I’ve used an iPhone since the 4S, and have had almost every iteration of it until the 7. I kept my 7 while the 8, and the X, and the 11, and all the inbetween models came out. The 7 always did (and quickly) everything I wanted it to.

When I switched over to Android, I was initially overwhelmed by all of the options. iOS is definitely a little more intuitive, but with a few tweaks, you can make the experience much simpler. Let’s get to it.

First things first, apps

I recommend these:

App Store: F-Droid is a private version of the Play Store. Google doesn’t care about user privacy, so this is perhaps one of the best ways to push back. You probably won’t find all of your apps here, but you should definitely be able to find some.

Messaging, Phone Calls: Signal is a private messaging app granting you the genie magic of encrypted messages and phone calls. I route my phone calls through Signal and I have the app delete anything from 50 messages ago for more privacy. It’s endorsed by Edward Snowden and it’s basically a must-have.

Email: If you’re going to use email on your smartphone, and I might advise against it for your mental health, use ProtonMail (download the apk and install) or Tutanota (on F-Droid!). Both are end-to-end encrypted and have you covered for email privacy.

Music: Simple mp3’s (or FLAC if you’re savvy) will do the job, though it’s a little less convenient than a streaming app. Otherwise, Bandcamp is the way to go, because fuck Spotify.

Notes: Standard Notes is a fantastic notetaking app that combines privacy and convenience, and I think everyone should support the people behind this project.

Browser: Firefox Klar is an F-Droid version of Firefox Focus. Focus is a private browser like Firefox but with an additional feature: you can tap a button and wipe your pages and data. You shouldn’t be on your browser very much anyway.

Password Manager: Do not let Google or Samsung store your account logins. Rather, get Bitwarden. Download the apk and install, rather than using the Play Store.

Reminders: Pick your weapon of choice on F-Droid. I like Habits because of its habit-building feature.

Home screen: Slim Launcher. Don’t set this as your default yet. More on that later.

Unfortunately, I use Uber and Transit because it’s 85% of the reason for me having a smartphone, and these are only available, as far as I know, on the Play Store.

You can change defaults

One of the initial pleasant surprises when I started using Android was that you can change default apps. That may not seem like a big deal, until you realize you can change the messaging app so that SMS goes to your chosen app instead. You can even change the default home screen! These are my defaults…

  • Browser: Firefox Klar
  • Calling: Phone (routed through Signal)
  • Messaging: Signal
  • Home screen: Slim Launcher
  • Device assistance app: Firefox Klar

You’ll want to change your default home screen after you’ve done all the other stuff. Slim Launcher is designed around minimalism, so it’s harder to get at some things.

Slim Launcher

Yes, it deserves its own section.

Slim Launcher is a minimal home screen dream. It lets you place up to eight apps on your home screen, but rather than showing candy-like icons, apps are represented by simple text. You can even rename them. My renames are meant for simplicity:

  • Waking Up –> Meditation
  • Headspace –> Meditation 2
  • Uber –> Taxi
  • Transit –> Bus
  • Bandcamp –> Music
  • Habits Loop Tracker –> Reminders
  • S. Notes –> Notes

Apps

Folders and Organization

Swipe up or down on the home screen.

Now that you’ve got the good stuff, let’s organize it all. If you plan on using Slim Launcher, you don’t really need to organize your apps on the other home screen, but I did it anyway. I organized by apps I use most, sometimes, baked-in and junk. The Baked-In folder is for apps that run in the background, or that are baked into the UI like a password manager or the Phone app. Behold:

Main

  • Waking Up
  • Headspace
  • Uber
  • Transit
  • Bandcamp
  • Standard Notes

Sometimes

  • F-Droid
  • ProtonMail
  • Cash App
  • OpenStreetMaps (Maps on F-Droid)

Baked-In

  • NetGuard: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • Orbot: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • Blokada: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • NordVPN: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • Slim Launcher: Set to default and that’s it.

Other/Stock/Junk: – Gallery: I don’t really bother with photos on my phone but if I screenshot something or do happen to take a photo I want access to it. I could hide this app and call it from the Finder, but eh. I think I might forget about it that way? – Settings

Hide Apps

Settings –> Display –> Home screen –> Hide apps

Now you can hide a bunch of apps, further cleaning up the interface. I swept these under the rug:

  • Calendar: Slim Launcher? On the home screen, tap on the date.
  • Camera: Slim Launcher? On the home or lock screen, look at the bottom right.
  • Clock: Slim Launcher? On the home screen, tap on the time.
  • Contacts: Baked into the Phone app.
  • Email: Junk. Use ProtonMail or Tutanota.
  • Galaxy Store: Junk. Because junk.
  • Internet: Junk. Use Firefox Klar.
  • Messages: Junk. Use Signal.
  • My Files: I don’t really care about files on my phone. If I did, I’d use pCloud.
  • Phone: Slim Launcher? On the home or lock screen, look at the bottom left.
  • Play Store: Junk. You can still find this in the Finder.

Permissions

Settings –> Apps –> App permissions or Settings –> Apps –> Look at each app and choose permissions

This might be time consuming. You’re going to want to look at your apps and choose which permissions you want them to have. My humble opinion, you ask? Take as many permissions away as you can without making your phone unusable.

Most apps probably don’t need your location, or access to your contacts, or call logs, or SMS. If it’s a private messaging app like Signal, it’s going to need access to SMS. If it’s Google Chrome, it doesn’t need access to your SMS. Some other Google app? It probably shouldn’t have access to your microphone. There are probably detailed guides on the web for what permissions should be on or off.

Also important: most apps should not be allowed to change system settings. You can typically find that at the bottom of the individual app screen.

Advanced

If you don’t want to bother with debugging tools and developer mode and making edits in the terminal, feel free to skip this. If you tread into this water though, you can drink from the deep refreshing well of serious privacy. :p

Plug your phone into your computer via USB cable.

Go into Settings –> About phone –> Software information –> tap “Build number” until you unlock developer mode.

Go into Settings –> Developer options (below About phone) –> turn on USB debugging

On your computer, open up the terminal.

Type in $ adb shell

Whenever the terminal asks, say Y (yes)

Put in $ pm list packages

You need these package names to remove apps without rooting the phone.

Put in $ pm uninstall -k —user 0

For , you’ll put a package name in.

Example: $ pm uninstall -k —user 0 com.facebook.services

Repeat :]

Here are some packages you’ll probably want to get rid of: – com.facebook.services – com.facebook.system – com.facebook.appmanager – com.facebook.katana – com.netflix.mediaclient – com.android.chrome

What else?

I recommend to anyone who spends more than an hour a day on their smartphone to read this piece by Tristan Harris. His tips have helped me significantly reduce my screen time and find some peace.

Did I miss anything? Let me know.


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