Last updated: 2016-01-29
After explaining the difference between Android (AOSP) and Google Android and why you should care, this article gives technical details for how to liberate your Android device from Google. It goes hand in hand with the 'Live without Google' article which guides you through eliminating Google services from your PC or Mac workstation.
The mobile operating system "Android" is wide-spread in the mobile device market today. When people hear "Android" they often automatically think that Android (and everything that comes with it) is Open-Source software and that it can be trusted. The fact, however, is that almost all Android smartphones you can buy should be referred to as Google smartphones. They come not only with Android's Open-Source operating system (also referred to as Android Open-Source Project, AOSP), but Google has pre-installed their "Play services" on them. Play services is an invisible service which is deeply integrated in the system, such that you cannot remove it. It constantly maintains a connection to Google's servers, doing various synchronization and data transfer tasks. All Google apps, such as Maps, Drive, Play Store, etc. are based on that service, and also many 3rd party apps depend on it.
The trust in Android for its security and openness is unjustified. While AOSP Android is truly open source, the Google apps (and especially, Play services) are not. Thus it's impossible to determine what these components exactly do and which data is transmitted to the Internet without you knowing.
With Android, Google has made one of the most clever moves in the history of making money: they have established a supposedly "free" operating system on the market which comes with a pre-installed, legitimate spyware data-collection software, disguised as “Google apps”. When a consumer unwraps their new smartphone or tablet, they are immediately encouraged to set up a (new) Google account. Google has thus managed to get additional users hooked on using their services. With Google services now being with a person (i.e., mobile) rather than just stationary (e.g. on a desktop machine) Google has now much better ways to collect information about their users, because you're using the same account on all machines or devices. And the most genius part is that no one is complaining about this data collection, because it is all disguised as “free service”, and you're not supposed to complain about something that is free, right?!?
To illustrate this with just one example: Google provides a free service called “network location” which is deeply integrated into Android, and is enabled by default. It allows you (or apps that you use) to determine the location of the mobile device without using GPS, which saves your battery and also works inside of buildings. How does it work? Your Android device continuously tells Google's servers which cell tower it is connected to, and which WiFi networks it detects. The server responds with a location estimate with city-block-level accuracy. What a great, free service, right? So what's in it for Google? Well, over time Google has built a database that contains the location of (almost) every cell tower and WiFi access point on this planet. How did they build it? With your help: whenever you had GPS enabled you were also transmitting your (precise) location, cell tower ID and visible WiFi networks to Google, allowing them to build their database. As a consequence, Google also knows the location of any Android phone user at any time. Are you still smiling now?...
With Google being tightly integrated into your life, removing it not only sounds like work: it is a lot of work. The biggest problem is the loss of comfort. You have to learn new apps, and you have to find new ways of synchronizing your data. You' ll have the problem of not having everything in one place. Then again, the reason why we get rid of Google is related to the problem: we do not actually want everything to be in one place, especially not in the hands of a corporation you have no control over.
Here I present to you an exhaustive (yet, incomplete) list of apps or services you will no longer have access to if you decide to through with this. For those items where replacements or workarounds are possible, I'll mention them:
No Google Play Store, thus you can't install apps from it anymore (there is a workaround, keep reading). This also means you no longer have access to Play Books or Play Music (no workaround!). Also, apps which use Google's “in-app purchase” system won't work anymore, or their functionality is restricted (no workaround!)
No Google Maps app or Streetview on your mobile device: this really is a problem, as there are no good free maps/navigation alternatives. Those who claim that there are, those are marketing guys or liars (just try such an app, it will be horrible, I promise; yes, this includes any open-street-map based app)
Any app that internally uses Google Maps won't work (some of them won't even allow you to install them, but for this there is a work-around, but it won't work for all apps).
“Network location” (described in “the big picture” section) will no longer be available, i.e. for localizing your device you must be outside and use GPS and wait for the GPS-fix to happen.
GCM (Google Cloud Messaging, formerly called C2DM Cloud to Device Messaging) won't work. Many 3rd party apps (i.e. apps not made by Google) use it to get notified, waking the device up from the battery-saving sleep mode when something happened on a server. With GCM gone, apps using it don't wake up anymore. E.g. a messaging app might no longer give you a notification when new messages arrive, or only after some delay.
No access to YouTube via the official YouTube app (but there are replacement apps which are even better than the original YouTube app)
Synchronization of contacts or your calendar events between your machines (there are other services achieving the same, though, see below)
No access to Gmail (but you actually don't want to use it anymore, remember? There are other alternatives that keep all your emails in sync with all devices, using the IMAP protocol)
No Google+ (dozens of better alternatives available)
No Google Search (you can use startpage.com, which is kind of a proxy-server to Google search, but won't allow Google to identify you any longer, see below)
No Google Drive (dozens of alternatives available)
No Google Hangouts (dozens of alternatives available)
No Google Device Manager used to locate, lock and remotely-wipe your device (other alternatives are available, but they work poorly due to lack of GCM)
No Google Now (such a service only works if the company behind it has all information about you. This is what you're trying to avoid, so you can't expect that there is any alternative for it)
No “swipe” gesture input for the default keyboard or speech recognition for the keyboard (alternatives are available)
Most of Google's apps will no longer work (there are a few exceptions though, e.g. Google translate does still work)
So if you're still not discouraged and have about 2 days (10 h+) of time to go through with it, continue reading! Make sure you read all relevant parts of the article before you begin. Also note that I am not liable for any damage you'll do to your data in the process: always back up your data if possible!
Making your Android “Google-free” is a complex topic, therefore I divided the topic into several sub-chapters, keep reading ;).
There are basically two methods to make your device Google-free, each with its own advantages and disadvantages:
A) Completely replace your pre-installed Android distribution (referred to as “Stock ROM”) with a 3rd party distribution, also called “custom ROM”, which does not even have the Google applications pre-installed.
B) Leave your Android installed as it is, change many privacy-related settings in the available dialogs and uninstall/disable all Google apps. Use this method if you want a quicker solution with less risk involved, but with the “this solution isn't optimal” thought in the back of your head ;).
Advantages (of A):
You can be sure that anything related to Google is completely gone on your device
Custom ROMs are usually faster than stock ROMs and come without bloat-ware, i.e. no pre-installed apps from the device manufacturer (e.g. Samsung) or your carrier (e.g. T-Mobile)
Custom ROMs have many useful additions, e.g. advanced themes, launchers, settings etc., and they are often based on Android versions much newer than what your device manufacturer will officially offer you. Exemplary, older devices which are maybe limited to Android 2.3 there might be custom ROMs that are support this device and are based on Android 4, giving you all its advantages.
Custom ROMs usually offer fine-grained permissions managers by default. With these you can control the access each installed app has, e.g. revoke the rights to read contacts or SMS from your music player app, since it has no business of knowing them. Note, however, that it is possible for some Stock ROMs to also get this feature, search the web (or the Play store) for "App opps" for further information.
Custom ROMs are often already "rooted"
Disadvantages (of A <=> Advantage for B):
You have to backup your all your apps and their data and then restore them after having the other installation
You have to spend a considerable amount of time to learn about the installation procedure for custom ROMs, and doing so also takes some time.
You void the warranty of your device by installing a modified Android distribution.
If many things go wrong, you can permanently damage your device (“brick” your device)
There is no guarantee that the 3rd party custom ROM is free of bugs or doesn't come with spyware. These ROMs are much less tested than the ones that are pre-installed on the phone. Most frequently you'll encounter driver-related problems, e.g. that the camera, WiFi, BlueTooth, or Telephony don't work properly.
Additional advantages of B:
The next 2 sections describe approaches (A) and (B), so read one of these. Then I'll discuss replacement apps which you'll dearly need.
First, I have to warn you that this article is not sufficient for you to learn how to re-install another Android custom ROM. There is a whole community dedicated to this process and there are many terms which you'll need to learn, such as “bootloader”, “root”, “CWM recovery”, “adb”, “fastboot” and so on. Use the Internet to learn more about this, yet I hope this article will give you a general overview.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the set of tools which will help you to unlock your device. Once unlocked, these tools also allow you to install (“flash”) the custom ROM, although often a necessary step is to first flash a custom mini-operating system, the "recovery system", with which the ROM is actually flashed (“ClockWorkMod recovery”, or “CWM”, is often used for that). In any case, you first need to determine which custom ROM(s) support your device before you can decide which one to install. Usually, the more widespread the device is on the market, the better (i.e. the more ROMs will support it). In the ROM community, code names are used for the devices, which often have absolutely nothing to do with what is printed on your device (for example I have a Google/Samsung Galaxy Nexus whose codename is "maguro"). These code names are used because phones/tablets often have different variants (e.g. GSM vs. CDMA version, or different improved versions of the phone over time), so the name of the device alone would not be unique enough to identify it. Since a ROM only works on a device if it comes with the necessary drivers for the different chips built into it, custom ROM makers offer the built ROMs only to a selection of devices (they can't possible support all phones in existence).
Many custom ROMs exist and I'd like to list a few important ones here: ParanoidAndroid (which actually has nothing to do with privacy-paranoia, the name is misleading), CyanogenMod (which is something entirely different to Cyanogen OS), SlimROMs, AOKP, MIUI or OmniROM. Custom ROMs are based on AOSP (see above) or on a Stock ROM. They are developed and published for free by teams of voluntary programmers. There are so many of them because each of them has a different goal. Some try to be a very slim and fast variant, while others offer many additional features. Their download is usually split into the ROM itself, and the google applications package (often just called "gapps"), which has to be “flashed” manually after flashing the ROM itself. This is done for legal reasons: Google doesn't allow custom ROM makers to distribute Google apps together with the ROM. But as nice side-effect, you can simply omit flashing the Google apps package, and we get a completely Google-free Android installation. Note: Unlike CyanogenMod, Cyanogen OS is a proprietary Android distribution based on CyanogenMod, but modified by the company. It already contains Google's Play Services, and people don't download and install it, but it comes pre-installed with some selected devices (such as the One Plus One).
Back to device code names. One easy way to find out the code name of your device and also get help regarding the set of flash-tools and how to use them, is to visit the "devices" section of the CyanogenMod wiki (even if you don't actually intend to install CyanogenMod). Select your vendor (e.g. Samsung) and find your device listed below. The code-name of the device is written right below the "normal" name. When you open the corresponding page of the device, look for a link named "How to install CyanogenMod on <device name here>". In case your device is not listed in the CyanogenMod wiki, using a web search for something like "<your device name> flash custom rom" will usually give you good results.
One thing to stress is to make backups before you flash a new ROM. This usually involves having installed a custom recovery system first to work properly. You could either do a full backup of your current ROM (includes all installed apps and their respective data) from a recovery system such as CWM (ClockwordMod) recovery. Or you could backup individual apps (including their data) using tools such as TitaniumBackup, but for that you need root access, and root access is usually gained flashing a zip archive (which is, again, done from the recovery system). Aside from backing up apps, there are also free good apps such as "Backup your mobile" which not only backup the obvious, i.e. Contacts, calendar and SMS/MMS, but also rather the small things you'd easily forget about, e.g. your user dictionary, WiFi settings, APN settings (e.g. Your Internet and MMS access points, in case you had to specify them) or browser bookmarks and history.
One word of warning: when you do a transition between completely different ROMs, you may run into trouble while restoring some apps or data. Quite a few apps require some of the Google apps as a dependency and thus trying to install them on your Google-apps-free ROM will fail. If you use TitaniumBackup, you'll notice that its restore dialog hangs indefinitely, which will make batch-restoring apps a pain in some cases. So be warned. Another issue are system apps: it's nice that backup apps like TitaniumBackup allow you to rip out system apps or their data which came preinstalled with the ROM (e.g. Some custom music player, a FM radio app, etc.) but that doesn't mean these apps will work when installed into a new ROM environment, due to potentially missing dependencies that the new ROM does not provide.
In a nutshell, I recommend the procedure:
Determine the code name for your device using CyanogenMod's wiki and learn which tools you need to unlock your device's bootloader and how to flash a custom recovery system/image.
Take a look at various custom ROMs and select one whose features you like and which supports your device (check the code name!)
Do a backup of your whole system with the recovery system, and pull the backup file from your device to your PC/Mac workstation (only then you can say it's a true backup)
Then root your current ROM, install TitaniumBackup or something similar, and with it backup all apps (including their data) that you care about, as well as other data such as SMS, user dictionary, APNs, etc. (I've already discussed contacts migration, but backing up your contacts account is still not a bad idea)
Install the new custom ROM using the recovery system, you also have to wipe data and cache
Use TitaniumBackup to restore the apps you've previously backed up (keep in mind that apps with dependencies to Google Play services, such as Maps, might no longer be installable, i.e. the restore dialog of TitaniumBackup might hang indefinitely)
Test your custom ROM for a few days. If you encounter severe problems, you can try other ROMs, or revert back to your Stock ROM using the recovery system
For the more curious: most usually, apps which won't install anymore are those that require Google Maps internally. There are two types of Google Maps dependencies, called “Maps API v1” and “Maps API v2”. The V2-API is part of Play Services. Apps using that will still install, but they will crash or ask you to install Play services when you open them. However, apps with dependencies on the Maps V1-API won't install, because it is a separate, stand-alone dependency, linked against at compile-time. However, there is the NOGAPPS project which has a flashable zip that provides a maps (v1) API, allowing you to install apps like Öffi or DB Navigator. It replaces the Google maps view with an Open-Streetmap-View. Note that NOGAPPS also has a replacement for the “network location” feature. Unfortunately, there is no replacement for Play store. There are some attempts like the “Blank store” (see NOGAPPS project) or “Phonesky” which is part of the micro-google project, but they are not operational and it doesn't look like they will work anytime soon.
The next step is to head over to the app replacements section.
Here the idea is to simply change privacy-related settings and to uninstall or disable apps you don't want anymore (including all Google apps). Let's begin with the privacy settings:
Open the app Google settings: disable everything that “stinks”, in terms of privacy, such as Location access or automatic backups
In the main settings dialog, open the settings of your Google account, also disable anything privacy-related
Under Settings → Location access, disable “WiFi & mobile network location” (on Android v4.4 the names and layout of this dialog changed, you have to set the location access to "device only")
Under Settings → “Backup & reset”, disable all backup settings (don't click on Factory data reset)
Disable or uninstall all Google-related apps: open the apps manager in the settings menu, switch to the “all” tab and uninstall (or disable) all apps from Google. If problems occur, you can always scroll all the way to the bottom and re-enable the apps again. Finally, also delete your Google account.
Note: some apps cannot be deactivated. For deactivating them you'd need to root your phone. Also, Google Play services cannot (and should not) be deactivated if you plan to keep using the Play store app.
Regarding the Play Store: in the app replacements section I'll suggest a work-around that will allow you to still install apps from the store on another device (e.g. emulator), transferring them to your device and installing them there in semi-automatic way. If you happen to dislike that solution, i.e. if you insist on keeping the Play Store operational, you can! It's a good idea to reset your history with Google and to create a new fake Google account on your phone: if you have already disabled the "Google play services" item in the apps manager, reenable it, otherwise just clear its cache. Do the same with "Google play store". Now add a new Google account with fake data. Make sure that synchronization options are disabled and that all other Google apps (like Drive, Mail, Maps) are deactivated. This way you can use the Play store.
Note 1: Paid apps that you paid with your previous (real) Google account are still installed and usable, but they are no longer linked in the Play Store, and thus, automatic updates are no longer provided. In general, any installed app will no longer be linked in the Store with your new account, i.e. you won't see it in "My apps". However, if you search for the app using the Store's search function and you find the (free) app and click on "Update", it will be linked again.
Note 2: Since you won't want to provide your new fake account with credit card information, in some countries you can alternatively buy Google Play gift cards in supermarkets or at gas stations and buy apps this way, too.
Before replacing apps you have to have a good way to get apps in the first place. So far you probably used Google's Play Store, but now you don't have access to it anymore. There are other commercial app stores for Android, such as the one by Amazon or Yandex, and also app stores for open source software, such as F-Droid. F-Droid is good in its own right, since they have apps which you won't find in Google's or anyone else's store, given that their developers want their app to be part of a free ecosystem (which includes distribution). On the commercial side of app-stores, the alternatives (Amazon & others) are so incomplete that you really cannot consider them to be a viable alternative. Therefore, I suggest two methods that allow you to get apps from the Play store, without using the Play store on your own device.
From now on, whenever you feel the need to update your existing apps or install new ones, launch the Play Store on your Google-device, have it update all apps (and install new apps if you like), start TitaniumBackup and use it's batch-job “Backup new user apps & newer versions” to back them up, have the backed-up files synchronize to your real device. On the real device, start TitaniumBackup and use its “Restore newer versions of user apps” to restore/overwrite the apps. In this step, it's important that you select “App only” so that your internal data of your apps (e.g. your log-in credentials of your Facebook Messenger) aren't lost.
I'll now provide some quite important details for each step.
Step 1: Get a Google-device
The device should be similar in form factor and Android version, because in some cases the developer of an app will restrict their app on Google's Play Store, for good reasons. The developer might also provide different versions for different device types or Android versions. Exemplary, some apps only make sense on smartphones with small screens or only on devices with SIM cards. If you e.g. used a tablet device, downloaded a tablet-only app from the store and then tried installed it on your real device (a smartphone) following all the steps above, you might not be able to install it or the app might behave unexpectedly. For further information feel free to visit the Google Play distribution website and read the device filtering and multiple APK support sections.
An actual device is to be preferred over using a virtual, emulated device. This is due to the "ARM vs x86 issue". To understand this, you need to know that many apps consist of “Java” code and native code, i.e., code that is compiled to a format that can only be read/executed by the processor family (either ARM or x86) for which it was compiled. When you download apps with native code from the Play Store on a x86 VM like Genymotion, this will often mean that the downloaded app-APK contains only the x86 native code. When you try to install this APK on your real device (which most likely runs on ARM, not x86), the app will install, but on launch it will immediately crash and be unusable. You can inspect whether you have this problem for a particular app by looking at its APK file with a ZIP program: if the “lib” directory contains only an “x86” directory, you're screwed. You can try to get an APK that contains ARM libraries by other means, though, e.g. by using evozi. Or you get a real device.
If you still want to use a virtual device, there are various options. One of them is to use the normal Android Emulator provided by the Android SDK Manager, but it is really slow. There is an Intel Atom x86 based system image that even comes with Google APIs starting for Android 4.4.2 and you can speed up the emulator using “HAXM” driver (see here for more information), but you'd still need a way to to permanently root the VM. There's also Bluestacks, but I disliked the fact that it installed by system services on my host machine, and it is limited to a tablet device. There are guides that describe how to install the Play Store on an emulator (e.g. here) but they are usually outdated quickly and usually the solution is not permanent, i.e. has to be repeated on each emulator start. The problem is that most enduser-friendly emulators are x86 based, which will cause the ARM vs x86 problem described above, so I wouldn't recommend using them.
Step 2: Backup apps on your (virtual) Google-device
TitaniumBackup is one of the most sophisticated backup and restore apps out there. The pro version ($6) will allow you to backup and restore even paid apps, and so far this has worked flawlessly for me. You can buy it right from the Play Store on your Google-device, or via Paypal (see here). You need to pay the license fee only once, but you can install the pro-version on both your Google-device and the real device.
After installing it and enabling it's Pro-mode, use its batch-backup functionality to back up all those user-apps that you've just downloaded. Note that TitaniumBackup by default backs up both the app and its internal data, but on restore it allows you to choose whether to restore just the app, just its data, or both (which is the default). Since you are not actually using the app on your Google-device (but only on your real device), this means that in step 4 you have to make sure to not select the default restore option (app+data) but “app only”.
Step 3: Synchronization setup
Synchronization providers are dime-a-dozen. The disadvantage of many of them, e.g. Dropbox, is that they usually transmit data to their central servers (“cloud”) over the Internet (using your Internet line whose upload capacity might be limited), followed by downloading the data from these central servers to all other devices of yours. Things have improved over the last years, with features such as “LAN sync” or “file streaming”, but I never liked the idea that files have to eventually go on the Internet even though all I want to do is to synchronize data locally between devices on my WiFi network. In this scenario I also dislike that most solutions do the synchronization silently in the background, i.e. you won't know when the synchronization has completed.
Sidenote: TitaniumBackup Pro has the feature to sync your backup-directory to a few selected providers (as of now, Dropbox, Box and Google Drive). With that feature you can in fact control the process better, and you also don't need the respective app (e.g. Dropbox client) installed for this to work. If you choose to also use any of these providers for real backups (that include your application's data), make sure to use TitaniumBackup's encryption feature to encrypt the data-part of your backups!
Personally I'm using Goodsync. You have to pay for a license per desktop installation, but additional mobile installations (such as Android) are free. The synchronization is fast, takes place only in my local WiFi, and I control the synchronization, hence I know when it is done. In the end the choice of synchronization method is up to you.
When you set up your synchronization solution, on the Google-device you should set up the “/sdcard/TitaniumBackup” directory as source/destination. But on your real device you should create a new directory, e.g. “/sdcard/TitaniumBackupFromGoogle” and let the apps be synchronized to that location, rather than the default “/sdcard/TitaniumBackup” directory. The reason is that you will sometimes want to backup your current apps including the current data from your real device. In case you want to use TitaniumBackupfor that job, configure it to use some other directory than the sync'ed directory (e.g. the default “/sdcard/TitaniumBackup”). But whenever you want to restore updated apps on your real device, re-configure TitaniumBackup to use “/sdcard/TitaniumBackupFromGoogle”. This will make sure that “real” backups are not uploaded to the cloud, and that they are not mixed with the backups made by your Google-device. This would be catastrophic, because whenever you made a backup with your Google-device, this would overwrite a backup made from your real device. The data-part of the backup from the Google-device will be empty, effectively destroying your previous, real backup.
Step 4: Restore apps on real device
After installing TitaniumBackup Pro on your rooted, real device, set it up to use the directory that you set up in step 3 (e.g. “/sdcard/TitaniumBackupFromGoogle”) and use its batch-restore “Restore missing user apps with data”. Note that clicking “RUN” next to any of these batch jobs is always safe (i.e. nothing will happen right away), because you first have to confirm which apps you want to be affected, and whether you want just the app-part (without the data-part) to be restored. Actual batch-restoring takes place only once you hit the green check-mark in the top right corner.
Apart from Play Store, the loss of Google Maps will be the hardest one in your daily Android life. Google Maps provides accurate maps with satellite imagery and precise address and POI (Point of Interest) search, including public transport information. It also comes with navigation, i.e., calculating the route from A to B and giving you turn-by-turn instructions, and all this is free. Fortunately there's currently the Nokia Here app which works without Google Play services and has decent POI and address search.
When you look at similar free apps on the Play store, you'll either find “simple” maps applications which just provide you just maps (without navigation), e.g. Mapdroyd, or you'll find full-blown navigation solutions. They come with switchable offline&online address and POI search, and of course turn-by-turn navigation. Most of them download map data to your device from OSM (Open StreetMap). While OSM-data is generally good, it unfortunately often lacks street numbers. The OSM POI (Point Of Interest) search is pretty poor too (at least at any place I've tried it, which is a practical argument against it, see for yourself on http://www.openstreetbrowser.org).
Below there is a list of free apps you can try. I tested the first 4 of these myself and they do work on a device without Play Services. Note that some others which offer in-app purchases may crash, in case your device doesn't have Google Play Store installed.
NavFree (by Navmii)
MapFactor GPS Navigator
Sygic Maps & GPS Navigation
Locus Map free
Navigate 6 (Route 66)
In the end it is up to you to research which solution works best for you. For any such app you'll find very good and very bad reviews/ratings, so you'll need to find out yourself whether an app suits you or not, because the problems reviewers describe are often specific to their device or needs, which may be completely different to yours.
Searching and watching videos on YouTube is easily possible without an Google account or Google's official YouTube app. There are several alternative players available, such as TurboTube or NewPipe which don't have any Google dependencies. Many of them used to have a superior feature set compared to the official YouTube app, such as offline playback (=caching) and the ability to play videos in the background, even when your screen is turned off. However, Google decided to force those apps to drop these features by changing their terms of service. You should still be better off using other players, as the official YouTube app keeps getting horrible reviews. Some apps exist which still do have features like background playback, like NewPipe, which don't care about Google's new policies. However, you won't find these apps on the Google app store, but on other sources such as XDA Developers forum or F-Droid.
Get an email address with a different provider and use any other Android e-mail client. There's a plethora of mail clients (some free, some not), you can check them out yourself.
I personally use GMX mail, since my private email address is also hosted there. But this app also does support other providers via POP3 and IMAP. I'm satisfied with it, given that I think it's pointless to do a lot of email writing on a smartphone with its crappy soft-keyboard.
If you were using Google Hangouts a lot, you're out of luck, because the official app won't work anymore with disabled Play services. There are unfortunately no replacement clients which would allow you to use Hangouts data services under the hood, because Google made a switch from the XMPP to a proprietary protocol over a year ago (see here).
Depending on what messaging apps your social circles uses, you can switch to something else, such as Whatsapp, Skype or Facebook Messenger.
Device management allows individuals to remotely control their device from a website. Services include: locating your device, make it play a sound, lock it, delete all data on it (wipe) and sometimes backup device data, such as call logs, contacts, SMS and more. Devices with Google Play Services have the ability to use Google's Device Manager. With that no longer being an option, there are several alternatives, such as CyanogenMod account (if you use the CyanogenMod custom ROM), AndroidLost, GtalkSMS, Lookout, or Avira. For me, CyanogenMod account never worked (the phone would simply not react to any command from the web-site). AndroidLost requires Google Play services to be installed, so you don't need to care about it. Lookout did work for me, but the reaction time to, say, locating the phone was horrible (several minutes), I suspect this due to not being able to use Google's Cloud-to-device messaging. It is up to you to make a choice in case you need device management. I've found most solutions eat so much performance and battery life that I quickly uninstalled them.
In case you have installed a custom Android ROM from scratch and did not flash the Google-Apps package, you might have the problem that your AOSP-keyboard works, but gesture input doesn't. This happened to me on various distributions (such as CyanogenMod and Omni ROM) and while I suspect it to be an AOSP-related bug, flashing the Google-apps package fixed the problem (for the AOSP-keyboard, mind you!).
In case you run into this problem, or if you don't like the AOSP keyboard, there are other, more sophisticated non-free keyboards such as Nuance Swype or Swift key. I've personally installed Swype and I've kept it, because it works very well. It comes with a self-reliant dictate function which also supports dictation of punctuation marks, which Google's speech recognition still doesn't do properly in languages other than English.
Being able to search on your smartphone is important. I personally use www.startpage.com on both my personal computer and mobile device. It redirects your search to Google's search engine, but anonymizes the origin (i.e. your identity). There is a startpage Android app but I decided not to use it, because it doesn't provide a proper widget where you can type text right away. Instead, it opens as a stand-alone app (which takes several seconds) and then search results are opened inside the startpage app using a privacy-protecting browser, which, however, feels awkward to use, compared to mainstream browsers such as Firefox. For me a shortcut to search is to place a bookmark shortcut on my home screen from within the browser that directly opens the startpage.com page.
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