Thursday, 28 April 2016

A Secure, Low-Cost, Android Smartphone?

I’m looking for a new Android smartphone and don’t want to spend a fortune on it. I do want it to be secure and to remain that way for more than six months. Suggestions would be welcome!

I hear you. The big brands (and probably many not-quite-so-big ones as well) release new models every six months or so and not too long after that, your ‘old’ (six months old, that is) phone will no longer receive updates. Want updates? Buy a new model. That’s more interesting for the manufacturers than maintaining several Android versions and sending updates into the world. Double whammy: more revenues from product sales, and less costs from maintenance. Of course, the consumer is screwed.

Now one might say ‘I don’t care about a new Android version, I’m happy with the one I have’, not realising that frequently new bugs are discovered in (and fixed for) existing Android versions (just like in any other operating system or other software), some of which are security-related, so it’s not just about the latest and greatest Android version. And one should care about that - unless one doesn’t mind getting hacked, with all the possible consequences that might entail.

One option is: buy a phone from Google. Google owns Android and releases fixes and updates for a longer time than the big phone brands.

Alternatively, you might check if CyanogenMod have an official Android version for your phone (or for a phone that you fancy). ‘Official’ may be important, because it means they will support that Android version and provide updates for it for many moons more than a manufacturer, and it will support all the hardware on your phone by having the correct drivers on board. (Drivers are programmes that ‘talk’ to the actual hardware, e.g. to the camera. Without them, the hardware cannot be used. With the incorrect ones, the hardware’s operation will be flaky at best.) Unofficial versions exist for certain phone models, but these won’t be as reliable as the official ones; use at your own risk. Another CyanogenMod advantage is that it doesn’t contain so-called ‘bloatware’, that is, apps that have been installed by the phone’s manufacturer and can’t be uninstalled ‘just like that’ (for the sake of completeness: for many of those there are workarounds). Such bloatware just wastes space and slows your phone down. Of course, CyanogenMod also exists for tablets.

Last but not least you could have a look at the Wileyfox Swift which sells for 129 GBP in the UK and for similar prices in other countries, and about which I found out from an article on the excellent The Register. The Swift (like its sibling, the Storm - but the Storm is significantly more expensive at 199 GBP and has a battery that can’t be replaced, and its reviews aren’t that stellar) comes with an official CyanogenMod Android. Searching the web for reviews will tell you more about it and about its specs.

I’ve recommended the Wileyfox Swift to a friend, who bought one, and almost instantaneously got quite lyrical about that new toy and is spreading the gospel. No, I’m not getting any kickbacks from Wileyfox or any other company, just in case you were wondering :)

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