In past 2 days my friend asked me to help with her smartphone.1 That’s the only computer device she uses and she said she “can’t contact my husband any more because of ads”.
Device has to be charged from the top, which was very uncomfortable to use and cable was constantly disconnecting. The battery was old, we could use it only when charging.
First thing I noticed, is how big screen was, compared to my iPhone 6s. It was easy to read, with larger touch targets. That’s a plus, considering affordable cost of the device. Of course with such a low cost,2 there’s many compromises.
She started to show me dozen of apps she didn’t installed, games and gambling apps. While I navigated the phone ads popped up, I saw 4 kind of ads which could appear even on the Home Screen.
- Banner in the bottom.
- Ads which look like Facebook bubble.
- Google Play redirects. When I was using Google Play app, it would show me page with random game.
- Full screen ads, some of them even faked lock screen UI.
I was bombarded with notifications and alerts from “antivirus” and “cleaner” which I was canceling, I was sure it will go away after I reset the phone. How naive.
First thing I did is backed up her notes from third-party app. I could log in into Google and sync it. Then I installed Google Photos. Device didn’t have enough space and it offered to delete some apps right from the modal alert, which was nice. However then I run out of space again, and the modal alert offered to delete apps which I didn’t want to get rid of. There was no button to jump into Settings, I had to find storage manager on my own.
We uploaded all her photos and videos to Google. I even liked the experience, because Google offers free unlimited storage. I installed Google Contacts and Chrome. She had almost 2,000 contacts on her SIM card, Contacts app offered to back it up and it’s even cleaned SIM card automatically.
Ignorantly, I didn’t backed up WhatsApp conversations, which is possible to do with Google Drive. I though I could restore them logging in into her account but because her account was linked to her another oversea phone number, we couldn’t receive the text. So I had to create new account for her and we lost all conversations.
I reset her phone from the settings, surprised how many bloatware it had as part of the system. It wasn’t possible to remove system “antivirus” and “app cleaner”, Opera Mini and many other not wanted apps. All I could do is to disable notifications and disable constant monitoring. I didn’t trust it.
My biggest disappointment was the lack of OS update option. The device was sold with 5.1 and it is the only Android version it supports. I couldn’t even find this model on Lenovo website.
Another surprise was lack of Chinese keyboard from the OS. And this is device which specially made for China and sold by Chinese manufacturer. I installed Gboard but it also didn’t have Chinese. In despair, I searched Play Store for “Chinese keyboard” and found another keyboard from Google which did the job, it had only 1 Chinese language option which was poor because iOS has 2: traditional and simplified.
I installed Google Photos, Contacts and Chrome again but at some actions I was presented with option which include system app, there was no way to make OS remember my choice even when I ticked specific “do not ask again” option. This duplication felt through entire OS, there’s 2 settings app and many system apps can be find with alternatives from Google — Clock app, messages app. I tried to install messages app but it didn’t work properly, it didn’t show SMS messages.
Because Lollipop doesn’t have privacy permissions controls, when denying permission and then changing my mind, I had to reinstall an app. App would say “I can’t access camera, restart your phone” — which is ill-advised.