First Time Using CalyxOS Review

“But how are you planning on using the phone?” he asked me. I paused, a bit confused. “As a replacement for my iPhone. I want to do everything with this phone that I can do with my iPhone, and use it as I normally would.” He took a beat to respond, “Wow, alright. Well let’s give it a shot.”

I would describe myself as tech-curious, but the reality is I am not your typical CalyxOS user. In fact, I didn´t know CalyxOS existed until recently. I am not a software developer, I can´t write code and until recently, I never worked in tech. But none-the-less I found myself needing a replacement for my iPhone and asked HC if they could help me out.

And in no time my refurbished Google Pixel 4a phone had arrived, loaded and ready to go with CalyxOS. So here is my very unprofessional review of how it went.

I walked into the Calyx setup process with no expectations. Well, actually I take that back. I expected it to be similar to my 20-something years of iOS experience that I was used to. I expected there to be some sort of introduction and for some sort of apps to be pre-loaded into the phone. I of course knew that the apps and home screen from my old iPhone wouldn´t magically appear on my Google Pixel, and that I would need to manually download them if I wanted to keep using them on my new device. So I was prepared for that, but otherwise, I walked in blind.

First impressions The introduction and set up process went incredibly smoothly. It was a very similar experience to when I started up a new iPhone for the first time. I needed to select a language and location and then I needed to connect to wifi. So far so good, except that my wifi password is incredibly long and annoying. But that is on me, not Calyx.

Date and time set up no problem. It accurately identified my general location and the recommended time-zone was correct.

On to location services there were two options, one was automatically enabled, the other I needed to make a choice. If my memory serves, I don´t think I had this choice when setting up my iPhones in the past. I choose to allow apps to use my location that have asked my permission and kept going. I set up my pin and two fingerprints. This was all very similar to my older iOS phones. Then I encountered the microG instructions.

What is MicroG? The microG explanation was helpful since I had no idea what microG does. For the uninitiated, it acts like an open source replacement for Google Play services and related software. But it only includes the “useful parts” and most interestingly, it does not have any advertising or location tracking, a bonus if you ask me.

Installing the Apps Bundle Then it was time to install the apps bundle. This was new, since usually the apps come pre-installed on my iPhone. But I thought it was nice that I had a choice here. In any case I left all apps selected and downloaded all of them. I will be doing write-ups on my experiences with those separately in case you want to follow along.

As they were downloading, there was a useful description about each app, which was a very nice touch for the uninitiated. Because I will be honest, I did not recognize the majority of these apps.

Next was a prompt asking if I wanted to restore a backup. Which I didn´t have, so I kept going to navigation.

Navigation Options Here I had two options, gesture navigation and 3-button navigation. I was not sure what the term gesture navigation meant initially, so the little animation explaining the swiping actions made it very clear. I thought, “Let´s keep this simple” and I went with 3-buttons and off we went to my phone´s home screen.

My new home with CalyxOS My first thought was, “I downloaded a whole bunch of apps, but where are they?” As an iOS user, I was used to seeing all the pre-installed apps just appear, so this threw me off but only for a second or two. I started swiping around on the screen and found them in no time by swiping upwards. But then I quickly realized I did not know what the majority of the apps do, so I would need to familiarize myself with them in order to use them.

Some apps were more self explanatory than others. For example, the usual basic phone apps, camera, clock, contacts, music, phone, calculator were all very obvious. Then there were some new apps that I didn´t quite know what they did, but the title made it very obvious. For example, K-9 Mail, Riseup VPN, Firewall, Calyx VPN and the Aurora Store.

A note about the Aurora Store. I saw the little Google Drive logo on the shopping bag, so I thought that might be a place where I can download my Google Play apps. But if I did not see that tiny logo, I might not have known to look there.

F-Droid I knew as an app store from my previous work and I also recognized Tor Browser, Orbot and OnionShare. I kind of assumed those three were connected because all the logos were purple and there was an onion theme going on which I associated with Tor. So we can say in this case, the branding worked!

A wrinkle in the time-space continuum My only issue with the entire experience was that my location was around 600 kilometers off from my actual real-time location. No matter what app I used, Organic Maps, Google Maps, or SatStat, all said I was in some industrial area in a city 600 kilometers away from my house. In fact, they were so consistent that I thought, maybe it is a wrinkle in the time-space continuum and I really am in two places at once! All jokes aside, I reached out to the very helpful Calyx development team and they are helping me solve the issue

Who knows, at the end of the day it might be the hardware, since no one else has reported this bizarre issue and my phone was refurbished to begin with.

Final Thoughts All in all my experience unboxing and setting up a Calyx phone went very smoothly. And as a tech-curious user, with very little experience in software engineering, I can say it was a very easy switch from iOS to CalyxOS.

CalyxOS gives you an alternative to big tech, without sacrificing usability. It gave me choices in terms of my data privacy that made me feel safe and more empowered. And it gave me a whole bundle of open source, privacy conscious apps to try out, so I can expand my horizons.

Moving forward, I am curious to see more iOS and Android users migrate towards CalyxOS as a viable alternative.