Dangerous life in the fast lane

As a hacker, and as a person who loves to modify electronic devices, I found myself very often in a situation where I was simply measuring my skills wrong. Or in other words, I wanted more than I could handle. Tragic, especially when you have an affinity for expensive electronic devices.

Yesterday I decided to update the radio on my HTC. A very, VERY simple progress. Just download a ZIP file. Copy the ZIP file on your SD card and reboot to bootloader. Piece of cake. Well, normally. My experience and my intuition told me that this will fail for some reason. And it did. Update ran totally fine, no error, nothing wrong. Except one thing, this sodding device just didn’t want to completely reboot. I watched the HTC logo screen for like fifteen minutes.

Normal procedure is to put out the battery, reboot again, try if it boots fine and if that fails, try to flash again and see if this finally works. As expected, it didn’t work. So I tried other radio files, tried to reflash the ROM, but nothing worked, except…

…well, sometimes it’s worth to have a backup. It was quite old, but it managed to get the device back on track. It was this tiny little option that says “Restore bootloader” that fixed it.

Apart from this, I’m currently experimenting a little bit with Android 4 on my Motorola Defy. Without a doubt, Android 4 is the best Android so far, but the whole changes that where made to the architecture and the driver handling is a bloody pain in the ass. Developers could have made so much more progress, but the most of them a stuck on problems like cameras that don’t work or LED flashlights that won’t flash.

One needs to be patient on the other hand. This step in development was necessary and even though a lot of people will complain about late update rollouts for their devices. It’s more than just important for the device generation that will follow and even more important, the Android operating systems that will follow.

A taste of ice cream sandwich

According to the fact that there are no impressive game releases these days and I have a small amount of time left in my spare time, I was digging a little the Android scene. My main intention was to get some hands on on the latest Android – Codename “Ice Cream Sandwich” – and see how it works in my phones. The HTC Desire S and the Motorola Defy.

I tried the Virtuous Quattro RC3 and the CyanogenMod 9 Alpha builds for the HTC Desire. The Defy got stuffed with the experimental builds of CyanogenMod 9 as  well.

At first glance, for all devices, ICS looks amazing and the overall redesign looks very homogenic and a lot of obstacles in the menu structure has been ridden. When you’re used to Android and use it for quite a long time, you’ll find yourself in a re-orientation situation. But ICS is very user friendly and now, in my opinion, on the same level with Apple’s iOS.

Virtuous Quattro RC3 was one of the first ROMs I installed and my impression was, ‘Yeah, looking gooood.’ But in the end, the speed and smoothness of this ROM was terrible. And even though it was an RC it felt more like a fast pushed alpha version. It had several bugs like the clock crashing and syncs that did not sync. All in all, it looked cool, but it felt awful.

CyanogenMod 9 for the Defy was, because it was alpha, the same buggy experience, but it felt usable, except for the camera, but that’s a problem on lot of devices. I was expecting that this ROM would not work completely fine and that it would be another first look thing. Anyhow, despite the slow performance can I say, that the CM team is definitely on the right way and without a doubt, the old Defy is capable running ICS.

Last but not least, I installed the alpha build of CyanogenMod 9 on my Desire S. I tried the builds from January 27 and 30. The first one had almost the same low performance like the Quattro ROM, but the nightly build of January 30 runs almost smoothly and came pretty close to what you are used to with CyanogenMod 7.x

Only one camera is currently working on the Desire S. With the latest release I got some issue with syncing Facebook to my contact list. This ROM still’s got the issue that WiFi is not running fine with certain router/access points and various encryptions. The issue is well known in many bug reports, even for stock ROMs and I was hoping for a final fix. Bummer!

As a summarization can I say, the AOSP ICS developers have done a great job so far and I’m so dead certain that CyanogenMod 9 will be a giant hit. On the other hand, there’s still a long road to walk till it’s time to announce the first beta releases and it’s even further more away to announce a real release candidate. Lots of RCs that you can find these days for many devices are quick born, badly supported ROMs that you should only use when you like to do some bug fixing or if you’re just interested in Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

I personally switched back to CyanogenMod 7.2 on my Defy and will also switch back to Reaper (CM7 derivate) on my Desire S.

Androidify me

Reading, researching, experimenting, reading, researching and sometimes you fail and sometimes you gain success. Due to the fact that the evenings are getting colder and darker I turned to some more home oriented hobbies. Actually, ninety per cent of my hobbies happen at home, but that’s another story.

Back in the days I hated working on phones and tweak them or whatever. You system memory was ridiculously tiny and the processor was some kind of a joke. Nowadays mobile phones and especially smart phones come up with one or two cores and a clock rate beyond 1,000MHz. And additionally, we were gifted with a RAM that can take more than just 64KB.

My passion are Android phones and the Android operating system. I’ve started with a entry model, a Motorola Backflip MB300. I did a lot of counterproductive to this phone, but it survived without waving the white flag and surrendering. Right now it runs CyanogenMOD 7.1 which is based on Android 2.3.7. This makes this phone pretty bleeding edge and totally bad ass. Anyhow, this phone is slow. Patience is what you need to tweak and hack this ugly thing.

I switched to an HTC Desire S as my new main phone. It also runs CyanogenMOD 7.1. I’m not planning to run a lot of ROMs on this phone. After having struggled so much with the Backflip I want at least one phone that is highly available. My next “big thing” is a Motorola Defy. This will be the phone for my next evil experiments. I’ve found a used one really cheap on Amazon and it’ll hopefully be delivered.

If you want to ask what makes Android so interesting to me, it’s basically the way endless possibilities to customize your phone. On iOS for instance you have one store to get your software. You have only one interface that you can use. If you want to have something special or something the Appstore does not offer, you have to jailbreak your device. The iPad I once had was a jailbreaked one and it was terribly monotone anyway. Appstore alternatives were terrible and most of the apps that should modify the GUI made minor changed not worth to mention.

Windows mobile is not an option. The overall design of and the usability of the phone is decades behind the today’s state of art. As far as I’ve seen the GUI, it’s a giant step backward and far from transparent. I don’t like such things. But discussing this could lead to a discussion like “Windows vs. Linux”

Would lead to nothing and is in the end a matter of taste and user skill. Whatever the case, I’ll hopefully get the Defy pretty soon and experiment with it. I’ll keep you informed about my evil plans.

Froyo Backflip field report

Some of you might remember, I was modding my Android smartphone a while ago and I switched from Android 1.5 to Android 1.6. Actually, not a big step. Afterwards I moved to Android 2.1 including MotoBlur which doesn’t gave me a massive performance improvement as well. But I was finally able to get access to a lot more applications from the Android market. Finally, I found a modded version based on the CyanogenMod for my Motorola Backflip.

It’s an Android 2.2.1 with a lot of bugs needed to be fixed. Camera wasn’t working, which is now fixed. The keyboard wasn’t working correctly, which is nearly fixed. And some GPS issues stressed me as well. I also had the problem, that it wasn’t overclockable, so I had to use a custom kernel, too though. I’m using this particular version on my phone for like four or five weeks now and I’m almost satisfied with.

There are still performance problems which I was able to trick out a little. First of all, I’m using Autokiller Memory Optimizer which handles the whole memory management of Android a little better than it would normally do. Secondly, I’m using a swap file, created with Swapper2, to gain a little more memory space in the backhand. And last but not least, the Android Task Manager, to get a little more on running tasks.

Benchmarks speak a clear language, in comparison to stock Android 1.5 with MotoBlur the new version 2.2.1 almost doubled the performance of the phone. I had like 150 to 180 points in Quadrant Standard benchmark on Android 1.5 and now I gain like 310 to 350, depending on what services are actually running and the CPU clock speed.

During this whole development and experience progress with Android I also bought a couple of applications from the market that I found very usefull though. First of all, it’s Titanium Backup that I mainly used to “deblur” my phone on Android 1.5 and Android 2.1. Sure thing that it gave the phone a blast, but it was also causing some trouble, mainly when it comes to contact management. I’m also a big fan of ADW.Launcher now, which is a fine GUI for Android and I simply thought that it was worth supporting it with a buy. Definitely an improvement. Due to the fact that I also use my phone to listen to some music here and then, I found that PowerAMP is totally awesome and gives some fine audio quality to your ears.

To get this straight, I’m not going public with my modified Android version, this is just a small project of mine to get a little bit more into Android itself. I don’t have time nor the will to release a custom firmware for Android and even support it in any way.

For the rare time being

The last couple of days has been very busy for me, not that I had too many “private projects” but some too intense of time. First things first, my gaming system got crashed during the Windows 7 Service Pack 1 update process and I wasn’t able to revive it any way. I had to reinstall everthing, had to setup a lot of applications and so on. Good thing about this, the system can now be rebooted again without getting a raid failure, which was one big issue with the previous setup. I’m nearly finished with the system, like 90 per cent, and I only have to restore most of my games profiles. Actually, this whole thing wasted a lot of time on my last weekend and is also responsible for missing, once again, the game of the week feature here in this blog.

Besides all this were I still in modifying and hacking my Motorola Backflip cellphone. I now managed to install Android 2.2 aka Froyo including multitouch, which isn’t a stock feature of the phone, and I also installed an unlocked kernel that I’m able to overclock and also underclock it. The phone now runs with a stock Android, without any Motorola software features, and it’s, compared to the default Android 1.5, as fast as hell. I’m testing the battery at the moment to see, if my also also increased the lifetime of this particular part of the phone. It’s such a hilarious feel to finally have features on my cellphone that aren’t supposed to be there actually. And most importantly, for my subjective estimation, the phone has now a status, where I would say, that one can use it instead of just getting angry about it.


Far from all this nerdish stuff did I come back to a more healthier living style without all this unhealthy, calory rich and fat food. I also visit the gym from time to time and as expected, it’s giving me a boost in many ways. Say whatever you want, after a fine session in the gym, you feel refreshed and the essence of life creeps back to your bones and you feel recharged. I mentioned it in one of my previous posts, I don’t want to exaggerate anything at the moment and I want to keep it on a level where I still have fun with all this too. Getting into a boot camp like training plan as I had it once before is not my intention, even though I can say, that this was fun too. Anyhow, I’m losing weight, I start feeling better now and hopefully my cardio will increase once again. There’s no particular muscle training on the schedule right now, I just want to sustain my back and belly muscles at the moment to get a strong centre for future training plans.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any time for photography or any creative stuff in that kind of way. I also haven’t managed to get a little bit more into the whole Photoshop/Lightroom thing that was actually on my schedule for this year’s beginning. Saying that there was no time is not totally correct, I actually wasn’t in the mood to do anything like this. Maybe later, when my bike is fixed and I’ll be able to get out a little bit more often and most importantly further away.

Androidified backflip

After a long period of reading, learning and researching I’ve finally made it and customized my Android phone. The customization included things like the simple rooting of the device, upgrading to a newer version of Android, overclocking and getting rid of some factory default applications. But, first things first. I got a Motorola Backflip (MB300) last year’s October and it was my intention from the very beginning to use this cellphone as a “learning device” to get into the whole Android stuff. Unfortunately did I figured out that this phone wasn’t able to be upgraded by simple clicking “update” here in Europe. The cellphone was shipped with Android 1.5 as factory default. It was more than clear for me to get this device to Android 2.1 which is officially only available in the U.S. for AT&T customers. A lot of theory followed after getting this phone though. Worst thing about this, I had to get back to Java coding.

It took a while but I finally found some ROMs with Android 2.1, also one version without the Motorola BLUR applications that slow the phone on factory default setting pretty direful. I’m not going into detail nor do I offer a tutorial at this point. I tried every ROM I could find for my cellphone and tried to figure out which one has the best performance, which one has the lowest number of bugs and most importantly, which one looks nice the most. Finally I found disturbing bugs in every ROM and none of these ROMs had all the “optical features” I was looking for. The solution for this problem was simple and trivial at once. I picked the ROM with the lowest number of bugs and errors and merged the features of the other ROMs into it. As expected, the system was buggy and unstable the first time but after flashing the phone the fourth or fifth time with debugged ROMs I finally had the Android 2.1 version I actually wanted.

The most important applications from the Android market for me were ADWLauncher, SetCPU, TitaniumBackup and Android Task Manager. The first one was to get rid of the Motorola look. SetCPU is used to overclock the phone and to increase the battery life at once. TitaniumBackup was my companion to figure out which of the applications of the ROM can be disabled and removed. Last but not least, Android Task Manager was and is my RAM cleaner on the phone.

Motorola for the meantime

Since that very that I’ve first seen Bishop in “Aliens” I’ve got this affinity for androids and now that Android is a kind of established on the market I decided to get an android on my own. The attentive reader of this blog might have noticed it, that I’m playing with the thought, well, it’s no longer playing, it’s more a fixed decision, to buy me the HTC Desire HD as soon as it’s got released on the European market. As some you might also have noticed, the HTC Desire HD is going to be released somewhere around calendar week 44 or 45. That’s a looong period of waiting, but luckily have I been able to extend my cell phone contract and was able to grab the good old Motorola Backflip with Android 1.5.

I use two Sony Ericsson cell phone at the moment and both of them do have broken plugs so that charging is a pure game of hazard and transfering data becomes a desperate act. Especially the last check is something pretty weird because one of the phones is a walkman phone and I’m no longer able to listen to music on that one. Long story told short, the Motorola will become my second phone in the nearby future and is more the dedicated to remote administrative things than the HTC phone. I tried to find some applications for XBMC on the iPad but I failed. I’ve found some but I had to pay for them and I don’t want to bloody pay for an application on a toy like the iPad.

My heart’s desire

According to the fact that mobile internet got much cheaper the last few month it looks more and more attractive to me to take the next step and become an Android user. I’m researching on this topic for a while now and for a very long time the Motorola Milestone seemed to be a nice and welcome comrade to me but finally the whole cell phone offered a lot of disadvantages to me. I was looking for an Android with a separate keyboard because I don’t like typing on a screen though. Unfortunately did I have to notice that there’s no Android cell phone out there, that is not a business one, that would fit my needs. I have to mention that my last bigger step in mobility was to switch to a Sony Ericsson walkman cell phone (some W9xx whatever thingy…), so going Android comes by like a massive revolution.


One cell phone that gave me a real crush from the very first moment that I saw it was the HTC Desire HD. I was stuck for a while on the predecessor HTC Desire, but why wandering through the past when you can have the future right in your hands. The Desire HD is definately what I want, fast processor, brilliant display and a smart look. It’s build of one solid block of aluminum which makes it look pretty classy. Most importantly, the antenna is working under every condition. By now I can only find one sticking point – the price – the HTC is listed with a price around 600 Euros, but I think this is worth it.