Nexus 7 Review

I've been burned before buying products I haven't had a chance to try out in person. The Eee PC 701. The HP Mini 1120nr. Those were the days when I wanted to buy only Linux-preinstalled computers. In random stores, I've played around with 7" tablets. There always seemed to be something sluggish or off about them. When I read reviews of the Nexus 7, I thought it might all be hype. For some reason, I bought one anyway.

Staples Fail
I tried to get it at Staples. They had a display copy that was clamped down with a security clamp that obscured part of the screen and also pressed on the screen so you couldn't actually use the thing without it interpreting everything as a second finger touch. They also didn't have any in stock. So I ordered it off Google's site on faith (okay—so I saw it in person, but I didn't really get a chance to use it properly).

Packaging Fail
When it arrived, I tried to open it. Whoever did the packaging needs to take some lessons from Apple. This was the most difficult box to open. It's a smaller box inside of a box sleeve that slides off, but the fit is so tight that the sliding off requires a lot of force. Then the box itself has some heavy tape keeping it shut. This was not fun to open.

Personalization Win
Of course, once I did open the box and get to the Nexus 7 inside, the fun really began. First of all, since I ordered it through Google using my Gmail account, it had already been set up with my Gmail username with a message saying "Hi, [my real name]!" I still had to enter my password, of course, but the personalization was a nice touch from a customer service perspective.

I can't believe it's Project Butter
I've been using Jelly Bean for a few weeks now on my Galaxy Nexus phone, and Jelly Bean works way smoother on the Nexus 7. Everything is quick—no lag. Even some of the buggy UI stuff is gone in the Nexus 7 version of Jelly Bean (for example, in the Google Play settings if you add in a PIN, the Galaxy Nexus Jelly Bean will just pop up the dialogue without the virtual keyboard, but the Nexus 7 Jelly Bean will pop up the virtual keyboard as well).

No screen lift problems
I'd read some reviews talking about some kind of screen lift issue on the left side of the Nexus 7. Didn't see it on mine. Don't know if that means I got a special rare working unit... or maybe those were just the bum early ones that were rushed to order when the Nexus 7 first came out.

Android Apps
One nice thing Android has is a lot of paid-for apps working the same on the phone as on the tablet. For the iPad and iPhone I know you sometimes have to repurchase iPad apps that you'd already bought for the iPhone.

Party in the front, speakers in the back?
Unfortunately, like the iPad and like pretty much every iPhone or Android smartphone I've seen, the Nexus 7 has its speakers in the back, which means to get the absolute best sound, you have to cup your hand a bit to redirect the sound... or just use headphones. The speaker sound itself is decent. I'm not an audiophile, but I also know tinny when I hear it. It's not tinny. It's also not award-winningly clear. Just decent.

Storage and money
I was debating at first whether to get the 16 GB or the 8 GB model. My wife convinced me to get the 16 GB. With a few movies, pictures, Android apps, and iTunes playlists, it fills up decently and would be overflowing with only 8 GB. Plus, US$249 with $25 of Google Play money included isn't bad at all. It also comes with some Transformers sequel that was not that great when I saw it the first time.

Overall, if you're not obsessed with expandable storage, and if you use your camera or phone (instead of a tablet) to take pictures, this is a very good purchase to go with.


What’s really going on with Android “fragmentation”

This is a follow-up to a post I did last year, “Does Android “fragmentation” actually affect end users?”

Unfortunately, tech news sites keep referring to this Android “fragmentation” problem in the same tired old ways. Here are some recent takes on it:
Has Google Done Enough to Keep Android Phones Up-to-date?
Google: Android fragmentation ‘up to manufacturers’
The Android era: From G1 to Jelly Bean
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Can it Solve Android’s Fragmentation Problem?
Newest Android Operating System Insufficient for Developers, Fragmentation Top Priority
Google Copies Microsoft, Not Apple, To Fix Android Fragmentation
Fragmentation, OS upgrades: Do people even care?

First of all, as I mentioned in my earlier entry, the Android “fragmentation” problem almost all tech journalists refer to basically doesn’t exist or is a non-issue. The vast majority of Android users are running either 2.2 or 2.3, and there’s not that huge a difference between the two versions (yes, I’ve used both on more than one phone). If you are a developer making an app, code it for 2.2+, and you’re targeting almost all Android users. Again, as I said before, I’ve used Android 1.5, 1.6, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and 4.0 (just flashed 4.1 on my Galaxy Nexus this week, too). Every single app I use has worked on every version I’ve had. When I get a new version of Android, I restore all my app backups using Titanium Backup, and they all work. Same deal if I install them from Google Play (Titanium Backup is just faster and adds in user data).

I did discover this year, though, what real Android fragmentation looks like. It isn’t running different version numbers. It’s running different skins and apps.

A friend of mine has a Droid X, and she wanted to know how to make Google Voice the default texting app. Basically, couldn’t be done. Had nothing to do with the fact that she was running Android 2.3. When I ran Android 2.3, I had no problems making Google Voice the default texting app. I was running a relatively vanilla (CyanogenMod) 2.3, so when you tap to text someone, it prompts you which program to use. On the Droid X, the built-in messenger app automatically loads up, even if you set Google Voice as the default texting app. Thanks, Motorola for your wonderful Motoblur interface. It stinks.

Then I had a co-worker who wanted to add her work Exchange email account to her phone. She had an Android phone, so she thought I could help, as I also had an Android phone. I also had initially thought my being an Android user would help in this situation. Nope. She had some random LG phone with its own skin and default apps. The email client offered POP3 and IMAP, but Exchange was simply not an option. Again, this has nothing to do with the Android version number. After all, she also was running Android 2.3. In the regular Android 2.3, the Email app can do Exchange. So I had to do some browsing around Google Play and test-drive a few free apps to finally find one that did Exchange.

Those examples are what real fragmentation is, not people using Android 2.2 v. Android 2.3.

Many people don’t know where to put the blame. Is it Google’s fault? Is it the handset manufacturers’ faults? Is it the wireless companies’ faults? Well, I don’t really care whose fault it is, but I know two simple steps Google can take to fix the problem (yes, the real problem, not the one the tech journalists claim to be the problem):

  1. Change the way skins work. Handset makers want ways to differentiate their Android phones from each other. So they take a regular Android operating system from Google, and then they customize it or “skin” it with some overlain interface. For Motorola, that’s Motoblur. For Samsung, it’s TouchWiz. For HTC, it’s Sense. That’s fine. I don’t mind them customizing the interface. The only problem is that then the customer cannot uncustomize the interface without rooting, and it’s a very small percentage (probably in the single digits) of Android users who will actually root their phones to install custom roms. So instead of just saying “Here! Bake in whatever you like so it can’t be undone,” Google should make it so Android can be skinned through a theming engine, and the handset makers can then make theirs the default theme, but then users who are interested can go back to the vanilla Google theme or download other themes from Google Play.
  2. Make all stock apps available through Google Play. I shouldn’t have to go hunting down an alternative to Email that includes Exchange support. That should just be in Google Play, ready to install. So handset manufacturers or wireless providers can put on whatever stock apps they think people will need, and then customers who don’t like those apps can then install the stock Google apps instead.

Google has taken a few steps in the right direction, and when more Android users are on Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) or Jelly Bean (4.1), then they’ll appreciate these steps more. In Ice Cream Sandwich, you can disable preinstalled apps. And in Jelly Bean, you can disable notifications from certain apps, even if you keep them enabled.

I’m a big open source fan, but sometimes Google just has to take some control back. Give carriers and handset makers the right to customize, but then give users more of a right to uncustomize. Then you’ll get less of the real fragmentation problem.


Revised “Juice Defender”-like Tasker profiles

A couple of months ago, I posted up My “Juice Defender” Tasker Profiles. I've had a while to play around with different versions of those profiles, and this is what I've finally settled on. (I'm going with Tasker shorthand here and just showing you the final product—if you need handholding on how in general to build a profile, see the prior blog post, which walks you through step by step.)

Under Variables, you'll need to create two variables. I called them %DATA and %SCREENOFFTEST.

Under Profiles, create a profile called Screen Off Data Off. The triggers are the event Display Off and the state Not Power Any. Then create a Task called Screen Off Data Off.

You can see what I built here. The basic gist of it in plain English is that it turns on a temporary test to see if the screen stays off. Then it waits 15 minutes. If the test is still on, it turns the data off, turns auto-sync off, and then cancels the test.

Tapping the wrench in the bottom-right corner brings up the Task Properties. Set the Collision Handling to Abort Existing Task. This means if you turn the screen off and then turn it on again and turn it off again within 15 minutes, the first instance of this task will be aborted in favor of the most recent time you turned the screen off.

The next Profile is called Screen On Data On. The triggers are an event of Display Unlocked and a state of Not Airplane Mode. Then you'll also create a Task called Screen On Data On.

For this profile, you can see the end product again. The gist is: if you wake up the screen, that test from earlier should be off. And then if data is off, you turn it back on again.

I made the timeout 15 minutes so that the data isn't constantly turning off and on again, but I still get the battery life savings. I also turned off auto-sync for good measure. It doesn't really need to be off, though. If data is off, Android won't look to auto-sync. Lastly, I made the trigger for screen on data on to be unlocking instead of just turning the display on. That's because on my phone (the Galaxy Nexus) it can be sometimes easy to accidentally jostle the power button, so I don't want to turn on data until I unlock the phone, which means I'm actually using it for something data-related. The data reconnects fairly quickly on the Galaxy Nexus (on my old phone—the MyTouch 4G—the reconnection time was much longer).

I hope you found this helpful!


Verizon Galaxy Nexus First Impressions

I just got my third Android phone. You can read about my previous experiences: T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions, Why people get Nexus phones: I rooted my MyTouch 4G after less than one day

This time, I got a Nexus phone—the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I’m just going to list the positives and negatives. These are positives and negatives for me. There may be things you care about that I don’t and things I care about that you don’t. Either way, you may find these lists useful in some way.


  • Swipe-away notifications.
  • Swipe-away recent apps list.
  • Software buttons.
  • Beautiful screen.
  • Built-in screenshot ability without root (volume down button and power button together).
  • Verizon LTE network.
  • I have a Tasker profile that’s a tweaked version of what Juice Defender does. It’s either near-instant or only one second to reconnect when the screen turns back on.
  • No shutter lag on camera.
  • Camera photo quality better than most reviews would have you believe.
  • Speaker is audible, despite what negative reviews say.
  • No need to root to get vanilla Android.
  • Will get updates to new version of Android before other phone models.
  • Not much bloatware on here, but Verizon managed to squeeze a couple of useless apps on. With Ice Cream Sandwich, you can disable these apps even if you can’t uninstall them.


  • Headphones are noise-reducing ones, which are really uncomfortable for me. I know others prefer these. And I found an extra set of old headphones I can use instead.
  • Autorotate is slow.
  • The Android File Transfer app for Mac OS X needs the phone to be unlocked (makes sense, but confusing before you know it), and can transfer only one folder at a time from Finder.
  • Even though speakers are audible, they are not loud, so you will have to crank them up to the max volume to get decent sound.
  • Facial recognition to unlock takes too long. It has to load in a second or two before it even tries to recognize your face.
  • Battery life is not good. The screen is huge, and in the battery stats it easily takes up more than 50% of the battery use. Fortunately I can make it through the whole day using my pseudo–Juice Defender profile in Tasker. I also bought an extra battery from Verizon for $20.
  • The menu soft key (which is now three dots) is sometimes at the top of the screen and sometimes at the bottom of the screen.
  • Keyboard autosuggestions is worse than the Gingerbread keyboard, which was awesome. I used to get four or five autosuggestions. Now I get only three and have to long-press on one to get more.
  • Now that file transfer is MTP, I can’t use DoubleTwist as I normally would. Luckily, I could copy a ton of music and then use the AirSync plugin to finish the rest of the sync wirelessly. I understand why Google moved from MSC to MTP, but it’s also screwed things up a bit.
  • The screen is large, which is beautiful, but it also means I can’t do one-handed WordFeud/Words with Friends while on the bus.
  • If you use the slide-to-unlock unlock method, there’s no way to disable the haptic feedback on it.

Overall, despite all the cons, I love this phone. Ice Cream Sandwich has a beautiful UI, which is a joy to use. The phone is fast. And Verizon’s LTE is wonderful.


My Favorite Android App: Tasker

The Android app model is a bit different from the iPhone app model. For the last few years, iPhone apps have generally been pay-for apps, and Android apps have generally been ad-supported cost-free apps. The last two years, I spent exactly $0 on Android apps and was just fine with the functionality I had. I would check out some pay-for apps to see what was out there, but nothing made me think “I would definitely pay for that.”

That was until I found Tasker.

It’s a relatively expensive app (currently US$6.49), but it’s totally worth it. It basically allows you to improve phone usability, automate tasks, and save battery life.

Granted, as you’ll see if you read the reviews, the interface isn’t the most intuitive. However, once you get the hang of it, it becomes quite easy to use.

Here are some of the cool things I’ve been able to do with Tasker:

  • Adjust volume per app. Angry Birds volume tends to be a bit too loud. So with Tasker, I set up a profile that turns the media volume down whenever I launch Angry Birds, and then turns it back up when I’m done playing Angry Birds.
  • Adjust mobile data type for weak signal spots. When I’m at work, the Edge signal is way better than the 3G or 4G signals, so I set Tasker up to see if I’m at work, and, if I am, to switch the phone to the Edge network only. Once I leave work, it switches back to 3G/4G preferred.
  • Autorotate for select apps. I used to use a toggle button to turn autorotate off and on as needed. Really, though, the only app I use autorotate for is the photo Gallery app. So I set up Tasker to turn autorotate on when I launch Gallery, and then turn it back off again when I’m done.
  • Conserve battery life. Before I used Tasker, I’d tried an app called Juice Defender. It was a good app and actually did conserve battery life. The primary way it did that was by turning mobile data off when the screen was off and then turning it back on again when the screen is on. The annoying thing was that if you had the screen off for only a moment, the data would turn off. In practical terms, that would mean that if I was looking at my phone to see when the next bus would arrive, I’d check it, turn the screen off, and two minutes later, I’d turn the screen on to check and have to wait about ten or twenty seconds for the data to turn back on. With Tasker, I can set it up so that the data will turn off if the screen is off… but only after five minutes. If I turn the screen back on again within five minutes, data will just be on the whole time. If I keep the screen off longer than five minutes, data will turn off. I’ve also set it up to switch from 3G/4G preferred to 2G only if the battery life is critically low. And I’ve set it up to turn on autosync every hour for five minutes and then turn autosync back off.
  • Quiet camera shutter. At least on three Android phones (two that I’ve owned), the shutter sound when a picture is taken is way too loud. So I set up a Tasker profile for lowering the system volume when the Camera app is launched.
  • GPS when needed. Yes, generally speaking, GPS on Android turns on only when you launch an app that needs GPS. There are exceptions, though. For example, at least with the version of Facebook for Android that’s out as of this writing, the Facebook app will turn on GPS when you launch it, even if you don’t want to actually share your location with Facebook. So I’ve just turned off GPS, and Tasker allows me to specify which apps I want GPS to launch for (e.g., Maps, Navigation, Yelp, Movies).
  • Headphone volume. If I have my headphones in, I want the volume turned down—for music, for Netflix streaming, for phone calls. When I take my headphones out, I want the volume up. I have a Tasker profile for that, too.
  • Silent for school assembly. Almost every morning, the school I work at has a brief all-school assembly. So I set up a Tasker profile to detect if I’m at school and to silence my phone during the hours of the assembly and then un-silence it afterwards.
  • Longer screen timeouts per application. Generally speaking, I like the 30-second timeout on the screen. If I’m not touching the screen for 30 seconds, I want it to turn off to save power. Certain applications I want the screen kept on longer, though. For example, if I’m playing Words with Friends or WordFeud, and I’m staring at the screen for three or four minutes as I think of a move. I don’t want to keep touching the screen periodically to keep it on. With Tasker, I set it up so that the screen timeout is 7 minutes for certain apps and then 30 seconds for everything else.
  • Suppress Notifications. If I’m listening to music, I don’t want notification sounds interrupting me, so Tasker lets me turn the notification volume off when I’m listening to music.

These are only the things I personally have set up Tasker to do. Others have set up a whole host of Tasker profiles. On the Tasker website, you can find many examples of profiles that may be useful to you.

If you consider US$6.49 to be an expensive investment sight unseen, you can try out a seven-day free trial of Tasker. Try it. You won’t regret it.


Virus v. Trojan: not just about semantics

Whenever a new trojan appears for Linux, Mac OS X, or (now) Android, inevitably you get a crowd of ignorant panic-mongers up in arms saying “See? [fill in the blank] gets viruses, too! Ah ha! Better install that antivirus now.” Now, apart from the fact that so-called “antivirus” software is for all practical purposes useless (a placebo at best), viruses and trojans are conceptually very different types of malware.

And, no, this is not just a matter of some geeky semantics.

The mass hysteria out there right now about Android malware reminds me of HIV/AIDS “information” back in the early or mid 80s. People were genuinely afraid you could catch AIDS from hugging someone or drinking from the same water fountain as someone who had AIDS. There wasn’t a lot of reliable and consistent information about how people became HIV positive.

Same deal now. If you read any mainstream press coverage of Android malware, you’ll see the focus is really on quantity (Android Malware Surges Nearly Five-Fold Since July or Android sees a 472% increase in malware since July) of malware instead of actual risk of infection. In typical pop journalism fashion, a lot of “news” articles are taking the “here’s one extreme, and here’s another extreme, so you decide” approach instead of actually informing consumers of the facts of how they can protect themselves from malware.

For example, Security Experts Concerned About Google’s Attitude Toward Android Malware makes it sound as if there is Chris DiBona saying Android malware isn’t a problem and then there are the “antivirus” vendors saying it is a problem. Same deal in Android Security: Threat Level None?

All these articles leave the consumer with is a sense of confusion, and no real practical steps to protect oneself. The former, for example, says:

Most malware researchers agree that the openness of the Android platform, which allows installing non-vetted apps, and more importantly the openness of the Android market, which lacks a strict application review process, contribute to its malware problem.

The latter at least hints that users could be responsible for malware proliferation:

Now that we have a few different views on this topic, who do you think is right? Well, there’s some truth to what the security vendors are telling us. Smartphones—and apparently Android devices in particular—can be infected with malware through careless use.

Careless use. Who is doing the careless using? Phone owners. Phone users.

That is the big difference between a virus and a trojan. The trojan you have to give permission to. You have to invite the trojan in. You know the famous story about the Trojan Horse? Yeah, that attack wouldn’t have worked if Troy had said “Yeah, fancy wooden horse? We’re not letting that into our city.” Same deal with malware. If you don’t install malicious apps pretending to be legitimate, you won’t magically get infected with malware. This is true for Android, Mac OS X, and Linux. I have never heard of any malware proliferating on any of those platforms that was not a trojan.

So if you want to protect yourself, don’t install “antivirus.” Install some common sense instead. Here is a great, step-by-step guide on how to do that: How to be safe, find trusted apps, & avoid viruses – A guide for those new to Android

You’re welcome.


My Android App List

I’ve been using Android two full years now, trying out various apps and uninstalling the ones I don’t want. This is what I have left over.

I’m someone who likes to play Angry Birds, and I also like to flash new Android roms from time to time. Losing that game data (completed levels, high scores) would be sad. This app makes it very easy to back up Angry Birds, Angry Birds Rio, and Angry Birds Seasons.

While I don’t get Android fanatics bragging about how great it is to have Flash on Android, it is nice to have as an option from time to time, particularly for annoying restaurant websites built on Flash or for watching Amazon Prime streaming movies. That said, I also don’t get iPhone fanatics complaining about Flash draining the battery. Every major web browser on Android plays Flash on demand by default (as opposed to automatically). Flash doesn’t run unless you want it to.

On computers, I find Adobe Reader to be a bit sluggish in launching. Oddly enough, it’s quite snappy on my Android phone. Great for PDF viewing.

Great VNC viewer. Does what it’s supposed to.

Yes, I don’t really game that much, but I’m addicted to Angry Birds (and Rio and Seasons).

AutoRotate is a nice thing most of the time. Every now and then you don’t want the phone constantly switching from portrait to landscape and vice versa. This allows you to bind the holding down of the Search key to toggling AutoRotate.

Speedily loads Microsoft Office documents for viewing.

Yes, I’ve tried Mirren, Opera, Firefox, Skyfire, Browser, xScope, and all the rest. I still keep coming back to Dolphin. I love the gestures, the tabs, the speed dial, the configurability. It just is a fantastic all-around web browser.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t sync automatically, but it’s still a good way to share files.

This is a great file browser, because it lets you browse files but also lets you switch to being a root explorer if your phone is rooted. If you don’t know what rooting is, don’t worry about it—ES is still a good file explorer.

If you use Facebook, the app will give you a better experience than even the mobile version of the website.

I actually think the Firefox Android app is terrible, but I keep it installed just in case it gets better.

Not great for editing. Still good for viewing your online Google Docs.

Unlike Facebook, this Google+ app appears to be designed from the ground up to be an app and not just an it’s-better-than-the-mobile-site app.

I actually like this Google Reader app better than the Google Reader website on a regular laptop. The next and previous buttons are conveniently always visible, and the feeds load quickly.

A very handy tool to do quick translations from various languages. I use it for Italian to English or English to Italian. There’s a convenient toggle button to swap the source and destination language.

I’m not going to lie—this app is terrible. Nevertheless, Google Voice itself is awesome. And the Google Voice app is still the best way to use Google Voice, so this is what we’re stuck with.

A simple and unpolished app that has a picture of a guitar and six buttons to press to play the sound of the E, A, D, G, B, and E strings.

At work recently I’ve been taking pictures with my phone and then emailing them to myself to document problems, and emailing the large files just takes way too long. For web quality, this app will make a fast shrunken copy to send via email, Dropbox, or whatever method you prefer.

If you like to read the Bible or just reference it, this is handy, as it allows you to quickly switch between translations and browse by chapter or book.

This is an easy way to see what’s opening, what’s playing nearby, and what gets good reviews.

Eh. I’m not impressed by the Google Music Beta service. As with Firefox Beta, I’m just checking this out to see if it gets better.

The app isn’t great. You can’t really check out reviews or see your queue by thumbnail. Still, if you’re stuck in an airport with a delayed flight, this makes for a good time-waster.

Before there was Angry Birds (and before I got my own smartphone), this is what I used to steal my wife’s iPhone to play. Mindless fun.

You need a rooted phone to run this, but it allows you to take screenshot by delay (instead of having to shake your phone to take a screenshot) or just by holding down the power button and then selecting Screenshot.

Skype video chat finally arrived for Android. Yay. It saved my butt when I had to have a remote conference and wasn’t near a computer.

Navigating a computer remotely with a tiny phone screen isn’t ideal, but for quick checks or small changes, TeamViewer is great to have.

My math skills have deteriorated over time. I can’t do 15%, 18%, and 20% in my head, so I have this. It also gives you the easy ability to split the check among various people if you are eating in a large group.

Yes, I use T-Mobile. This helps me check on my data usage, which so far hasn’t gone far above 2 GB per month.

Actually easier to navigate than the real Twitter website. They also fixed the refresh so that it won’t push down what you’re currently reading (it’ll just make more available when you scroll up).

You know that extremely loud annoying camera shutter sound when you take a picture? This helps you turn down that system volume. I used to use Sound Manager, but it kept resetting back to the loud system volume. This app keeps the volume where you set it and allows you to lock it there.

Ugly Scrabble game you can play with friends on other phones. Even though it’s ugly, it’s much better than Words with Friends. You can’t start a game with someone without her consent. You won’t accidentally start multiple games, and notifications tell you not only that it’s your turn but also what your opponent played and how much she got for it.

I keep this around for one friend who has an older iPhone and can’t install WordFeud. This is terrible for all the reasons stated above. The only good thing is that you don’t have to manually zoom in. If you are zoomed out and place a tile down, it’ll zoom in to where you’re placing the tile.

I’m debating whether this is better than the Yelp normal site or not. I stopped using the normal site because every time you go there, it’ll pester you to install the Android app instead.

Finally! It took Zipcar long enough to release an Android app. The iPhone has had this for years. Can’t wait to make last-minute reservations and unlock the car with my phone!


Manually updating an Android rom

As I mentioned in last month’s post Rooting Someone Else’s Droid, I set up my sister-in-law with the rooted rom Cyanogen 7 Release Candidate 4 on her Droid. Unfortunately, recently it started acting buggy on her. One of the things I advised her to do was repair permissions. Another was to make a backup and then install the latest stable rom (which, as of this writing, is Cyanogen 7.0.3).

If anyone else is remotely supporting a rooted Android phone user and would like a screenshot-laden tutorial on the update process, here it is.

The first thing you need to do is download the latest stable rom from the Cyanogen website that is appropriate for your phone model (this assumes you’re using Cyanogen—if you’re using another rom, obviously you’d download the latest version of that other rom). Since you’re upgrading and not install a rooted rom for the first time, you don’t need to download the Google apps zipped file. Also, be sure not to unzip the .zip file after you download it. Just keep it as is.

When it’s downloaded, plug in your phone and copy the .zip file to the top-level directory of your mounted MicroSD card. In other words, it should not be inside of a folder on your phone’s storage.

After you’ve copied it over and turned off USB mass storage, you can begin the backup and update process. Now, I know Rom Manager comes with the ability to backup and update from within the rom, but I recommend the manual way outlined here, because there’s no risk of you trying to update files that are currently in use. There also may be some features that are available for only the paid version (which you may not have) of Rom Manager.

Open up Rom Manager, which you should have already installed if you’re using a Cyanogen rom. Otherwise, you can easily install it off the Android Market.

Select Reboot into Recovery

Tap OK

When your phone reboots, use your little trackball or whatever means you have to move the highlight up and down until you’ve reached backup and restore and then press the trackball or selection button to proceed.

Select Backup

Wait for it to backup. This could take several minutes. Be patient.

Now that you’ve backed up, go ahead and select install zip from sdcard

Select choose zip from sdcard

Find the file. If it’s a Cyanogen rom, it’s usually called update-cm-[version number-phone model]

Confirm with Yes

Wait for the update to install

When it’s done installing, press the Back button to get back to the main menu. Then select reboot system now

Then you’re good! You have an update to the rom, and you also have a backup in case, for some reason, the update is screwy.


Android Battery Saving Tips

Don’t run a “task killer” app
A lot of people think a task killer or app killer app will save you battery life. In fact, you’ll find it regularly in the top 20 for top free apps in the Android Market. When I bought my first Android phone in 2009, the T-Mobile salesperson recommended I install it. And I’ve heard of cases in which salespeople will actually install a task killer app while you’re at the store. Let me be clear about this: task killers will not save you battery life. If they do, all it means that you have a bad app installed that, instead of being killed constantly, should be uninstalled. At best, task killers will do nothing for your phone. At worst, they will cause instability and glitches. For more details, read the following:
Android Task Killers Explained: What They Do and Why You Shouldn’t Use Them
FAQ: Why You Shouldn’t Be Using a Task Killer with Android
Why you don’t need a task killer app with Android.

Don’t bother with all the little things
So after I did quite a bit of research and found out task killers are not only useless but actually detrimental to the proper functioning of your Android phone, I read all sorts of tips espousing little things you can do to save battery: dim the screen brightness, turn off GPS, switch to Edge only (not 3G), turn off automatic syncing. Most of these things all help a little bit but not really enough to make it worth the trouble. And, in the case of GPS, sometimes they don’t help at all. GPS, for example, isn’t really on even if it’s “on” unless you’re using an app that actively uses GPS (e.g., Google Maps, Google Navigation, Yelp). If I constantly dimmed the screen and then made it brighter when I needed it and turned off syncing and synced only when I needed it, I could eke out maybe an extra hour or hour and a half of battery life. It seemed a lot of maintenance for very little return.

Use Juice Defender
It took me a year and a half of using Android before I stumbled upon and finally tried Juice Defender. This app easily doubled my battery life. I used to have my phone run from 7:30 AM to 11:30 PM at night but with only 15-20% of my battery left when I plugged it back into the charger at night. With Juice Defender, I had 50-60% of my battery left at night. There are a lot of things Juice Defender can do if you get the paid versions, which allow you to tweak settings even further, but on a basic level with the free version it turns off your data when your screen is off and then turns it back on again when your screen is on.

Even though I would highly recommend JD to anyone with an Android phone who also wants to get the most out of her battery life, there are a couple of annoying things with the program. Firstly, it insists on having a huge icon in the notification bar all the time. Well, there’s a setting to not keep it there, but apparently if you don’t keep it in the notification bar the Android OS might accidentally turn off Juice Defender to free up RAM. Secondly, it takes a few seconds for data to turn back on after your screen is on. This last little niggle led to me uninstalling Juice Defender and opting for another alternative.

Or just turn off data when you don’t need it
You kind of have to think about your own phone-using lifestyle to see what will make more sense to you—turning data off every time your screen is off (Juice Defender) or just manually turning off data when you don’t need it. For my lifestyle, it makes a lot more sense for me to turn data off manually. I’m grateful for the work the Juice Defender folks are doing in showing me how to save battery life, but the extra few seconds to wait for data to turn back on were just too much for me, the way I use my Android phone.

I basically have some periods in which I’m using my phone pretty heavily (but only in short spurts) for data and then longer periods when I’m not using my phone for data at all. So I have a power widget on my home screen for toggling data. When I’m about to use data, I turn it on. When I know I won’t be using data for a long period of time (2-3 hours or more), I turn it off.

I hope people have found these tips helpful. Post if you have any questions. (Any attempts to promote task killers will be immediately deleted as spam.)


Rooting someone else’s Droid

I rooted my first Android phone (the MyTouch 3G) within a month of owning it, and I rooted my second Android phone (the MyTouch 4G) within a day of owning it. Rooting is sometimes an easy process and sometimes a bit complicated, but in my experience it’s always been worth the effort. My sister-in-law came to visit and complained that her almost year-and-a-half-old Droid (the original, not X or Incredible) is glitchy, has poor battery life, and is just not that responsive. She wants to get an iPhone but is not yet eligible to switch over subsidized. So I offered to root her phone for her.

Now, I’m always hesitant to try to fix people’s computer problems, and the same goes for Android phones (which are basically really small computers). On the one hand, I know their experience can be better. On the other hand, I know that a successful migration of any kind or major overhaul involves time and some testing. Most of the time, people want a quick fix. And if you tell them it’ll take a long time, they’ll feel guilty about using up your time and just say “Oh, it’s okay. Don’t bother.” Really, though, they’re still not happy with whatever situation they’re in. So I always try my best to find the balance between quick fix and thorough fix.

So I got her to promise me not to install Advanced Task Killer (which was probably responsible for at least some of the glitchiness), I backed up her bookmarks and apps, and then I began to root her phone. I tried to follow the Droid full update guide at the Cyanogen mod wiki, and I ran into a couple of bumps along the way. First of all, the sbf_flash file for Linux gave a segmentation fault, but the guide actually offers a separate download if that happens, so I used that. I also tried to flash the ClockworkMod Recovery, but when I tried to reboot into recovery mode, I got stuck on the Motorola logo, so I had to take out the battery, flash back to SPRecovery, install the Cyanogen rom, and then flash ClockworkMod again.

Immediately, she was impressed with the upgrade. I told her it was Gingerbread, and she had no idea what that meant. I told her it’s basically the next version of Android. She didn’t really seem to care. She just liked the cleaner interface. She liked the battery life displayed when she’s about to unlock the phone. She found it a bit more responsive. The only problem is I forgot to back up her Angry Birds data, so she’d have to play all the levels all over again. So I did a bit of Google searching and experimenting and found out I could get the data out of /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirds/files/highscores.lua, /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirdsrio/files/highscores.lua, and /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirdsseasons/files/highscores.lua. To do it properly, you have to beat at least one level in each version of Angry Birds. Then, instead of copying the file and changing permissions, you should cat one file into the next:

cat highscores.lua > /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirds/files/highscores.lua

Overall, I’m surprised that she liked it. Usually I think of rooting as for power users who like to tinker with their smartphones. It’s good to know end users can enjoy the benefits of a rooted phone as well. Extra bonus is that when you boot up the phone there isn’t that annoying “Droid!!!” robotic voice announcing the name of the phone. And I know she can stay on Cyanogen RC 4 until Christmas when I see her next, and still be ahead of the OTA updates to the Droid. Or she may just get the iPhone 5 by then.