Volla Phone 22 is a privacy-focused smartphone that runs the Google-free Android-based Volla OS, Ubuntu Touch, or Sailfish OS [Review]

When buying a smartphone, you have two real choices. You can opt for an iPhone, which runs iOS, or one of the many Android handsets available from the likes of Google, Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus and Sony.

If you value your privacy, then you might want a phone that truly does too. Volla Phone 22, from German firm Hallo Welt Systeme UG, is a good-looking device that is focused on keeping you safe and secure. It runs a choice of operating systems -- Volla OS, Ubuntu Touch, and the recently added Sailfish OS -- that can be selected on start-up. Support for additional mobile operating systems is coming soon.

The Volla Phone 22 is a solid mid-range device that first came to market via crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It is available in White and Elegant Black and features a 6.3-inch FHD+ display. It’s powered by a MediaTek Helio G85 4G processor and comes with a 4500mAh battery (which supports Qi wireless charging). This can be removed and replaced simply by taking the back off the phone, which is something you don’t see so much of these days.

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In this age of choice, the Volla Phone 22 is unusual as it only comes in one version with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. The capacity can be expanded by adding a MicroSD card of up to 512GB, and this can be used for installing additional operating systems. There’s support for two nano-SIMs too.

On the back of the phone are two cameras -- a 48MP primary shooter and an 8MP ultrawide angle camera with macro capabilities. There’s also a fingerprint scanner. The front has a 16MP selfie camera tucked away in a small notch. On the bottom there’s a USB-C port, speaker and a 3.5mm audio jack.

A Choice of Operating Systems

By default, the phone runs Volla OS, which is based on the open source Google-free Android Operating System (AOSP). Being Google-free means there’s no Gmail, no Google Maps, no YouTube, and so on. Which you might view as refreshing or terrifying.

The phone’s support for multi-boot means you can also install and use Ubuntu Touch or Sailfish OS as your operating system, if you’d prefer. These can be installed through Settings and you can switch between them or Volla OS on boot up.

In Volla OS there are three screens you can swipe between. The first is the Springboard. From here you can search the web by typing what you’re looking for, or if you add the @symbol when typing you will be shown matching contacts and can call or message them. You can also use Springboard to create notes or add events to your calendar.

There’s a red dot in the bottom right corner and tapping this will open up a menu for features like Dialer, Camera, Gallery, Agenda, and Recent Notes. You can change the shortcuts on offer here in Settings.

Access your favorite features though Springboard

The next screen is Apps. By default, the app icons are monochrome, and I like the look. They include Browser, Calendar, Camera, Dialer. F-Droid, Files, Gallery, Maps (smAND), Messaging, Music, Settings and VPN (HideMe). There are six other 'overflow' apps like Clock, Contacts, K-9 Mail, Radio, Store and Sync.

Adding additional apps can be done through Store or F-Droid. 'Store' in the apps list is actually Aurora Store and this lets you download your favorite apps from Google Play. You can do so by either logging into your Google Account or taking the anonymous route -- in the latter case, there are secure and insecure methods for doing so. F-Droid is home to open source alternatives to popular apps, and might suit you better if you’re truly worried about your privacy.

The final screen, Settings, gives you access to the following options:

  • Visual Mode (choose between Dark, Light and Translucent)
  • Security Mode (off by default). This lets you temporarily block selected apps from running and also block selected internet addresses.
  • News Channels (NZZ, Chip Online, The Guardian by default)
  • Shortcuts
  • Search Engines (DuckDuckGo, Startpage or MetaGer)
  • Display and menus
  • Background blur
You can choose from three theme styles

In the month I spent using it I’ve come to really like the Volla Phone 22. I like its dedication to simplicity, security and privacy, and it works well. Volla OS does take a little getting used to, but once you’ve got everything set up how you want it, it’s great.

The Volla Phone 22 is priced at €452.00 and can be purchased here.

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