I’m kicking this off with a few important points that I think need to be addressed. Firstly, I have no horse in this silly political game that everyone seems to be playing these days. Secondly, we are not a political site; we are a consumer technology site, and we try very hard to keep the topic on tech and geek entertainment. Thirdly, we did reach out to Freedom Phone before writing anything up to ask for a review unit but have not gotten an answer.
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So when Freedom Phone hit the Twitterverse, it exploded and expanded rapidly. It didn’t take very long for other tech media outlets to decry the device and basically tell the audience not to buy it. I admit when the news hit, I knee-jerked as well. I was skeptical of the product, its origins, and the company’s intent. But after a few hours of reading and seeing the knee-jerk articles, I felt I needed to gather more data about the Freedom Phone.
Now, unlike the dozens of other articles about the Freedom Phone, I have marked this one as an editorial. These are merely my thoughts about the device from having absorbed information from all sides about it. So my recommendation is to do the same: research multiple articles and multiple opinions to make your own informed decision. I honestly didn’t want to even touch this topic because of the vitriol attached to it, but I have had a fair number of requests for my thoughts on it.
Yes, the Freedom Phone is indeed a rebranded Umidigi phone built in Hong Kong, China. According to the founder, the company has researched the parts and claim that Umidigi has no ties to the Chinese government. Let’s be honest here; nearly every smartphone is made in China, even the popular iPhone. Samsung may be an exception with their components and manufacturing happening in multiple countries, including South Korea, India, and Taiwan.
That being said, we’re still not 100% certain about Umidigi nor its suppliers and manufacturers. In the interview below, Erik Finman (founder of Freedom Phone) attempts to explain how the company sourced the phone and who is making it.
Honestly, this interview was hard to watch, and my takeaway was that Finman’s knowledge of the actual device and its technology is narrow at best. A lot of attention has been placed on the fact that the Freedom Phone did not initially post the device’s specifications on its website. Finman insists the specifications differ from the Umidigi A9 Pro, and Umidigi specially customized the phone for them.
Specifications and Features
Specifications are now available on the Freedom Phone website, but they’re unclear. For example, the CPU states its speed and number of cores but does not state the manufacturer. Given that Qualcomm CPUs tend to cost more, we’re only guessing that this is a Helios processor. The point is specifications are now available but not very expansive, and I think the company needs to offer more details.
Another point of contention has been the operating system. The company calls its software Freedom OS but initially never explained the software. Now we know that Freedom OS is built around two popular Android operating systems in, LineageOS and GrapheneOS. Both of these operating systems are built on AOSP but avoid Google Services. Finman claims that Freedom OS combines the two and adds some of its own touches.
Why So Expensive?
The price of the Freedom Phone has also stirred up plenty of controversies. Umidigi phones with similar specs sell for between $150-$200, but the Freedom Phone’s price is $500. Many feel that this price tag is inflated. The only thing I can say about this is that people will pay what they think it’s worth. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is heavily marked up, and many would say it shouldn’t cost $1100.
Apps Make The World Go ‘Round
Maybe the biggest mystery of the Freedom Phone is its claim to not be censored and its own App Store with uncensored apps. There are many ways to get apps on your Android phone, and there are other alternative app stores to get apps from. But most of us in the tech community can agree that it’s far riskier to install apps from such places than the Play Store due to Google somewhat policing its Play Store.
I would be highly concerned about Freedom Phone’s App Store if there are no rules or approvals for posting apps to this store. It seems ripe for bad actors to start posting fake apps that masquerade as popular apps and end up stealing your data or infecting your device with malware. The Freedom Phone’s App Store is certainly one of my biggest concerns about this phone.
Finally, endorsements. A handful of endorsers are hocking the Freedom Phone, and to their credit, they have disclosed they would get a commission from sales using their links. But the problem many are having with these endorsements is these endorsers aren’t even using the phone themselves. To this day, they are still posting to Twitter using their iPhones, which doesn’t scream confidence in the product you’re endorsing.
Listen, I’m not here to tell you to buy or not buy this device. I think it’s priced a bit too high for the specifications and hardware listed. As I stated earlier, we reached out to Freedom Phone for a review unit before even thinking of writing this, and they have not answered.
As for the phone being built in China, that doesn’t bother me much, knowing that my iPhone is probably built in the same factories as the Freedom Phone. As for the possibility of Umidigi building backdoors into the motherboards and CPUs of these phones, that is possible, but no one has shown it to exist.
The App Store that Freedom Phone is proposing does scare me. If the company has no way of policing this store, it is an excellent platform for bad actors to do what bad actors do.
Honestly, there are still way too many questions here than we have answers for. If I were advising a friend right now, I’d say hold off on this phone until a large swath of tech reviewers can examine it. But even that’s truly hard to rely on, as many tech reviewers may color their reviews with their ideology. There’s no way around it, this phone is 100% political, and you may not get an honest answer from either side.
I would tell my friend that if they were really concerned about privacy, they should look into a de-Googled phone or consider installing a custom ROM on their own. Now, knowing that most will pass on the second option, the first option is viable, and I’d say a better choice than the Freedom Phone at this time.
Consider de-Googled phones from Rob Braxman or the e-Foundation. Both websites sell existing Android phones that have had their OS reinstalled and stripped of Google Services. It’s like a blank canvas with only a few apps pre-installed.
The challenge with these phones is finding apps outside the Google Play Store. That is challenging because you never know for sure any app is safe, even if it says it’s legit. Like it or not, the Play Store and Apple’s App Store are still generally safer places to download apps because they are monitored.
The Final Word
My final word is this. The Freedom Phone will draw sharp criticism from those from one tribe while the other tribe will heap accolades on it. We’re living in a polarized world now, and finding honest answers without a political filter is getting harder. Do what your gut tells you but be careful of what you’re getting into. Harvest your information from multiple sources, not just from the sources you feel represent your own ideology. Make an informed choice and do your best to resist peer pressure from any side.
I honestly don’t know if I answered anyone’s questions in this article at all. This phone is confusing, and its position in the culture amplifies its confusion in a battle that I personally don’t want to be a part of. The truth of it all, though, is this. Unless you completely unplug yourself from the grid and go dark, no internet, cell, streaming services, email, none of it…someone will always be harvesting your data. It comes down to choosing who you will allow doing that.
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Last Updated on January 7, 2023.