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Kicking Google out of my life, Part 3: A surprise Android replacement emerges

My quest to remove Google from my digital life leads me to a tablet replacement for Android that I had completely forgotten about.

android security danger
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I have 25 days left in my 30-day quest to remove my dependency on Google services (read part 1 for the full details on why I'm doing this and how I'm approaching my, perhaps foolhardy, endeavor).

The first step for me was an easy one – I simply needed to take my ChromeOS-powered laptop and install a different operating system on it. Fast and easy. Took me roughly an hour to complete that goal.

With ChromeOS removed from my daily life, my attentions turned to Android. Which, for me, became a far more challenging task. To be fair, I am the one that is making this so damned challenging. I'm a Linux and Open Source guy, through and through. That makes options like Windows-powered tablets or iPads (which would, from a functional perspective, meet my needs) simply unavailable.

If I proclaimed that I was using Windows or iOS for my primary mobile devices… the Internet would never let me hear the end of it.

Read Part 4: How I replaced Gmail

I am not a cellphone user (instead, I've relied on VoIP services like Google Voice for all of my telephony needs). If I were the type of person to keep a smartphone on me, the solution would be fairly straight-forward – buy a new smartphone powered by Sailfish, FirefoxOS, or Ubuntu Touch (or one of the other smartphone systems).

Unfortunately, as a tablet-focused guy, my options are significantly slimmer. How many tablets do you see that are not powered by software from Google, Microsoft, or Apple? The answer is… pretty much none at all.

The Jolla Tablet (powered by the Linux-based SailfishOS) looks truly excellent. But it's not shipping just yet.

Ubuntu Touch for Tablets looks astoundingly promising as well. But, again, no shipping devices.

Which means I'm left with two options:

  1. Buy an older device that shipped with a non-Google (and non-Apple/non-Microsoft) operating system.
  2. Take an existing tablet and try to get a different operating system (such as a traditional Linux distro or Ubuntu Touch) installed and functional.

Neither are completely ideal…but, since it does seem likely that both a Jolla Tablet and an Ubuntu Touch-powered tablet will become available during 2015, I'm really just looking for a stop-gap solution to tide me over until some newer hardware appears.

Over the weekend, I was at a friend's house for a barbeque. As we were chatting over my dilemma, he got a smile on his face and mentioned a device that I had completely forgotten even existed. The Sony Vaio UX Micro PC's. These were basically tiny, hand-held PC's powered by an Intel Core Solo processor and sporting a 4.5-inch touchscreen. By today's measure, these puppies are astoundingly underpowered (being released back in 2006)…but they're functional, smaller than a 7-inch tablet, and extremely well-supported by modern Linux. Webcam, Wi-Fi, touchscreen... everything works in openSUSE and Ubuntu (I tried both).

And, as luck would have it, my friend had one of these Micro PCs collecting dust in a box in his garage. It is now sitting in my messenger bag, powered by openSUSE and sporting GNOME Shell as the desktop environment. It's not going to beat any performance metrics (think of it as having roughly the speed of a Raspberry Pi) and the battery life isn't anything to write home about (getting less than 3 hours of use between charging) but it works well and allows me to run the latest and greatest Linux software on the go.

I'm also complementing this with an old Nokia N810 tablet (released back in 2007). Again, very slow by comparison with today's hardware – with battery life that I'm lucky to hit five hours of usage time with – but very functional. And it's powered by a Debian-based system, so it meets my "not Google" requirement.

Both devices are capable of making VoIP and video calls (including via Skype) and both give me excellent web browsing experiences. Which, considering their age and how cheaply you can purchase them nowadays, is pretty incredible. We're talking about hardware that's nearly a decade old here.

Are these as awesomely powerful as my Nvidia Sheild Tablet or Nexus 9? Oh heavens no. But they're just beefy enough to meet my needs until one of the newer Linux (but not Google) powered tablets hits the shelves. Or until I manage to get a non-Android system up and running on my existing tablets.

With my hardware taken care of, I have now turned my attention to removing the Google services from my life. To start, I'm replacing Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs with other solutions. And, for that, I'm trying to use OwnCloud. More details (and my results) in Part 4 of the series.

Total time invested in getting my tablet replacements up and running – roughly 7 hours. I technically didn't need to pay for any of this (I already had an N810 tablet from "back in the day") but I'm including a cost of $45 in my running time/$ cost chart below – as I've seen the N810 (and similar devices) run for around that price point from a few different sites. If I end up picking up a Jolla Tablet, before my "No Google Challenge" is through, I'll add the price of that tablet to the chart as well.

062915 google chart Bryan Lunduke
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