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How I fixed the lag issue on my Nexus 5x

If you Google Nexus 5x lag, you will see many users complaining about lag on the Nexus 5x. If you follow the threads, some people will complain about lag. Others will say they've experienced no lag. Some seem to think it has to do with faulty units (vs. non-faulty units). Others seem to think it has to do with not-yet-optimized-for-Marshmallow apps.

I, too, experienced the lag, but I chalked it up to Marshmallow still needing some kinks ironed out or the difference in performance between an encrypted Android vs. an unencrypted one. It also wasn't horribly debilitating a lag—it was just slightly annoying. It would be an extra second switching apps or an extra second for an app to load after being selected.

I tried uninstalling some apps I thought might be problematic. I also tried clearing the cache partition (that would make things a little better for maybe an hour or so, but then the lag would return).

Finally, I did what I really didn't want to do: I did a factory reset. I backed up all my data to my computer and did a full wipe of all my phone's contents. Now this, I think, is the most important step: when setting up the phone, I chose not to restore backed up data from Google's servers and just do a fresh, clean setup. It was annoying, of course, because I had to go through all my settings and tweak them and manually download all my apps again, but it was totally worth it. Now there's absolutely zero lag. The phone performs just as well as my old Moto X 2013.

I don't know that this is the definitive solution, but it worked for me. So if you're one of those Nexus 5x users who's experiencing the dreaded lag, take the 3-4 hours to back up your data locally, do a factory reset, do not restore backed-up data associated with your Google account, then re-download your apps, restore your local backup, and re-configure everything again fresh. You, too, may find it totally worth the trouble.

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Manually installing an OTA update for the Nexus 5x

In theory, your device should automatically check for an OTA (over-the-air) update, download it in the background, and then prompt you to install the update. No matter how much I manually checked, my device kept insisting it was up to date (I know Google likes to do staggered automatic rollouts, but it's just annoying when I manually initiate a check and Google still insists on not giving me the update).

These are just slightly more detailed step-by-step instructions based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow OTA Links for Sideloading. This GitHub page has a list of OTA updates for Nexus devices. Find the download for your device. I'm using my device (Nexus 5x) as an example. In theory, the instructions should be very similar for other Nexus devices.

Find your device's build number

There are two different 6.0 builds for the Nexus 5x (MDB08L and MDB08M). To find out which one was mine, I had to go to Settings > About phone > Build number to find out my build was MDB08L.

For the U.S. version of the Nexus 5x, the upgrade is MHC19J from MMB29Q.

Enable USB debugging

While you're in the About phone section, tap the Build number and keep tapping it until you get a notification that developer options are now enabled. Then go to Settings > Developer options and scroll down until you get to USB debugging and tap the toggle next to it to enable it.

Get the Android SDK

Google used to have an easy-to-find SDK download link. Now it points you to Android Studio instead, which you can use to install the SDK using SDK Manager if you go to Tools > Android > SDK Manager. You may, somewhere on the Android developer website be able to track down a standalone SDK download if you dig around enough.

It took me a while to find exactly where the SDK installed to. Eventually, I found it it was installed to /Users/username/Library/Android/sdk/platform-tools (I'm using a Mac—it's probably a similar path for Windows, maybe in /Users/username/AppData?).

Do the actual flashing of the OTA

Disclaimer: Uh, these instructions worked for me, but absolutely this is at your own risk. I'm not at all responsible (nor is the person who wrote the tutorial on which this is based) for any damage you might do to your device.

Open up a terminal (again, I'm using a Mac, so it's in /Applications/Utilities/Terminal.app; if you're using Windows, find cmd.exe and launch that up instead).

At this point, plug your device into your computer using a USB cable. You may have to switch to PTP mode to get it to work.

Change directories to where adb is:

cd /Users/username/Library/Android/sdk/platform-tools
Substitute in your actual username for username. And don't forget you can use the Tab key to autocomplete directory names instead of manually typing out the full path.

Make sure your device shows up in the list of devices:

./adb devices

Reboot to the bootloader:

./adb reboot bootloader
Use the volume down key to focus on Recovery. Once that's in focus, press the power button to select it.

You'll see what looks like an error and a dead Android lying on its back. Press the volume up key and power buttons at the same time until you get to a list of menu options.

Use the volume down key until you get Apply update from ADB into focus. Then press the power button to select it.

You should then see a message that says Now send the package you want to apply to the device with "adb sideload ."

Back on your computer, enter a command similar to this one (again, Tab completion is your friend—you don't want to manually retype the full filename of the OTA update you downloaded:

./adb sideload ~/Downloads/f67821b18f5a3bc6552039f0997fc9511f05c2c3.signed-bullhead-MMB29K-from-MDB08L.zip

You'll then see output similar to this in the terminal on your computer:

loading:
'/Users/username/Downloads/f67821b18f5a3bc6552039f0997fc9511f05c2c3.signed-serving:
'/Users/username/Downloads/f67821b18f5a3bc6552039f0997fc9511f05c2c3.signed-serving:
'/Users/username/Downloads/f67821b18f5a3bc6552039f0997fc9511f05c2c3.signed-serving:
'/Users/username/Downloads/f67821b18f5a3bc6552039f0997fc9511f05c2c3.signed-serving:
''/Users/username/Downloads/f67821b18f5a3bc6552039f0997fc9511f05c2c3.signed-Total xfer: 2.12x
with little progress percentages going up along the way.

Meanwhile, on your phone/Android device, you'll see output similar to this:

Finding update package...
Opening update package...
Verifying update package...
Installing update...
Source: google/bullhead/bullhead:6.0/MMB29Q/#######:user/release-keys
Target: google/bullhead/bullhead:6.0.1/MHC19J/#######:user/release-keys
Verifying current system...
Verified system image...
Verified vendor image...
Patching system image after verification.
Verifying the updated system image...
Verified the updated system image.
Patching vendor image after verification.
Verifying the updated vendor image...
Verified the updated vendor image.
Patching the boot image...
Writing bootloader...
Patching radio...
script succeeded: result was [1.000000]

Install from ADB complete.

When that's done, use the volume up key to highlight Reboot system now and then press the power button to select it.

After your device reboots, you should see something like Android is upgrading...
Optimising app # of 66
.

That's it! Your update should now be installed.

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My Top 10 Android App Recommendations

Why this list?

There is no shortage of lists of top Android apps. Most tech blogs / online magazines have one every year. You can find these listicles pretty much anywhere. If you want to see a bunch of generic lists, try this Google search.

I've been an Android user since 2009, and I've had a number of Android phones (HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG), and I've tried hundreds of apps, both free and paid. I'm an actual user, not a professional tech blogger looking to write clickbait, and these recs definitely are not sponsored. These are real apps I actually use on my phone and that are super helpful to me.

I'd love to see more of these kinds of lists from other users, so this is my contribution.

What didn't make the list?

I'm not going to recommend apps that are just super popular and obvious. If you're a Facebook and Instagram user, you're probably going to install the Facebook and Instagram apps—you don't need anyone to recommend those apps to you. In fact, there's not even a point in me linking to those apps.

Tasker has been over-recommended, and if you're geeky enough to use it, you probably already know about it.

There are also good apps that are essentially abandonware (e.g., Juice Defender). I'm recommending apps that are either reasonably maintained or don't really need frequent updates to work.

Here's the list (in alphabetical order)

I'm not going to rank these in an order apart from alphabetical, because they all have different functions and operate in different categories from each other.

dropbox Dropbox
Dropbox isn't an obvious recommendation. I use CrashPlan, but I don't install the CrashPlan app on my phone. The Dropbox app could be a lot better than it is (for example, syncing a subset of folders or all folders both ways instead of only allowing for manual downloads and uploads). It is, however, super handy for automatically uploading photos to Camera Uploads in the background, so if you want to have backup copies of your photos on an actual computer with Dropbox installed (and not just Google's cloud storage for photos), you don't even have to think about it.

There are options to back up only on wireless or to back up only photos or both photos and videos.

opinionrewards Google Opinion Rewards
I'm not a tinfoil hat person. I do take some reasonable steps to guard privacy, but I don't really care that much. If you're like me in that regard and want to earn some Google Play credit, this is a great app to have. You just answer surveys periodically and get credit to spend later. It's a matter of cents (or pence?) here and there, but it adds up fairly quickly—at least enough to purchase some pay-for apps.


isyncr iSyncr for iTunes for Android
A lot of Android users have probably abandoned iTunes in favor of some other music management software. If you still keep songs in your iTunes library, this is a handy sync tool, and it's pretty solid. The developer responds to feedback and has put a lot of work into refining the interface over the years.

iSyncr can do both wireless and wired sync, and you can schedule it to sync at a certain time per day. It will also sync play counts.


みっちりねこ だっしゅ!DX ~日本一周の旅~ みっちりねこ だっしゅ!DX ~日本一周の旅~
I don't read Japanese, but I'm still able to guess through the menus and play this super-fun racing game ("dash") that isn't a side-scroller and doesn't run away from you (the cat(s) run toward you, actually). This "DX" version is more up to date and plays more like Mario Brothers in terms of having different worlds or stops you have to go through. The plus of that is that it's interesting. The minus is that if you get stuck on a level... you're pretty much stuck!

(Honorable mention: みっちりねこ だっしゅ!, which is the regular, less-up-to-date version with no storyline—just straight-up neverending dashing. It's a little bit buggy, because you can't continue without the touchscreen controls getting stuck, but it's still better than the iOS version, which just crashes when you're about to start the race.)

network Network
I'm sure there are legitimate other uses for the Network app, but I use it at Disneyland to get a working signal. When Disneyland gets really crowded, as it often does, the LTE networks get clogged up, so even when your smartphone appears to have signal, it may not actually download or upload anything. Some versions of Android do not give you fine-tuned control over the 2g/3g/4g/LTE settings, but this app will let you specify exactly what network you want. So in normal use, I'll go for LTE/GSM/CDMA Auto, which usually gets me LTE, and when I'm at Disneyland, I switch to WCDMA Only, which puts me on 4G/HSPA+, which isn't as cluttered.

opera Opera
I've tried a lot of web browsers, including Chrome, Puffin, xScope, Dolphin, Boat, Firefox, Naked, Maxthon... I can't even remember the names of all of them. I keep coming back to Opera, though.

It does have one huge flaw (which a lot of non-Chrome browsers share)—it decides to open app links as actual links instead of opening the app. For example, if you click on an Instagram link, instead of launching the Instagram app, it will just take you to the Instagram website.

A few things I dig about Opera on Android:

  • Once you start scrolling on a long page, an arrow appears that allows you to jump to the bottom or the top.
  • Opera will wrap text when you zoom on a page.
  • The controls to navigate tabs is on the bottom of the screen (handy for one-handed browsing).
  • Tabs open by default in the background, and there aren't too many options in the context menu.

pocketcasts Pocket Casts
I tried a few podcast apps, and this one just stuck with me. It has a simple interface. It works reliably. It will allow you to queue up podcasts, auto-delete downloads when finished listening... it's just simple and elegant.


poweramp PowerAmp
I honestly don't remember all the pros and cons of the various music players. I did try Player Pro at one point and also Rocket Player. PowerAmp just works for me. I like the look of the app. I like its ability to cut out silence, to resume play on headset plug-in, to allow for equalizer adjustment. I've just found it to be a good, reliable media player.


Ski Safari 2
I'm a big fan of 2D games, as opposed to 3D ones, and I like the side-scrollers of yore (Super Mario Bros.). This is a great side-scroller with cute music, sounds, and animation. In this sequel, unfortunately, you can't pay to get rid of the ads, but the ads appear only once you complete a level (not during actual gameplay). They've also finally added the option to play a female skier instead of just the default Sven.

wordfeud WordFeud
When Words with Friends started up, it was iOS-only, so my iPhone-using friends wanted to play with me, but I couldn't play with them. I convinced a bunch of my iPhone-using friends to download WordFeud, and I've found WordFeud to be much better a Scrabble game, mainly because you can actually pay to get rid of the ads (you can't do that on Words with Friends). It also just doesn't have all the bright colors and distracting animations. WordFeud just focuses on the game play.

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Nexus 5x: Second Impressions

Here's a follow-up to last week's Nexus 5x: First Impressions post.

What I've liked so far

Basically, it's all the same stuff that impressed me at first—mainly the camera and the fingerprint sensor.

What's bothered me so far

While this list may look long, it doesn't mean I'm not enjoying using the phone, but I do have some nitpicks, so here they are:

  1. Even though the double-tap on the power button launches up the camera no matter where you are (great!), you'd think (as it did on the Moto X after a double-twist) that the phone being already unlocked would return you to an unlocked state after you launch up the camera. Nope. Whether the phone was unlocked or not before you launch the camera with the power button double-tap, it will be relocked after you're done with the camera. Sure, you can unlock it again quickly using the fingerprint sensor, but in terms of usability and user expectations, there's no reason launching up the camera should change the phone from an unlocked state to a locked state.
  2. Google will prompt you to enable Google Now cards and Google Now on Tap. That's fine. That's what I expect them to do. But even after you click to enable them and then decide to disable them again, there will still be a prompt, when you hold the home button, to enable them. Advertise once, please. Once I've seen it, I don't need to see it again. I opted out. Don't bug me.
  3. If you plug your Nexus 5x in to a computer, it will always default to charging only and not to transferring files. There is no way to change this default. The behavior is even more bothersome if your main computer is a Mac, because Android File Transfer (the Mac program you have to use to transfer files to/from Android) will automatically launch up when a phone is plugged in, but since the phone isn't set to transfer files, Android File Transfer will think the phone is just locked and give you an error message, which means you have to temporarily (again, no way to permanently change this setting) set the phone to transfer files and then re-launch Android File Transfer.
  4. When you first set up the phone, it asks if you want to require a password every time the phone boots up. Two issues with this—if you select to require a password, there's no way to change it back without factory resetting your phone; and even if you select not to require the password, it will still require a password!
  5. Apps aren't all updated to work with Marshmallow yet. Not exactly the fault of the phone, but just something to keep in mind. I tried using Firefox with Adblock. and it would constantly cause the phone to reboot (Chrome and Opera operate just fine). VolumeNext doesn't work to skip forward with a regular auxiliary cable (not headphones) but can skip backwards—didn't have that issue with lollipop. Those are just two examples. There will probably be others for other users. After a while, the app developers will update their apps to be more compatible with Marshmallow.
  6. The camera aspect ratio defaults to 4:3 instead of 16:9. The phone is advertised at having a 12 megapixel camera, but if you change it to 16:9, it drops to 8 megapixels. It may be fine to have 4:3 for Instagram, but when you look at your photos in the Photos app, there will be black bars (because the phone itself has closer to a 16:9 aspect ratio). I've changed it to 16:9, and it seems to be much better. I don't believe the drop in megapixels adversely affects the quality of the photos.

Do I still recommend this phone?

Hell, yes! As I mentioned before, those are tiny nitpicks people should be aware of, but the day-to-day use of the phone is great. Still a bit too large for my tastes, but there is no 4.3-inch screen on a new Nexus phone, so it's at least smaller than the 6p.

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Nexus 5x: First Impressions

Two years ago, I posted up Moto X: First Impressions. I just got the new Nexus 5x, and I thought I'd post my first impressions of that phone as well.

The Good

  • The camera photos seem crisp and the camera focuses quickly. I haven't had a chance to thoroughly test it in low light, but I've done a few indoor shots, and they seem immensely better than what I could capture on my (albeit two-year-old) Moto X.
  • The fingerprint sensor is amazing. It is indeed fast—almost instantaneous. And I find its placement on the back of the phone to be very convenient. Even though the phone is tall, the fingerprint sensor isn't toward the top of the phone... it's more toward the middle, so I don't have to reach up that high to get it. It's close to where my index finger would naturally rest. I was also able to register two of my index fingers and also two of my spouse's, so either of us can use the phone without always having to enter a password. The other up side to this is, since I don't need the password often (not at all, so far), I can make it a fairly complex one. When you have to enter a password/pin/pattern ten or twenty times a day, it's tempting to make it short and simple.
  • The screen looks good. I don't know anything about resolution numbers and pixels per inch or types of displays, but it looks good to me. Not too much glare. Not too much color saturation (or too little). Video looks good. I also like that the display brightness can go low. The lowest brightness on my old Moto X was still too bright in a dark room (so I ended up having to download a "night mode" app for my old phone).
  • Double-tap power button camera activation is a good call. I know Google was considering implementing the double-twist to activate the camera, the feature that debuted with my old Moto X, and I'm glad they went with a double-tap of the power button instead. The double-twist was an awesome feature, but the Moto X was a nice tiny-sized phone you could easily hold in one hand and twist around without worrying about dropping. Even though the Nexus 5x is smaller than the Nexus 6p, the 5x is still enormous, and so having a double-twist action ups the risk on dropping the phone.
  • The physical build is good. I know a lot of people like to bag on plastic (vs. metal), but the plastic of the Nexus 5x feels and looks nice. The phone still has a premium feel to it. Even though visually it looks as if the rear camera bulges out the back, the phone is still able to sit flat on a table without wobbling.
  • Power and volume buttons are well placed. The phone, as I mentioned before, is tall. So it's good the power and volume buttons, although above the middle, are closer to the middle than the top of the phone, making them all easy to reach (no, I don't have giant man-hands).

The Okay

  • One front speaker is fine. I'd love two front-facing stereo speakers. Since every other phone I've had has had one rear-facing speaker, even having only one front-facing mono speaker is a huge upgrade for me. I know some audiophiles out there will be disappointed in this. The volume is adequate. If you turn the volume up, you can hear things fine, but you won't ever have to worry about turning the volume too high. Having two visual speakers even though only one is functional is a terrible idea, especially since the speaker design attracts fuzz and lint.
  • The camera app is not terrible. A lot of reviews have been down on the Google Camera app as being too simplified and barebones. I'm coming from the Moto X, which has basically nothing on the screen, and you tap anywhere on the screen to take a picture, so the controls for the Google Camera seem almost overwhelming to me. I've always felt with Android that you can get a more sophisticated camera app from the Google Play Store if that stuff matters to you. I will say the noises that the camera app emits when you switch to video or start a video or take a picture are annoying.
  • 32 GB is all right, but 64 GB would be better. One of the reasons I was tempted by the Moto X Pure is its microSD expansion. The Nexus 5x has only internal flash storage, and the max is 32 GB. To be honest, if 64 GB was an option, I don't know that I would have gotten it, but I know a lot of Android fans love to put as much crap as they can on their phones. I had 16 GB on my old Moto X, so 32 GB seems like a wonderland of space.

The Bad

  • The Google Now launcher is horrible. This is probably more of a Marshmallow thing than a Nexus 5x thing, but I hate the new Google Now launcher. The icons are enormous. There is no longer the press and move up action to launch something (which, in the past, I was able to link to Opera instead of Google Now). Not only that, but you can't have any screens to the left of the home screen. By default, there's only one home screen and any home screens you add all have to be to the right of it. So I've opted to replace the Google Now launcher with my old buddy, the Nova Launcher. Now my icons are the right size, and I can configure my screens (and the home button gestures) however I want.
  • The phone is too big. Yes, I've mentioned this several times, but it really is bad. My spouse assures me I'll get used to the size, but for now (first impressions, remember?) it's extremely annoying. I take public transit, which means I'm often standing with only one hand available. The phone is definitely too big for one-handed use (unless you have giant man-hands). Unfortunately, this is just the direction phones are going. I was debating between the Moto X Pure and the Nexus phones, and of the three (Pure, 5x, 6p), the 5x is the smallest. Nevertheless, it's a bit too big for my tastes.
  • The accessories it comes with are meager. You get a standard power adapter and USB-C-to-USB-C cable. You also get a little SIM card ejector tool. That's pretty much it. I was hoping for a USB-C-to-USB-A or USB-C-to-microUSB adapter. USB-C may be the "new thing," but it's far away from mass adoption, very far away. I also found it odd that no headphones were included. Every Android phone I've gotten in the past has come with a pair of crappy headphones. I know the audiophiles out there usually ditch the crappy headphones anyway, but I'm not an audiophile. I appreciate an included pair of headphones. Could be just me.

The Untested

  • Phone call quality. Some people on the Android Forums complained about the phone quality being terrible. I haven't had a chance to see if that's really the case.
  • Battery life. I've had the phone one day. And I've been charging it a lot and not using it very extensively, so it's really hard for me to say how the battery life is at this point.

Summary of first impressions

No real big surprises. I'd read a lot of reviews of the phone before getting it. The three big draws for me were the fingerprint sensor, the better camera, and the timely OTA updates from Google. I guess eventually I get used to using an enormous phone...

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Unboxing the Nexus 5x

Useless Backstory: Moto X to Nexus 5x

My by far favorite Android phone since 2009 has been the Moto X 2013. Indeed, if it were not for its subpar camera, I would say it is, even now, still the best Android phone. The Moto X 2013 had innovative new features (ones that—had Apple released them in the iPhone—iPhone fans would be gushing about as evidence of Apple pushing new boundaries and being very user-centered in its design... since Motorola's marketing department isn't as good, most people just ignored these features): ambient display, double-twist to activate camera, OK Google Now, etc.

That said, I find myself using my phone's camera more and more often and being very sad about especially the low-light shots from the Moto X 2013. I've also found the fingerprint sensor on the new iOS devices to be pretty cool, and the reviews said the sensor on the Nexus 5x is even more responsive. I also find it a bit awkward to press my thumb on the home button of an iOS device to unlock it. I like the idea of the sensor being on the back of the phone where your index finger might naturally rest when picking up the phone.

More Useless Backstory: Fed Ex Annoyances

I was dumb and decided to have Google deliver to my apartment instead of my workplace. So Fed Ex attempted a delivery when I wasn't home, and then I tried to get it over the weekend and called Fed Ex, but the customer service representative, whom I could barely understand, said the facility was closed over the weekend, so I couldn't pick it up in person. Oddly, I couldn't redirect the destination either—something I'm pretty sure I've done in the past. When I did happen to be home the second time, the Fed Ex delivery person said, "This is the second time I've tried to deliver this," as if he were scolding me. Seriously? I'm supposed to be always home? What the...? I didn't say anything smarmy back to him, though, because I was excited to check out the new phone.

The Unboxing: Featuring my bad photography skills

Yes, I like having a good camera. No, I'm a terrible photographer. Most of these shots I took with a shaky hand using my old Moto X 2013. A few of the later ones I took using an iPad Mini.

2015-10-26 13.36.12 It comes in a very cute small square box.


2015-10-26 13.36.30 Once you get the cover off, the front of the box has a logo that's supposed to be an X, I suppose.

2015-10-26 13.36.43 You can open the box without scissors. It's taped down on only one side of the square.

2015-10-26 13.36.54 LG took a cue from IKEA and put in some cryptic wordless instructions. The phone itself comes in a translucent sleeve, which is really just for show (my Moto X 2013 came with a screen protector on it, which I used for two full years and never had to buy a third-party protector to replace it with).

Then, there's the USB-C cable and the charger.

2015-10-26 13.37.43 Beneath the phone is a playing card that tells you you get a 90-day trial for Google Play Music. There's also a small Safety + Warranty booklet.

The tiny, shiny circle with a pin at the end lets you pop up the SIM card holder from the phone. I was also able to use this same one to pop out the SIM card holder for my old Moto X 2013.

2015-10-26 13.38.12 Another random shot of the cable and charger.

2015-10-26 14.47.06 Here is the Nexus 5x next to my Moto X 2013. The Nexus 5x is enormous compared to my old phone, which I'm a bit sad about. I really wanted a new Nexus phone, and the Nexus 5x is smaller than the 6p, so I opted for the 5x, but it's still huge!

2015-10-26 14.47.24 I didn't do any actual measurements, but the phone thickness seems okay, It's more flat than curved but about the same thickness as the Moto X 2013.

2015-10-26 14.47.44
Another gratuitous "Why is this phone so big?!" shot.

I haven't had a ton of time to play around with the phone yet, but the camera seems good (I haven't tried it in low light yet, though), and the fingerprint sensor is indeed fast in terms of responsiveness.

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Installing a custom rom on an unlocked Moto X 2013

I've been rooting and installing custom roms on Android phones since 2009. In general, it's been a fairly standard procedure. With the Moto X 2013 (and this may apply to the 2014 as well—I don't know—I can vouch only for the 2013), the procedure is slightly different.

Unlock bootloader
Get Motorola's fastboot
Get TWRP
Get the custom rom you want
Flash TWRP recovery to phone
Flashing the rom (and Google Apps)

Unlock bootloader

Go to the Motorola website to request to unlock your phone's bootloader. If you got a phone not locked to a carrier, there should be no issue with this.

The first time you unlock your bootloader, it will erase everything on your phone. Back up important stuff before you unlock the bootloader!

Get Motorola's fastboot

I'm not sure why, but apparently Motorola has its own fastboot, so you're supposed to use that one instead of the regular fastboot you'd find in the Android SDK (Google has also switched things up so if you go to get the Android SDK, you'll get an Android IDE app instead of just the raw files).

The weird thing is it's very difficult to find this Moto Fastboot anywhere on the Motorola website. I've found it only via third parties.

Here you can find a link to the Mac version.

And here you can find a link to the Windows version.

I wasn't able to track down Linux versions, but they supposedly exist.

Get TWRP

Next, you want to download the TWRP (Team Win Recovery Project) recovery for the Moto X 2013 (codenamed ghost). You can find the latest version on the TWRP website.

Get the custom rom you want

For this example, I'm going to recommend the Nexus Experience, but you can pick whatever rom you want. Unless you know you don't want Google Apps, be sure to download not just the rom but also the Google Apps .zip.

So one file should look something like Android5.1.1_NX_R9.4_MotoX2013.zip and another something like NX-GAPPS_L_Release3.3_Full.zip.

Plug your phone into your computer, and then copy those two files to the top-level /sdcard directory on your phone.

Flash TWRP recovery to phone

I'm sure there's a Windows equivalent for this using DOS, but I've done this only on a Mac, so I'm not 100% sure on the Windows procedure.

For Mac, put the TWRP file (something like twrp-2.8.6.0-ghost.img) in the same directory as your moto-fastboot-osx64 file (may be slightly different for Windows and Linux users, of course). For simplicity's sake, rename the TWRP file to be twrp.img.

Turn your Moto X 2013 off. Unplug it from your computer. Then, while holding the volume-down button down, press the power button. Don't let go of the volume-down button until your phone boots into fastboot mode.

Then, plug your phone back into your computer via USB.

In the Terminal.app (similar but different for Windows and Linux), navigate to the directory where your moto fastboot and twrp .img files are. If you don't know how to do that, type cd in the terminal (with a space after it), and then drag the folder over to the terminal. Then hit Enter.

Then, run the commands

./moto-fastboot-osx64 flash recovery twrp.img

Flashing the rom (and Google Apps)

You should still be at the fastboot screen, press the volume-down button once to highlight Recovery, and then press the volume-up button once to select it.

You should then see the teamwin logo.

After that, you'll get some touch-screen options.

First, select Wipe to wipe your current installation (you already backed up before unlocking the bootloader, right?). Then do a swipe to factory reset.

Once you're done, hit the back button to go back to the main menu. Next, select Install. Find your main rom (e.g., Android5.1.1_NX_R9.4_MotoX2013.zip) and flash that.

Go back to Install and flash Google Apps if you want (e.g., NX-GAPPS_L_Release3.3_Full.zip). If you don't know if you want Google Apps, flash it, just to be safe.

Then, go back to the main menu and select Reboot and then System.

It may take a while for your rom to boot up the first time, but then you're all set to use your custom rooted rom!

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Moto X gets Kit Kat!

I'm a bit sad that so many of my former Android-using friends have jumped ship to the iPhone, because it's only now that Android is getting really good. I've always liked Android, and I've owned many Android phones, but the Moto X is the first Android phone I would recommend unequivocally to anyone open to not using an iPhone. No lag. No fuss. A very great user experience. Long battery life.

And, of course, timely updates!

2013-11-21 21.09.09

2013-11-22 02.17.50

2013-11-22 02.24.22

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Moto X: First Impressions

The MyTouch 4G
After dealing with a horrible Sense overlay and a total lack of rom updates from the rooting community on my T-Mobile MyTouch 4G, I vowed to get only Nexus phones in the future.

The Verizon Galaxy Nexus
My next phone was the Verizon Galaxy Nexus. That was a big mistake.

No, unlike the Nexus One and Nexus S (or the later Galaxy Nexus GSM version), the Verizon Galaxy Nexus did not get timely updates from Google.

Transitions between CDMA 3G and LTE 4G were horrible—if I got in an area with poor LTE coverage, the phone would never be able to make up its mind whether it wanted 3G with three bars on 4G with no bars, so I would just end up with essentially no usable mobile data. Radio updates never fixed this problem.

More importantly, the battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is piss poor. Check out this great chart, where, out of over forty phones, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus rates last for battery life on web browsing (3 hours vs. 7-9 hours on any smartphone you could purchase now). Whether I had the screen dimmed or used an extended battery pack or whatever, I could never consistently get more than two hours' worth of on-screen time. Usually it was about 100 minutes.

What else to consider?
So the past few months, I've been reading about a lot of different potential phones. People were raving about the Samsung Galaxy S4, but my parents got that phone, and when I helped them set it up, I knew the phone wasn't for me (not a fan of TouchWiz, and there doesn't seem to be a stable Cyanogenmod for that model yet).

Over the summer, I seriously considered the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition, as well as the HTC One Google Play Edition. I was also curious about what the next Nexus 4 might be like.

The Moto X
When I started reading about the Moto X, I was a bit disappointed. People were comparing number of processors (dual-core vs. quad-core) and screen resolution (720p instead of 1080p) to other top-tier phones, and the Moto X seemed to come up short.

But then the tide turned a bit in the online reviews. All of a sudden, online reviewers were actually using the phone, and they were raving about how well it fit in the hand, how the new Moto X–specific features were actually useful and not gimicky, and how the battery life really was that good.

Some hiccups along the way
Unfortunately, Motorola totally botched the Moto X launch. It wasn't announced with a clear release date. And they made a whole big deal about Moto Maker and customization, but then Moto Maker (initially at least) is available on AT&T only. And the phone itself is available in the U.S. only (sure, part of the marketing was that it's assembled in the U.S. instead of China, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be available in other countries).

More importantly for my situation, once I ordered my Moto X, I immediately got a confirmation saying that it was In Stock (which I take to mean existing and ready to be packed up and shipped—not ready to be assembled in Texas, and then packed up and shipped), ready to ship in 1-2 business days, and then shipped with two-day shipping. I kept logging into my Motorola account to see if the status would change from Not Shipped to Shipped. Maybe I would get an email with a package tracking number.

Nope.

Instead, one day randomly—while my online account still said Not Shipped, the phone just arrived via Fed Ex. The whole thing from order to receipt took six days (not six business days but six days).

still not shipped
Interestingly enough, I now have the phone, and have it activated on T-Mobile, but Motorola still (as of this writing) says it's not shipped.

The Moto X
So I get the phone, and it comes in a white box with a Motorola logo on the front. Included is a power cable (micro USB), a little tool to get the SIM card out, a T-Mobile SIM card in the phone itself, and the phone itself with a nice screen protector already on it.

When I turned the phone on and connected it to my wireless router, this is the first thing I saw once I logged in:
2013-09-26 21.15.57
Am I worried at all that I didn't get a Nexus phone? No. Sure, it's still technically running Android 4.2.2 when Android 4.3 is already out, but I have Android 4.3 on my Nexus 7, and I honestly cannot tell the difference between the two. Still, The Moto X has a fairly vanilla Android–looking interface (no Sense, Motoblur, or TouchWiz), and...
2013-09-26 21.17.54
... it gets updates fairly quickly.

A few annoyances
One really annoying thing about the Moto X is that when I got it, there was already a voicemail notification (which makes no sense, because I hadn't actually activated it on T-Mobile yet, and there was no phone number attached to the phone). The worst part about it was that there was no way to clear the notification. I couldn't swipe it away. I couldn't actually listen to the voicemail to get it to go away.

2013-09-26 21.21.47
Here you can actually see me trying to call the voicemail to get the message to go away as the Moto X is interrupting me to tell me the software update installed okay.

The other thing that's annoying is the overwhelming number of how-tos. Any time you launch an application or do anything, every app is trying to tell you how to use it. I signed in with my Google account. Google, you know I've had four Android devices before this. You should know I know how to use these apps!

And, of course, there's a very convenient auto-backup of photos to Google Plus, which oddly gets its own separate app called G+ Photos. The horrible thing about the app is that it notifies you (with your default notification sound) every time photos get backed up. There is no option to have the photos back up silently in the background. My temporary workaround? Disable all notifications for Google+.

There is a little nub or dimple you can rest a finger in on the back of the phone, but generally the phone back is pretty slippery. I guess the assumption is everyone would get a case? I don't know. Slippery expensive phones... not good.

One last small annoyance: there doesn't seem to be a way to disable the vibration that occurs when you unlock the phone (yes, even if general haptic feedback is turned off in the settings).

Okay. What's good about the phone?

  • I mentioned before that it comes with a screen protector. It does. Most phones will come with some kind of temporary screen protector that is ugly and not meant to be used permanently. The Moto X comes with a screen protector that covers the screen fully, with a little hole for the mic. There is no branding on the screen protector that covers up the screen. The only unsightly bit is a small white triangle on the bottom-left corner that you can scissor off and still have the rest be useful to protect the screen.
  • Active Notifications is the bomb, even with a pattern or pin lock. I love that I can pick up the phone to check the time without having to press the power button to wake it up. The phone just knows you want to check the time and displays the time for you. It also knows you're picking it up to unlock the phone to use it, so you don't have to press the power button first, and then unlock it. It's also nice (yes, even if you have pattern or pin security in place) to be able to swipe notifications from the middle of the screen instead of from the top down. My hands aren't huge, so one-handed (yes, I ride public transportation, so I don't always have two hands available) it's nice to not have to get my phone into an awkward position so I can swipe down to see a notification.
  • The double-twist to activate the camera really works. And it is really convenient. I'd read some criticisms about the camera and the shutter speed for the Moto X. Coming from the horrible camera and shutter speed on the Galaxy Nexus, though, the Moto X camera is like a dream to me.
  • I know I'm not the first person to say it, but the phone feels nice in the hand. All the pictures and videos you see online of the phone make it look like a rectangular brick, just like any other Android phone. No, it's not. The phone has a big screen that doesn't seem big. The phone feels very snug and small in your hand—comfortable (apart from the back being slippery).
  • It feels fast. I don't know anything about dual-core or quad-core or processor speeds or GPUs. I do know my Nexus 7 has a quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM and is generally fast but can sometimes be sluggish. The Moto X has a dual-core processor and 2 GB of RAM, and it is just the buttery smooth that Jelly Bean was supposed to be last year on every Android phone. It is certainly much smoother in terms of getting up the list of recent apps or returning to the home screen. This phone does not lack for performance.

Other notes
The whole OK Google Now thing doesn't really work well, and I don't personally see any use for it in my daily routine.

Where I am, I'm getting much better data service from T-Mobile than I got from Verizon. Very shocking to me!

I don't really understand why people got all excited about being able to customize the colors on the phone. Maybe I'm boring, but black works for me.

I haven't had a chance to really test out the battery life on this thing. I'll update the post or put up a new post about battery life when I get the chance.

This is the first Android phone I've gotten that I didn't want to root and install a custom rom on right away! I highly recommend this phone!

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Do non-Nexus, non-rooted Android users really have no choice?

I get where the ACLU is coming from, but I don't know if I agree that the customers didn't know what they were getting into and now have no recourse: ACLU Seeks Carrier Smackdown Over Android Updates

Maybe back in 2009 or 2010, they could have made a good case. Back then, consumers didn't know that most Android devices wouldn't get timely updates. By now (it's 2013), it's well established that your Android phone will probably not get a timely update unless it is either a Nexus phone or rooted.

Consumers, who now know that non-Nexus, non-rooted Android phones will either A) never get updated or B) get updates extremely late (months or years later) really have no excuse. If they want security updates, they should get a Nexus phone, learn how to root their Android phones, or buy another non-Android phone (e.g., iPhone or Windows phone).

The good news is the now-Google-owned Motorola will soon begin releases vanilla Android devices. Once HTC, Samsung, and LG see Motorola and Nexus phones flying off the shelves, they'll have to either start releasing updates in a more timely fashion... or just install vanilla Android with a different default theme. Vanilla Android is the way to go, people. Vote with your wallets!