/e/ OS, the “open-source, pro-privacy, and fully degoogled” fork of Android, is coming to Canada and the USA. Of course, you’ve always been able to download the software in any region, but now (as first spotted by It’s Foss News) the e Foundation will start selling preloaded phones in North America. Previously, /e/ only did business in Europe.
Like normal, the e Foundation’s smartphone strategy is to sell refurbished Samsung devices with /e/ pre-loaded. In the US, there are only two phones right now: the Galaxy S9 for $379.99 or a Galaxy S9+ for $429.99. North Americans still have reason to be jealous of Europe, where you can get /e/ preloaded on a Fairphone, which is also Europe-exclusive.
These Samsung phones are used devices, but the site says the devices have “been checked and reconditioned to be fully working at our partner’s facilities.” The phones have a one-year warranty and are described as “Good-as-New” with “no surprises.” An /e/ device means you’ll be getting a fork of Android 10, and for ongoing support, the e Foundation says, “We aim to support with at least 3 years of software updates and security patches.”
/e/ OS was founded by Gaël Duval, the creator of Mandrake Linux, and the project describes itself as a “non-profit project in the public interest.” /e/ is built a lot like a Linux distribution, in that it takes a curated collection of other open source projects, merges them into a single product, and does its best to fill in the remaining gaps. In this case, /e/ is based on LineageOS, the Android community’s open source, device-ready version of Google’s Android source code. The primary contribution of /e/ is filling in all the gaps left by the lack of Google apps, so there’s an /e/ app store, an /e/ cloud storage and account system, and various Google-replacement apps like a Chromium-based browser, an email fork called K-9 Mail, contacts, search, photos, etc. The company is even trying to build a Google Assistant replacement.
Actually getting regular Android apps to run on a forked version of Android is a challenge. Google Play Services is built into many apps for things like push notifications, and there’s a good chance that functionality won’t work on /e/ OS. These apps will at least run on /e/ OS instead of exiting outright, thanks to the inclusion of MicroG, an open source project that hijacks Google API calls.
/e/’s communication problems
This is a slight digression, but I can’t seem to find a first-party source for this news, which is just another example of how incredibly frustrating it can be to try to follow or cover /e/ OS. The name “/e/ OS” doesn’t really work on search engines—slashes are usually not a valid character for a search, and you’re left searching for a single-letter OS, which works very poorly. You can nail the official home page of the e Foundation, but search engines quickly move on to other things that contain the letter “e,” so it’s harder than it needs to be to bring up news or other ancillary information about the OS.
The e Foundation webpage doesn’t show any news or have a 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 lists 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.
Clearly part of what the e Foundation wants to accomplish is building a wider movement of respecting privacy and pushing back against data collection companies, but step one of a movement like this needs to be communication, and /e/ seems very bad at communication. How is anyone supposed to find this stuff out?
There’s a chance you don’t have to actually buy a phone to run /e/ OS. Just like with Lineage, you can install the OS at home, for free, if you have a compatible device. There are 138 devices officially supported by /e/ OS (oddly no Pixel phones, which are probably the most popular unlocked devices), although only about 60 are on the latest version. There is even an “Easy Installer” for some Samsung Exynos devices.
Listing image by e Foundation