/e/ OS, the “open-source, pro-privacy, and completely ungoogled” fork of Android, is coming to Canada and the US. Sure, you’ve always been able to download the software in any region, but now (as first noted by It’s Foss News) the e Foundation will start selling preloaded phones in North America. Previously, /e/ only did business in Europe.
As usual, the e Foundation’s smartphone strategy is to sell refurbished Samsung devices with /e/ preloaded. There are currently only two phones in the US: the Galaxy S9 for $379.99 or a Galaxy S9+ for $429.99. North Americans still have reason to envy Europe, where you can get /e/ preloaded on a Fairphone, which is also exclusive to Europe.
These Samsung phones are used devices, but according to the site, the devices have been “checked and restored to work fully in our partner’s facilities”. The phones come with a one-year warranty and are described as “as good as new” with no surprises. A /e/ device means you get a fork of Android 10, and for ongoing support, the e Foundation says, “We’re committed to support with at least 3 years of software updates and security patches.”
/e/ OS was founded by Gaël Duval, creator of Mandrake Linux, and the project describes itself as a “non-profit project in the public interest”. /e/ is built like a Linux distribution, in the sense that it takes a curated collection of other open source projects, merges them into a single product, and does its best to fill the remaining gaps. In this case, /e/ is based on LineageOS, the open source, device-ready version of the Android community’s source code. The main contribution of /e/ is to fill in all the gaps left by the lack of Google apps, so there is a /e/ app store, a /e/ cloud storage and account system, and several Google replacement apps like a Chromium-based browser, a fork of K-9 Mail for email, contacts, search, photos, etc. The company is even trying to build a replacement for Google Assistant.
Running regular Android apps on a forked version of Android is a challenge. Google Play Services is built into many apps for things like push notifications, and chances are the functionality won’t work on /e/OS. In any case, these apps will run on /e/ OS instead of leaving directly, thanks to the inclusion of MicroG, an open source project that hijacks Google API calls.
/e/’s communication problems
This is a small digression, but I can’t find a first-party source for this news, which is just another example of how incredibly frustrating it can be trying to track or deal with /e/OS. The name “/e/OS” doesn’t really work on search engines – slashes are usually not a valid character for a query, and you keep looking for a single letter operating system, which works very poorly. You can find the official homepage of the e Foundation, but search engines quickly move on to other things that contain the letter “e”, so it’s harder than necessary to bring up news or other additional information about the operating system.
The e Foundation webpage shows no news and has no blog (there is a dead news section here), and the official /e/ Twitter never announced US sales. The “Follow Us” footer on the e Foundation page mentions a Medium blog, but the icon goes to the wrong link: this empty blog instead of this active blog, but the active /e/ blog doesn’t mention this news either.
Obviously part of what the e Foundation wants to achieve is to build a broader movement of respect for privacy and push back against companies that collect data, but step one of a movement like this has to be communication, and /e/ seems very bad at communication. How is anyone supposed to find this stuff?
Chances are you don’t need to buy a phone to use /e/OS. As with Lineage, you can install the OS for free at home if you have a compatible device. There are 138 devices officially supported by /e/OS (oddly, no up-to-date builds for Pixel phones, which are probably the most popular unlocked devices), although there are only about 60 on the latest version. There is even an “Easy Installer” for some Samsung Exynos devices.
Listing image by e Foundation