The Galaxy S7 finally gets Nougat

Nougat, or Android 7.0 has finally been released by Samsung for the Galaxy S7/ and S7 Edge and my phone is downloading it.

Now that it’s here I was wondering if I should install it as I’m quite fond of “Good Lock”, a replacement for the notification system in Samsung phones that doesn’t yet work in Nougat, but this comparison video (of the first beta) below convinced me to try it.

The notification panel looks ok, but has been updated since that video was made. The brightness slider can be moved to the top of the notification panel so it shows on the first pull-down now. That brightness warning dialog only showed the first time I set it to that bright. It’s definitely an improvement on the panel in stock Marshmallow on the S7. I like the multitasking, and the camera has got a nice UI update, even though I rarely use anything but the “pro” mode to shoot raw files. I hope Android Pay still works. I guess that’s one good thing about credit cards – you don’t have to worry about an OS update breaking it!

I wonder if I can enable the blue light filter only at night. That would be more useful than the screen turning yellow during the day. Nightmode Enabler doesn’t work.

Finally, here’s a video showing the final Nougat update..

Split screen on your phone

thread on Reddit asked what you use the new split screen functionality in Android Nougat for. Apparently people use it to browse Reddit and watch YouTube at the same time. 

Samsung Android phones have had this functionality for a while but I rarely use it however I decided to try this, and it works fairly well!

‘course I don’t know how you can concentrate on something else and watch a video at the same time..

Hey! It even works with the WordPress app! 

I guess it would be useful for picking out quotes from articles, and it would save lots of tapping on the multitasking button to change apps when copying text.

Have you used the split screen feature of your phone if it has it?

The Samsung Galaxy S5 Marshamallow Update

So, I’m back in the Samsung TouchWiz fold. I was a fairly happy user of Cyanogenmod for a few months which allowed me to use the latest version of Android on my Galaxy S5. It worked almost the way I wanted it to. There were a few issues related to the notification light, the capacitive button lights and bluetooth. I discussed the lights issues in my previous post but only briefly touched on bluetooth.

This doesn’t happen to everyone, but on my phone, if I was using a bluetooth speaker the audio would break up from time to time. This would happen if the phone was moved, the screen turned on, or if I interacted with it in other ways. It was really annoying as you can imagine.

In the last few weeks Samsung have started rolling out the official Marshmallow update for the S5. Last Friday the update for Sri Lanka appeared online. This is important for me because it’s the same model used in Europe and many other countries, SM-G900F!

It wasn’t long before discussion on XDA started, and a ROM I used before, DevBase, was updated with a 6.0.1 release. I like this rom because it has the core Samsung software but has stripped out other bits to save space.

About Phone

Installing a new rom or firmware takes a while but basically comes down to these steps:

  1. Backup everything, just in case. I used Titanium backup for individual apps and a nandroid backup of the whole phone.
  2. Copy the new firmware onto the phone.
  3. Reboot into recovery mode (volume up+menu+power) and do a factory reset. That doesn’t delete everything on your phone which I always found weird, but useful because it doesn’t delete the firmware..
  4. Flash the new firmware from recovery and tell the recovery to reboot into download mode.
  5. Boot up a Windows machine and Odin, connect my phone, and flash the bootloader and modem.
  6. Reboot phone and restore apps.

Flashing a new firmware is never without stress. You can soft brick your phone meaning the device won’t boot properly. That happened to me, but after flashing the bootloader and modem again it worked fine. It also takes an age to get things back the way they were before. That’s the kicker. It’s back the way it was before, for the most part so from a cursory glance it looks much the same as it ever did.

So, what’s better now? Bluetooth is perfect now, charging notification lights behave correctly, as do lights on the capacitive buttons. Battery life is the same as before, excellent for an almost 2 year old device. I replaced the stock Samsung lockscreen, notification system and task switcher with Good Lock, which I find is a lot better and faster. You can find it on the US Galaxy App store, or here if you don’t have access to that.

There was definitely more free space on my internal storage when I was running Cyanogenmod. I haven’t tried moving any apps to the SD card yet but there’s about 2GB of space free now which isn’t bad since Google Photos chews up almost 1GB of space. I also flashed URWSoft Barebone Cleaner to free up more system space, but the rom I used was already fairly light already so it didn’t make much of a difference.

I did have trouble with Quickpic and Syncthing deleting photos from my external SD card, but I’m using a very old version of Quickpic, and I think Syncthing had the same problem with Cyanogenmod. I’ve put them on the internal storage for now. I never leave photos on my phone for long anyway.

Homescreen
Of course I’m not using Samsung’s default launcher. It’s Nova Launcher all the way!

My Galaxy S4 Home

Galaxy S4 Home

It’s crazy how many pixels the screen of the Samsung Galaxy S4 has. 1920×1080 pixels. That’s more than many computer users have on the desktop.

Of course, in 5 years time everyone’s going to be marvelling at their 4096 pixel wide screens and this will seem oh so quaint.

These are some of my most used Android apps, including Reddit is fun, Gmail, Feedly, Falcon Pro, WordPress, FBReader, Podkicker Pro, Amazon Kindle and Google Plus. Flipboard looks stunning on it and is one of the pre-installed apps that unfortunately takes up around half the 16GB internal space. The camera is superb. The background image is one I took in my back garden and processed in Pixlr Express. You can find some more photos in my Blarney post I made this morning.

It beats me why manufacturers of Android phones couldn’t make it possible to uninstall those apps I don’t need. I have all the gesture stuff turned off, and the Samsung Keyboard but they still remain on the device sucking up space. There’s still 4GB of free space so I have some breathing space still. Phew.
I really need to set up Folder Sync on this phone to copy stuff off on a daily basis.

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

cyanogenmod

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!

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.