Bye, Bye Samsung.
Hey, All. I’ve been messing around with custom Android ROMs on my Galaxy Note recently and thought I’d post my thoughts on the ROMs and why I went this route to begin with. Of course, there are many out there who want to root and load custom ROMs as soon as possible, but I didn’t want to deal with the hassle. I wanted to wait until I got the official Jelly Bean update from Samsung because supposedly it was coming in March. AFAIK, the original Note STILL hasn’t gotten an update, but I stopped caring after Samsung’s ridiculously crappy and sexist S4 launch event. However you may feel about that lame S4 event, it was the last straw for me.
I really like my Galaxy Note. It’s a unique mobile device that basically jump started the trends for uber-large Android phones as well as devices with styli coming back into vogue (a little). I think Samsung did a great job of creating a new market segment and dominating it. I still hear lots of people singing the praises of the Galaxy Note 2, which I totally wanted to upgrade to before all this. It got super irritating to see all other Samsung devices, some on AT&T, getting their JB updates day after day, week after week, while the Note got left out in the cold. Then the S4 fiasco happened, and it pushed me over the fence to finally seek out Jelly Bean ROMs to try.
There’s no technical reason for the Note not to get a JB update. It’s not like when older iOS devices were denied firmware updates because their hardware wasn’t up to snuff. My Note is currently running a Jelly Bean-based custom ROM and it’s humming along nicely. In fact, I daresay that many older devices benefit from running ICS or JB because the two versions are more optimized and seem to run more smoothly than Gingerbread or Honeycomb did. Plus oddball devices like the NOOK Color that don’t have the typical Android buttons benefit from the virtual nav bar of ICS and JB.
No More Samsung For Me
Anyway, because of Samsung’s lame behavior (even before the S4 event), I decided that a) I wouldn’t wait anymore for an official update, and b) my next Android device is NOT going to be a Samsung device. Besides, Samsung is dominating Android devices now, and I am inclined to seek out the “underdogs” and help them along. It’s too bad because I was crazily eager to get a Note 8.0 because I love smaller tablets and feel that my Galaxy Note is a bit too small to comfortably write on. I think the Note 8.0 would’ve been an ideal inking tablet, but now I am not even considering it. Same for the Galaxy Camera, another shame.
I’m actually pretty interested in the following devices: Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, LG Optimus G Pro, and the OPPO Find 5. I’ve always loved Sony products, and the Xperia Z looks like a great device (waterproof!). The HTC One is getting a lot of praise for the hardware design, rightfully so. The LG Optimus G Pro is essentially a Note 2 knock off. And actually, I’m tickled by LG’s blatant cloning (and/or beating Samsung to the punch) of Samsung devices/features because it’s giving Samsung a big dose of their own medicine. Besides, the Nexus 4 looks like a nice LG device. The OPPO Find 5 is a pretty oddball device, but I think it looks great and it has an interesting hardware HDR capture feature. Because I have a stubborn streak in me that tends to like things that the mainstream doesn’t, the OPPO Find 5 kind of speaks to that side of me. But I also tend to get frustrated by lack of accessories and other support for oddball devices, so I don’t know if I’ll really end up getting the Find 5. The Xperia Z is at the top of my list so far. And actually, as I was searching for Xperia Z photos, I found out there is a purple one! My decision is made! 😀
photo credit: Droid Life
Fun With Custom ROMs
So, back to the custom ROMs. I started out with the Avatar ROM because I stumbled across a video by the bloggers at RootGalaxyNote.com that showed off the features and had notes on how to install the custom ROM. Up until now I haven’t done much to my Android devices beyond rooting them in the past (mainly to silence obnoxious shutter sounds or to add screenshot capabilities and customizing fonts…minor stuff) because the process seemed rather annoying and error-prone. Well, it seemed like that for the ATRIX 4G since Motorola did their damnedest to keep the bootloader locked down. I didn’t research much about it because I just didn’t want to deal with the fuss at the time. Samsung devices seemed to be more easily modified. So I finally loaded a custom ROM on my Note a couple weeks (?) ago. Good stuff! I really like the changes in 4.2.2 with the lockscreen widgets, Google Now, and all that. The jump between the stock ICS ROM for the Note and 4.2.2 is pretty significant. BTW, I think that the Samsung devices that have gotten official JB updates are stuck at 4.1.2, so that further validated my decision to stop waiting for the official update from Samsung.
S Pen Still Works Like a Charm
I did lose the S Pen apps like S Memo, but even before going the custom ROM route, my main digital inking was done in an app called Papyrus. It’s great because I can set it up to only allow inking from the S Pen, and configure finger input as an eraser (two-finger pinching zooms, and two-finger swiping moves the canvas around). And you can finally export inked pages to JPG or PNG. It used to only support PDF export. So as long as Papyrus worked under this custom ROM, I was good to go on the S Pen route. There’s also an app called GMD SPen [sic] Control for rooted devices that adds S Pen gesture support, which is a nice addition, but I haven’t used it much yet.
Finally, Google Now!
I felt like I had a new device. I liked configuring lockscreen widgets, though truth be told, I didn’t use them a whole lot (though I might as time goes by). But having Google Now on my phone is awesome. I know some people think it’s creepy, but I like it. It alerts me about traffic to places of interest; I’ve gotten notifications about my brother and sister-in-law’s vacation flights since they e-mailed me the flight info for reference; and of course there are the notifications about weather and nearby events. Very cool stuff.
Running Tablet Apps
I wanted to try running some tablet-only apps on my Note, and for some reason could not find any guides on how to do this. I think I was using the wrong search terms. My first plan of action was to try a hybrid ROM called JellyBam that incorporates Paranoid Android ROM preferences to both use tablet or “phablet” UI for the home screens, and set per-app DPI settings. I thought perhaps it would also set some kind of flag or something to spoof the Play Store into thinking my Note was a tablet. However, this didn’t end up being the case. After installing JellyBam, I tried some different Paranoid Android settings but the Play Store continued to deem my phone incompatible with tablet apps.
Then I finally started searching for build.prop edits to make a phone look like a tablet. This lead me to an article on Android Police for an app called Market Helper. It does some voodoo to trick the Play Store into thinking your device is something else, apparently without editing the build.prop? I don’t know exactly how it works.
It’s kind of fussy because you have to choose from a device in the drop-down menu, then visit your Google Dashboard to complete the tweak. Rebooting your device clears out the changes. So while I can now download both phone and tablet apps, it’s not exactly as easy as flipping a switch. But I guess it is easier than switching build.prop edits.
The JellyBam ROM itself is pretty nice, a customization freak’s dream. I only just loaded it yesterday, so I haven’t been able to dig very deep into all the features. But if you have a compatible device, I’d say check it out. If you guys have any other ROMs you feel are worth checking out, please let me know.
One Last Item: NOOK Color and Jelly Bean
I don’t have a Nexus 7. Up until recently I thought my next Android tablet would be the Galaxy Note 8.0. But now I’m kind of at a loss of what other 8-inch Android tablets are out there that aren’t “craplets”. I did a little bit of searching and saw that Toshiba has a 7.9-inch tablet that seems promising. Otherwise there are the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and the Nook HD+, both of which aren’t that stable as far as rooting and custom ROMs are concerned (that I could see; correct me if I’m wrong).
So I decided to upgrade my NOOK Color to CM10 after reading some guides and finding out that there are CM10 nightlies for the device. I’ve always liked the hardware build of the NOOK Color. It was sluggish when I played around with custom ROMs before, but it was partially because I was running CM7 (?) off an SD card instead of installing it internally. I figure I won’t be selling this thing, so I went ahead an installed to the EMMC (I think that’s the terminology). The software works pretty well. However, I figured out something that is preventing me from continuing to use it as a regular device — it’s ridiculously heavy for its size! I am used to a Galaxy Note and an iPad mini (my two primary devices). The NOOK Color is way heavier than the iPad mini. And while I tried to use the Color for most of a day, my arms and wrists just protested at the weight. This is why I don’t like 10-inch tablets, too heavy and unwieldy for long-time usage. Sadly the NOOK Color is the same. And I’m sure the HP TouchPad would be as well (I haven’t updated it to JB, it’s still on an old build of ICS). What a bummer! Sony has a pretty nice Xperia Z tablet, but IIRC it is a 10-inch tablet. I may make an exception for it, though, who knows.
If anyone has any suggestions for a good 8-inch or so Android tablet, let me know. And remember, no Samsung devices. 😛