Sabermod on the Galaxy S II

The ageing Samsung Galaxy S II still has plenty of life in it. It runs Minecraft PE and Terraria perfectly well!


It might be old, but there are still developers hacking at it and releasing firmware upgrades with modern versions of Android. I decided to try this unofficial build of Slimkat i9100 Sabermod. My previous install barfed and half the apps on it disappeared somehow!

Sabermod installed easily. I already had TWRP installed so it was only a matter of installing the various zip files through it. Give it a go if you have this old phone, especially if you’ve never messed around with ROMs and have this phone lying around. The usual caveats apply. YMMV and you might soft-brick your phone.


Galaxy S2 + Android KitKat = new lease of life

I have an old but capable Samsung Galaxy S2 that has remained unused for several months but when my Nexus 7 tablet was stolen (along with most of my camera equipment, but not my Canon 6D fortunately) a week ago I wanted another device my son could use.

One of the requirements for any such device is that only I install new apps or games. I already have a PIN on purchases but there’s so much spam on the Play Store that I suspect at least some of those Minecraft clones are up to no good. On the Nexus 7 I could use a restricted account and choose what apps or games my son could run but my S2 was running an old version of Cyanogenmod and it looks like CM isn’t supporting it any more.

NeatROM for the S2 to the rescue! It’s a KitKat 4.4.2 based ROM for the Galaxy S2 and it was a fairly painless install. You’ll need to flash a KitKat compatible CWM Recovery first, then the ROM and then Google Apps. All those things are listed on the page above.


It was then I realised and remembered that the multiuser support in Android 4.2+ is for tablets only. Luckily the code is already there but it’s switched off and someone else has already taken care of it with the Modaco toolkit for Xposed. Unfortunately after installing this the first time the phone wouldn’t boot so I had to start from scratch again but the second time it worked fine. I enabled multiuser support in Modaco and the Users menu appeared in Settings!

Unfortunately I needed to login to the Amazon Appstore in the restricted account, but a PIN should stop any accidental purchases.

The S2 is showing it’s age. I suspect the flash memory is starting to wear down. When I tried to install multiple apps at one time the Play store stopped downloading them and I had to stop the download. The original battery is rubbish but a larger replacement lasts a few hours.

It plays a mean game of Angry Birds however, which is all my son cares about now!


Cyanogenmod 10.1: the Jelly Bean update for my Samsung Galaxy S II


I’ve had a Samsung Galaxy S II since around August 2011, and while the S3 has of course tempted me the cost of the device and/or monthly commitment was too much. I’m hoping that the release of the S4 will see a price cut in the older phone! I also feel the SGS2 is a “good enough” phone for most of the things I want it to do so there was that too.

Meanwhile my S2 has been rooted for a long time but I was running an old version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich. There’s supposed to be a galaxy s ii Jelly Bean update sooner or later but because of all the tinkering I’ve done to my phone any previous OTA update always fails. Meanwhile, installing Cyanogenmod 10.1 was almost as easy as following the instructions here.

The hardest bit was getting an updated ClockworkMod Recovery on there. In Windows, Heimdall refused to see the phone, or reported an error, “libusb error: -12” or “failed to initialize protocol” even after running the included zadiag.exe. I tried it in Linux too but had similar problems until in frustration I disconnected the phone and put the Macbook to sleep. When I tried it again 5 minutes later it worked and squirted a new CWM down into my phone!

With that in place my phone wouldn’t boot, if I didn’t go into Recovery mode it just showed a black screen. No matter as I had everything backed up with Carbon backup. I removed the SD card and copied the latest nightly firmware and gapps on there. Booted into Recovery, factory reset, flashed those zip files, did a dalvik clear just in case and rebooted into Jelly Bean, Android 4.2.2! Once I logged into Google it started downloading all my apps again and with Carbon I was able to restore the settings of all my apps.

Photosphere isn’t included in this rom but I found it here in a flashable zip. Here’s what it looks like when I used it on Patrick’s Street, Cork today. iOS has a similar functionality I guess as I’ve seen a few colleagues from working waving their iPhones around while at meetups! The camera on the SGS2 is frankly rubbish but Pixlr Express does a good job of making photos look a lot better.

How does it perform? Very well for the most part.

  • I noticed that if I tether my Nexus 7 with a wifi hotspot then I will sometimes have to bring up an Internet app on the phone to wake up the 3G connection.
  • I noticed two Maps processes going a bit loopy when GPS was disabled and I had launched Ingress. GPS is disabled now and the phone is fine. Odd.
  • As a result of restoring settings from Carbon backup, Greenify had a list of apps to hibernate but because I hadn’t run it interactively then it hadn’t been granted superuser privileges. My phone got really hot as I guess the app was trying to hibernate the Facebook app repeatedly. TouchPal kept closing too but clearing the cache fixed it. Those aren’t Android problems, just a side effect of the restore process and insufficient error trapping in the apps. I’ll contact the authors about those (admittedly obscure) issues.
  • Sometimes there’s an odd slowdown in the UI. Ingress was dog slow for about 30 seconds but then it righted itself and it’s definitely faster than ICS.

I love Google Now! I wish the monthly activity card displayed in Km instead of miles. I like the new mini settings but wish that GPS was there to save me having the Power widget on a secondary homescreen. Photosphere is pretty cool. I wish Chrome had browser extensions so that Lastpass could build support for it. I haven’t yet noticed any huge difference in battery consumption. I don’t care if the FM radio doesn’t work, I never used it. Podkicker and Tunein Radio take care of any audio. The Apollo music player is nice, but doesn’t play very nicely with MP3s that don’t have tags. I had to fix some rips I made recently of CDs as they were coming up as from Unknown Artist, even though the files were in artist/album directories. All the other MP3 players I tried did the same however.

CM 10.1 has an auto update feature that John reminded me of. I haven’t enabled it yet though. I need to do more research and find out how it works and whether it will clobber my app settings and data.

If you have an SGS2 you should definitely give Cyanogenmod 10.1 a spin. I remember the first time I upgraded my original SGS to CM7 and the problems it had with camera support but I didn’t have any similar problems this time. CM10.1 will give it a whole new lease of life!


The amazing self charging Android phone


Some things never change. Both Android phones I’ve owned (Samsung Galaxy S 1 & 2) have this weird bug where the phone turns itself off and when reset by removing the battery the charge level has gone way down.

I woke early this morning to discover the PIN unlock screen so I guessed the phone had rebooted. When I checked the battery levels I saw this. The battery suddenly lost a huge chunk of charge sometime during the night but over the next few hours seemed to recharge itself.

I’d say it’s magic.


Ice cream Sandwich on my Samsung Galaxy S 2

The Samsung Galaxy S 2 is a great phone, the best phone I’ve ever owned (and I presume I’ll say that about each newer phone I buy too, it’s becoming a familiar mantra) but it’s taken a while for Samsung to release the new Android, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) upgrade for it. I’m a Meteor Mobile user and ICS was released by them late last week.

Unfortunately when I tried to upgrade my rooted Gingerbread phone through KIES it simply upgraded to the latest Gingerbread release (2.3.5) and not ICS. It may have been because my phone was rooted but I had read that it was possible to upgrade rooted phones. I was disappointed but then my phone kept half-reseting. The bootup tune would play every 5 minutes or so and the phone would appear to have reset. It happened too fast for a reboot so I didn’t know what was happening. Quite frustrating though.

So, I backed up my sms texts, backed up aCar and my Podkicker subscriptions and with the help of this page I installed a generic European ICS firmware on to my SGS2. It was painful unfortunately. KIES, the Samsung desktop sync software, is fairly rubbish. I had to plug my phone in and out of my computer, using different USB ports, resetting my phone in between, just so the software would recognise my phone. I eventually had to use ODIN and the same switching USB ports trick again. I think the Samsung USB drivers conflict with the generic Windows drivers which causes the problems but this is a long standing problem with Samsung phones.

The instructions on the page above are fairly straight forward. Just keep trying to get your phone recognised if you have problems. It will work eventually. When your phone is in download mode and ODIN is squirting the firmware over it should only take a few minutes to work. I had to stop the download twice before it worked which got me worried that I might have bricked the phone!

Was it worth upgrading? The new Roboto font in ICS is gorgeous. It’s a huge step up from the default in Gingerbread. I immediately replaced the Samsung TwLauncher with ADWLauncher EX. The phone looks much the same as it was in Gingerbread, the settings page is better, the fonts are better and it does feel snappier. Unfortunately Kids Place doesn’t work but I found another kid’s sandbox app, Famigo that does.

I’m happy I upgraded but wish it had been easier. The upgrade works a lot better for most people, don’t worry if you see the upgrade notice. Just make sure your contacts and other data are backed up before you go down this path! If you upgrade through KIES it won’t delete everything on your phone and the upgrade is a lot less painful.

Oh yeah, in ICS the screenshot function is now Volume Down+Power buttons.


Samsung Galaxy S II Blues?

So you just bought Samsung’s new Galaxy S II smart phone. Nice isn’t it?

One of the first things I noticed when I turned it on was the unusual blue colour cast on the screen. It’s impossible to capture in a screenshot but I soon found out how to fix it and promptly forgot about it again. I was only reminded of it by the Ars review of the phone. Oddly they found the phone to have a yellowish colour cast:

But the screen has a very warm cast to it even at the brightest settings, so whites look yellowish-brown, like you’re looking at the phone through sunglasses. Samsung may have tuned it this way to mitigate the AMOLED’s brightness, but we found it off-putting. This isn’t an obstacle that can’t be overcome, and we’d likely get used to it after a while—some people prefer warmer-toned screens. But every surrounding phone’s screen will always look bluish and undersaturated by comparison.

It’s easily fixed by going into Settings->Display->Background effect. In my experience, “standard” looks a bit pale, blue and cold, “movie” looks a bit yellowish and warm. I finally selected “dynamic” and that looked the best. Whites look white. Persil would be proud.

Oh, the phone is fabulous. The default launcher sucks but it’s simple to change that (Go Launcher EX, thank you!). Google had all my settings already recorded so it was only a matter of logging into Google and it sucked down all the apps I had previously from the Android Market. Same with contacts. Definitely the easiest phone upgrade I’ve ever done.

Also check out this lengthy Anandtech review of the phone. Quite a bit of reading!