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]-signed.zip


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.

A month with the MyTouch 3G and Android

I love my phone. I think it’s great, and I don’t regret purchasing it (though had I known Oprah was going to let me have $100 off the purchase price had I waited a few weeks, I probably would have waited).

That said, I think T-Mobile did a lousy job launching this product. On the bus, I see people with iPhones and Blackberries. I even see quite a few folks with G1 phones (the first Android phone T-Mobile released here in the US). I have seen zero other MyTouch users out there. Why is this? Well, there are a few factors involved:

  • Pricing. Most people don’t realize they’d ultimately save money on a smartphone using T-Mobile as opposed to AT&T. They look at the price tag of the initial subsidized phone purchase instead of how much the total of a two-year contract will be paying X dollars per month. So with the iPhone 3GS the “same” price and sexier-looking, a lot of people might favor the iPhone over the MyTouch, even though they’re paying more over the course of two years. T-Mobile should have subsidized the initial purchase price more by offering the phone at US$99 instead and maybe charging a little more per month for the phone contract. Lowering the price now to US$149 is too little too late. It also does no favors to the people who bought the MyTouch 3G the first month it was out.
  • Advertising. So there were some skydivers in San Francisco on launch day for the MyTouch… uh, apparently. I didn’t see any. No one I know who works in San Francisco mentioned anything about them. I don’t really see how skydivers are even a good advertisement for a smartphone, anyway. Oh, and then a month after release, some random commercials show up with Whoopi Goldberg and… and two guys whom I guess are probably famous, but I don’t recognize them. Oprah offers some $100-off promotion, and yet sales still don’t skyrocket. Maybe Oprah’s better for book sales?
  • Branding. MyTouch? Really? In other countries, it’s called the HTC Magic. Sometimes it’s referred to as Sapphire. MyTouch? Oh, do you want to see my MyTouch? That just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? How about a better naming scheme? The Hero sounds great. The Palm Pre sounds great. The iPhone sounds great. The Blackberry Storm sounds great. The MyTouch 3G… not as slick-sounding.
  • Speaker placement. Okay, I know you could make the case this is HTC’s fault and not T-Mobile’s, but if Sprint can get HTC to remove the “chin” on the HTC Hero for the US release, why couldn’t T-Mobile have gotten HTC to move the speaker to the front of the phone? If I’m watching a YouTube video on the front of my phone, I don’t want sound coming out the back of the phone. If I am listening to my T-Mobile or Google Voice visual voicemails on speaker, I don’t want to press the message on the front and then turn the phone over to listen to it. This is about the dumbest engineering I’ve ever seen. Did some industrial designer out there actually think a speaker on the back of a phone was a good idea? I can still hear it, yes, but not as well as if it had been on the front of the phone. This has to be my absolute #1 annoyance with the MyTouch 3G.
  • Differentiation. Even though the iPhone is in many ways a superior phone, there are actually some cool things my phone can do that my wife’s iPhone can’t. You can have a contact (like a wrong number who keeps calling you) go straight to voicemail. Your phone comes with a little bag. Google Voice? Android has an app for that. iPhone doesn’t. Instead, the ad campaign for the MyTouch focused too much on trying to get people to buy skins for the phone and repeating vague phrases about making the phone “customizable” without giving a lot of concrete examples. How about just saying “Want a picture of your cute cat behind your apps? The MyTouch has that”? Or even “Works with Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X” or “Doesn’t require specialized software to transfer music.”

The worst part is really the timing, though. Yes, I’m an impatient sort who wanted to see the G1 first before buying the second-generation Android phone (the MyTouch 3G). A lot of people go for third-generation or even fourth-generation. The buzz has been that the Hero is supposed to be the best Android phone, and Sprint recently announced they’d be selling the Hero. Verizon is apparently going to have an Android phone as well. There are lots of Google Android phones on the horizon. Launching the MyTouch right before the Hero was not a savvy move on the part of T-Mobile’s marketing department.

All that said as an explanation for why others don’t have a MyTouch 3G, I still have one myself. And I like it. And I generally like T-Mobile. Its service is much better than the Sprint service I used for years. I actually have coverage. Sure, customer service isn’t available 24 hours (it should be), but when I called after stupidly PUK-locking my sim card, I got through to a customer service representative quickly, and he was very helpful (he also had the same first name as me, which was funny). And, of course, the price per month for a reasonable number of minutes (I don’t talk much) and an unlimited data plan is only a little more than half what my wife pays for her iPhone plan with AT&T.

Google has some Android issues to iron out certainly.

I think the biggest problem with Android right now is web browsing. There are a lot of great things about all the different web browsers available on Android, but there is no one web browser that is fully satisfactory.

Browser is the name of the default web browser Android comes with. It also is the best browser available for Android right now. Its one (and huge) shortcoming is its insistence on refreshing pages every time you switch windows or wake the display up from sleep. You can read all about it here (I’m not the only user who has a problem with this behavior). This kind of behavior completely defeats the purpose of having the ability to load links in background windows. It also doesn’t recognize that users of phones are often on Edge or 3G networks and not necessarily connected to a fast wireless connection. And even if we are, why reload the whole page? Do you really think the page has changed that much in the last two minutes? Shouldn’t you leave it up to the user to decide when to refresh the page?

Other than that major deficiency, Browser functions well. Pressing the search button brings up the search screen, you have the ability to load tabs in the background, the keyboard recognizes if you’re typing in a URL bar or in a regular form and will include or omit the .com button as appropriate. The double-tap zoom works great. First of all, the browser is pretty good about squeezing pages into a narrow format, but even if it doesn’t, you can double-tap on a paragraph and the size will automatically adjust to fit the paragraph to the width of your phone. This is a lot easier than pinching the webpage with two fingers to try to adjust the zoom to the right size (nevertheless, I’m glad rooted versions of Android include multi-touch).

Steel is a very popular browser among Android enthusiasts. Great things about it are its speed (it downloads pages a lot faster than Browser does and, more importantly, does not auto-refresh them for you), its fullscreen mode… and that’s it. Two really annoying things about Steel are the search button not bringing up the URL bar, and the Menu key bringing you directly to settings instead of to a menu of other options (and window management). Worse yet, there is no option to open links in background windows.

Coco Browser uses tabs but will display tabs even if you have only one tab open. It also doesn’t allow you to access the address bar directly or go directly to search. To get to a new page directly, you have to open a new tab and then close the old tab. After I realized this, I gave up on Coco very quickly.

Opera is probably a great browser if you have a hard-key QWERTY keyboard on your phone, but it sucks for phones that have only touchscreen keyboards. That’s all I have to say about that.

Some hackers have created a specialized version of Browser called Better Browser. It allows you to use the regular browser in fullscreen mode. Unfortunately, it changes the double-tap zoom behavior to zoom in and out to an arbitrary degree. I like the default Browser’s double-tap to zoom-to-fit instead.

I’d love to see Google fix the Browser or port over Chromium. It’d also be great if Firefox created an Android browser, or if Opera recognized that touchscreen keyboard phones could benefit from a properly tweaked Opera Mini.

All in due time. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting for pages that have already loaded to autorefresh…

T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions

Introduction
Before upgrading from a “dumb phone” to a “smart phone,” I did a lot of online research. I read reviews. I watched YouTube videos. Unfortunately, most online reviews are kind of useless. They’ll say things like “There’s a nifty little switch over here. And you can press this button. That does this. This also does that.” I’m hoping my first-impressions review will be a lot more useful, and I will follow up with a more extensive review after I’ve had a few weeks to really get to know this phone.

Background (narcissistic babble—feel free to skip)
For the past few years, I’ve always had a “dumb” cell phone. It makes calls. It receives calls. It allows me to check voicemail. That’s about it. I’d never understood the need for Blackberries or other “smart” phones. I saw people in expensive business suits using those phones and figured I’d never have use for such a thing.

Then the iPhone happened.

Both my wife and I were very impressed with Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the iPhone. I saw it as revolutionary, even though it had its faults. My wife, a big Apple fan, still waited until at least the the second-generation iPhone came out to get one. Once she got it, though, both of us were impressed.

The whole time she’s been using the iPhone, I’ve been enviously looking on, wanting a smartphone of my own. Unfortunately, since I am a Linux user, and hell will freeze over before Apple makes a Linux port of iTunes, an iPhone is out of the question. And, no, I am not going to dual-boot with Windows to run iTunes. No, I am not going to try to jailbreak the iPhone and then have some update break everything so I can no longer sync with Ubuntu. I want something that just works.

Windows Mobile was out of the question. No more Windows for me, thanks. I got a little bit excited about the Palm Pre, but two things held me back from it. 1) all the reviews said the battery life is terrible and 2) it uses the WebOS, which doesn’t look as if it’s going anywhere, unlike Google’s Android, which is far more likely to be installed on more and more phones as the years go by (making its Android Market—the equivalent of the iTunes App Store—increasingly robust).

Like my wife, I don’t like to buy first-generation products. So the T-Mobile G1 was out. But then the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G arrived. Google Android. Second-generation. Linux-friendly (Linux-based, actually). And with my wife complaining about dropped calls with AT&T (American iPhone users have to sign up with AT&T to use a non-jailbroken iPhone), I was ready to give T-Mobile a chance. So I took the plunge. After one day of use, here are my first impressions.

What I don’t like

  • If you’re filling out something, instead of automatically focusing on the text box to fill in, the interface waits for you to manually click on the text box in order to bring up the on-screen keyboard.
  • A few dialogues will give you the option to click Done when you’re done with the on-screen keyboard, but most will have only a Return key to go to the next line. So in order to get the keyboard to go away, you have to hold down the Menu key (a plastic key, not a touchscreen key).
  • Even though there is an onscreen touch keyboard, there are eight hard plastic keys as well. Once you get used to them, they’re fine, but at first they’re a bit confusing, especially what the difference between Menu and Home is. I’ve found the Menu key to be invaluable, no matter what application I’m in. If I’m ever lost, I can press the Menu key and something useful will come up. The search key is completely useless. I have done quite a bit of fiddling in the last day, and I have never used the search key.
  • There is an option to turn off “background data” to save battery life, which is great. Unfortunately, you have to enable it in order to browse the Android Market for new applications. Not awful, but a little annoying. So to browse the Market, I have to turn on Background Data, browse, and then turn Background Data off again.
  • I don’t know why T-Mobile or Google didn’t just include this app as part of the default OS, but there is an app to give you visual voicemail (so you can click to listen to or delete messages instead of going through the menus of a call-in system). Unfortunately, in order to use it, you cannot be connected to a wireless network (unencrypted, WEP, WPA, WPA2). You have to be connected to the regular T-Mobile network only.
  • You have to have a Google email account or sign up for one before you can use the phone. I had one already (which I don’t really use). Still, that’s a ridiculous requirement.
  • There are a lot of times when you’re confronted with a screen and no immediately obvious way to proceed (no submit or enter button, no next or finish button). At first I just got kind of confused and hit the Back plastic key. Eventually, I learned to press Menu to get a contextual menu up, which usually had a useful option. A bit counterintuitive.
  • There’s an automatic playlist (what Apple calls a “smart playlist”) in the music section called “Recently Added.” There does not appear to be a way to add other smart playlists, though (recently played, most frequently played, etc.). You can create new playlists manually, but that’s also not obvious (you have to do a long click on the first song you want in the playlist and then select to add it to a playlist and then select to create a new playlist).
  • There is no official Facebook app, so if you want to do mobile uploads, you have to use third-party upload-to-Facebook apps (which are kind of annoying and don’t always work) or email the photos or videos to the secret upload-to-Facebook email associated with your account.
  • It isn’t obvious how to connect the MyTouch to your computer in order to drag and drop files. I plugged in the USB cord, and it didn’t show up as a removable drive. I checked the output of dmesg | tail in the terminal, and it definitely showed up as being plugged in, but it didn’t show up in sudo fdisk -l even. Eventually, I figured out that you have to go to notifications in the MyTouch and manually dismount (from the MyTouch) the SD card so that it will automatically mount (to your computer). Then after you unmount it from your computer, you also have to manually remount it to the MyTouch.
  • Like the iPhone, the MyTouch will switch from portrait to landscape mode if you rotate the phone, but the animation is not smooth at all. First the screen gets a little blurry, and then it jerkily rotates over. It happens quickly… just not smoothly.

Mixed bag

  • The touchscreen isn’t as sensitive as the iPhone touchscreen. In some ways, this is a good thing. For example, no matter how slim your hands are, the tip of your finger will always be bigger than the onscreen keyboard keys. So when I try to type on the iPhone, I often end up pressing the wrong key (and the autocorrection never works). With the MyTouch, I pretty much never make a typing mistake. On the other hand, I’m not always typing. Sometimes a simple swipe to scroll up or down in a list or on a page will just not register, and I’ll have to swipe again a little harder to get the scroll to actually work.
  • Some reviews I read complained that you can’t just plug a standard headphone into the MyTouch. I can see how that might be annoying, but the MyTouch does come with a USB adapter with a little microphone and play/pause button built into it (and headphones that are half-way decent).
  • There’s no Flash in the web browser. This is makes certain websites non-functional, but the iPhone doesn’t have this either. In fact, I don’t think any smartphone has it. Isn’t this an Adobe issue?

What I like

  • The voice recognition for voice searches is really good. Sure, you can’t mumble. You do have to enunciate. But you don’t have to train it to recognize your voice, and if you do enunciate, usually Android guesses right on what you want to search for. If I’m in a public place, I may feel a bit self-conscious doing voice searches. If I have to do one, though, it’s nice to know that it works, and it’s much quicker than typing using an onscreen keyboard.
  • You can easily delete or move desktop shortcuts by holding them down and dragging them around or to the trash. You can also easily add desktop shortcuts by holding down an empty space and creating a link to an application or even to a browser bookmark.
  • Any song on your phone can easily be made into a ringtone. Just do a long hold on the song, and a context menu will pop up with that option.
  • Apps can be easily installed and removed from your phone.
  • Once you do figure out the whole mounting/unmounting thing, the MyTouch Micro SD card just shows up as removable storage, even in Linux, and you can just drag and drop pictures or music to various folders, and the MyTouch will immediately recognize those once the card is remounted.
  • I like the way the phone unlocks (press the menu key twice) better than the way the iPhone unlocks (press the hard button and then draw a horizontal line with your finger).
  • Web searches seem pretty fast. And Opera Mini is available for free in the Android Market. I’m going to keep both the default browser and Opera around. With Opera, I have it configured not to load images, so when I do text-only searches, it’ll load even faster. With the default browser, I can see websites that do require images.
  • The back button (as a plastic key) is very handy, and it really will bring you back to whatever screen you were last on, regardless of whether you are going from one webpage to the last webpage or from one screen to another screen.
  • I knew ahead of time that Android 1.5 did not support multi-touch (the “pinch” that the iPhone has for photos and webpages to zoom in and zoom out). I thought that missing feature would annoy me, but I haven’t found a lot of situations in which zooming seems necessary. I won’t complain if the 2.0 update includes multi-touch, though.

Conclusion
Overall, I’m quite pleased with it (granted, after only one day). Most of the reviews made it sound as if it’s nothing special (not an iPhone killer, not that much better than the G1). With all the pros and cons I’ve laid out, though, it is still fun and easy to use. It has some counterintuitive or annoying elements, sure. Nevertheless, even after only one day, I’m getting used to those or finding workarounds for them. If American Linux users are looking for a good smartphone that works with Linux, definitely consider the MyTouch 3G.