I’m pleased to report that in our experience, CalyxOS works very well as a long-term “daily driver”, providing an excellent balance of privacy and functionality. It is suitable and beneficial for every-day typical citizens like myself — you don’t have to be a journalist, dissident, or activist to deserve or benefit from this kind of privacy.
Last September (9 months ago now) I purchased a Google Pixel 5a 5G and installed CalyxOS the first day. The installation process was easier than installing custom Android ROMs had been on my earlier phones, but there was one detail where the official documentation at the time didn’t work right for me. The device-flasher app version 1.0.3 wasn’t working, I had to use version 2.0.0 for success. Though I was able to quickly sort that out, it is the sort of thing that scares off people who aren’t technically inclined. A friend could help you out, or you could support the Calyx Institute by buying a phone already installed. A few months later, we bought a second Pixel 5a for my wife and I installed CalyxOS on it also. She’s less technical and less of a privacy advocate, so that has been another experiment for us, to see how much technical assistance she needs beyond what a stock Android would have required.
Installing CalyxOS is definitely worth the bit of effort at the start to gain all this privacy on a modern Android phone.
By contrast, many privacy-oriented phone OSes and mods cause users to suffer with problems that are significantly worse than the stock (non-private) OS they replace. Some are so unreliable, slow, incompatible, or just require so much technical skill to operate that a lot of people either give up and revert to stock manufacturer Android or else they compromise by being stuck with two phones, one privacy-oriented and the other full-functioning but leaking their life’s data. As an example, GrapheneOS is regarded as extremely private, but many report it being terribly slow and it has a lot of usability constraints. I’m simply asserting that we find CalyxOS an excellent balance of usability and privacy vastly greater than most people have.
Whatever level of de-Googlization you want to achieve is easily configurable along a wide continuum. I suspect many CalyxOS users want to be completely disconnected from the tentacles of Google’s surveillance engines. But if there are one or two Google services you still want to use, it’s possible to use those selectively and keep the rest of your phone off-limits to them. Even with CalyxOS I still strongly recommend NextDNS.io for another layer of privacy protection.
The Irony of De-Googling Google-brand Phones
Yes, it is ironic that CalyxOS is primarily supported on Google Pixel phones (and just a few others). GrapheneOS is the same way for similar reasons. This is because CalyxOS is based on the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) code, which is a Google-led collaboration. The Pixel hardware is always the leading edge and most-compatible with AOSP, so this limitation is very efficient for CalyxOS developers to maintain. There are huge technical differences, however, between a “stock” Android installation that comes in off-the-shelf phones by Samsung, Google, Motorola, vs CalyxOS. Generally speaking, the AOSP is not the parts of Android that constantly spy on users. That is entangled in “Google Play Services” and various other apps. There are no closed-source components here, and system components and apps like microG, F-Droid, and Aurora Store make it easy to circumvent Google’s knowledge of your phone’s data activities.
Updates to CalyxOS
Calyx releases monthly OTA (over-the-air) automatic OS updates. Considering that I bought a Pixel 5a almost as soon as available, it was a pleasant surprise that Calyx was updated to Android 12 by January ’22. We’ve had no difficulties with the OTA deliveries and the one time a bug came through that we noticed, Calyx delivered an OTA fix only 3 days later. That is outstanding. Our previous devices from LG, Samsung, and Motorola (which spied on us) never had this good of update support! Calyx has even historically supported security updates to Google Pixels even after Google had abandoned them.
The Datura Firewall security/privacy app comes with CalyxOS. It could benefit from some improvements to the UI and perhaps even more granular controls, but still this is a great and complementary addition to the protections we have with Android permissions control plus blocking privacy through NextDNS.io.
In another article, I will detail a specific use case in another article that illustrates the power of Datura Firewall for privacy and how it helped me discover a gigantic privacy leak.