Smartphones have proven to be vulnerable to security breaches, posing a significant threat to our confidential data and privacy, especially if they are misplaced or kept in unsafe places. Manufacturers, including Google and Apple, track and collect users’ data through built-in spyware.
For privacy enthusiasts, this may seem like a bleak situation, but there are several options available for those seeking a phone that prioritizes privacy and security.
Choose the Most Secure Phone
Before we delve into recommendations for the world’s most secure phones, it’s important to consider the unique factors involved in choosing a phone for privacy. The smartphone experience is built on data collection and personalization.
First-party apps like Google Photos or Apple Maps, and third-party apps like Instagram and WhatsApp rely on gathering personal information. However, they are also essential to the way we use our phones on a daily basis.
Opting for a privacy-focused smartphone means sacrificing some of these features and services. While you may be able to find workarounds for app restrictions, this loss of functionality extends to the entire operating system as well.
Generally speaking, privacy-focused smartphones are less user-friendly and more cumbersome to operate due to their encrypted software, lack of social media platforms, and limited customization options.
This doesn’t make them unusable, but it’s important to be aware of the significant differences between a regular iPhone or Android device and a secure smartphone before making a purchase.
Purism Librem 5
Purism is a socially responsible company that has been producing Linux-based desktop and laptop computers since 2014. The Purism Librem 5 is the company’s first smartphone, which was launched as a crowdfunded project in 2017, and the first batch of phones were shipped in late 2019.
The phone is powered by PureOS, a privacy-focused Linux operating system from Purism. The software is open-source and comes with FOSS pre-installed, meaning there is no access to Google Play or other major app stores. The phone comes with the “Pure Browser”, which is a modified version of the popular internet browser “Firefox” with “DuckDuckGo” as the default search engine instead of Google.
The phone’s three physical security buttons allow users to completely disable the camera and microphone, remove power from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adapters, and close all network connections, including GPS. The phone also features a removable 3,500 mAh battery, a 13-megapixel primary camera, and 32 GB of internal storage, expandable up to 2 TB via a microSD card.
Purism has committed to continuous updates for the Librem 5, which is in stark contrast to both Google and Apple, who only support their phones for a certain period of time. The phone supports Bluetooth wireless connection and charging via USB-C. For those who still prefer traditional headphones, the phone also includes a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Librem 5 is a strong choice for users who prioritize privacy over ease of use, although the phone does have some notable flaws.
The Fairphone 3 is an ethical, sustainable, and highly repairable Android smartphone. While phone reviews usually only focus on supply chain and repairability, the Fairphone 3 is also a good option for those who prioritize privacy.
To align with its ethical stance, Fairphone offers Fairphone OS, a customized version of Android 9, pre-installed on the device. However, for those who don’t want a Google-based operating system, Fairphone is also developing an alternative OS called “Fairphone Open” that reduces the link to Google.
This operating system was initially released for the Fairphone 2 and is currently in early development for the Fairphone 3. While installing Fairphone Open on the Fairphone 3 is currently not straightforward, users can still unlock the device’s bootloader and install an alternative OS of their choice.
While third-party app development for the Fairphone 3 is still ongoing since its launch in 2019, an active online community is creating versions of LineageOS and Ubuntu Touch for the Fairphone 2.
The Fairphone 3 is powered by the Snapdragon 632 processor manufactured by Qualcomm in 2017 and has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. It also features a removable and replaceable 3000mAh battery that charges via USB-C. The phone supports Bluetooth 5, NFC, and two SIM cards. There is also a 12-megapixel primary camera and an 8-megapixel front camera.
Overall, the Fairphone 3 is an ethical and sustainable option that offers good privacy features. While it may not have the latest hardware, its repairability and customization options make it a compelling choice for those who prioritize these features.
The PinePhone, manufactured by Pine64, is a Linux-based smartphone similar to the Purism Librem 5, but its focus is not solely on security and privacy. Rather, the phone’s strength lies in its open-source operating system and exclusive use of open-source software.
The PinePhone supports a variety of Linux operating systems and comes pre-installed with options like the PinePhone community build called PostmarketOS, available for purchase directly from the Pine64 website. However, users can install any of the 17 currently supported operating systems on the device once they have the hardware in hand.
Powered by a quad-core Allwinner A64 chipset (SoC), the PinePhone has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. It features a removable 3000mAh battery that can be charged via the USB-C port. Additionally, there is a 5MP primary camera, a 2MP front-facing camera, and dedicated physical privacy safety buttons for mobile connection, Wi-Fi, microphone, speaker, and both cameras.
The PinePhone is highly repairable as components can be easily accessed with just a screwdriver, and it has a production life of five years, meaning it will receive support until at least 2024. In early 2020, Pine64 announced the community version of PinePhone UBports.
Apple iPhone 14: The Most Famous Secure Phone in the World
The smartphones we have discussed so far may not be the mainstream options, and only appeal to a small subset of users. Therefore, it is worth considering an easily available option as well.
In a move that some may find controversial, our final pick for the most secure phone available today is the Apple iPhone 11. While it may seem questionable whether Apple is a truly privacy-friendly company, these devices are far more private and secure than Android smartphones.
The main reason for this is the difference in business model between Apple, which manufactures iPhones, and Google, which produces the Android operating system. Apple devices are generally expensive and tend to foster customer loyalty. Once you have an iPhone, you may also consider buying a MacBook laptop, an Apple Watch, AirPods, etc. Apple is, in fact, a reputable hardware company.
On the other hand, Google provides the Android system – mostly – for free to manufacturers who make various smartphones, such as Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others. Google recoups its investment by collecting your personal data, which is used to customize the ads you see across apps, websites, and anywhere you’re logged in to your Google account.
However, this does not mean that Apple is the perfect choice for privacy enthusiasts. The company still collects data about you and your habits, but this is used to personalize your experience with Apple products, rather than building an advertising profile like Google. Much of the data is kept on your device instead of being synced to the cloud.
In the wake of the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks, public interest in privacy grew, leading to a new wave of privacy-focused products. Although there are sometimes trade-offs, this is unavoidable because mainstream options rely on data collection to operate.
We’ve listed some of the best privacy-conscious smartphones available today, but many of them use Linux operating systems instead of Android or iOS.
Can I install popular apps on privacy-focused smartphones like Purism Librem 5 or PinePhone?
Since privacy-focused smartphones like Purism Librem 5 and PinePhone use Linux-based operating systems, you won’t have access to Google Play or other major app stores. Therefore, you might not be able to install popular apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, or Facebook directly. However, you may be able to find workarounds or use alternative apps that offer similar functionality, but with a focus on privacy and security.