- This piece was written over a year ago. It may no longer accurately reflect my views now, or may be factually outdated.
I’ve had a handful of mobile phones in my time: a simple Nokia when I started secondary school; a BlackBerry Curve 8520 during Sixth Form; and a BlackBerry Classic since the Curve drowned in my first year at university. Technically I am now on my second Classic, after a brief wobbly a couple years ago where I tried moving on to a BlackBerry KeyONE and promptly smashed it, but it has remained by far my favourite device.
However, all good things must come to an end. BB10, the OS the Classic runs, was due to end support at the end of this year. Luckily, this execution has since been stayed indefinitely, but I don’t expect this to last forever. In preparation for when I eventually have to move on to a new phone, I wanted to jot down some notes about various options. Unfortunately, there is not currently a good option available, and so I will likely have to settle on the least bad.
I am not much of a phone power user; I barely use any apps. I use my phone for the following tasks (in roughly descending order of importance):
- messaging people through WhatsApp;
- sending and receiving emails;
- multi-factor authentication;
- managing my calendars;
- checking my RSS reader (Feedly);
- making calls;
- managing contacts;
- listening to and scrobbling music;
- viewing content on the Web;
- learning languages with Duolingo;
- GPS-tracking physical activity (e.g., runs, cycles, etc.); and
- taking photographs.
In addition, there are a couple things I would like to do but can’t on my Classic:
- message people through Signal; and
- use PGP with email accounts.
So these are my functional requirements. I also have a few non-functional requirements:
- the phone should run on free software;
- the phone should be repairable;
- the phone should respect my privacy;
- the phone should be ethically produced; and
- the phone should have a physical keyboard.
It’s here where the lack of a satisfactory option becomes clear—there is no phone currently available that runs on free software, and very few that are ethically produced or repairable.
This would have been great, but the project has been dead since May 2019.
Technoethical offer three devices running the free Replicant OS: the S2, S3 and N2. All three lack video recording and playback, Bluetooth connectivity, GPS and 3D graphics. All three require a separate Wi-Fi dongle to connect over Wi-Fi, and only the S2 has a working front camera. The S3 appears to be the slowest, least stable option.
- Technoethical S2
- €358 (~£305) + €38 (~£32) Wi-Fi dongle;
- Dual-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A9
- Technoethical S3
- €448 (~£382) + €38 (~£32) Wi-Fi dongle;
- Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9;
- 4.8 inch screen, 720×1280;
- 1 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 64 GB; and
- 8 MP rear camera, 1.9 MP front camera.
- Technoethical N2
- €498 (~£425) + €38 (~£32) Wi-Fi dongle;
- Quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A9;
- 5.5 inch screen, 720×1280;
- 2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 64 GB; and
- 8 MP rear camera, 1.9 MP front camera.
PINE64 offer the GNU/Linux-based PinePhone, which is still in early adopter stage. Purism are coming out with the Librem 5 soon (unless the whole thing ends up being a scam).
- $149.99 (~£116);
- Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex A-53;
- 5.95 inch screen, 720×1440;
- 2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 2 TB; and
- 5 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera.
- Purism Librem 5
- €699 (~£544);
- Quad core 1.5 GHz Cortex A-53;
- 5.7 inch screen, 720×1440;
- 3 GB RAM, 32 GB internal storage, microSD up to 2 TB; and
- 13 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera.
The only other option is the Fairphone 3, which runs on standard Android but which is made ethically and with an eye to repairability:
- Fairphone 3
- €450 (~£384);
- Octa-Core 1.8GHz Snapdragon 632;
- 5.65 inch screen, 1080×2160;
- 4 GB RAM, 64 GB internal storage, microSD up to 400 GB; and
- 12 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera.
|Device||Price||OS||CPU||Screen||Storage||Cameras||Free software?||Ethically-produced?||Repairable?||Physical keyboard?|
|BlackBerry Classic||£199.99||BB10||Dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait||3.5 inch screen, 720×720||2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 256 GB||8 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera||No||No||No||Yes|
|Technoethical S2||€358 (~£305) + €38 (~£32) Wi-Fi dongle||Replicant||Dual-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A9||4.3 inch screen, 480×800||1 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 32 GB||8 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera||Mostly||Refurbished||?||No|
|Technoethical S3||€448 (~£382) + €38 (~£32) Wi-Fi dongle||Replicant||Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9||4.8 inch screen, 720×1280||1 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 64 GB||8 MP rear camera, 1.9 MP front camera (non-functional)||Mostly||Refurbished||?||No|
|Technoethical N2||€498 (~£425) + €38 (~£32) Wi-Fi dongle||Replicant||Quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A9||5.5 inch screen, 720×1280||2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 64 GB||8 MP rear camera, 1.9 MP front camera (non-functional)||Mostly||Refurbished||?||No|
|PINEPHONE||$149.99 (~£116)||Various GNU/Linux distros||Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex A-53||5.95 inch screen, 720×1440||2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, microSD up to 2 TB||5 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera||Kind of||No||Yes||No|
|Purism Librem 5||€699 (~£544)||PureOS||Quad core 1.5 GHz Cortex A-53||5.7 inch screen, 720×1440||3 GB RAM, 32 GB internal storage, microSD up to 2 TB||13 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera||Maybe||No||?||No|
|Fairphone 3||€450 (~£384)||Android||Octa-Core 1.8GHz Snapdragon 632||5.65 inch screen, 1080×2160||4 GB RAM, 64 GB internal storage, microSD up to 400 GB||12 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera||No||Yes||Yes||No|