The developers behind the /e/OS operating system have been around for a while. Over the past five years, you’ve been able to use the software on a handful of off-the-shelf Android phones like the Galaxy, and even buy it with the software already installed if you didn’t want to do it yourself.
But now the e Foundation has its own phone, the Murena One. I’ve been using it for a few weeks and I have to say it’s everything I love about Android in one package.
It’s probably not the phone for everyone, or even most people. But it’s an example of why open source software (like much Android) is cool and how you can have a smartphone that respects your privacy.
This is not a regular review as this is not just a regular Android phone. This is something different for a phone that is different.
Murena One: The phone hardware
This isn’t a phone for spec junkies. It doesn’t even pretend to be that phone. It’s a phone with modest hardware and an equally modest price tag of $379.
It’s small for an Android phone, measuring 6 inches high and 3 inches wide with a 6.53-inch front-panel LCD. Here are the full specs.
|operating system||/e/OS 1.0 (based on Android 10)|
|advertisement||6.53 inch LCD|
|chipset||Mediatek Helio P60|
|reversing camera 1||48 megapixels, f/1.8|
|reversing camera 2||8 megapixels, f/2.0|
|Front camera||25 megapixels, f/2.0|
|connectivity||Support Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, 3G and 4G in worldwide band|
|Dimensions||161.8 x 76.9 x 8.9mm|
The phone is carrier-unlocked and has dual SIM support (or an SD card slot, take your pick), but lacks 5G connectivity. I’ve used it here in the US at T-Mobile and it connects like any other LTE phone I’ve used.
On the side you’ll find a fingerprint reader like we’ve seen on other phones and it works well. It’s a capacitive sensor, so it doesn’t suffer from the problems that an in-screen reader has, which was a nice change.
The cameras are okay, but nothing special. In fact, this is an excellent way to describe the hardware package: It’s okay. It works well but lacks many of the grab bag features that many other phones offer, but for the price there’s not much to complain about.
But the hardware isn’t what’s special about this phone – that would be the software.
Murena One: The software
I fell into the same trap I’ve fallen into for a few others when it comes to phones running /e/OS 1.0 – trying to shove Google stuff back on them.
It’s worth noting that you can definitely still do that. With the support of the microG project, a slimmed-down version of Google’s proprietary additions to Android, you can run apps like Gmail, Google Photos, or Maps from the Applab Store. It works for the most part, and you’ll find almost every app you would find in the real Google Play Store.
But if you do, just know that you’ll still get a better experience when you buy a “regular” Android phone. I decided to wipe the device, erase all the words I had written and start with what I had instead of trying to add more Google to “plain” Android.
I’m really glad I did this. It allowed me to focus on all the things the e Foundation is doing right while knowing that the things missing were just a quick install away when I needed them. Spoiler alert: I haven’t.
The phone comes with all the basics installed: a web browser, email client, calendar, maps, text messenger, and everything else. A host of other apps, like Signal (my favorite messenger client), are available through the phone’s built-in app directory. Of course, you also get access to third-party app stores like F-Droid if that’s how you want to get your apps.
Just because there’s no Google built-in doesn’t mean you don’t have access to a robust suite of cloud services. Each device comes with a Murena cloud account that offers an email address, backup storage space, cloud connectivity for your calendar, contacts, documents and essentials, and 1GB of private storage space for everything else.
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However, the biggest difference between the Murena One and any other off-the-shelf Android phone is in the Settings app. There you’ll find all the information you’ll ever need to know about how apps can access your information, how they can track you, and even how to provide a fake location for the pesky apps that need one.
You won’t find this on any phone that uses Google’s services by default. I imagine a lot of this is in direct violation of the GMS agreement between Google and phone makers, which allows the latter to include all Google y-bits without paying. It’s also a very good thing that should be present on every single Android phone.
Ultimately, Android is about that, the free and open parts anyway. A company like the e Foundation can take what’s there (although /e/OS is a fork of LineageOS forked by AOSP, the point still stands) and make a really good smartphone with it while leaving Google out of the picture becomes.
Phones sold for the Chinese market have been doing this for years, so it’s great to see this for the West and without government intervention.
Is the Murena One for you?
The experience for me is pretty much the same as any other mid-range Android phone. I’m not a big app guy so everything I wanted was available and I found the standard e Foundation services worked pretty well.
The difference is that I was able to do all of this without Google tracking me while I was doing it. That’s a double-edged sword, because some of the things Google does that I like rely on tracking, like with Assistant. But I could live without it if I hadn’t bought it already.
That’s probably where we part ways. Most people want an Android phone because of all the things Google is adding. Look no further than the Huawei sinking if you need more proof.
Also, most people won’t visit an F-Droid repo and install the microG suite of services, meaning Google doesn’t support anything. And that’s okay.
Some people just want to buy the best phone and enjoy it without worrying about Google knowing what apps you’re using or tracking the things you’re looking for. As mentioned, the benefit of Google knowing things like buying plane tickets to Hawaii means you have access to reminders, boarding passes, and anything else that makes the trip easier.
But if you only use a smartphone as another tool and don’t really push it to the limit, this phone could be for you. Also, if you fill it with games and apps and want to worry about Google tracking you, this may be the phone for you.
The Murena One is the e Foundation’s first phone and runs the excellent Google-free /e/OS. It’s a great phone for anyone who wants less Google in their life.