The ultimate budget smartphone: The Moto E

I wanted to like the Moto E, for sentimental reasons. The Motorola who made this phone isn’t the same Motorola who made the MC68000 CPU in my Amiga, and it’s not the same Motorola that built the hulking briefcase-sized bag phone Dad toted around in the 1980s, but the logo is the same.

The stingy Scottish miser in me wanted to like the phone too, because it costs $129. A few short months ago, the only phones you could buy new for under $130 were cheaply made no-name phones like the Blu Advance with half a gig of RAM, a low-visibility screen, a low-end processor you didn’t want and an Android that was a few versions out of date, encased in lots of cheap plastic. Next to the Moto E, the Blu phones lose what little appeal they had.

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Android Kit Kat lands on the Nook Color

I didn’t know if it would ever happen, but experimental nightly builds for Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) have arrived for the venerable Nook Color. I installed it tonight.

Since I’ve previously run other versions of Cyanogenmod on the Nook Color, the upgrade was pretty straightforward. I had to reboot to recovery, update my recovery because my existing recovery was old and incompatible, reboot again (to recovery of course), which put me in Clockworkmod 6.0.4.5, and from there I installed the Cyanogenmod 11 zip followed by the Google Apps zip.

Newly flashed Android devices sometimes take some time to settle in before they’re really usable. On this 1 GHz, 512MB device, Kit Kat does seem faster than any of the Jelly Bean builds (Android 4.1-4.3) I’ve tried to run on it, but it’s not as quick as my Samsung Galaxy S 4G running Android 4.0.4. I’ll give it a little time.

The Asus Memo Pad HD 7 review: It’s a nice inexpensive tablet

I’ve been messing with an Asus Memopad, the 7-inch version. I think it’s a well-built, good-performing tablet for $149, and when you can get it on sale for less than that–and this is the time of year for that–I think it’s a great tablet for the money.

It’s not a high-end tablet. It has a 1280×800 screen, a quad-core 1.2 GHz Mediatek processor, a middling GPU, and 1 GB of RAM, and importantly, it includes a micro SD slot so you can add up to 32 GB of storage to it. The specs are all reasonable, but not mind-blowing. Most of the complaints I’ve seen about it are that it’s not a Nexus 7, but it’s 2/3 the price of a Nexus 7, too. When you compare it to other tablets in its price range, the worst you can say about it is that it holds its own. Read more

Android ROMs explained

To the uninitiated, the world of Android ROMs can be more than a little confusing. Since Android is based on Linux and therefore large portions of it are licensed under the GPL, enthusiasts are free to create and release their own builds.

That’s where some of the confusion comes from. When you buy an Android device, it comes with Android pre-loaded of course. Then, when Google releases a new version of Android, it releases it to the vendors and to the phone companies. If your device is really popular and you’re really lucky, you’ll get an update from either the carrier or the vendor. Usually the update comes with some ridealong software, which you may or may not find useful.

Enthusiast-built Android ROMs tend to come out much sooner than official ROMs sanctioned by the manufacturer, and they don’t come with the bloatware either, so they tend to run a lot better. My venerable Samsung Galaxy S4G phone, which is nearly three years old, runs better on an enthusiast-built ROM than it ever ran with the vendor-provided one, and the enthusiast-built ROMs are much more up to date. Read more

I have a new favorite Android ROM for the Nook Color: MROM

My Nook Color is my experimental Android rig. Since it’s aging fast, I don’t use it nearly as heavily as my other Android devices, so if I accidentally do something wrong, I can live without it much more easily than I can do without a phone or my nicer tablet.

So I tend to try a lot of different things on it, just because I can.

The newest ROM I’ve tried on it is called MROM, and I must say I am impressed. Read more

Smartphones and tablets… What’s the point?

A longtime reader who asked to be anonymous got his first tablet and smartphone a few weeks ago and was underwhelmed, to say the least. “What’s the point?” he asked me privately.

To be honest, I understand. I got my first tablet a couple of years ago–a Nook Color that I loaded Cyanogenmod on. And, to be honest, once the thrill of hacking an e-reader into a full-blown tablet with no restrictions on it wore off, I didn’t do a lot with it. When I thought of it, I would check the weather on it when I was getting ready in the morning, and maybe glance at my e-mail with it, but mostly it sat on my end table. I probably used it 15 minutes a week.

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Tweaking the Android I/O scheduler

On my Nook Color running Cyanogenmod, inside Settings, Performance, there’s a mysterious setting called I/O Scheduler. Storage performance (I guess I can’t call it disk performance anymore) is critical to overall system performance, but it’s also easy to get wrong. I assumed the default setting, something called cfq, was optimal.

I was wrong. Let’s explain why.

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Saving money on a smartphone

I bit the bullet last week, and added a second smartphone to what’s now our family plan. I didn’t buy a new phone though. Instead, I bought a used Samsung Galaxy S 4G off Amazon (the Canadian version, which was an accident) for $100. Since we now own both phones outright, that lets us run the phones month to month, with no contracts and no penalties. They bill us every month and we use it, but I can walk into any T-Mobile store and cancel one or both phones at any time.

Chances are there’s a reactivation fee if I do that and decide to reactivate later on, but that’s cheaper than getting out of a contract.

Now, as for the Galaxy S 4G… It’s a well-built phone from about 2010. It’s on the old side, but works pretty well. I loaded a custom ROM on it and I’m very happy with it now.

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Why there’s scarcely any aftermarket firmware for Hisense Sero tablets

Are you curious why there’s no Cyanogenmod for the Sero 7 or Sero 7 Pro tablets? Or why there’s only one aftermarket ROM for it, released way back in May, with no updates?

I realized why this week. Hisense has not yet released the GPL source code for the tablets. And without developers being able to look at the kernel source, you’ll see very little, if any aftermarket firmware for these tablets.

I know a few people have posed the question via Hisense’s Facebook page. Here’s a sample letter. Read more

How to disable wallpaper when you’re not running Cyanogenmod

Unfortunately I can’t run Cyanogenmod on all of my Android devices (more on that tomorrow), but if you want to save some memory and CPU cycles and, depending on your device’s display, perhaps even increase your battery life by a few dozen minutes, there’s an option.

The Cyanogenmod No Wallpaper feature is available as a small app in the Play store. Simply download it, then tap and hold your home screen and you can select No Wallpaper.

Besides the benefit of decreased memory usage and increased battery life, I found the minimalist look quickly grew on me.

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