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Using only open-source software on Android (androidpolice.com)
96 points by axiomdata316 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments



> Firefox on Android still isn't a great experience

News to me! I've been using Firefox on Android for six years now, and I'm very happy.


Firefox on Android with uBlock Origin is amazing. Best mobile browsing experience on any platform for me.


I can confirm. I recently wanted to try Chrome for Android but after several vibrating ads I migrated back to Firefox.


Interesting, I've only ever seen these on Pornhub... ;)


Interesting, I've only ever seen Pornhub on Pornhub... ;)


I try Firefox on Android about every six months and it is consistently worse than its competitors. Its address bar behaviour is erratic, websites render desktop versions or "basic" versions where I would get a more functional version on chrome, it feels heavy and scrolling still sucks.

This from someone who has had Firefox as my default browser on my computer since I unzipped Phoenix off a CD which came bundled with a computer magazine.


> websites render desktop versions or "basic" versions where I would get a more functional version on chrome

Sounds like user-agent sniffing, considered pretty bad practice.

I use Firefox Android daily and it's consistently more useful than Chrome;

* Firefox Sync lets me send tabs between all my devices

* I can run a scriptblocker, which has saved me from atleast two Script Injection attacks

* I can set DDG as search engine

* I can open tabs in the background which is useful when people post links with commentary or multiple links


The "open tabs in background" is a really nice feature. I love it for adding stuff to read from other apps to read it later, eg from chat or email.


Scrolling performance is terrible, even on high end devices. I'd imagine its borderline unusable on mid-range devices.


I use it on a Jelly Pro. A $125, 2.something inch phone running a MediaTek 6737 at all of like 1.3GHz with some barely passable GPU.

Scrolls fine. I mean, I'm sure if I went and pulled out a high framerate camera and checked it's running at a mere like 15FPS or something completely unusable, but it's never been bad enough to catch my attention.

And on a really low end phone being able to install uBlock Origin certainly means that Firefox solves a lot more issues than it might potentially create.


I'm use FF a ~$35 one year old Huang, with more than 100 tabs open, and have had no issues. Not so with the default browser.


Care to share the model name? Interesting price


I don't see that particular model now, but a search for $35 phones on Aliexpress [1] (where I bought it), shows plenty of similar enough phones.

Get the AliExpress mobile app and keep your eye on it for a few weeks, and you are bound to get a better deal.

Of course, it will probably copy all your data (including speech and movements) both to Google and 100 Chinese corporations + partnering government agencies, but that kinda comes with the territory.

(Especially as even brand names phones on Amazon, even when they are not using a compromised chpset like Rok, might really be cheapo fakes with the right SKU numbers, that are siphoning off that data as well.)

[1]: https://he.aliexpress.com/category/5090301/mobile-phones.htm...


No issues here, and I use it daily on a 2+ year old S7.

Currently >20 tabs open with Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin and HTTPS Everywhere addons. No stuttering or delays.


Now, my Note 5 is probably a bit above mid-range, but it's not true for me, Firefox's UI has been very consistently excellent, I am happily using it since the beginning of the Quantum releases.


Weird, what device are you using? I used it on my Nexus 5X and now on my non-Edge S7 and it's fine, maybe some slightly-perceptible judders but certainly fluid enough to be usable.


Low range Asus Zenfone Max2 (z0d10), android lollipop, currently 86 tabs but usually hovering around 120. No problems with scrolling, it's smoother than Chrome


I use it as my main browser on a phone that was mid-range when it was released 2 1/2 years ago, and I've been pretty happy with it.


It's perfectly fine on my Moto X Play.


I regularly switch between Firefox + ublock and Firefox Focus. Both are great in my opinion, just for different purposes.


I tried to use Firefox on Android recently. It felt like my phone was about to melt; I wasn't able to stick with it.


May I ask which phone do you have? I used Firefox as my primary browser for at least all of 2016 on a Samsung Galaxy S2 (a 2011 phone) and on a Sony Xperia Compact since fall 2016. No problems with performance. Opera has a much better text reflow on zoom but that's all. Chrome, no difference, but I never used Chrome much so I might be missing something.


Oneplus 3


On my oneplus 3t Firefox works like a charm. Only scrolling definitely is not as smooth as chrome or webview based alternative but it's working really well otherwise.

I was using it on a phone with 1GB of ram before (a moto G3) and it was definitely another story, but chrome was as bad, so I was still using Firefox.


Same here - works perfectly on my S5 with LineageOS installed


Links which can be handled by apps (e.g. YouTube or Reddit) won't open in the app but in Firefox instead. This is a show-stopper for me :/


In the current version of Firefox for Android (59), you have 2 options to open a link in an external app:

1) Long-press the link, and choose "Open in <app name> App". (This won't work if the destination is hidden behind a redirect, as in Google search results. Use DuckDuckGo, instead.)

2) Navigate to the address, and press the Android icon in the navigation bar.


That's too cumbersome for me, as 1) doesn't work with redirects (as you said) and 2) only works when the page has finished loading.


I feel the pain, but given the alternatives I'd rather stick to open source even if cumbersome


There are open-source alternatives were this works though :) For example Chromium or Lightning.


On my phone (I use Lineage), I have control of what app opens what link.


I mean a link inside Firefox. Search on google.com in Firefox for a YouTube video and click the result. It will open in Firefox, not the YouTube app.


And playing it with youtube means you got the ads. No thanks. In fact, I convinced some people to use Firefox to watch youtube on Android precisely because of this: get rid of really annoying ads.


I'm using NewPipe, so I won't get any ads. https://newpipe.schabi.org/


not gonna say it is best to use bleeding edge but since releasing their photon ui on ff58 nightly for android it was the best experience i had :)


90% of the objections here seem to be "I can't use Google's online services very easily without using Google Play", which is precisely why Google's spent the past few years piping as much of Android's runtime as possible through Google Play. The rest are mainly just that the main streaming and social media companies don't have open source clients.


I'd always heard that moving more and more functionality into play services was their strategy for end-running the carrier fragmentation problem.


That's the crux of it.

Though Google have fixed it in such a way that's benefited them by consolidating services and potential data collection for revenue raising.

I've not used anything but a Nexus of Pixel in years. But carrier fragmentation (and with it, the difficulty for OTA patching!) is a much bigger risk to the Android ecosystem and it's uses than closed source code.


The problem more generally seems to be “I'm locked into proprietary services that don't allow me to use libre software”. I suggest that those services therefore aren't very good.

If libre software fails to compete with a proprietary alternative in terms of features, it's reasonable to criticise the libre software. Similarly, if a proprietary service fails to compete with a libre alternative in terms of choice of how you use it, it's reasonable to criticise the proprietary service.


>Unfortunately, there's a catch - microG only works with custom ROMs that support signature spoofing. The LineageOS project is against adding support for that feature, citing security concerns, so microG offers its own ROM called 'LineageOS for microG.'

Jesus - this is what the patch does:

https://github.com/microg/android_packages_apps_GmsCore/blob...

So this allows other applications to appear in the com.google namespace?

This can't be good.

Can't I have this kind of feature and still be secure?

Edit: https://github.com/microg/android_packages_apps_GmsCore/issu... is a slightly better solution - I wonder why it hasn't been implemented.


From your linked thread:

> Restrict the permission to apps in /system/priv-app. This requires to ship microG or two placeholder apps with the ROM (or to allow modification of /system, which is a far worse option). Modifying the permission to be for system apps only is changing one word in the patch (from "dangerous" to "system"), creating a placeholder apps is about writing ~10 lines of XML code and thus could be done in a few minutes.

Lineage for MicroG already does this by default: https://github.com/lineageos4microg/docker-lineage-cicd/blob...

Restricting the permission to a platform level permission essentially means no other installed apps (after flashing) can spoof this. No toggles are necessary either. This should be a secure setup that is as good as any other ROM.

It is possible that users can flash something to /system/priv-app via an update.zip and obtain this permission. However, anything you flash like this can practically already gain root access, so this would almost be a feature if ROMs like lineage implemented this, as then microg's installation would be a small update.zip away. This is opposed to the present setup where microg has to build a completely different rom, although that is another story in itself and likely require some more complications.


I don't really understand why signature spoofing is needed at all.


The framework Google provides for apps to interact with Google Play Services checks the GmsCore's signature to validate that it's talking to only their app.


"...and Firefox on Android still isn't a great experience..."

As a daily FF on Android user, I am not sure what he is finding issues with. I wish he would elaborate so his issues can get fixed.


I have a Nexus 6 updated with the latest OS version and FF. I spend about 90% of my browsing time on HN, LinkedIn, and a couple of miscellaneous other news sites. I observe the following problems:

Loss of UI, where the only thing I see is either a white or black screen. Swiping up or down as if to scroll or refresh "peels back" some of this to reveal the web page underneath, but it doesn't become functional unless I end the app. This affects all tabs open.

Terrible latency acting on navigation, where I'll press a link which has clearly been detected (an outline appears around it) and...nothing happens for seconds. Doesn't matter if I have one tab or a dozen open.

Terrible detection of which link was pressed. Sometimes it's bad enough that a link more than halfway down the page from where I touch is activated. This doesn't happen in any other app I have, even when it's happening on FF.

Poor download times. The bar indicating progress will occasionally stop at about 80% and pause. Sometimes when it pauses it finishes after a few seconds and other times it simply freezes.


I Have the same phone but don't recognize these issues. I've seen something similar to the blank page thing but it sorts itself out without restarting the app.

I notice you specifically mention LinkedIn. I don't use that site but I did read their recent web development blog post when they admitted that they had a CSS download of 3.5MB that was causing issues for mobile users. Apparently they've fixed that now, would be interesting to see if that was a cause.


Definitely not my experience but I believe you. If FF runs so bad on some phones Mozilla has still a lot of work to do. Maybe they should start with a list of phones that are known to run FF well (eg. Sony Xperia Compact) and badly (which phone do you have?) and start digging into what's wrong with ones in the latter list.


I'm on a Note 3 (great phone, 5 years old) with a Snapdragon 800 vs your Snapdragon 805. Seems we both have 3GB RAM.

I do notice that links in FF are harder to hit accurately compared to Chromium - am guessing Chromium increases the hit area on buttons or uses some intelligence to look for the button closest to a touch... because it seems like it's just being forgiving on my sloppy touches (as opposed to FF being inaccurate). Admittedly a better UX in that respect regardless.

Otherwise I don't have any of these issues, FF is completely smooth for me. I wonder if you have some other software causing a problem, maybe FF add-ons?

(EDIT: I'm also on LineageOS 14.1 which is based on Nougat so maybe the sibling comment about Oreo is onto something)


i think this is an oreo issue if u just google "oreo lag android" many things will pop up

do this

go to developer options > opengl > OpenGL Skia

also through boot recovery delete chache my nexus 5x became much faster


Did you try using the Beta version?


That was my thought as well. I have to switch to Chrome every once in a blue moon to make things work on my Android phone, but 99% of the time, Firefox works just as well.


For example I've found the app sometimes freezes when scrolling a page. It's only temporary but it's long enough to be annoying.


I'll add my voice to mix here and agree that FF has worked well for me on Android. Between Nightly and Focus, I have yet to need a non-FF browser post adoption.


I tried this for a while and I consider the experiment failed.

No closed source means no Whatsapp, etc. Let's face reality, no-one is using XMPP ;)

In the end I started the policy "Prefer open-source software on Android", which works pretty well:

* Note taking using orgzly

* Tasks using opentasks (https://github.com/dmfs/opentasks)

* File Sync using Syncthing

* Contacts, Calendar using davdroid & nextcloud

* Firefox for browsing (this is a no-brainer)


Try Telegram instead of WhatsApp. It's a good drop-in replacement.


the trouble is to get your friends to use it. A vast portion of my daily communication runs over Whatsapp. A realistic migration would entail convincing 25+ people to switch apps.

Network effects are powerful.


I use a profile pic on WhatsApp that says "Please write me on Signal". This works very nicely in my circle, I get a lot of messages on Signal and it's getting better year after year.

I think I'll add "Telegram" to the profile pic as well.


Let them try Telegram's awesome desktop clients. It's quite a good argument for many as I hear lots of people complaining about WhatsApp's.


I've been using the Whatsapp Web version since it was released and it has worked flawlessly


Telegram Desktop works without your phone and also is a much leaner native desktop app (written in C++ with Qt).


Even better, Signal.


Buggier, less features, and even less people using it.

Also not available on F-Droid IIRC. Has this changed?


> and even less people using it.

Are you sure about this? In my circle most people seem to know/use WhatsApp and Signal.


According to https://www.androidrank.org/listcategory?category=COMMUNICAT... Telegram has ~100 million installs and Signal ~5 million.


It doesn't encrypt end-to-end by default though.


FOSS client is more important IMHO.


> I tried this for a while and I consider the experiment failed.

Me too, that's why I'll go for a two phone solution. One main driver (FOSS) and another one for the crap ;)


Also, the Brave browser is a great FOSS option. It's a chromium fork that only adds privacy/adblocking features and doesn't require google services.


Unfortunately not on F-Droid.


It is on APKMirror, a trusted (run by Android Police) mirror of the Play Store, which has been essential to ditching the latter.


Is there a decent free software Android keyboard which supports sliding? It's the last thing keeping me from going full Google and Microsoft free Android. Right now I use Swiftkey and firewall to keep it from accesing the network.


To answer my own question, I've found out that latest AOSP keyboard supports sliding.


I've been running Lineage with microG on my Nexus 5X for about 5 months and I'm pretty neutral about the experience. I do cheat a little bit though -- I install Google Maps and Gboard. The biggest annoyance was updating from Android 7 to Android 8. I had to reinstall stock Android 8 on my Nexus to get the new firmware, then install Lineage with microG version 8. Quite annoying, but I suppose it was necessary. Other than that, I quite enjoy the extended battery life that comes with the ROM, I have 87% left now, after about 12 hours of very minimal use.

I don't use my phone too much, mostly just navigation, texting, email, HN, and reddit. Though I'm considering switching back to stock for the better Google hangouts experience.


A much better rule imo, which I've had success with, is "no software from the Big Five" rather than FOSS-only. This has a bigger impact on actual privacy concerns and gives you more leeway when it comes to media apps, etc.


Sorry, which are the Big Five? Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon... Apple?


yes


> There are no FOSS clients for Plex, Netflix, Hulu, or Spotify.

Hm... there's a client that is suspiciously absent from that list...

> In other words, I couldn't listen to any of my music, unless I copied the MP3 files from my Plex server to the phone's internal storage. I couldn't stream any TV shows or movies, either.

Ok, that's just technically inaccurate. The author didn't want to use a particular open-source app (or perhaps category of apps) to stream video/audio to the Android device.

There is certainly a persuasive argument as to why one would refrain from installing such apps. But a piece about following FOSS-only dogma which omits a discussion of that app category is misleading. Especially when there are probably tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of users who currently have such a FOSS app installed on their Android devices.

Edit: typo


What client are you referring to?

I've used VLC on android to stream media from my DLNA server. Is that what you're talking about? Or is there a better solution available? (I've found VLC to be unstable in this configuration, it often crashes for reasons I haven't yet bothered to dig into.)


Maybe Kodi?


One thing I'd love to see is some Android Tablets that are ROM friendly.


Quite a few (30-40) listed here https://wiki.lineageos.org/devices/ - if it runs LineageOS it's probably going to have other ROMS available too


Android tablets are pretty much dead now, nobody ever put the necessary effort into the software experience on tablets, and the hardware has always been a bit of a let down.

New hardware releases have slowed to a trickle and what is being released isn't very compelling.


I agree with the title.




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