Experiences with my Android Phone and Tablet

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I bought my Galaxy S1 phone in September 2010 when I saw that the Google Android OS was reaching a tipping point in terms of early mainstream adoption and Gartner was predicting Android to Become No. 2 Worldwide Mobile Operating System in 2010 and Challenge Symbian for No. 1 Position by 2014. Nielsen data was also showing that Android phones were outselling iPhones in the US. Gartner’s Q3 report for 2010 said Android was the second largest smartphone platform OS in the world. At this time the Android Market was already standing at just over 100,000 apps.  Moving from an iPhone 3GS, the Android OS was like a breath of fresh air….. freedom!  I settled on a Samsung Galaxy S GT-i9000. And in July 2012 I moved on to the Galaxy S3 – really impressed with the speed, the gesture control, the 2100mAh battery, and the excellent camera. My S3 had a serious screen accident in September 2013 and I replaced it with a Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-i9500 which has free insurance to replace a broken screen, and has a much better camera along with some extra speed and features. The S4 was in turn replaced with an S5 phone in 2014. And in February 2016 I bought a Google Nexus 6P Android phone after having quite a few Samsung Galaxy S phones. What I like about the Nexus is the lack of bloatware, and the instant OS updates from Google, stereo front speakers, the screen size allows some serious usage with it, and great battery life. No need to manually flash Samsung ROMs from the SamMobile website. So this phone was able to install an over-the-air developer preview version of Android N. I had lots of battery issues after just over a year of usage, and replacing battery and even downgrading from the Developer Preview did not help, so in November 2017 I got a Google Pixel 2 XL phone. It’s only a week old but the battery life so far has been amazing. I only hope the battery lasts well, and if so, I’ll be really happy with this phone.

 

My reasons for moving to Android were:

  • Multitasking OS.
  • More freedom for developers to develop and market their apps.
  • Can install apps from outside the official Android Play Store, and can remote install from the Play Store itself.
  • Supported by Google and obvious strong integration with Google services such as GMail, Calendar, etc.
  • Over 241,000 apps available (covering those I needed most) and 478,000 in July 2012. See AppBrain.
  • Widgets can be displayed on the homescreens with useful information.
  • Replacement springboards / launchers as well as keyboards can be used for customising the look and feel (more choices).
  • Live wallpapers…. OK this was not a reason but it is mind-blowing to look at 😉 For example see http://www.appbrain.com/app/anipet-koi-live-wallpaper/com.anifree.anipet.koi.
  • Easy to replace the manufacturer’s ROM with a custom ROM like CyanogenMOD.

Maximising Battery Life:

Just like any smartphone (including my last iPhone) the Android will chew through its battery and can be dead by late afternoon. This is because multiple widgets draw data, the bright backlight makes it look so good, live wallpapers are stunning, live sync, etc all chew it up. One misconception to get out of the way quickly is that task killers do not help on the Android platform, and in fact could kill the battery even quicker! The reason for this is the task killer app kills other apps off regularly, and many of these apps restart again, killing even more battery. The truth is that the Android OS (which is Linux based and not Microsoft Windows) manages its memory quite well, and keeping lots of idling apps in memory does it no harm at all. They start quicker and use no CPU or battery while they idle.

So what has helped for me is to mainly keep the display backlight off or very low (it uses the most battery), use GPRS or 2G instead of 3G for wireless connectivity, and keep GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi off until you require them. The last mentioned can be well handled using an app called Tasker. To see what is using your battery go to the Android settings menu About Phone –> Battery use, and it will show you exactly what is consuming the battery. Exactly the same advice applies for the Galaxy Tab. More recently with OLED screens, it is wise to use a pure black screen background as that also uses less power. The concerns about the GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and WiFi are really no longer such as issue as the phone’s OS now handles that very well by putting them to sleep when not in active use.

Some of my favourite apps that I use are:

  • Swiftkey – really impressed with it’s excellent word prediction as well as multi-language support. It also happily does word prediction even when you mix different languages in an SMS or anywhere else with text entry.
  • Animated Weather Widget, Clock – Shows the clock and weather forecast in a place where you are in an HTC-like look.
  • WeatherSA – SA’s official weather. Pity no widget yet!
  • News24 – excellent SA news app with categories for tech news, green news, fashion, etc. Also started looking at News360 in March 2013 – quite impressed with it’s interface and how it learns what news you are interested in.
  • FourSquare, Twitter, Facebook Lite (and the alternative Friendcaster), Skype (calls and video over WiFi), LinkedIn, Google+, PayPal, Google Earth, Google Streetview, DropBox, Kindle, NextCloud, SocialPilot, etc.
  • Moon+ Reader Pro – book reader with powerful controls & full functions, supports epub, pdf, mobi, chm, cbr, cbz, umd, fb2, txt, html, rar, zip or OPDS formats. Also has animated page flipping. Syncs to DropBox and also works with the cross-platform Calibre eBook Manager.
  • Quickpic – very fast and easy to use photo / video viewer. From here you can share to various social networks.
  • Carbon for Twitter – a really good Twitter app that is designed for phones but will work on tablets (even though it is not yet optimised for tablets).
  • Waze – is an excellent crowd sourced traffic navigation app.
  • You can also fool the Market into thinking you are operating from a different country such as the USA by using an app called Market-Enabler but you will need root access. There may be some problems with this working on the latest version of Market though. An improved app now is Market Unlocker.
  • WhatsApp messenger – for push messaging between iPhones, Androids, Blackberries and Nokia phones. Works just like SMS but uses data instead of GSM. New entrants are Viber and Telegram with over 200 million users and a desktop client that will run on Windows, Mac and Linux.  Wire also launched in 2016 with end to end encryption and really clear audio, and now we also have Signal.
  • DoggCatcher – it’s the podcast player I’d wished I’d had on the iPhone. Downloads podcasts over WiFi, automated cleanup of files, views videocasts, reads RSS feeds, and much more. So as  I start my car, the phone connects automatically via Bluetooth to the car radio and then plays my podcasts while I drive. An optional add-on plays podcasts at 1.8x speed for catching up.  I have since migrated to using PlayerFM, and in 2017 on to PocketCasts.
  • Simfy Music Player – unlimited listening for a subscription of R60pm. It will play in offline mode as well so you need not use up bandwidth.
  • Soundhound – can listen to a sound clip (or humming) and then identify the music for you (works for some TV shows as well).
  • Flipboard is an excellent visual news and RSS feed reader. Another good alternative that integrates with Google Reader is Feedly.
  • Pocket – I use this app to save anything I’m reading on a web browser for later reading or posting from my desktop computer.
  • LauncherPro – basically a replacement launcher with some nice features like super-smooth scrolling, animated screen previews (like Exposé or HTC Sense), Up to 7 home screens, App drawer with a fly-in effect and smooth scrolling, shortcut scrolling dock, etc. Also try out the Gingerbread version 2.3 launcher here. I have recently also moved to ADWLauncher EX which really has masses of options such as home screen transitions, 3D apps drawers and countless themes. And I moved again to GO Launcher EX (free). And currently settled on Apex Launcher from around the end of 2012. And in 2016 I moved to Google Now launcher which is stripped down for speed and has Google Now cards integrated into it.
  • Titanium Backup (phone must be rooted) – fully automated backups. An alternative to try if your phone is not rooted is Carbon.
  • Tasker – very powerful app that will execute actions based on any conditions (location, movement, starting an app, time of day and many many more). I use this for example to turn on GPS when I start apps such as FourSquare, Geocache, etc and turn the GPS off automatically as I exit the apps. It also turns on WiFi when I near my home and turns it off when I leave. I also set a script to check for a keyword in my calendar appointments and to automatically put the phone on silent, and to restore sound after the meeting ends. A recent addition was also a script to check the ambient light sensor and set the display brightness to low or high automatically. The sky is the limit and it can replace many other apps you would normally buy – get an idea of what it can do at Lifehacker and at Androinica.
  • ROM Toolbox Pro – really powerful app (root required) to control what apps start with the phone powering up, block adverts, adjust CPU speed, edit the build.prop file, and much more.
  • SMS Backup+ – automatically backs up your SMS’s to your GMail account where you can search or print them.
  • Software Data Cable – use your home WiFi to transfer files between your computer and phone / tablet. Great for if you can’t find the USB cable, or if the computer is not recognising the phone’s storage properly.
  • Solid Explorer – a file manager with two independent panels which brings to you a new file browsing experience. This is the most attractive, eye catching and intuitive file manager for the Android.
  • 3G Watchdog – Monitors your Mobile Internet (3G/Edge/GPRS) data usage, shows a status icon (green/orange/red) in the notification bar and a detailed report page. Also has a widget that displays usage against quota on your homescreen. This app ignores data transferred via WiFi and I have found it to be the most accurate for 3G data usage measurement.
  • Catch Notes – I’m using this app currently to type notes in meetings and e-mail them to myself afterwards. I like Catch Notes because there is no limitation on the size of the notes. I moved back to Evernote though in 2012 as they have greatly improved their add-ons with 3rd party support. And in 2017 I moved to Standard Notes.
  • Documents To Go – view and edit MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
  • AppBrain App Market – can use their website to find useful apps and “push” them to the phone. It also notifies you of any updates that are waiting for download.
  • LastPass – my password manager that works across browsers, computers, and phones. Note Dolphin HD browser has a LastPass plugin that allows it to fill in passwords within the browser.
  • Lookout Mobile Security – Anti-virus (Block viruses & malware, Scan every app installed), Backup (Contacts, photos, call history), Phone Finder (Locate phone on map, Activate loud alarm). I use it with Prey or Cerberus.
  • Prey – keep track of your Android phone at all times, and will help you find it if it ever gets lost or stolen. It’s lightweight, open source software, and free for anyone to use. And it just works. Another alternative is SeekDroid. Cerberus is probably one of the most powerful anti-theft apps for Android.
  • GotYa! – sends a photo and location to GMail or Facebook whenever someone incorrectly guesses your phone login.
  • AdBlock Plus – blocks adverts on WiFi networks, and rooted phones will block ads over 3G as well.
  • Screenshot (not required with custom ROM phones or Galaxy S3’s where you just swipe to save a screenshot).
  • Handcent SMS – love the threaded bubble SMS’s and it pops up over running apps to alert you and allow quick replies etc. I’ve just started using GO SMS Pro during Feb 2013 as I’m worried by the lack of response from Handcent SMS for their online service. So far I’m pretty impressed with GO SMS but hope it is not a payment every 3rd month or so as I won’t keep that up.
  • Geocaching – to find and log geocaches. See also the free c:geo app.
  • PhoneUsage – detailed stats on phone, data and SMS usage by day, week, month, etc. Alerts can be set and a widget can be placed on a homescreen to display quick stats.  I found the data usage a bit inaccurate and prefer the 3G Watchdog for data usage display as I am only interested in monitoring my 3G usage.
  • Clipper Plus with Sync – cut-and-paste between your devices.
  • Google Chrome to Phone – lets you easily share links, maps, and currently selected phone numbers and text between your computer running Chrome and your phone.
  • Cozi Family Calendar & Lists – I use it primarily to sync our shared grocery list between all the family members’ phones, the Google TV, and the browser web login. I’ve been using Our Groceries app since 2016 which also has Android Wear support.
  • Google Tasks Organizer – its power is syncing with Google Tasks but I am testing out Wunderlist too now which has a great interface and syncs with its own cloud service.
  • Shush! Ring Restorer – to silence the phone in meetings or movies for a selected time and automatically restore sound afterwards.
  • Google Sky Map – turns your Android-powered mobile phone into a window on the night sky.
  • Various browser such as Opera, Firefox, Skyfire and Dolphin HD. One of the fastest browsers I found is Miren. And in 2012 Google Chrome browser also became available for ICS and above. Dolphin HD has the best HTML5 support.
  • X-Plane – hottest flight simulator you can get.

See the complete list of my installed apps online for my Galaxy S and for my Galaxy Tab.

App Inventor – no need to be a programmer to develop apps easily for the Android platform (Note: Google announced intention to discontinue App Inventor during August 2011). Another option is AppsGeyser which is the web platform that allows you to convert any web content or widget into an App in 2 simple steps. See also Appsbar which is the easiest way to build apps for iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile in an easy to use GUI interface (note of caution on AppsBar is that they automatically require masses of unnecessary permissions to be granted by the end user when installing your app and I’m not comfortable with this). A more comprehensive (but also complex option) is to use the Eclipse SDK – see their tutorial here.

GameLoft – some excellent games not found in the Android Market.

Installing custom ROM’s. These ROM’s replace the default firmware on the phone and let you run an updated version of Android, a non-restricted (by manufacturer) version, or even a different phone manufacturer’s ROM. Needless to say this can be very risky and will void your warranty. One of the most popular custom ROM distributors is CyanogenMod.

Hints:

Samsung Kies not syncing on Samsung Galaxy S – check that USB mode on the phone is set to Kies and not mass media or something else. Also key is that you must be using the default springboard launcher. If you have LauncherPro (or other custom launcher) working you need to reset to the default launcher otherwise Kies will not connect (this took me hours to work out). The Kies software is for firmware upgrades or if you want to sync contacts, music, etc between the phone and a computer.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7″:

Yes the consensus is that people should wait for Android Honeycomb which will be more suited to tablets larger screens (my Tab 7″ is now running CyanogenMOD Jelly Bean 4.2.1 currently but LineageOS has since replaced it)…. but I needed a data modem for work and why buy a dumb modem when you can have an intelligent one that does other things?  So I went on contract for a Tab with 500MB of data per month (the contract now upgraded to 2GB per month luckily).  Off the bat I can say I’m quite impressed with it as the first thing you notice is its more workable size – you can really see more of what you are typing, there is far more information on the calendar and other screens, etc.  Second thing is the speed.  Rooting was a quick single click with the Z4Root app. The HTC Modded keyboard was not working too well so I tested and then bought the Smart Keyboard – with masses of options and skins including an iPhone skin!
Pro’s: 7″ usable screen, actually can fit into a man’s pants or jacket pocket, fast, comes with Android 2.2 Froyo, 16GB of internal RAM, keyboard has more of an iPhone “feel” to it, has an LED camera flash. Over the iPad2 it does have a proper phone, is holdable in one hand, has live widgets and plays Flash. The newer 8.9″ and 10.1″ Samsung Galaxy Tabs offer not only more size options but are also thinner than the iPad2.
Con’s: Only 3,2mpixel camera, weak camera software with no touch focus (partly remedied this with 3rd party software), requires full 2 Amps to start charging so many standard USB plugs won’t cut it (they provide a special high power USB plug charger for a wall outlet). I would also have preferred a standard mini-USB cable as this one looks just like the iPhone’s docking cable. Battery is not user replaceable.
Note1: In South Africa we can fully use Bluetooth headsets, Bluetooth keyboards, tethering to a PC, voice calling, etc. I hear that some US carriers have disabled these functions which is a real shame.
Note2: How to make apps scale that don’t scale.
Note3: Bootloader: Volume Down + Home + Power.  Recovery: Volume Up + Home + Power.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Tablet

I replaced my Tab 2 with the Galaxy Note 10.1 Review in December 2012. Keen to test out the stylus and so far very impressed that it recognises my handwriting quite well.

CyanogenMOD Custom ROMs:

OK I took the plunge and flashed both my Galaxy S phone and Tab to use use CyanogenMOD 7 custom ROMs (my Galaxy S since moved through ICS and is now on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean). The reasons……? Well I get tired of waiting for Samsung and then my own carrier to test their factory ROMs as it takes months and I love new features…. so I moved from an Android version 2.3.4 to 2.3.7 and have masses of custom options to play with from overclocking to extra features like LED notification lights where my devices don’t have this as standard.  In addition the sync on my Tab to my corporate mail server is also working again (it broke on the last factory ROM upgrade).

WARNING: Standard warning applies for flashing custom ROMs as it will void your manufacturer’s warranty and you could brick your device.

The process basically is that you use software like Heimdall to flash a new ROM to your phone.  There are options that usually include also the updating of the boot recovery manager as well to ClockworkMOD Recovery. Apart from installing custom ROMs and masses of other options, this custom recovery also does full backups and restores of the system. Once the recovery is installed, you can copy the update.zip file (for ROM) and the additional file for Google apps to the internal SD memory on the device (from your PC via USB cable), and use ClockworkMOD to “install” these ZIP files. The device reboots and there you are!  This is not a step-by-step guide so follow the guides for the Galaxy Tab 7 GSM version and the Galaxy S.

Just some hints where I went a bit wrong:

  • Don’t use newer versions of the software – stick to the links provided and those versions as newer versions do NOT work the same.
  • Don’t restore Bluetooth pairings – rather create new ones as it is quite a workaround to restore these. Reason is they differ between versions of Android OS and render the newer version’s Bluetooth as unusable.
  • Could not find my external SD card – look for /emmc in the root. It is under there.
  • On the Galaxy Tab (because it is beta?) the Android Market may report a few apps as unusable on your device. Market enabler also does not work on the newer version of Market so the workaround is to use the link supplied to install an older version of the Market app then everything seems to work fine.
  • You won’t have any apps that Samsung installed. You also won’t have any Google apps installed by default but these are installed with the link to the ZIP file supplied, and the rest are installed from the Market app as normal.
  • Your device is rooted so you can run rooted apps.
  • Your device will most likely be faster.
  • Battery use is as normal but someone had reported that there was increased battery drain and they traced it to the Market app where they disabled “Notifications” and this brought it back to normal.

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