The “Freedom Phone” is an overpriced smartphone that doesn’t free you from anything
Except your money
It’s not every day that a new smartphone company pops up, claiming to offer a device that protects your “freedom of speech” from Big Tech. So, when Erik Finman, a self-proclaimed “Bitcoin millionaire,” announced the Freedom Phone yesterday, it piqued our interest. Finman claims that the Freedom Phone is “the first major pushback on Big Tech companies that attacked us [American conservatives],” and it features an “uncensorable app store” that will offer all the apps that have been banned on mainstream app stores. But is the phone actually all that Finman claims it to be? Let’s find out.
Before we talk about the phone itself, let’s establish some context. During the 2020 US Presidential Election run, Google removed the Parler app from the Play Store for lack of user-generated content moderation. On the other hand, Twitter permanently suspended former US President Donald Trump’s account for tweets that were “in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy.” These two incidents, along with several others, led many right-wing people to believe that big tech companies like Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Amazon were biased against them and were violating their freedom of speech. According to Finman, the Freedom Phone will help users prevent such incidents, and his announcement video specifically mentions the Twitter ban on former US President Donald Trump as an inspiration for making the device.
Freedom Phone render
Now that you know the general idea behind the phone, let’s dissect the device itself. The official website for the Freedom Phone is scarce on details, but it mentions that the phone works with all US domestic and international carriers, comes with pre-loaded conservative sites and apps, and runs a “free-speech first operating system” called FreedomOS (not to be confused with the custom ROM with the same name) that features a privacy tool called “Trust.” The phone is priced at $499, and thanks to the company’s generous affiliate program, many right-wing personalities and influencers in the US are hyping it up.
If alarm bells are already ringing for you, then good, because it gets better from here. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Finman confirmed that the Freedom Phone was manufactured by Umidigi — a Chinese smartphone brand headquartered in Shenzhen. In fact, the phone appears to be identical to the Umidigi A9 Pro, which currently costs just $179.99 on Amazon. We’re not sure if there are any hardware differences between the two phones, as Finman hasn’t shared detailed specifications of the device, and we haven’t got our hands on one.
Umidigi A9 Pro
A hands-on video of the Freedom Phone from right-leaning personality Candace Owens reveals that the so-called “uncensorable app store” seems to be a rebadged Aurora Store. For the unaware, the Aurora Store is an open-source frontend for the Google Play Store, meaning all the apps from the “PatriApp Store” on the Freedom Phone are likely sourced from Google Play. If it is indeed just a rebranded Aurora Store, then Finman’s company has no control over its contents and can’t guarantee that it won’t be “censored.”
L: PatriApp Store on the Freedom Phone; R: Aurora Store
Furthermore, ArsTechnica‘s Ron Amadeo found another hands-on video that showed off the phone’s app drawer, revealing many stock apps from LineageOS as well as microG. The “Trust” logo displayed on the Freedom Phone’s website was already suspiciously similar to the one used for the LineageOS Trust feature, but looking at the hands-on video, it’s clear that the phone is indeed running LineageOS. Since it’s unlikely that this company ported LineageOS themselves over to the Umidigi A9 Pro, they may just be using a LineageOS GSI.
Based on the information we’ve seen so far, the Freedom Phone raises too many red flags. It clearly doesn’t offer all the features that Finman claims it does. And the marketing around it only aims to capitalize on the notion that Big Tech is biased against right-wing people in the US, without offering any real solution. Irrespective of whether you believe that Big Tech has it out for you or not, the Freedom Phone is not worth buying. In essence, the phone is just a cheap Chinese phone with LineageOS and the Aurora store on top. For $499, it doesn’t offer enough value in terms of hardware and software. You’d be better off buying a much cheaper phone and flashing LineageOS with or without microG yourself, which will leave you with a decent phone and several hundreds of dollars to enjoy your freedom.