DEV Community

Cover image for F-Droid, Keyboard Libraries, and Choosing a Browser
Jordan Spencer
Jordan Spencer

Posted on

F-Droid, Keyboard Libraries, and Choosing a Browser

This is Part 2 of an ongoing series detailing my experience dumbing down my phone, taking ownership of my data, and learning a lot about FOSS along the way. NOTE: These are living documents that will surely change with time!

Previously I explained the why of the whole project plus my experience with GrapheneOS and why I chose it as my new Android OS. Now we'll get into the other tools and apps. First things first, where am I getting the apps?

The App Store

F-Droid Logo
F-Droid Logo

I don't really need an app store, especially since I'm trying to cut back heavily on my smartphone reliance, but at this stage in my journey where I'm installing and sampling all kinds of things, I've installed the F-Droid "shop." It's very no-frills and I wish there was a way to sort search results, like by installs, but I really appreciate how proactive it is about letting you know when apps have what it calls "anti-features" (like relying on an upstream non-free/proprietary service).

While F-Droid will manage updates to anything installed through it's shop, you aren't stuck manually checking and updating things if you go decide to download APK releases directly. Obtanium is essentially a tracker/updater for managing your APKs from a broad range of sources. At the moment I'm only using it for the QUIK messaging app and a Bluesky client I grabbed off GitHub but I can see replacing the F-Droid shop with it once I've really settled on my app choices. Something on the list to investigate later.

The Keyboard

Something I hadn't really considered before jumping ship on the stock Pixel OS was that the keyboard I've been using for years is obviously a Google product! I very quickly realized this when presented with the standard Graphene keyboard for the first time.

I use what Google apparently calls "Glide Typing" which is kind of like a slippery touchscreen version of T9 (if you're old enough to remember that). Having to accurately hit each individual letter one-by-one to type something out on my phone feels slow and downright bad to me but finding a keyboard that supports glide typing wasn't as straightforward as I had hoped.

I didn't last long with the stock keyboard before installing AnySoftKeyboard which is one of the few FOSS alternative with support for swipe typing. The experience was... OK. It felt slow and it's accuracy left a lot to be desired. I still had to be slow and pretty accurate, so it didn't really feel like much of a change from the stock experience. FlorisBoard have also introduced their own implementation but the feedback I read suggested it would be much the same as my experience with AnySoftKeyboard's gesture typing.

I considered what many others have done: installing Gboard and using Graphene's settings to deny it network access, potentially even going the extra step of using a root firewall like AFWall (something I plan on looking into later regardless) but I was curious to see if I could do without.

After reading a lengthy GitHub discussion at the Openboard repo that went into the logistical options and challenges I decided to go with the less-than-ideal option of using Helium314's Openboard fork with the proprietary Google swipe library ( imported. I've been using it for a few weeks now and though it feels slightly different than the Gboard I'm used to, the difference has been negligible and I'll be sticking with this setup for the foreseeable future.

The Browser

Icons for Vanadium, Mull, and Fennec
Vanadium, Mull, and Fennec

While Graphene comes with Vanadium, their own Chromium-based browser, pre-installed I chose to go with Mull as my default browser. There wasn't anything wrong with Vanadium, it's just that I've been using Firefox (and the wonderful uBlock Origin plugin) on my Linux machine for a little while now and have really grown to prefer it to Chromium-based browsers. In my research I had seen a lot of mentions of Mull and Fennec (the F-Droid version), both based on Firefox but with further hardening and privacy modifications. This detailed browser comparison chart (produced by the developer of Mull) is what ultimately led to me choosing Mull. It's definitely worth a look at the chart even if you aren't in the market for a new browser!

This also prompted a change beyond my phone: I've left behind Chrome and Firefox on my Windows and Linux machines in favor of Librewolf, a privacy and security-focused Firefox fork for desktops. The experience has been painless and I wish I had just made the switch earlier. I did activate Firefox sync (which is by default disabled in Mull and Librewolf) and have had a smooth experience across my devices. So far so good!

(to be continued...)

Top comments (3)

theimpulson profile image
Aayush Gupta

If you like F-Droid, try F-Droid Basic. It receives early updates and is also official.

jsspen profile image
Jordan Spencer

Good to know, I wasn't aware of that!

markcrocker profile image
Mark Crocker

Even after more than four  years of using GrapheneOS a new user article can surprise me with apps I missed.

I had the original Swype keyboard on my Pixel 4, but my new Pixel Fold would not let me install it. I didn't like any of the alternatives I tried,  and reluctantly used GBoard, but, even though Jordan Spencer didn't like it,  I discovered I did like the AnySoftKeyboard. So thanks for the reference.

Though I am using the IceRaven browser,  the article has gotten me thinking of looking at the Mull browser a little closer.

I have been using Duck Duck Go browser for search and quick article reads, Vanadium for anything I want to log into or keep session cookies, and IceRaven for longer reads or Read Aloud.

Posted to mastodon