GrapheneOS can appear a bit intimidating at first, especially with its default solid black homescreen and black-and-white icons. But never fear, this guide will help you complete the setup, install essential apps, customize the phone, and become more familiar with the operating system.

Table of Contents

  1. Insert Sim Card
  2. Initial Power-on
  3. Install Essential Apps
  4. Personal Customization
  5. Rules for Installing Apps
  6. Hardening Your Device
  7. Other Resources

Insert SIM Card

Follow our tutorial to install your SIM card

Initial Power-on

When powering on the device for the first time, go through these steps

  1. Power On: Press and hold the power button on the side of the phone. You can safely ignore the message "Your device is loading a different operating system."
  2. Welcome: At the welcome screen, tap Start
  3. Language: Select your preferred language.
  4. Date and Time: Set your time zone and adjust current date and time if needed.
  5. WiFi: Connect to a WiFi network by selecting the name of your WiFi network and entering the passphrase.
  6. Turn on Cellular Data: If you have a SIM card installed and are not connected to a Wi-Fi network, you will have the option of using cellular data to complete the setup process. As always, charges may apply.
  7. SIM card missing: If you do not have a SIM card installed, you will get this screen with the option to install one at this point or setup ESIM.
  8. Location services: Determine whether to give apps permission to the device's location data. Optionally you may set up location data permissions within the individual app settings later.
  9. Fingerprint setup: To use your fingerprint sensor to unlock the screen, you will need to provide your fingerprint. This step is an optional step.
  10. Protect your phone: Set up a PIN, password or pattern to unlock the screen. This is an optional step however it will prevent unauthorized access to your phone by another individual.
  11. Restore apps and data: If you have a backup from a previously used GrapheneOS phone, you can restore it at this step.
  12. Tap Start to complete initial setup.

Install Essential Apps

Default Apps: GrapheneOS includes a suite of default apps.

  • Apps (GrapheneOS repository)
  • Auditor (custom GrapheneOS app)
  • Calculator
  • Camera (custom GrapheneOS app)
  • Clock
  • Contacts
  • Files
  • Gallery
  • Messaging
  • PDF Viewer (custom GrapheneOS app)
  • Phone Dialer
  • Settings
  • Vanadium

F-Droid:To install more apps you need app repositories like F-Droid.

  1. Go to Settings app > Apps > Vanadium > Advanced > Install Unknown Apps > Allowed
  2. Still in Settings app > Apps > Vanadium > Permissions > Allow Files and Media
  3. Restart phone
  4. Open Vanadium, navigate to https://f-droid.org/, then tap the button to download the F-Droid APK, (tap "Download Anyway" quickly or it will disappear!)
  5. Tap Open > Install

Aurora Store: If you don't find a privacy-friendly app on F-Droid, Aurora Store is your next stop. It allows you to access Google Play Store anonymously.

  1. Open F-Droid app
  2. Tap the magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner to begin a search
  3. Type "Aurora Store" and select the app name (subtitle is "by Rahul Kumar Patel")
  4. Tap Download
  5. Tap Install

Signal: At a minimum, we recommend installing Signal app for secure messaging with family and friends.

  1. Open Vanadium
  2. Navigate to https://signal.org/android/apk/
  3. Scroll down to "Danger Zone" for advanced users. Tap the Download button
  4. If asked where to download the file, the default location ("Downloads" folder) is fine
  5. If you receive a warning message that says "File might be harmful" or "downloading from this source could be dangerous", tap Download Anyway
  6. Once the file is downloaded, you should receive a message saying the download is complete. tap Open
  7. When asked "Do you want to install this app?" tap Install
  8. A message appears "App Installed", tap Open.

Personal Customization

Make GrapheneOS feel more like your phone with these recommended settings changes.

  • Install wallpapers: Select Settings app > Wallpaper & style to change home screen appearance (download our favorite wallpapers at https://digitalprivacy.shop/wallpaper)
  • Use wallpaper colors: Android 12 offers personalized colors based on your wallpaper. Go to Settings app > Wallpaper & style > Enable "use wallpaper colors"
  • System navigation: Choose how you navigate with gestures by going to Settings app > System > Gestures > System navigation
  • Add widgets: Add a clock or other widget. Hold your finger on an empty area of the home screen; In the pop-up menu tap Widgets; Select desired widget
  • Display settings: Go to Settings app > Display to adjust brightness, lock screen, screen timeout, theme, font size, auto-rotate, etc

Rules for Installing Apps

Rule #1: Use privacy-friendly apps

There are viable open-source privacy-friendly alternatives to the apps you have previously used. See our complete list of recommended apps.

Rule #2: Stay away from Big Tech

Apps made by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and other Big Tech corporations should be avoided based on their standard practice of selling your personal data for profit and tracking everything you do.

Rule #3: Install apps from these sources, in this order

  • F-Droid: The best place to find apps is on F-Droid, a repository that curates privacy-friendly open-source alternative apps.
  • Aurora Store: If you cannot find a solution on F-Droid, the next step is to search Aurora Store, an open source app that connects to Google Play Store anonymously.
  • Sandboxed Google Play Store: If the app you installed complains about not being connected to Google Play Store, ask yourself "Do I honestly need this app?" If the answer is "No", delete it. If the answer is "Yes", you'll need to install Sandboxed Google Play Store available from GrapheneOS. Although GrapheneOS offers this version of Google Play Store that can be used to install apps, it is our recommendation to avoid using Google Play Store completely. However, this is personal preference. To use Google Play Store, read the instructions at https://grapheneos.org/usage#sandboxed-google-play

Hardening Your Device

  1. Reduce App Dependency: The fewer apps on your phone, the more secure and private it will be. I challenge you to only install what you need. This will increase available storage space and reduce the potential for leaked data through random apps.
  2. Review App Permissions: Apps don't always need the permissions they request. Go to Settings > Apps & notifications > See All ## Apps. Then select each app and review permission settings. Change to Approve, Deny, or Ask Every Time as necessary.
  3. install a Firewall: Install a firewall like NetGuard from F-Droid to restrict network access on a per-app basis. Once installed, scan through the list of apps and decide whether to restrict network communication. Be cautious of restricting system apps that appear in the list.
  4. Activate Private DNS: Why is DNS important? Learn more. Go to Settings > Network & Internet > Advanced > Private DNS. Select Cloudflare DNS, or input a Private DNS provider hostname.
  5. Install a VPN: A virtual private network encrypts the data being sent from your device by tunneling to a VPN server, effectively cloaking your data and preventing ISP interception. Additionally, to the downstream recipient, your device's location will appear to be the location of the VPN server. This feature is extremely useful when accessing websites that restrict access from specific countries. There are three free VPN services available through F-Droid: the CalyxVPN, RiseUpVPN, or ProtonVPN. However paid VPNs offer more features and higher speeds.

Other Resources

The GrapheneOS website is full of useful information. Please refer to their Usage Guide and FAQ for more information.