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personal

Replaced my Galaxy Nexus with a Motorola X

When I woke up in the morning, it never crossed my mind that I was going to change my phone that day.

I’ve been off contract for several months. If I wanted to go back in to contract, I would need a good deal since I was on an unlimited data plan that are no longer offered. Another benefit that I should look into a new contract is the price of a new phone.

Since I’ve used my Galaxy Nexus for two years and have been very happy with the stock Android experience, I didn’t want to go back into a custom branded phone; like something with Samsung’s Touchwiz for example.

I started the day by getting lunch at P.F. Chang’s, and right across the street there was a Telcel customer service office. So I went over there just to be curious on what was available, and surprisingly got a good deal: a lower rate contract since I not using all the minutes I was paying for, and a relatively good price on the Motorola X phone.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus vs Motorola X

Coming from using the Galaxy Nexus, the improvements are very noticeable. Not in the software, which are minor tweaks, but in the performance. The GNex has 1GB RAM vs the Moto X’s 2GB RAM that make a world of difference in load and response times.

The screen is very bright and I love the contrast (is it called dynamic range?) of the blacks and the bright colors.

Although the general software is pure Google Android, it has some special software like Touchless control and display notifications. I comes with Android 4.2.2, and not the current 4.3 version. The Motorola sales guy told me that it will upgrade to 4.4 “as soon as it comes out”, but I take his word with a grain of salt. You can also install the Motorola Connect Chrome extension so you can read your SMS messages and review your call log on the computer screen.

Also the camera software is different from stock Android, which I still haven’t tested thoroughly. Upgrading my mobile camera from the GNex’s 8 megapixel camera to the Moto X’s 10.2 megapixel camera sounds like a nice improvement that I still have to test and compare in detail. I like the fact that with two swings of the wrist the camera quickly activates. I got tired of spending 8 to 12 seconds to bring up the camera on the GNex, most times missing the moment, and don’t get me started on the focusing. The Moto X camera seems to focus pretty fast the couple times I’ve tried it so far.

The only complain I have so far on the Moto X is the Gallery app. It doesn’t sync all my web albums. So all I see are the photos stored in the phone. I don’t want to replace the gallery app with some untrusted version. The same thing happens with my CyanogenMod tablet, but I’m willing to experiment on that one more than on my new device.

I know that at the time of this writing and my recent purchase, the Nexus 5 is only days away from being announced. But I don’t regret my purchase. It will take weeks for it to start hitting the streets and months for it to get offered by my mobile provider at probably double the price than in the US. I guess I’ll still want a Nexus 5 when it comes out, but for now I can wait a few months, to save up for it while I figure out how I can order it from the US and get it shipped to Mexico, but more importantly, read comments and feedback from the early adopters.

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

Galaxy Nexus with Ice Cream Sandwich from Telcel

Galaxy Nexus box

I was lucky to get an online coupon to get the Galaxy Nexus phone on launch in Mexico (Telcel carrier) last thursday.

The software and usability

I wanted to give the phone some use before writing about it so I waited some weeks to post anything about it. I think it’s a very fast and elegant phone and the new operating system is key to its success. The good news is that the Galaxy Nexus was not altered by the carrier, so it has no crapware on it. It’s 100% Google’s Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Having used for months the Samsung Galaxy Tab with Honeycomb, moving to ICS was not a big deal to me, but I can imagine that it would be a big leap for Gingerbread users. The interface is very different and they way you interact with apps has also changed. Since there are no “physical” buttons, or touchable buttons like in the Galaxy S and S2, all buttons are on screen. The menu button is gone, so for apps that use it you need to look for a button that has three vertical dots. That can be very confusing at first, but having used the Honeycomb’s Gtalk and Gmail apps, it was easy to figure that out immediately.

One friend once complained about Android taking too long to open the contacts list. On the Galaxy S it took a couple seconds to load. I don’t know if this is Samsung specific or all 2.x versions had this lag. On ICS there is no lag when opening the contacts list, it has a very fast scroll and it has a very nice and clean design.

For the security aware people, ICS now comes with an option to encrypt your phone, a feature that was present in Honeycomb as well for the tablets (but I hadn’t tried until now). The bad news about it is that once you decide to encrypt your phone, you can no longer use swipe, pattern or face unlock screens. Only PIN and passphrase unlock screens are available. I didn’t expect that but I don’t mind, I “ported” my pattern to a PIN and use that. I can’t imagine typing a passphrase everytime you want to unlock your phone.

Galaxy Nexus with Ice Cream Sandwich

The hardware and design

On the hardware design part, I like the fact that the headphone jack is at the bottom and not at the top like in the Galaxy S, this makes it more comfortable and a more natural movement when taking it out of your pocket without having to flip it around. I sometimes miss the front button that you could tap quickly to turn on the screen.

My surprise though, was that when I read the Galaxy Nexus official website, it says it has 32Gb of internal storage and no indication of any alternative options. The version I got, has only 13Gb and since it has no SD card slot to expand your storage, this can get quite limited.

The Galaxy Nexus has a multicolor notification LED that is very practical to see what type of notification you haven’t seen. The downside is that the LED blinks very slowly, so you have to stare at your phone for a couple seconds to see if there’s anything blinking. On the Galaxy S I used BLN notification and when I had a notification, the LEDS were always on. If only I could make the Galaxy Nexus LED blink faster it would be more practical.

Compared to the Galaxy S2, the phone’s camera is “smaller” on the Galaxy Nexus, and by that I mean that it has a 5 megapixel camera vs the Galaxy S2’s 8 megapixel camera. The good news is that it has a zero delay shutter speed so as soon as you hit the button, the picture is taken. Long shutter lags was one of my biggest rants on previous phone cameras, so for me this is a must have on every phone from now on.

Battery lasts longer than my Galaxy S, for which I’ve had to buy an additional battery because it drains so quickly. Still you have to take the normal battery saving considerations of turning off things that you don’t need, but it still lasts longer on idle. It’s a bigger battery as well, so it might be just that.

Conclusion

Having used the phone for a couple weeks now, I noticed that for me there was little difference in speed and usability to use the Galaxy Tab with Honeycomb or the Galaxy Nexus with ICS. But I could feel a difference when using the Galaxy S with Gingerbread. I went on a weekend trip taking only my phone and I didn’t miss my Tab or my laptop to do my causal browsing and information consuming “needs”. But I couldn’t say the same if I just had the Gingerbread phone, the larger screen and the commodities of ICS in the Galaxy Nexus makes it a very fast and comfortable mobile device. ICS is a very well built mobile operating system that is not designed as only a smartphone like the 2.x Android versions. I’m very happy with this new phone and I recommend it greatly.

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

New media reading habits on tablets and ebook readers

eBook reading

With the latest releases of ebook readers and tablet devices (iPad, xoom, galaxy tab, etc) reading habits are changing from paper based to digital in a faster pace than before.

I’ve been using my Samsung Galaxy Tab for reading a lot more. I enjoy more reading my social media updates (Twitter, Google+, Facebook) on this device than using my laptop. Sometimes I even prefer to use that device even when having my laptop in front of me. Maybe touch scrolling feels nicer than wheel or trackpad scrolling. I still don’t know what exactly it is that makes it feel better.

Broken Kindle

I once borrowed a Kindle from work and one day, right before a 6hr long flight, the screen got damaged. On that trip I wanted to try out travelling with only the Kindle and no paper books, so I was left without any reading material. It was a frustrating waste of time. The advantage of travelling light is no longer very attractive to me over the advantage of reliable reading material.

On the other hand, I’m also very concerned about DRM in ebooks and the volatility of digital goods. Being in a “third” world country, I’m not used to buying digital goods, since there hasn’t been much services available and many US based services are blocked or restricted. The good side of it is that with free software like Calibre, I can convert any PDFs I find into Kindle format easily.

Google Books

I am yet to try out the Google Books app in the tablet. I found a lot of excellent classic reading material for free so I can try before spending any buck like books from Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The advantage I see on reading on the Kindle over reading on my Android tablet is that the Kindle is a distractions free gadget. On my tab I’ll get easily distracted with new email notifications, app updates, status updates, etc.

Some friends claim to be reading more now that they have a Kindle than when having paper books. While other friends who own an android tablet or iPad device tend to use their laptops less at home after work is done.

So I still wonder why is ebook reading on these devices more and more attractive lately. Is it because of the novelty of the gadget? Is there a real advantage or commodity over paper books or is it just techie fashion?

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition at Google I/O 2011

I got the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition at Google I/O in May. Its now mid September and I’ve been wanting to give it some use before giving an opinion about it and review it.

### The technical aspects ###

– Big display of 10.1 inches.
– Its got a fast processor, applications and games run very well.
Honeycomb is a nice operating system.
I couldn’t imagine this device with the Samsung Touchwiz that comes in the Galaxy S phones and the previous tablet. Its horrible! This one came originally with 3.0, which crashed applications frequently and had some bugs like not being able to change the clock’s timezone after setup. Now I understand they come with 3.1 by default. I’ve done the upgrade and its a lot more stable and smooth.
– 32GB internal memory, but no expansion slots.

One feature that I haven’t heard much talking about is that Honeycomb has a very nice security feature: it allows you to encrypt the whole tablet. I hope this feature makes it into Ice Cream Sandwich because its a lot more needed on the phone. I guess loosing the phone is more common that loosing a tablet.

### The uses ###

So far I’ve used it to watch videos on Youtube, playing Angry Birds and trying out some other games since the screen size is a lot more comfortable for gaming. I’ve been using it a lot for reading links from social networks, blogs and generally all my RSS feeds. It has become my casual browsing and social media device. With its big screen size and low weight its ideal for “couch computing”.

I bought a small generic base for it and some cheap desktop logitech speakers to put it in the kitchen counter to listen to music or watch and hear conferences, videos and South Park episodes while cooking or washing dishes.

### Apps ###

Although there are still many apps that haven’t upgraded their interfaces for tablet display using the latest Android toolkit, the ones that do look great. Here are the apps I’ve been frequently using on my tablet:

Plume for Twitter updates
Pulse for news and RSS feeds
– Gmail, this app has been optimized to look beautiful in the tablet
– Google+ is not optimized for tablets but its UI layout is okay
Mustard for my Identi.ca microblogging updates is not optimized for tablets
– Google Music in combination with external speakers or my home theater its a great music listening device
– Google Talk, video chatting from the tablet is very comfortable and handy
– Youtube
– Google Reader with its recent tablet layout version is now much more enjoyable to use

### The downsides ###

– Known factory defect of the corner glue. Haven’t heard of the issue on the new retail models.
– Lack of apps optimized for Honeycomb and general tablet layout
– Low sound
I don’t know if this is true to all android devices or just Samsung ones, but when I use external speakers with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or my Samsung Galaxy S phone, the max volume is still low (even more with Flash videos) compared to when I plug in an iPhone or iPod device (even with Rockbox) on the same speakers.

### Final thoughts ###
I’m glad to have it. I like playing with it and having it around, its a handy device, but it is not a computer. I wouldn’t spend that much money for a gadget like this, but my mexican economy is not the same as the one from a “developed” country. But even then, gadgets here in Mexico cost twice as much (the first galaxy tab is $800 USD plus a two year contract).

I hope in the future prices will drop to netbook level prices (~$300 USD) and more interesting apps emerge optimized or made specifically for tablets on the android platform.

Do you have an android tablet device? I’d like to know how other people are using their tablets and what apps they recommend to get the most out of it.

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source Tutorials & Tips

Restore Samsung Galaxy S to Original ROM from Telcel Mexico

Flash Samsung Galaxy S with Odin

Two weeks ago, I messed up my Galaxy S phone. I was having trouble with the back key activating by itself without touching it. As I’ve said before, I use Darky’s ROM instead of the crappy Samsung/Telcel default one. So searching for a possible solution, I found out that you could update your touchkeys firmware.

Well, I went ahead and updated it. To my surprise, it completely disabled my touch keys (the back and menu buttons). So, if you have the same problem with you back button key, DO NOT upgrade your firmware if you’re using a custom or unofficial ROM…or keep reading… Now my problem was worse than before! I then searched for a solution on that, and the only answer was: return to the default ROM and upgrade the touchkeys again, then revert back to your custom ROM.

That’s when my long journey began. Back when I changed to Darky’s ROM, I used Clockwork Recovery to do so. And of course, I made a backup of my current ROM. Turns out that, to restore from a backup, you need to be on the original ROM (or the ROM that backup has). And well, I had no other place to get that, since I thought my backup would solve it all. So I ended up spending almost all saturday looking for the original Samsung Galaxy S ROM from Telcel Mexico, until I finally found it!

To flash your Android device, you’ll need a program called Odin which is a leaked Samsung application that unfortunately runs only on Windows machines. There’s an open source, cross platform flashing software called Heimdall, but I couldn’t get it to work correctly, there’s not much documentation, so I couldn’t figure out my problem. I hope that project grows and evolves into a more stable alternative to Odin. So, I had to borrow a Windows XP netbook from a co-worker for a day so I could use the Odin software to Flash my phone.

I wanted to share my finding with some friends who have asked me about the same problem. So follow this forum post if you need to revert back to the original ROM, or recover your phone from a backup and you have a Galaxy S from Telcel. The post makes reference to this unofficial guide to upgrade to Froyo in case you loose your 850Mhz band.

I hope this solves your problems and helps you save all the time I had to invest to get to this solution. Changing the original ROM on your Android device is a risky move, but I find it worth it.

Photo is Creative Commons by fraencko on Flickr.
Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

Thoughts & Tips on the Samsung Galaxy S from Telcel

Samsung Galaxy S
After a couple of months of having the Samsung Galaxy S from my carrier Telcel, I now feel I can write a few lines about it and give you some heads up if you’re in Mexico and planning to get one as well.

The Good

First of all I’d like to start saying that it is a great device. Its a very light and slim phone. I used to carry around a Nokia N95, and switching to the Galaxy S is like switching from carrying a brick to a small pebble. I actually had some jeans with the mark of the N95 stretching the denim, now I wont worry about ripping my jeans with my phone. The screen size is great and the Super AMOLED resolution is very comfortable and bright. If you’re used to the iPhone’s screen, you’ll definately love the Galaxy S bright and high contrast screen. Also its a very fast phone with its 1Ghz processor and a very fast GPU unit, its the most decent Android phone offered by the largest carrier Telcel (at the time of this writing).

The Bad

That said, now to the bad sides of it. First, it comes with Eclair and the Froyo update is yet to be announced in Latin America (or at least Mexico as far as I know). But mainly, the bad part is: its from Telcel. And I’m not talking about the carrier service (which is very questionable, but off topic). What I’m saying here is that Telcel “crippled” it. The phone is loaded with crapware, and is missing key android OS ingredients.

They decided to remove Google search and replace it with Yahoo! (Bing). They removed the Gmail and Gtalk apps, and replace is with a Samsung email app doesn’t support Gmail at all, Gtalk is completely abscent. Oh and forget about trying to install them through the Android Market; its been filtered so these Google apps and others (like Firefox and Adobe Flash among others) are not available.

And last but not least, they removed the Voice Dialler app. Now why would they do that? For me its a security risk, since I drive a lot and I’m used to voice dial via my Bluetooth headset. Now I have to turn my sight off the road to see the phone in order to dial a phone, risking myself (and others) while driving.

I contacted Samsung Mexico and they answered back saying that those changes were made by Telcel, so they are really the ones to blame for this atrocities.

Samsung Galaxy S

The Ugly

The good news is that custom ROMs are the solution to these problems. If you don’t mind the warranty and all that, you can “safely” use Darky’s ROM which is based on Froyo with some nice improvements (thanks to @weymaster for helping me with my fear to install it). So far its the only ROM I know that works well with Telcel in Mexico. It makes the phone very fast, improve battery use and fix some GPS issues the Eclair based original firmware has. It also restores all the Google apps that Telcel removed, removes the carrier’s crapware and unfilters the Android Market. I really recommend the “upgrade”.

The Darky’s ROM page has all the instructions on how to upgrade. On my experience, I recommend you to use the Wipe version, which will delete everything on your phone, so be sure to make a backup first, of the data and an image of the original firmware, just in case you need to take it to warranty and you have to restore the phone’s original state from the carrier.

Conclusion

Overall its a very good choice if you’re in the looks for a smartphone of this kind and don’t want to buy an iPhone. I’ve been very happy with it, and even more after I “upgraded” it.

If have one, share in the comments your experience with it, maybe give out some tips on must have apps. I’ll be posting more on android and mobile computing now that I finally joined that bandwagon.