Links referenced for video
- https://grapheneos.org/features#sandboxed-google-play - Sandboxed Google Play Documentation
- https://youtu.be/hx2eiPTe7Zg - Sensor & Network Permissions
- https://youtu.be/WjrANjvrSzw - Storage Scopes
Please excuse any grammatical errors. I used a tool to generate the transcript and haven't had a chance to read through it yet. ✔️
I am upgrading to the Pixel 7 and after nearly two years of using Graphene OS, I have decided to leave the stock Android OS installed on it. Let me be clear, I did not want to do this, but I figured in order to offer a fair comparison between stock Android OS and Graphene OS, I should probably test out the stock OS and see how it is. My first impression with stock Android OS is that it has a very friendly setup. It wants you to log into your accounts to sync your settings and it comes with a ton of popular apps installed, as well as the Google Play Store, installed by default. I am speaking objectively for someone new to the OS, not from a privacy or security perspective. The whole initial experience was very welcoming. To keep things equal in my testing, I am going to be using the Play Store on both OS's by signing in so I can download apps. I also wanted to try and embrace the stock Android OS as much as possible to see if there were any features I might miss.
I am a simple person and my phone habits stick to that theme, so it's likely I missed a bunch of features that these OS's offer. With my time on stock Android OS, there are a few major things I noticed. The OS wants you to sign in a lot, which I guess is no surprise. You are always reminded to log in, sync, and use your Google account. I did my best to avoid this, even though I signed into the Google Play Store. I didn't want to sync any of my phone data with my Google account. As far as navigation goes, I noticed that Google Maps is very helpful for traffic. As someone who lives in a busy city that I think has some of the worst drivers in the United States, Google Maps saved me time at least on three different occasions by helping me take a different route instead of the one that had multiple traffic accidents during rush hour. Now the biggest difference I noticed right off the bat, which I was not expecting, was Google Keyboard, otherwise known as Gboard. It makes the initial feeling of stock Android OS very fluid and cohesive. My typing felt more accurate while using it and I've heard people in the past suggest using a different keyboard from the stock one that comes with Graphene OS. Now, I can see why they suggested it. It really makes a big difference. The phone and clock apps on stock Android OS are very well designed as compared to the AOSP versions used on Graphene OS. While I didn't use any of the extra features offered by the phone or clock app on stock Android OS, aesthetically, they are very nice looking.
In terms of functionality, the way I use them, there was no difference. There are two features on stock Android OS that are not available on Graphene OS. The first is Android Auto. The reason for that is that it requires system-level integration, and that is not something the project is willing to support, which I completely understand. The second feature that I found, which I really liked, is the now playing feature. Now playing listens to background audio in your environment and will show you the song that is now playing on the lock screen, if it can identify them. It does sound a little bit counter-intuitive from a privacy perspective, but I liked it. Now playing doesn't send audio or background conversations to Google, according to their documentation, and all processing takes place locally on your device. I can already hear the people typing 'lies, Google's collecting my audio and listening to my conversations.' I'm going based off of the information available and documentation, not speculation. So with all that said, at the end of the day, I still did not like being on the stock OS. You are reminded that Google is there for your convenience, ready to save your passwords, collecting telemetry in the background, and the inability to uninstall a lot of the bundled apps. All you can do is disable them. There's just something uncomfortable about knowing that Google services have system-level integration, and therefore do not follow the regular permission controls available for sandboxed apps. So after almost two weeks, I went and installed Graphene OS on my Pixel 7.
The first things I did to make it a fair comparison were to install sandboxed Google Play services, all of my apps, I installed the Google keyboard, and I set the same wallpaper. I was happy to be back. No annoying prompts to sign in, and I felt like my privacy was back under my control pretty quickly. I noticed some of the visible features that I missed that Graphene OS offers. Those features were the network permission, when you install an app, the sensor's permission, and storage scopes. Stock Android OS does not have these features. If you want to learn more about those, I'll link my video covering those down below, but overall, with the Play Store, Gboard, and a wallpaper set, the experience felt very familiar to stock Android OS. I honestly thought there would be a jarring difference when I switched back, but there wasn't. A popular question I see is, 'Am I getting any benefit to using Graphene OS with sandboxed Play Services installed?' And the answer is yes. On Graphene OS, they are installed as sandboxed apps, like any other app you install. They have no access beyond what other apps can access, and you can set the permissions on the apps installed. This implementation provides a great balance of usability and privacy. Now, this was an oversimplified explanation. The official documentation goes over this in great detail and explains it very well. I'll link that down below, and I do suggest you give it a read if you plan on using them or want to learn more. So, at the time of this recording, I've been using Graphene OS on my Pixel 7 for nearly two weeks, and I haven't noticed any issues or bugs for my specific use cases. As far as battery life goes, I haven't noticed much of a difference between the two OS's. I feel that they are similar for the setup that I'm using, but I haven't done any official tests for battery life. Now, the setup in this video isn't how I'm going to leave my Pixel 7. I'll be covering a new setup that I'm going to try in a future video, but if you have any hesitations about moving from stock Android OS to graphene Os from my basic phone usage habits with sandbox to play services installed I don't think you'll have much of an issue.