Hello everyone. It’s been a while since the last blog post.
As you may know, I am fascinated by firmware modifications. Mainly in consoles, but also other devices, like smartphones and whatnot. On a whim, I decided to buy a used phone in order to try out LineageOS, an Android distro, using the supported devices list to decide on one, of course.
Let’s introduce this guy. It’s a Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017 version).
On its stock firmware the latest Android it can run is 8.0. It’s got an iphone-ish, sleek, slippery design, though it’s not yet of the era where every phone is just a glass slab, not every part of its front is dedicated to screen estate, which is a plus in my opinion. It feels very nice to hold, the materials used feel very pleasant to the touch. I enjoy the fact the edges are not very rounded. It has a fingerprint scanner, which is nice, I suppose. I wish it had a little touch sensor or something, so it could support gestures like swiping up or down, I remember some phones having that. Oh well, I’m happy enough having a physical button I can click!
It is a shame you can’t open it up by hand to swap batteries or something. Though I have to say this is the only device I’ve held that is comfortable because it is thin. It’s incredibly lightweight. I definitely want to preserve the fantastic condition it’s in, so I’ll probably get a screen protector for it.
Was a bit disappointed by the size, I expected something smaller, like the Samsung Galaxy Young I bought a couple months ago. (and haven’t since touched… I’m sorry little buddy)
But! This phone was an incredible steal! It’s in fantastic condition, no scratches or anything. Only downside is that the screen sometimes doesn’t pick up on input in some places sometimes (which the guy selling it warned me about, but honestly it’s not as bad as he told me, which I’m incredibly happy about). The price more than makes up for it, I paid around ~$12 for it, in US currency. I thought I’d be dealing with something that could be only used with a connected mouse/keyboard - but no, it is very much usable. After using it a little, I am seriously considering making this my day-to-day phone.
Hmm… I’ll have to run it down that list of requirements I made for that little smartphone I talked about in my very first blog post.
Let’s move on to Lineage OS. First…
Installation wasn’t complicated, but it very easily could be, if you’re not used to using a command terminal or if you’re lucky/unlucky and your device does support the OS, but has a complicated installation process (it’s different for every device). In my case all I needed was a laptop and a data transfer cable.
I just followed along with the instructions for my model, and most of the installation was just writing what I was told to into my computer’s terminal.
There was one tricky part though, after you install the custom recovery mode you have to turn the phone off and IMMEDIATELY boot into recovery, otherwise it’ll go back into the stock OS, and you’ll have to install the custom recovery again. I got it right on my second attempt, though.
So yeah, this wasn’t too scary. Keep in mind though, it is different for each device.
Oh, before I start talking about the OS itself, I have a disclaimer - I am not looking at the newest version. The newest version is 20, and the latest the Galaxy A5 supports is 18.
Look & Feel
I love me some theming options on my device, the more I can change, the better. (As long as the options don’t have a complicated interface.)
That being said, I am… disappointed. The Lineage OS website homepage makes it seem as if there is a lot of options for customization… There aren’t. Only a couple of preset accent colors, fonts and icons (maybe there are ways to add more, but I haven’t found them). I suppose on Android there are apps specifically for that, but ehhh… I’d rather have that customization right in my Settings.
It’s not a huge bummer, though. I must admit I’ve been spoiled by KDE Plasma, which is now my main desktop environment on my laptop and which I love with my whole heart.
The UX is nice enough. I enjoy it more than the stock OS on my main Samsung phone. I like the system sounds enough not to turn them off right away, which I usually do on a new phone. While there’s not much customisation in terms of visuals, there is plenty of tweaking you can do in terms of shortcuts and gestures and whatnot. You can set the physical/virtual buttons to have secondary functions like turning off the screen after being held down. Very handy!
Well, since Lineage is basically Android, it supports everything your stock OS would. If you want to, you can even install add-ons such as Google apps and services (though… being free from those is like, one of the main advantages of installing a custom OS on your phone).
There is no app store or anything by default. If you want something like that, you need to grab it yourself. I personally use F-Droid.
There’s a whole lot of awesome open source Android apps out there. I already use a lot of them on my main phone, and this little experiment allowed me to discover even more.
As for the default preinstalled applications… Ehh, they’re okay enough. They do their job, but it’s likely you’re going to go and look for alternatives, depending on your needs. Not necessarily a bad thing, as everyone has different expectations and for some the default apps will be more than enough.
I suppose I should mention in this section - Lineage OS allows your device to use a newer version of Android than it normally would be able to (mostly true for older devices, like this 2017 A5). It’s quite cool. The phone I’m testing Lineage on is on Android 11 right now and the last officially supported version is 8.
I didn’t do any comparison tests or anything, but well, everything works nice and fast. Battery consumption is very low. No complaints!
Having tried it, I am now a huge fan of Lineage OS! While my theming expectations weren’t quite met, it fixes a lot of the gripes I have with using an Android device. Would I install it on my main phone? Well, 1) My main phone isn’t supported (yet? 🥺), 2) I don’t trust myself not to potentially mess something up and brick it (this one’s a bit of a paranoia). Plus, I am satisfied enough with this Galaxy A5 to consider switching to it. Plus plus it’s smaller and I prefer smaller.
If you have an old phone laying around, not being of much use to you, I do recommend checking if it’s on the Lineage OS supported devices list, and if it’s on there maybe trying it out. It’s a great feeling to breathe life back into something “obsolete”, especially if it yields you something much more pleasant to use than anything in the homogenous modern smartphone market.
And with that… I’ll hopefully keep you updated on my toying around with used smartphones. Whether you like it or not! >:D
If you’d like to yell at me about any technical inaccuracies or just chat about FOSS and/or smartphones, I invite you to shoot me an email or message me via matrix. :)
Until next time!