LineageOS is the perfect minimal smartphone for non-tech savvy folk

Telstra and Optus are getting rid of their 3G networks, so that means helping non-tech savvy family members migrate off the 3G phone they’ve been using happily for over a decade and on to something with LTE.

You might be looking at one of those “old people” phones like an Aspera flip phone with big buttons, or a “dumb phone” like a Nokia 235 or Nokia 110. They’re fine, but my particular family member struggles with the small buttons and screens on these devices. They like the on-screen keyboard for bashing out messages rather than dealing with an numeric keypad and loves the big screen for taking photos, but also finds the vast array of options and features on a modern Android or iOS smartphone mentally overwhelming.

As far as I know, there’s no feature phones that sit between a barebones numeric keypad phone or a full featured Android/iOS device. To Apple’s credit, iOS 17 has a great feature called Assistive Access mode, but it has many caveats that made it inappropriate for my family member.

That lead me to good ol’ LineageOS (formerly known as Cyanogenmod), an alternative Android ROM that takes the latest version of the open-source version of Android and compiles it for a range of smartphones, even when the manufacturer of that device has abandoned it. You likely have an old device that’ll run LineageOS sitting in a cupboard!

I love LineageOS because you can run it on a smartphone without any Google stuff at all, despite still being Android. This makes it perfect as a lean and simple smartphone OS without any of bloatware and intrusive features that come with an Android or iOS device. It suits my family member perfectly:

  • Can use phone without a PIN/Biometrics/Passphrase. Just press a button to unlock the screen and you’re in.

  • Can remove the built-in web browser, so there’s no way they can access random websites, even if sent in an SMS - harder to get phished.

  • Can remove all the built-in apps so the user can’t do anything accidentally, with the added benefit of extra battery life & faster performance.

  • No nagging to sign-in to Google/iCloud, or any cloud functionality at all. No push notifications to confuse them with features or things Apple and Google think you might want to do.

  • No App Store/Play Store so can’t go downloading random shitty data harvesting apps, or apps with constant push notifications.

  • If certain apps are needed (e.g: WhatsApp or Signal), they can be sideloaded if they don’t need the Google Play services, either via F-Droid or sometimes even on the official app website directly.

This is how I set up the phone for my family member:

Home screen has large icons and only the things they need to do, including shortcuts to the people they contact the most.

When they tap the name of the contact, they can choose to call (just tap the number) or message (tap the message icon).

If they swipe up, they can see the other apps if they want, but they’ll rarely, if ever do that. Either way it’s good not to have any other apps here that can cause mischief and thanks to LineageOS anything extra like the calendar, browser and music apps can be disabled.

All they want to do on their phone are calls, SMS, take photos and send those photos as MMS as well as back them up to their PC (a ChromeOS Flex box I set up for them and they love due to the simplicity) with a USB cable. That’s it. Anything other than this is just mental baggage and with LineageOS, I can customise the phone to only do the things they need it to do. No less, no more.

If your family member needs things like internet banking, Facebook, Messenger, Google Maps or even music streaming apps like Spotify, then LineageOS might not be for them. Those apps require the Google Play Services and while there is a way to get Google Play Services into LineageOS, it’s probably not something I would foist upon a non-tech savvy user.

Two weeks have passed since I gave them a Samsung S10 running LineageOS that I got off Facebook Marketplace in mint condition for $200 and they’re very happy with it. Bigger screen/text, way better photos and much better battery life than their old phone, so I was able to turn what was something scary - changing from their old phone that they’re used to and comfortable with - into something positive!

Here’s a list of supported LineageOS devices. The install instructions for each device are easy to follow, so if you’ve ever installed Windows on a new PC you can probably manage installing LineageOS too.

For Aussies, the easiest ones to get used/refurb that support LineageOS are the Samsung or Google Pixel phones. Some good places to find used/refurb phones:

  • eBay - particularly when there’s an eBay Plus 22% off refurbished items promo

  • Facebook Marketplace - just make sure the device you’re buying is removed from the other person’s Google account before you depart.

  • Reebelo - you know those trade-in programs at JB/Apple? Joints like this are where the phones end up.

Good luck! Feel free to email me if you need a hand -