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Android Luvin, part deux

September 14, 2010 2 comments

When it comes down to it there are basically two things that one can do with an Android phone:

1.  Use it like any normal phone. Make calls, download apps, show it off, brag about it, spar with ifanboys, and/or

2.  Open the metaphorical lid, thus invalidating the warranty, and customise the hell out of the thing.  More correctly known as rooting the device and flashing a custom ROM.

Guess which one I did?

But first, a disclaimer.  I am no phone hacker, nor will I ever claim to be one.  I just scoured the interwebs for how-tos and tutorials, which are not that difficult to find. The task is finding the one that is applicable for your situation.

It is actually funny in retrospect because about a month ago I had commented to a friend that I wasn’t the type to mess with the phone, as it was “outside my comfort zone”.

So what happened?  In my expanding thirst for Android gadgets I decided that I was going to get my hands on one of the tablets coming out in September / October.  I was particularly ogling the Samsung Galaxy S Tab (take a look here).  This would make my Nexus One semi-redundant (since I don’t use it for phone calls anyway), so I decided to step outside the comfort zone, unleash the wannabe geek in me and experiment with the thing.

Ironical side note: after I took the plunge, the pricing info for the Samsung tablet was released, and I decided it was out of budget.  Since I intended to use it mainly to buy and read ebooks I settled for the Amazon Kindle, so I went ahead and ordered the 6″ wifi Kindle 3.  It is currently out of stock, but if all goes well I’ll describe that process in a separate post.  Actually even if it doesn’t go well, as I’d need to vent.

Back to the thread, what I did was very roughly as follows:

  1. Backed up all my important stuff and downloaded apps.
  2. Accessed the bootloader and unlocked the device.
  3. Installed a recovery image, to be able to load the original software in case the device bricks (becomes as useful as a brick, maybe less so as you wouldn’t be able to stack them and end up with a solid structure).
  4. Through the recovery make a backup of the entire current OS. You know, just in case.
  5. Installed a custom ROM – in my case Cyanogenmod v6-point-something.  Not that I knew exactly what I was going into, but it seemed to be the most talked-about and praised ROM.

Oh there were many in-betweens.  One had to find the right site to install the Android SDK on the PC and hook it up via USB, download the recovery and the ROM, find the latest stable version, get blocked off the main Cyanogen site and thus having to find a costly roundabout way, find the right instructions / guidelines, none of which assumed my very basic level of knowledge so a lot of guessing was involved.

So why go through all this hassle?  One thing is that the custom ROM takes the device and puts every setting at your disposal.  This is not done out of the box to protect the owners of the devices by ensuring that it is stable and works well.  After all tampering isn’t for everyone.

Performance is also greatly increased.  Out of the box the software somehow limits the hardware’s performance, for whichever reasons (battery life, compliance with carrier restrictions, alien interference).  After installing the custom ROM even the basic handling on the phone noticeably improved.  One can also overclock the device, that is make the CPU run at faster speeds, but I haven’t tried that out yet.  Actually at this point there I many things I have to try out, it is wide open: tweaks, themes, apps, whole new ROMs, etc.

I will probably not bore you with the details.

Smartphone Debate: Android or iOS4?

August 30, 2010 2 comments

Let’s set the record straight from the start: I’ve become an Android fanboy, joining the open source, community friendly, hardware superior side of the argument with the purchase of my Nexus One.  Although to be fair I’m not familiar with ios4 so I can’t draw comparisons accurately, just from superficial general knowledge.

(Image credit n/a - it's open source demmit)

Where to start? From the unpacking of course. You can use an android straight out of the box without any itunes nonesense.  Syncing it with my Google account and I immediately have access to all my contacts, no need to start from scratch or import.

Next, the software.  Over the air, hassle free system updates – you don’t need to wait for the next phone model for the latest OS version. Greater choice of free apps, which now can also be automatically updated instead of going through them one by one.   The app market isn’t as restrictive as Apple’s.  There isn’t the fear of having your submitted app rejected by some mysterious review board.  For those living in the states there’s also GPS guided turn-by-turn voice directions to drivers. Take that Garmin.  A budding voice-to-text capability – any text input field can be filled in by voice, although the success rate isn’t very high and you still have to review the transcription.  Then there’s Google Goggles, the awesome image recognition beta app.  It allows you to shoot something and then returns search results based on what it recognises.  Applications of this include: taking pictures of products in shops and then searching for information or other prices, shooting landmarks and having relevant information returned on the search, business cards can be scanned and entered directly into contacts.

Next, the hardware. Changeable battery, SD card support (on which you can now store apps, not just media), arguably faster processor, wifi tethering, noise canceling dual microphones, oh and no need for a rubber band around it to keep from dropping calls.

The only thing I’ll concede is that apple products and apps (i.e. the UI) are sexier design wise. But that’s what captivates the audience.

I’d say that the argument between apple and android is ultimately one of impulse/desire vs logic. And in the end, the fan bases on both sides are not easily convinced to switch. It’s like the point of contention is so close to heart that to concede any ground would be akin to admitting a deep personal flaw.  Of course there are those well funded enough to be able to “try out” the other systems, only to to say that they prefer their previous phone and revert back to it (or the latest version thereof).

Update: this webcomic sums up nicely the apps possibilities of the two OS. If you don’t know what a custom ROM is, see my next post.

Categories: Tech Tags: , , , , ,

Long Queues and Nice Windows

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Being amateur techies we decided to ignore the naysayers and pay a visit to this year’s GITEX Shopper on Tuesday.  While there I had planned to get my hands on the latest Windows edition, but somehow I had missed the detail in the press which said that it was going to be launched on Thursday 22nd October.  Oh well.

Unsurprisingly we encountered traffic on the way there, not because of the particularly large volume of cars heading towards the Airport Expo, but because the access to said premises is a one lane road acting as funnel and resulting in longish tailbacks. This is a planning shortfall common to other projects in Dubai, most notably International City.  Said project is a housing development built from scratch, accommodating thousands, but only accessible via a small 20 kph two-lane road.  If one were to stick to traffic rules it would take over 30 mins just to get in.  Circumstance dictates that you should try and speed ahead on the faster lanes and try to get in closer towards the entrance.  It always works.

I digress.  Had to elbow my way towards the front of the ticket queue, or suffer being skipped by everyone else.  At each point of contact with the event or exhibitors one is given a coupon to fill in to win guaranteed and exciting prizes.  Wow.

This is the sight that met us on entering the main hall.

It is funny how Etisalat and Du seemed to be jostling for front row seats

It is funny how Etisalat and Du seemed to be jostling for front row seats

The two big telecoms launched the iPhone 3GS.  I haven’t gone into the details of their offers, but the grapevine seems to agree that du has the edge on the plans and prices.  Good riddance for the iphreaks.

I think overall there was a good selection of products, and the prices seemed fair.  The Lenovo G550 at a cool Dh 1999-.  Others complained that offers were not much different from pre show prices, with a just few bundle offers with old stock thrown in.  For myself I managed to find a nice BlackBerry bluetooth headset.  It was bundled with a car charger, which I already have, but seeing that it was so worth it I went ahead and bought it (Dh 149- for the lot).  We do have two cars anyway.

One thing which was apparent after visiting a number of booths was the lack of knowledge by the peddlers.  The retailers seem to reach into some unrelated labour pool to staff these temporary stores.  I liked asking them detailed questions and watching them stumble or BS their way out of it.

We stopped at Emax to buy the cheapest item on show, a pair of PC speakers.  The salesgirl was arabic, and after hearing us commenting on the merits of the speakers in Maltese she started her pitch again in arabic.  We told her, sorry we don’t speak arabic, and continued talking to each other.  Springing the most baffling reaction to our language yet, she just turned and left us there in the cold.  She must have assumed that we’re pulling her leg and took offense.  We had to carry on and ask somebody else for assistance.

I ended up buying Windows 7 today (from a mall, not from the show.  Traffic was much worse and wasn’t going to pay another entrance fee just for a quick buy), and am not regretting it so far.  Best feature? It is now possible to uninstall Internet Explorer.  Enough said.