I reviewed my Murena Teracube 2e phone and its /e/ OS operating system back in November 2021. Those two articles proved to be among our most-read pieces, with the latter being the most-read article at The New Leaf Journal. But as I noted in several recent articles, I am now using a Google Pixel 3a XL with LineageOS instead of the stock Pixel Android.
What happened to the Teracube 2e?
I explained in my November 2021 articles that I started using my Murena Teracube 2e in September 2021. Up until March or April of that year, I had been using a very legacy BlackBerry Classic, which I only moved off of due to wanting off Verizon for a much cheaper phone plan and some battery issues. I had been using a Motorola Moto e6 with stock Android for about six months – and the stock Android experience was enough to make me want to find a free and open source alternative expeditiously.
(TikTok showing up on my home screen after a system update is what did it.)
I installed Ubuntu Touch and LineageOS on two Google Nexus 7 (2013) tablets in the summer of 2021. Part (but not all) of my motivation was to get an idea of how the process would work on a phone. I was aware of /e/ OS, which is a fork of LineageOS, and joined a waitlist for the Teracube 2e phone which would come pre-installed with /e/ OS. My turn came up in September, so I decided to jump on the opportunity.
The Teracube 2e worked well enough for my purposes. I explained in my November 2021 review that my phone needs are limited. So long as I can use Syncthing, make calls, send messages, and do some light reading, my phone needs are satisfied. So simple are my needs that I never took advantage of /e/ OS’s tools for running a Google Play Services stand-in. I also never took much advantage of /e/ OS’s services ecosystem, having my own solution for contact, calendar, and task syncing.
My Teracube 2e did, however, develop two issues. Firstly, I had call reception problems. Sometimes the sound quality was poor, and on other occasions I would randomly drop calls. For my purposes the issue was minor. I almost never talk on the phone (evinced by my 300 minute-per-month plan) and when I needed to, I could deal with the Teracube’s issues.
(I never diagnosed the call issues, but they started in mid-2022, well after I published my review.)
The second issue was that Murena messed up /e/ OS updates for my Teracube 2e model sometime around May 2022. So I was several versions behind when I noticed the issue. I knew a fix was being worked on, so I waited. That was a bit lazy, however. I had the technical wherewithal to update it manually, and I did so slightly after moving off the Teracube 2e as my daily driver, as I detailed here. But in light of the fact that the Murena Teracube 2e was marketed to people who do not have my technical wherewithal (note that I am far from an Android hacker, but I can use ADB), this issue was sub-optimal.
After moving off?
One of my most-read articles was a July 2021 post on installing Ubuntu Touch on a Google Nexus 7 2013. Ubuntu Touch can be installed on a small selection of Android devices, and it is certainly more of an Android alternative than a close Android derivative such as LineageOS and /e/ OS (although I maintain the close derivatives are, too, Android alternatives). I planned to actually review Ubuntu Touch, but I never quite got around to it. The issue was that I could not find a use-case for Ubuntu Touch on an old tablet. To the extent I used a Nexus 7, I ended up using the one I had put LineageOS on much more than the Ubuntu Touch device (the LineageOS one was my primary feed reader when the Teracube 2e was my phone). Since I did not use the Ubuntu Touch Nexus 7 tablet organically, I never wrote a follow-up to the installation article.
But what if I could use Ubuntu Touch as it was meant to be on a newer device? Ubuntu Touch designates a small number of devices as having full support. Two of these devices are readily available in the United States on Ebay. I found a Google Pixel 3a XL at a good price in October or November and decided to pull the trigger. My idea was to test some Ubuntu Touch features that did not work on my Nexus 7 tablet (namely Android app compatibility tools) and see if I could actually use it as a daily driver phone. (I will add that the 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet is no longer supported by new Ubuntu Touch releases as of December 2022 or January 2023).
My Pixel 3a XL arrived and I set out to install Ubuntu Touch. However, whereas I had managed to install it on my Nexus 7 2013 tablet back in 2021 without too many issues, the Pixel 3a XL installation did not go so smoothly. I managed to flash Ubuntu Touch to the phone using the installation app, but I could not actually boot into the OS and set it up. I tried different fixes, including some ideas through ADB, but nothing worked.
While I did not spend much on the Pixel 3a XL (I think it was just a touch over $100, but I forget the exact price), I spent enough that I did not want to brick the device. On about attempt 12 or 13 with Ubuntu Touch, I started to become concerned that something would go real sideways. One may say I could have asked for help on the official forums, but let it be said that I tend to try to do things without asking for help (for better or for worse).
It dawned on me through the struggle that the Pixel 3a XL does technically have better hardware than the Teracube 2e. I looked up the LineageOS instructions and decided to follow them and see if I could put it on the device. (Note: While I think /e/ OS is a good project, especially for people who prefer a ready-to-use ecosystem, I used /e/ OS in exactly the same way that I use LineageOS, so the extra /e/ OS features did not add anything above the base-line LineageOS experience for my own use-case.)
Unlike Ubuntu Touch, LineageOS does not offer a graphical installer, I had to use the command line, installing a different version of Android than I had installed for Ubuntu Touch before going through a long series of commands to flash LineageOS. While the process was more difficult than the Ubuntu Touch graphical installer, it actually worked. In the end, LineageOS installed with no hiccups or issues.
After confirming everything was in working order, I decided to not push my luck with Ubuntu Touch again, opting to keep LineageOS on the phone. I promptly rooted my phone so I could uninstall some unwanted system apps (I do not like LineageOS’s default browser) and set up AdAway as it is meant to be run. I then slipped my SIM card from my Teracube 2e, put it in my Pixel 3a XL, and was off to the races. It has worked perfectly for about eight months with no issues at all.
Thus, while I had some real issues with the Murena Teracube 2e which were nudging me to consider switching, that I switched when I did was more of an accident than a well thought-out plan. If I had planned to switch, I would have probably purchased one of the Google Pixel 6 devices instead of a Pixel 3a XL and installed GrapheneOS, which I did recently on a device that is not my own. But all’s well that ends well. One ancillary benefit of the switch is that my Pixel 3a XL, being snappier than the Teracube 2e, makes for a much better feed reader – which is welcome because while my LineageOS-powered Google Nexus 7 (2013) works, it has slowed a bit and has occasional touch screen accuracy issues.
What about my Murena Teracube 2e?
I have formally retired my Teracube 2e as a phone, but as evinced by the fact that I updated it via ADB in December (it now receives /e/ OS updates without issue), it is still in use. In fact, it is on right next to my keyboard, diligently syncing stuff with Syncthing. (My even older Vankyo S7 Android tablet (which is objectively terrible) is also still in use as a Syncthing node.) At the moment, my Teracube 2e is functionally another Syncthing node in my growing collection of Syncthing nodes. However, it is a decent device for non-phone purposes, so I am thinking about some other uses I can put it toward beyond passively participating in a Syncthing chain. A small webserver? Small gaming device? I will let you know when I come up with a good idea.
I plan to use the Pixel 3a XL as my daily driver phone for the foreseeable future. While it is now legacy hardware, it receives LineageOS updates every Saturday and, for my quaint purposes, the phone is tremendously over-powered. It works so well as a reader that I now use it as my exclusive RSS reader/read-it-later device with Handy Reading. I see no reason to upgrade from my Pixel 3a XL when it continues to be actively supported by LineageOS and also does everything I ask of it with ease. (Remember – the person writing this used a BlackBerry Classic with a faulty battery until April 2021.)
Maybe the Pixel 3a XL will last until someone makes my dream of an open source e-ink QWERTY keyboard phone a reality.
(Note: This article is not a recommendation for what you should do with your phone. While I am a fan of the Ubuntu Touch project and the various open source AOSP forks, my experience with the Ubuntu Touch install shows that the installation process for any Android ROM or alternative OS can go wrong, and it is possible to brick a device. Moreover, some features and functionality that work on stock Android may not work in the same manner on an alternative – I always make sure to note that my phone needs are very minimal. If you are considering alternatives for an Android device, make sure that you do your research, make proper backups, and, ideally, test on something other than your daily driver.)