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Freedom Phone: The 'ultimate political tool' and why you should avoid it

The hardware is unimpressive and the phone is dropping its Freedom OS for ClearOS Mobile. Here's everything we know (very little) and don't (so much).

Freedom Phone Erik Finman

The Freedom Phone is a new "free speech and privacy first" handset unveiled in July that's raising red flags with journalists and security experts, who say it's just a rebranded budget Chinese Android phone. 

Freedom Phone/Screenshot by Carrie Mihalcik/CNET

The 22 year-old self-proclaimed "Bitcoin millionaire" Erik Finman in an interview with The New York Times described smartphones as "the ultimate political tools. Everyone has one in their pocket." His brand new Freedom Phone promises to prioritize "free speech and privacy"above anything else. You might assume that the Freedom Phone follows the trend of phone-makers like Apple that use software updates to make it harder for companies to track you. Finman's initial announcement for the Freedom Phone was followed swiftly by security concerns raised by numerous publications and privacy experts.

The Freedom Phone and its politically conservative branding will appeal to many, but there is nothing to suggest that the phone, its privacy claims or avoidance of Big Tech work the way Finman suggests. The phone raises a number of red flags despite its maker wanting you to see nothing more than red, white and blue. The Freedom Phone contradicts Finman's hype and it makes me wonder if he is being entirely forthright with buyers.

On Aug. 9, Finman posted to Twitter a picture of a stack of FedEx boxes with the caption, "It's shipping time." The tweet was posted using Twitter for iPhone.

Freedom Phone Erik Finman

Eric Finman posted a tweet using Twitter for iPhone to announce that the first batch of Freedom Phones were shipping.

Twitter

The website for the Freedom Phone has been overhauled since it launched. The 10 different "buy" buttons were reduced to three, including the ability to use Apple Pay, which is curious, because of Finman's outspoken opposition to Big Tech companies. The site states, "Not just making America great. But also making a great phone." The Freedom Phone appears to be more interested in political rhetoric than technical innovations.

If you're looking for a phone that protects your privacy, look elsewhere. The Freedom Phone raises a lot of red flags. Initially the phone was supposed to run software called Freedom OS, which Finman claimed protects your privacy. It had an "uncensorable" app store called the PatriApp store that claims to feature apps banned by Big Tech. In the announcement video, Finman shows off a phone that is powered off and looks similar to a budget Chinese phone that sells for one-quarter of the Freedom Phone's $500 price.

On Aug. 26, Finman announced a partnership with ClearCellular, which runs on AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the US. Future models of the Freedom Phone will run ClearOS Mobile, which is based on Android 10, made by the Big Tech company Google. The new phones will have better hardware, security and a ClearCellular logo on the back.

In a post on Twitter, Finman wrote, "We designed the original version great, but now we're making it 10x better. That means stronger security, tighter privacy, and better hardware."

The basic specs and technical details put the Freedom Phone nearly on par with a $200 budget Android phone. Despite Finman claiming that the Freedom Phone is comparable to the best smartphones, its hardware doesn't come close to premium phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro Max. On paper, it doesn't even seem comparable to the best budget phones. There are no details about the new version of the Freedom Phone that comes out in November or what makes it "10x better."

It's not clear whether the models that shipped in August will be upgraded from Freedom OS to ClearOS or if Finman is planning to support both Freedom OS and ClearOS moving forward. Also, if the original phone and OS was supposed to be robust, what makes the new OS have stronger security and privacy features? No matter what your politics are, this isn't a good sign.

Read more: 5G myths, debunked

There isn't much information about how any of the software privacy and free speech features actually work on the August version of the Freedom Phone, or the new version that's due out in November. This is a red flag. The phone is marketed entirely on its politically conservative branding and seems like nothing more than a savvy entrepreneur looking to make money from conservatives frustrated with Facebook and Twitter banning former President Donald Trump.

I also ordered a Freedom Phone for testing, but had my order canceled. I placed another order and hope to test it out when I receive it. I don't recommend you buy the Freedom Phone at this time. I contacted Freedom Phone and Finman for comment and to get more information about the phone. 

What is the Freedom Phone?

It's a new phone that promises to protect your privacy and allow free speech without censorship across the device. In his promotional video, Finman says that the Freedom Phone "does everything your current phone does except censor you or spy on you." He says it's comparable to the best smartphones on the market. The Freedom Phone's specs are not comparable to the specs of the best phones. At best, some of the specs are comparable to the $200 Moto G Play or the $250 Moto G Power. Both of those phones have a giant 5,000-mAh battery. The size of the Freedom Phone's battery is unknown.

Finman goes on to state that everyone is complaining about "Big Tech censorship" but no one is doing anything about it. On screen in the video, a generic tweet is shown that's dated Dec. 18 and attributed to Twitter user "@twitteruser" that reads, "BUILD YOUR OWN PHONE!" To which Finman replies, "So, I did." The Twitter account shown is a real address whose last post is dated Nov. 5, 2013. 

How many Freedom Phones are there?

There is the original Freedom Phone and apparently a new version that comes out in three months' time. 

Does the Freedom Phone actually work?

We don't know. In the launch video, the phone remains powered off the entire time. That could indicate that the software isn't ready for viewing. We asked Freedom Phone for more details.

Why is the Freedom Phone controversial?

Any time a handset vendor makes claims about a phone's features, it falls to the company to demonstrate and explain how those features work. The Freedom Phone's website, launch video and Finman's posts on Twitter give few details about the phone or how its protections work. The technical details shared don't match up to Finman's claims. The fact that the company already has a second version of the phone planned with an entirely new OS is a huge red flag.

How much does the Freedom Phone cost?

It's listed at $500. That's the same price as a Galaxy A52 5G, a Google Pixel 4A 5G and an iPhone XR. It's $50 more than the new Google Pixel 5A with 5G

Read more: Best phones under $500 in 2021

Is the Freedom Phone just a rebranded $120 Chinese Android phone?

The Freedom Phone has the tagline: "Made for conservatives by conservatives." Turns out it's actually made by a Chinese company called Umidigi that's based in Shenzhen. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Finman confirmed that Umidigi made the Freedom Phone but didn't specify which Umidigi phone design is used.

Matthew Hickey, a cybersecurity expert who co-founded Hacker House, told the Daily Dot that the Freedom Phone is a Chinese phone called the Umidigi A9 Pro that can be bought from AliExpress for as little as $119. He said that the A9 Pro is sold in bulk with custom logos and branding.

In a tweet, Finman wrote, "We designed this between my design lab and our partner in Hong Kong to make a phone that is custom."

Should I buy a Freedom Phone?

No. Even if all of Finman's claims about the Freedom Phone turn out to be true, it's best to wait until devices are available to test the company's claims.

Is the Freedom Phone a scam?

Finman hasn't explained how the phone works, or how it protects your privacy or free speech. Despite the claims so far, the Freedom Phone's basic technical details don't match the claims Finman made about it being comparable to the best phone on the market. The fact that he is releasing an entirely new version of the Freedom Phone just months after the initial one shipped isn't a good sign either. While I can't outright call it a scam, I would approach this handset with caution until it's available for testing. 

What makes the Freedom Phone secure?

The first Freedom Phone runs on Freedom OS. Finman says that it won't track your apps, your keystrokes or your location, but he doesn't explain how. The phone's Freedom OS has a security privacy guard called Trust.

"With powerful tools such as Trust, you are in control of what your apps can do whenever you want. Trust will help you understand the security of your device and warn you about possible threats."

We have never heard of Trust. It might be something Finman's team developed. Again, there aren't any details on how it works or where it came from. It isn't clear if Freedom OS is based on Android. (And just a reminder that Big Tech company Google makes Android.)

Google frequently updates Android with software upgrades and security patches, which this phone likely wouldn't get.

An upcoming new version of the Freedom Phone will run ClearOS Mobile, which is built on Android 10. 

What makes the Freedom Phone 'uncensorable'?

The website says the Freedom Phone has an "uncensorable" PatriApp store offering apps banned by the Google Play Store and iOS App Store. What's unclear is if there are policies in the PatriApp store that protect against illicit criminal activity, hate speech, graphic and sexual material or pedophilia. Is the PatriApp store basically like the 4chan of app stores?

It also isn't clear how the phone would handle technical details like IP tracing, website cookies or other conventional tracking tools used on phones and other electronic devices. We don't know if the Freedom Phone has received clearance from the Federal Communications Commission.

Which carriers does the Freedom Phone work on?

The Freedom Phone website states it will work with "Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile & Sprint, and all other domestic and international carriers." (In 2020, T-Mobile officially closed its $26.5 billion merger with Sprint.)

The upcoming version will run on ClearCellular, which runs on the backs of AT&T and T-Mobile.

How does the Freedom Phone protect against carrier tracking?

It's unclear, and the issue isn't addressed on the Freedom Phone website.

If the Freedom Phone avoids Big Tech, why does it work on all of the major US carriers?

This is also unclear. In Finman's promo video, the term Big Tech is largely used in the context of Twitter and Facebook banning Trump after he used his accounts to whip up a mob that invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6.

When can you order a Freedom Phone?

The Freedom Phone is available to order now. We strongly recommend you don't order it.

When does the Freedom Phone ship?

The original Freedom Phone shipped in August. A second batch will ship in October. The new version of the Freedom Phone is expected to ship in November.

Where can you buy a Freedom Phone?

At this time, only on the Freedom Phone website.

What apps does the Freedom Phone run?

The website shows icons for Parler, NewsMax, OANN, Rumble, the DuckDuckGo web browser and Telegram encrypted messaging. But it's unclear if it will be able to run productivity apps like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat, social media apps like TikTok or Snapchat, dating apps like Tinder or Grindr, or video games.

Is the Freedom Phone 'comparable to the best smartphones' as Finman claims?

We have strong doubts. The design shown in the video looks like dozens of budget Android phones we've seen over the years. It doesn't look high-end. The screen has a teardrop cutout for the selfie camera, which is a design choice many Android phones had three years ago.

From the specs that are shared, it's clear that the Freedom Phone's are not on par with specs from the best smartphones like the iPhone 12 or Galaxy S21. The Freedom Phone has some specs that match up to budget phones like the $200 Moto G Play and $250 Moto G Power, even though the Moto phones have additional features like Turbo Charging.

What are the specs for the Freedom Phone?

It has a 6-inch screen that Finman says is edge-to-edge. In the video, he never shows the display powered on running Freedom OS. Photos show a dual-SIM card tray with a spot for expandable storage. Finman says things like "great camera," "comparable to the best smartphones on the market" and a "super fast processor," but the specs shared tell a different story.

At best, the Freedom Phone's hardware specs put it barely on the same level with a $200-$250 budget phone. Important details about the type of processor (Qualcomm or MediaTek) as well as the battery size are left out. There are three rear cameras, but aside from the resolution of the sensors, information regarding cameras is absent, such as if one is ultrawide or a depth sensor.

Curiously, the Freedom Phone has NFC, which means it could be able to use wireless payments like Google Pay. But since Google is part of Big Tech I'm not sure what, if any, wireless payments would be supported on Freedom OS. There also isn't any mention of biometric security like a fingerprint reader to unlock the phone or for online shopping. See how the Freedom Phone's specs stack up against some 2021 budget phones below.

Freedom Phone specs vs. Umidigi A9 Pro, Motorola Moto G Play, Motorola Moto G Power


Freedom Phone Umidigi A9 Pro Motorola Moto G Play (2021) Motorola Moto G Power (2021)
Display size, resolution 6-inch LCD; 1,560x720 pixels 6.3-inch LCD; 2,340x1,080 pixels 6.5-inch LCD; 1,600x720 pixels 6.6-inch LCD; 1,600x720 pixels
Pixel density 286ppi 409ppi 269ppi 267ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.06x2.87x0.33 in 6.25x2.95x0.34 in 6.5x2.99x0.39 in 6.51x2.99x0.37 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 154x73x8.5 mm 159x75x8.6 mm 167x76x9.4mm 165x756x9.5mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.64 oz; 160g 7.23 oz; 205g 7.2 oz; 204g 7.28 oz; 206.5g
Mobile software Freedom OS or ClearOS Mobile (Android 10) Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera 13-megapixel, 2-megapixel, 2-megapixel 32-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultrawide), 5-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth sensor) 13-megapixel (wide-angle), 2-megapixel (depth sensor) 48-megapixel (wide-angle), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth sensor)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 24-megapixel 5-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture TBA 1080p 1080p 1080p
Processor 1.8GHz octa-core processor; brand unknown 1.8GHz MediaTek, Helio P60 octa-core (4xCortex-A73 and 4xCortex-A53) processor Snapdragon 460 with 1.8GHz octa-core Kryo 260 CPU, 600MHz Adreno 610 GPU Snapdragon 662
Storage 64GB 64GB 32GB 32GB/64GB
RAM 4GB 4GB 3GB 3GB/4GB
Expandable storage Up to 256GB Up to 256GB Up to 512GB Up to 512GB
Battery 4,000 mAh 4,150 mAh 5,000 mAh 5,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor TBA Rear Rear Side
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack Yes Yes Yes Yes
Special features Comes with a clear case, dual-SIM card (both physical) Comes with a case and screen protector, 10W fast charging, digital infrared thermometer, customizable hardware shortcut key, dual-SIM card (both physical), 10W rapid charging, spot color photos 15W turbo charging, EIS, FM radio, spot color photos and video
Price off-contract (USD) $500 $120 $200 $250 (64GB); $200 (32GB

Who owns Freedom Phone?

According to its website, Freedom Phone is owned by Finman, LLC, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Eric Finman is listed as the company's agent and organizer.

Who is Freedom Phone's billionaire founder Erik Finman?

Finman grew up in Idaho. In 2013, at the age of 14 he reportedly bought 100 Bitcoin for $1,000, which, by the time he was 20, was worth more than $1 million. In 2017, he founded the education startup Botangle. In 2019, he invested in a cryptocurrency company called Metal Pay to be a competitor to Facebook's Libra cryptocurrency (now called Diem).