable at all times. In addition, Google still has a back door on every Android smartphone through background programs such as Google Play services, which cannot be switched off. The only way out is to install a so-called CustomROM, which replaces the pre-installed operating system. However, this will void the guarantee and a mistake during installation can “brick” the device – literally turn it into a useless stone.
So not signing up with a Google account and avoiding the company’s apps as much as possible is the best method for people who want to take their personal information back into their own hands and still don’t want to forego the benefits of a smartphone