Upcycling Android: Initiative for switching to free smartphone software

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Everything always revolves around shopping – be it for Black Friday, Christmas or Easter. But why not just repair and reuse instead of always buying something new? This is what our series of articles “Repairing and Upcycling” is all about.

With the “Upcycling Android” initiative, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) wants to encourage Android smartphone users to disconnect from the Google system and switch to free software. On the occasion of the current “European Waste Prevention Week”, the FSFE wants to help avoid electronic waste, save resources and enable cell phones to have a longer life. The Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency support the upcycling project financially.

“Every year manufacturers worldwide produce 1.5 billion cell phones,” said the FSFE on Thursday. Unfortunately, almost as many would probably be “thrown away” after an often short period of use. This is more and more due to planned “software obsolescence”. Consumers are therefore faced with the dilemma of either buying new hardware or living with outdated programs. The environmental impact of this short hardware life could be devastating.

With Upcycling Android the FSFE wants to show how Android phones can be used with free operating systems. She cites different custom ROMs as examples: CalyxOS, which focuses on security and comes with a verified boot system. LineageOS focuses on being able to run on as many devices as possible. Replicant, on the other hand, places the emphasis on openness and completely dispenses with proprietary software. There are also other open offers such as F-Droid and MicroG, which make it easier to say goodbye to the Play Store and other Google services.

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If a smartphone no longer receives software updates from the manufacturer, it is easier to keep it up to date, the activists emphasize. If the devices were to continue to be used, it would protect the environment and would have “many other advantages”. With free software, consumers also have “full control” of their cell phones and enjoy enhanced data protection. But it’s not that simple.

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The FSFE explains upcycling

(Quelle: Free Software Foundation Europe)

“Some phones are easier to upcycle than others,” admits the FSFE – some not at all. This is due to the fact that the manufacturers make it difficult for users to install other operating systems. In order to be able to install a custom ROM, smartphones usually no longer have to be “rooted”, but at least the bootloader has to be unlocked. If the device is manipulated in this way, the guarantee of most manufacturers will be void.

“Please note: Be careful if you are new to the field and install a new operating system on your device for the first time. Do not rush into anything. Some steps could be complicated. Take your time,” warns the FSFE, stressing that it “Can not offer online or remote help”. Interested parties are invited to participate in one Workshop to participate.

An overview of the available Android alternatives and the fiddling that may be required for uploading can be found at “tips + tricks”.


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