January 6, 2013

Free At Last!

Google Android Jellybean
I have been having some serious issues with my phone.  Even though several updates have come out for AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II (i777), I couldn't install them.  You are pretty much required to install some Samsung software and be at their mercy as far as updating.

Even though both the AT&T website and the Samsung website clearly stated that my version of the phone has been updated, more than once, the clunky Keis software I have to use to upgrade the phone simply doesn't work.

This isn't a matter of me not being able to use the software, it simply doesn't show that there is an update from version 2.X.  Yes, I've made sure the Keis software was up to date.  Yes, I read every FAQ.  Yes, I even re-initialized my phone.  All I got for my troubles was a blank phone that I had to spend a day tweaking to get back working again. That and all of a sudden my phone data doesn't work anymore.  I cannot use any apps unless I'm on wifi.  Nothing like paying $50 a month for a data plan I cannot use.  To top it off I'm not getting some phone calls and a lot of text messages (multimedia messages) won't come through.

I called AT&T tech support. After spending half an hour on the phone with them I was disconnected. No return call and no resolution.  I went to the AT&T store but "my guy" was on vacation (good for him) and there wasn't much anyone else could do.  I was told I could pay them for some extra tech support or I could try my luck with Samsung.  They do manage to get the data pan working.  Evidently the re-initialization toggled a simple option....something that the AT&T tech support should have been able to tell me about.

At this point I'm ready to downgrade to an old iPhone 4 and I'm seriously considering getting a dumb phone.

Google Nexus 7
I decided before I go that route I'm going to root my phone and install some other OS.  I have been extremely dissappointed with every single Android device I have purchased or been given a gift, pretty much all for different reasons, but I've come to a simple conclusion: the Android OS may be just fine, but the crapware and restrictions the device manufacturers put on top of the OS strangle the system to the point where anything Apple does is going to be better.

I came to this conclusion when a friend got a new Nexus 7 tablet.  I'm sorry, but relatively speaking, the hardware hasn't changed all that much in the last couple of years.  Yes, we have some faster processors, smaller components, and better resolution, but all these are just basically refinements.  Aside from some of these refinements and the occasional new bell or whistle. There shouldn't be that big of a difference between my devices and her new tablet.  This new tablet should be pretty much just incrementally better, not what-the-hell-is-that-and-why-does-it-not-even-compare-to-my-POS-Android-device?

It was a total PITA to get my phone's OS changed out.  Rooting it was simple enough, but I had issues getting the right recovery program on there and then installing the new software.  I thought I had things squared away at a couple points in the process, but I was wrong.  At more than one point I was convinced I had bricked my device.  All I could get was an odd screen message showing either the wrong build of phone or an error message.  I tried to see if I could just reinitialize the phone (again) using the Kreis software.  It did and low & behold there was a new update and just that day a new OS update bringing my phone into Jellybean.

Even after updating my phone I still wanted to finish what I started and root & remove the bloatware.  It took me a while, but I finally got it done.  The problem wasn't so much installing the ROM (Operating System), but getting a new recovery mod installed.  These ROMs aren't usually signed (certified) and the stock recovery mode of the phone will not install them.  Every problem I had stemmed from me not being able to get an appropriate version of Clockworkmod Recovery installed.

I still have to do all the tweaking for setup, but I have a phone that works like stock Android (4.1.2) device from Google.  I found the ROM here, and when I get a chance I'll have to send a small donation as thanks.

Even without all my apps on the phone the difference between the stock Android and the Samsung version is striking.  Having to tweak and setup your custom phone interface is kind of like having to draw a picture.  I could either use Samsung's small box of crayons or Google's large box of artist pencils.  Both with get the job done, but one is clearly superior.

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