If you’re interested in using Android but don’t want all the Googly-ness of it, there are ways to go completely Google-free. With the right set of tools, you can have a truly open Android experience.
Why Would You Want to Do This?
Here’s the thing: for most people, Google is what makes Android good. Google services, Google Play, and constant sync with your Gmail account are some of the most valuable things in Android.
But a lot of people take issue with Google knowing that much about how they use their phones, so the thought of an Android device just doesn’t work for them. If you find yourself liking the idea of Android but would rather not have the Google part of things, then a Google-stripped Android phone might be a good solution for you.
Of course, this requires some tinkering. You can’t just strip Google from any existing phone. You’ll be removing the Google-fied operating system that shipped on the phone and replacing it with an alternative—and some phones are better for that than others.
What You’ll Need to Give this A Go
The first thing you’ll need is a the right Android phone. This will require wiping the phone and flashing a custom ROM, so you’ll want a phone that has good ROM support. Something with an unlocked bootloader—like anything from the Nexus line of old—or a good workaround for custom ROMs will fit the bill nicely.
RELATED: How to Install LineageOS on Android
Otherwise, you’ll need a custom ROM. We tested this using LineageOS—it has excellent device support and is frequently updated. If you’ve never used Lineage before, we have a handy guide to get you started with the installation.
The Fun Stuff: How to Use Android Without Google
For testing, we’re using Lineage OS installed on a Nexus 6. Right out of the box, the set up experience is pretty straightforward—just tap through and you’re ready to go. Since there’s no Google services on the device, there’s nothing to sign in to.
But that’s also where the first question comes into play: how do you get apps? With no Play Store, it’s an empty system with no ecosystem whatsoever. The good news is that since Android is open, there are some good (and trustworthy) appstore alternatives out there. Two in particular stand out:
- Amazon Underground: Amazon’s Android appstore has the largest app catalog outside of Google Play, allowing you to install most of your favorite apps without the need for Google.
- F-Droid: The F-Droid appstore is a lesser known alternative to Google Play, but it’s a great choice for anyone who wants only open source software. Everything in the F-Droid store is open source and free to use, making it the best choice for anyone who prefers this ecosystem.
There’s also a third option, though it’s not a true appstore: APKMirror. This is an APK (Android Package Kit) hosting website that mirrors free apps that you’d normally find in the Google Play Store. These user-uploaded APKs are manually verified and approved by the APKMirror staff, so you can trust that they’re always legit copies pulled from Google Play devices—they’re never pirated or riddled with spyware.
Regardless of which direction you go, you’ll need “Unknown Sources” enabled to even install the appstore itself, as well as any apps from within said store. If you’re not sure how to do this, we have a guide on sideloading apps.
RELATED: How to Sideload Apps on Android
You’ll simply use the phone’s browser to download the appropriate APK file—either the appstore or a standalone APK—and then install it normally.
The Things You’ll Miss without Google
Like we’ve already concluded, Google services add a lot of value to Android, and you’re obviously going to lose that by going with a Google-less Android install.
You’ll miss syncing of contacts for one, which is a pretty big deal for most people. Manually inputting all of your contacts is for the birds. You can, of course, export your contacts and back them up before you decide to ditch Google, which is a good idea anyway.
Otherwise, you’ll miss out on things like Chrome bookmark and password sync, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Pay…pretty much all Google apps. That’s one thing to keep in mind when sideloading anything (especially from APKMirror): if it requires Google Play Services, it simply won’t work on your new Google-less phone.
There Is An Alternative: MicroG
All that said, there’s an alternative to Google Play Services: a project called microG. This is designed to mimic everything Google Play Services does but it’s completely open source.
It’s comprised of five key components that are meant to replace the core tools found in Play Services. This should theoretically allow things to work that normally require Play Services—like Maps or Gmail. But here’s the thing: microG is only compatible with ROMs that support signature spoofing…and Lineage OS isn’t one of them. As a result, microG has its own Lineage fork called LineageOS for microG.
Of course, this also defeats the entire purpose of the whole “Android with Google” project—but hey, it’s still an alternative if you want to live as Google-free as possible but still rely on access to one or two specific apps.
So, is using Android without Google practical? Probably not. But if you want out of the Google ecosystem, aren’t a big fan of Apple, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty with a little ROM flashing, then it’s definitely possible. If you don’t need any Google services, it’s even better.