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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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Unlocking the OnePlus One without wiping data (or at least trying to!)

Unboxed my new OnePlus One and immediately installed the usual apps etc. Then I realized that the device bootloader isn’t unlocked! I don’t know why, but I assumed the OnePlus One came unlocked and rooted. Silly me! All I want to do is root the device (an update file for SuperSU can be downloaded from here), but to do that I can’t use the stock recovery as that performs signature checking and so the update will fail). Option 1 is to install a custom recovery, option 2 is to temporarily boot into a custom recovery. Either of these options will then let me root the device. I prefer the second option, but it doesn’t matter really because to install/ temporarily boot a custom recovery the device must be unlocked! And unlocking means my data will be wiped. 

So … here’s what I did to unlock the device and trying not to lose the data. Note that if you are looking for a tutorial sort of post there are better places on the Internet. This is more of a rambling on what I did. I didn’t succeed in what I set out to, so this could be a waste of your time too. :) Also, I have an older post that explains boot loaders, custom recovery, etc. That’s worth a read.  

First I downloaded the Android SDK on my laptop. I didn’t download the ADT, only the SDK tools. Specifically, I downloaded the zip version of the SDK tools so I can put it in my Dropbox for future use. (The zip version can be found under “View All Downloads and Sizes”).

Downloaded the zip file. Extracted the contents to Dropbox. Ran SDK Manager.exe. This had “Android SDk Tools”, “Android SDK Platform-tools”, and “Android SDK Build-tools” selected as well as a bunch of items under the folder called “Android 5.0 (API 21)”. Plus under the “Extras” folder the “Google USB Driver” and “Android Support Library” too were selected. I un-selected the “Android 5.0” folder and “Android SDK Build-tools” as I don’t need these. I need the “Android SDK Platform-tools” as that contains the tools I want. And the USB driver is good to have too. 

selectionsAfter installing these I went to the Dropbox folder where I had extracted everything, went into the android-sdk-windows\platform-tools sub-folder, pressed the SHIFT key and right clicked within the folder, and selected the option to “Open a command window here”.

After this I went to the OnePlus One “Settings” menu > “About phone” > and tapped 7 times on the “Build number”. This enables the “Developer Options” menu under “Settings”. Went in here and enabled “Android debugging” (it’s unchecked in the screenshot below, I checked it).

Screenshot_2014-12-01-17-25-22

 

Now I connected the phone to my laptop. Maybe you’ll get prompted for a driver install in which case you should choose the one under android-sdk-windows\extras\google\usb_driver. If you don’t get prompted for anything then check the Device Manager. If an unknown device called “A001” is present, update its driver with the one in the above location. 

Assuming all goes well typing adb devices in the command prompt should show the OnePlus One:

ADB is pretty cool in that you can do a lot of stuff to your device with it. For example: boot into the boot loader, boot into recovery, take a device backup, sideload apps, and so on. 

The following command will reboot the OnePlus One into bootloader:

Unlike the Nexus devices I am used to, with the OnePlus One the bootloader doesn’t give any info. It has the Cyanogenmod mascot with the words “fastboot mode” beneath it. 

Once in fastboot mode we can ues a tool called fastboot to manage the device. Think of it as ADB but when in the bootloader mode. Assuming all went well before the following command should show the OnePlus One connected:

At this point I can follow either of the options I mentioned above – install a custom recovery or temporarily boot into a custom recovery. In my case this is where I would have issued a command like this to temporarily boot into a recovery image (after downloading a recovery image such as TWRP and specifying the downloaded path below):

If I wanted to flash the custom recovery over the stock recovery I would have typed the following instead:

If you do this without unlocking the device you will get an error along these lines: 

Unlocking is easy. Type the following command (before typing it read the next few paragraphs though):

At this point the device should be unlocked. I expected it to not reboot – because the first boot after unlocking is when the phone wipes all your data–  but mine rebooted! So I quickly powered it off, then powered it on by pressing the Volume UP & Power keys together. Give a minute and the phone will power on and go into the boot loader (fastboot mode). 

I confirmed that fastboot devices shows the phone, so I booted into a temporary recovery as before:

The fastboot screen icon turned white and after a minute TWRP booted. 

I chose the option to “Wipe”, followed by “Advanced Wipe”, and selected “Cache”. This wiped the cache, after which I rebooted the device. (Before rebooting TWRP pointed out that the device isn’t rooted so it can root for me. I chose to go with that). Unfortunately I think I was too late in powering off the phone before because it turns out everything was wiped! :(

Bummer!

Thankfully I was able to restore from the backup – sort off, because that seemed to break off midway – so finally I just recreated the phone. I had kind of expected this outcome as most data wiping as part of unlocking the bootloader is a pretty standard thing. I was hoping to avoid it through the trick above, but I guess it wasn’t my day. :)

(Note to self: If I try this again try flashing recovery and then unlocking. Maybe then the device won’t reboot).

Before I end, I’d like to point out this forum post. It’s from the OnePlus forum and goes into details of unlocking, rooting, etc. It’s a pretty good post, I discovered it while writing this blog post. 

Christmas comes early! New OnePlus One

Yay got my new OnePlus One today. Haven’t unboxed it yet.

IMG_5413.JPG

I ordered a pair of their JBL E1+ headphones too coz I have a headphone fetish.

The phone is Sandstone Black 64GB.

:)

Chromecast etc

Bought a Google Chromecast yesterday. I am travelling a bit recently and while I am independent of in-flight entertainment (thanks to me Nexus 7) I am still dependent on what the hotel TV for when in the hotel. Yes, I could connect my laptop to the TV with an HDMI cable (or connect the Cain to TV with a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable) but feels inelegant. I would prefer using the Nexus 7 if possible – much easier to carry around, charge, navigate etc.

I’ll need to use a SlimPort cable to connect the Nexus 7 to HDMI. I can’t get hold of that at short notice, moreover I am not keen on leaving the Nexus 7 hooked to the TV as there’ll be no way to navigate it then. A Chromecast seemed to be a convenient way of streaming wirelessly from the Nexus 7 to the TV.

The experience hasn’t been entirely pleasant though. For starters, Chromecast in hotel rooms are tricky. This is because (1) hotel WiFi usually requires a hotspot login for Internet access, and the Chromecast has no way of displaying this login page, resulting in it having no Internet access; and (2) hotel WiFi access points usually enable “AP isolation”, a useful security feature wherein devices connected to the access point can’t talk to each other (a good idea coz you wouldn’t want your neighbours laptop snooping onto yours). Since the Chromcast requires Internet access (at least for the initial setup, not sure about after that) and requires communication with your laptop, phone, or tablet to control it, you can’t use the Chromecast on most hotel WiFi.

Didn’t know this before I bought the Chromecast so day 1 of the purchase was spent trying to get it working, Googling, and thinking of solutions. Nothing helped. (Example solutions I tried include spoofing the Chromecast MAC address with the access point. Tried this from my laptop and Nexus 7 but it didn’t work. I could spoof the MAC address but I still couldn’t get the Chromecast to connect to the Internet).

So day 2 – today – involved purchasing a portable WiFi access point. Yeah, that’s a bit far-fetched I know! Getting an access point means you can connect that to the LAN point and hook create your own WiFi network. Connect the Chromecast and other devices to this WiFi network and they can all talk to each other. Moreover, the first device that authenticates with the hotspot is enough to get the access point’s MAC address whitelisted with the access point and thus let through all other devices connected to it without any authentication prompt. Did that today, and now I have a working Chromecast.

(This too wasn’t all straightforward. Initially the Chromecast said it wanted to update and got stuck at 29% update. Then I rebooted it and it wen’t up to 100% and got stuck. Rebooted again and this time it started from scratch and updated itself. Wasn’t sure whether unplugging it while updating will cause any issues. This seems to be a common problem according to the Internet. Many forum posts where the Chromecast is stuck on a reboot-update-reboot loop. Sometimes the update happens. Other times using the laptop app instead of a tablet/ phone app to setup the Chromecast helps. Yet other times casting to it while updating seems to give it a knock on the head and subsequently updates work. Weird, yes!)

Anyways, did all this and the next step is casting movies from the tab to the Chromecast. Isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure you can cast YouTube and Netflix easily. And there are many apps that support casting, but your mileage might wary. My favorite media player – MX Player – doesn’t have cast support yet. My second favorite player – Dice Player – seems to support, but I can’t find a way of enabling it. My favorite file manager – Solid Explorer – has a plugin that allows casting. That works well and it’s what I am using now, but the problem is that (a) I don’t know if my usual MX Player gestures will work here, and (b) not all audio-video formats are supported by the Chromecast so it’s quite possible you’ll have files that simply don’t cast to the Chromecast. Yeah, bummer! I had a few such, and various casting apps I tried (such as LocalCast, AllCast) failed to cast these. Finally I gave up. It works for the most part, but it isn’t something I can’t blindly depend on. It’s pretty likely some movies on the Nexus 7 that I want to watch simply wont play on the Chromecast.

In this respect the iPad/ iPhone might fare better. Since you have to encode the video for these devices, maybe the format is better supported. Not sure, I don’t have an iPad to try.

Things are better from the laptop. You can cast any Chrome tab to the Chromecast, so all I need to do is drag and drop a video into Chrome and that’s it! Chrome should be able to play all formats thanks to plugins like VLC which are installed if you have VLC Media Player on your system (who hasn’t!). Even more coolly, you can cast the entire screen to the Chromecast, so I could clone my laptop screen and audio to the TV. Wirelessly! With no performance lag. Now that’s super cool!

So that’s it. Been a mixed bag so far, let’s see how much I’ll be able to actually use this device. Maybe there are some cool apps that I haven’t stumbled across yet and which will enrich my experience. This issues with formats seems to be why MX Player doesn’t have support for casting yet. The creator of that app wants to be able to play all MX Player supported formats on the Chromecast, so this means the app should be able to transcode from a format not supported by Chromecast to a format supported by Chromecast – in real time – and that’s why support isn’t available yet. It should be available at some point (that’s what I read somewhere anyways).

Disabling Connected Standby

As you know a few days ago I purchased a Notion Ink Cain, a Windows 8.1 tablet-slash-laptop. This is my first Windows tablet so while it doubles as both, I have slightly different expectations and use cases from this.

One of these is the battery life. Whereas I always hibernate my regular laptop, the Cain is just put to sleep once I am done with it. I put it to sleep either via the Power button or the device goes to sleep on its own. This is fine but for two problems – (1) since the device is only sleeping and I usually dock it into the keyboard and use the flap as the cover, any key presses when the device is asleep results in it waking up and thus some battery draining; (2) since the Cain supports Connected Standby (nowadays called InstantGo) the device does not really sleep in the way we usually expect Windows devices to sleep, the sleep here is more like a “light sleep” wherein the device is kind of awake and able to let some background stuff like email and other programs run and do their bit.

I work around the first issue either by rotating the Cain and then docking it, such that the keyboard is behind the device and so keypresses don’t get registered (the Cain requires the docking to be correct for the keyboard to be recognize). I also put the Cain in a pouch without the keyboard. It’s not very elegant but that’s what I was doing until today.

The second was an irritating issue. When I first read about Connected Standby I was very impressed with it. It’s not supposed to drain much battery. The requirement is that when on Connected Standby the device will lose less than 5% of its power over a 16 hour idle period, but that didn’t seem to be the case for me (try a powercfg /sleepstudy to get some results) and I wasn’t happy with the battery drain. Maybe it’s because I had set apps such as email to update in real time and so the device was regularly waking up to check email, I found that it barely lasted 2-3 days even when fully idle. That’s not great, and even putting it in airplane mode only made it slightly better.

To work around this I decided to start hibernating the device. I enabled the hibernation option in the Power menu and also created a shortcut to hibernate in the start menu. But these are manual approaches didn’t seem “neat”. I wanted something where the Cain would automatically hibernate after a period of inactivity. I remembered back in Windows 7 (and even on my Windows 8 laptops) there are options under the Power menu in Control Panel to make the laptop sleep after a certain period and then hibernate. On the Cain though, this option was missing and I wasn’t sure why. I had a suspicion it must be because the Cain uses Connected Standby and so perhaps disabling it will reveal these options. I Google’d a bit to see if there’s a way to disable Connect Standby. Surprisingly I couldn’t find anything until finally some forum post mentioned another forum post that gave a registry key setting which disables Connected Standby. Applied that to the Cain and now I have the option to hibernate after a certain period. Yaay!

Unboxing the Cain

I got my Notion Ink Cain tablet day-before. I unboxed it in the car itself! Below are some pics.

Bubble wrap packaging in which I got the Cain

Bubble wrap packaging in which I got the Cain

Out of the bubble wrap. Good quality box.

Out of the bubble wrap. Good quality box.

Close up of the box, showing price and specs

Close up of the box, showing price and specs

Unboxing

Unboxing

A nice touch. The box includes a letter and some mints (not shown).

A nice touch. The box includes a letter and some mints (not shown).

The letter and mints

The letter and mints

The tablet.

The tablet.

Tablet minus the wrapping.

Tablet minus the wrapping.

Tablet in portrait orientation.

Tablet in portrait orientation.

The keyboard-cum-cover. Notice the dock connector in the middle. That's where you dock the tablet.

The keyboard-cum-cover. Notice the dock connector in the middle. That’s where you dock the tablet.

Tablet docked into the keyboard

Tablet docked into the keyboard

Tablet docked and powered on.

Tablet docked and powered on.

Laptop next to my office desktop

Laptop next to my office desktop

Very irritatingly the tablet came with a screen protector. I hate screen protectors. I hate it when they have bubbles, and I hate the way they feel when I touch. One of my first tasks then was to a piece of paper (a good quality paper, one that wouldn’t bend easily) and poke around the screen where there were bubbles between the screen and protector, and slide the paper in to one of these bubbles and thus pry the protector off. Such a relief!

The next step was to set up encryption on the Cain. That’s a bit more detailed so I’ll post it later.

New backup phone: Moto E, G, X, Nexus 5, or Android One

Idle mind, shopping mind!

I need a backup phone. To use when am travelling and such. Previously that role was fulfilled by my iPhone 4S but that phone’s become too slow since iOS 7 and now iOS 8.

I want something not too pricey. It should be micro SIM or regular SIM as these are easy to get everywhere. Dual SIM would be a plus. A good (not necessarily great) camera would be useful for taking pics etc. Also expandable storage would be preferred so I don’t have to worry abt storage.

Am in India currently and the new Android One phones are available here. Initially I thought of buying these. They are quite cheap (about INR 6500 ~ US$ 100) and tempting since they get updates from Google. But… their cameras are lousy, the internal storage is meagre (only 4GB!), and apparently the front facing camera can’t be used for selfies? Three different providers are selling these but all devices have the same specs, just different design and branding.

A comparable alternative to the Android One phones is the Moto E. This has dual SIM support and microSD support for up to 32GB. The internal storage is only 4GB, like the Android One phones, but it has no front facing camera. The back camera is similar to the Android One phones – slightly better maybe. The price of Moto E is comparable to the Android One phones. Just US$ 10 more!

Double the price of these is the Moto G. The Indian version has dual SIM support, an 8MP camera (good but not great), and microSD support for up to 32GB. The screen isn’t that great (but is better than the Android One phones & Moto E). Of course the CPU and other bits are better too, and the phone comes with 8GB or 16GB internal storage. The price doubling is justified and overall this seems to be a great device.

Two other phones I have in mind are last year’s Nexus 5 and this year’s Moto X. The Moto Maker website is amazing – you can design your own device! Of course the price of the Moto X starts at US$ 500, more than double the Moto G and way more than the Moto E and/ or Android One phones. That’s a silly point to make really because the Moto X has way better specs and performance than these phones and a much better camera too, but price is a factor for me as I don’t want to spend too much on the phone. It’s a secondary phone after all.

Three other points against the Moto X for me are that it uses nano SIM, has no microSD support (and the internal storage is only 16GB or 32GB), and no dual SIM support. All these pretty much rule out the Moto X for me.

Last year’s Nexus 5 looks to be a good phone. This year’s Nexus 6 is rumoured to be a pricier device so I won’t probably like that. The Nexus 5 takes a micro SIM but has no dual SIM or microSD support. It’s camera is good and it comes in 16GB or 32GB internal storage capacities. Google has stopped selling it but you can get it from Amazon or Google India (as well as FlipKart etc). The Amazon price is about US$ 400 (nearly double the price of Moto G) while the Indian prices are even more. I could buy the Nexus 5 – and I am tempted because it’s a Google phone and bound to get updates too for a while – but I am feeling stingy and US$ 400 too is high. The price is way better than the Moto X of a similar configuration so the sensible decision would be to get the Nexus 5 but I’d rather get the Moto G for US$ 200 and get a Kindle Voyage with the US$ 200 I will be saving! Too many gadgets to buy, not all of them of regular use for me, so I must economise. :)

New gadgets

The Internet is full of people praising the new iPhone 6 Plus and how it’s larger size is great and how they are much more productive with it. I am tempted to buy it, and my wife has very sweetly offered to gift me one as she knows I love iPhones (thank you Sari!) – but I am holding off so far.

Couple of reasons really:

1) I am happy with the iPhone 5S. It’s barely 8 months old with me and I feel bad giving it up just because a new device is around the corner. A silly notion probably – these are just devices after all – but I love them and I feel heartless leaving behind the 5S so soon.

2) The iPhone 5S is still performing well. I haven’t moved to iOS 8 yet (due to lack of space for an OTA update) and maybe the upgrade will slow things, but as of now I am happy with it. Mind you, I was in a similar state with the 4S too when I switched to the 5S last year, but then I had used the 4S for two years and the 5S had many newer features. After switching the 5S I realised what I had been with the 4S and how slow the latter is, so keeping that in mind I wouldn’t give too much importance to the current point.

3) I like the small size of the 5S. Sure a bigger device has it’s conveniences and maybe I will love the 6 Plus once I begin using it, but why change if I am already happy? I was one of those people who preferred the smaller size of the iPhones. And I appreciated the fact that iPhone 5 only added an addition row of icons while keeping the width same.

4) I like to skip Apple’s first iteration devices. Like the first iPhone, first iPod Touch, first iPad, and am pretty sure the first Apple Watch. I feel (and this was mentioned by John Gruber I think) that the first iterations are where Apple releases it with some features missing or not optimised and by the second iteration they fix all that. Anyone who’s used the first iPhones and iPads will attest to it too – how they had many limitations and how the second versions were way better.

As a corollary to this I skip the odd iPhone releases too as that’s why Apple makes new changes. Examples: iPhone 4 (Retina and other changes such as the body and internals), iPhone 5 (size and other changes), iPhone 6 (size and a whole lot of software changes). The S versions of all these improved upon the previous version. So I always associate the S with “subtle”. To me they are subtle improvements of their predecessors. That’s one more reason why I would prefer waiting for the iPhone 6S Plus (what a mouthful! I think Apple might just make the Plus the main device by then depending on sales).

5) For the money spent on the new iPhone – which I have no real craving for – I can buy a Nexus 6 when it’s released. Or the new Sony Xperia Z3 or the soon-to-be-released HTC M8 variant with the better camera. This way I get to use an Android phone too for a while. Hopefully the Nexus 6 is also cheaper than the other two. I have an eye on Nokia Windows phones too but the good ones are very pricey – same level as the iPhones and high end Android, and while that’s justified I find it unreasonable considering those phones don’t have much market share or apps. Microsoft should reduce the price so more people adopt it for that reason at least.

Speaking of Windows though I placed an order for a new device today. A tablet laptop called Cain by an Indian manufacturer called Notion Ink. This is one of those convertible devices and the price seems reasonable (a bit on the higher side though). I love Windows 8 but haven’t used it as a tablet yet so this would be a good opportunity to do so. Moreover being a convertible I can use this as a laptop too when I am travelling. No need to carry my usual laptop along. (Me thinks in the future laptops will be what people use instead of Desktops nowadays. The device they use at home and maybe longer travel. Tablets and convertibles will be used for travelling and on the go. And Desktops would be for advanced people who want to upgrade the hardware or custom specs etc. Plus a second hand market where the Desktops can be upgraded or faulty parts replaced and resold. Of course this is probably the near future. Much later Desktops will be obsolete as Laptops too become upgradeable and/ or cheap so that no one cares about upgrading or repairing).

The Cain uses Intel Bay Trail SoCs which supposedly combine the performance of Haswell and such with mobile device features. The Cain also comes with one USB 3.0 slot and a microSD slot. Since it only has 32GB free space I ordered a small 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive as well as a 64GB microSD card to beef up the storage. Useful for storing movies when travelling.

I ordered all these today so am excitedly looking forward to them now! This is the period when you order a new toy and keep refreshing your tracking page to see if they have shipped it and where the heck it has reached. This is followed by a few weeks/ months when you are always playing with this new toy and constantly gushing over it. And that is followed by a phase when you finally get used to it and it becomes a part of your life like everything else. :)

Update: There are some reasons why I might buy the iPhone 6 Plus. Maybe in Jan.

1) I use the iPhone 4S as my travel phone and with the latest iOS 8 update the phone sucks. Sometimes the keyboard is slow, sometimes Safari slows and hangs, the phone in general feels so lethargic. I’ve got angry at it numerous times this past month as I am traveling and use it exclusively, and I hate having to do that. Apple should have just left this device at iOS 6. Heck, I should have just left this device at iOS 6 jail broken, which is what I was at before upgrading to iOS 7 last year. Upgrading was a bad idea! iOS 6 plus custom themes were giving me a near identical look anyways; the only reason I upgraded was because many apps started asking for iOS 7 as a minimum requirement (as they are now with iOS 8).

2) If I buy a 6 Plus I will be going for the 64GB version and that’s useful. When I bought the 5S I was cheap and went with the 16GB version (in fairness the larger versions weren’t available in Oman either). A 16GB version has limitations in that I can’t keep too many songs on the phone, I have to constantly keep copying away photos and videos, I can’t keep too many apps around, and so on.

3) It’s unlikely I will be buying an Android device. They are great, but I use many iPhone specific apps such as Fantastical (and the iPhone reminders), Prismatic, Byword, Litely, etc so I don’t want to go through that hassle.

One advantage the iPhone 4S has is it’s micro SIM. Much easier to get a micro SIM (or chop a regular SIM to micro) when travelling. Nano SIMs are harder to come by.

[Aside] Nokia saw the future…

… but couldn’t build it

Came across the above Verge article a few days back. Remembered it yesterday. It’s a good article on how Nokia didn’t make because it had good hardware but crappy software.

Being a Nokia user of long myself, I would also add that even though their hardware was good they didn’t put their best into it. I remember the Nokia phones of my youth – even the priciest one would have some feature or the other missing or compromised. It was as though Nokia had so many phone models that they didn’t want to put everything into one device. They spread their bets among many devices and so there was no one device a user could pick up as the best Nokia phone. Sometimes the camera was lacking, sometimes small features like FM radio or transmitters were lacking, sometimes the CPU was slower… and so on.

When the iPhone came out on the other hand, there was just one device and it was the best Apple had to offer. Sure the initial iPhone had many missing features but there was no other iPhone which had those features. Only one device, and Apple had put everything into it. When they improved the device next year there was again just one device and Apple put everything into it.

By the time Nokia changed this strategy it was too late. The world had moved on.

Even now, for instance, they have so many models it’s confusing. Sure if you go through the spec sheets and compare you can find one you want – but at first glance it’s confusing and is a chore.

Running out of time so I’ll cut short here.

Nexus 7 OTA errors

Today I finally upgraded my Next 7 (2013) tab to Android 4.4.4. Finally!

For the past few months it’s been stuck on 4.4.2. I tried OTA updates but each time it would download and try to install – and fail. On the recovery screen it would throw errors about signatures not matching. Initially I thought maybe my ISP or someone in the middle was trying to hijack the update, so I tried couple of times via VPN too. Not that that helped!

Finally I decided to try a manual update via sideloading. Followed the instructions at this link (note: at step 4, if you are using Clockwork Mod Recovery like I was, go to the option that says install ZIP and then you’ll find an option to install ZIP via sideload). Did that, and sideloading failed with an error (from Recovery) that /system/lib/hw/power.msm8960.so has unexpected contents. Great!

Went to that location using Solid Explorer on the tablet and found there’s no file with such a name. Instead there was a power.msm8960.so.bak so I renamed that to power.msm8960.so. Repeated above process; and got an even more weird error:

error

This time I couldn’t find any file in the location shown.

By now I was having a suspicion that something I changed in the base system was what’s causing there errors (I got a similar impression from various other posts too). Two things I did do to this tab were to 1) root it and 2) install the Franco Kernel. Either of these could be the issue but I decided to start with Franco. Thankfully I had backed up my previous kernel – note to self & readers: always backup the original kernel! – so I restored that, rebooted, and tried to sideload. This time I got the power.msm8960.so error again, so I rebooted again, renamed the file again, and tried. And – phew! – it worked this time.

So the problem was Franco kernel. Wish I was aware of this beforehand, I could have updated a long time ago! Anyhow, for next time I know I have to restore the old kernel and rename any such missing files and that will be good to go. I think I’ll skip moving to Franco for now though; I forget why I started using it in the first place, and I am feeling too lazy to do all these the next time I need an update. Plus Android L is around the corner, so apart from rooting I don’t want to make too many other changes.

Speaking of rooting, sideloading the update resulting in loosing root access. Not an issue – use the excellent Nexus Root Toolkit (NRT) to get access again. NRT is an excellent piece of software, a huge time saver (I must donate to the author sometime but I keep procrastinating). I keep changing laptops or re-installing the OS, so each time I use NRT I have to go through the hassle of installing the drivers and that usually requires a reboot and some extra steps. Did that this time too and now my Nexus 7 has Android 4.4.4 rooted.

BlackBerry 10 device not showing some Outlook folders

When I set up my work account on the Z3 it was showing all my Outlook folders. I made some folders on the BlackBerry and they appeared in Outlook too. But when I made some folders on Outlook they didn’t appear in the BlackBerry. Odd!

Tried the usual stuff like refreshing my email view on the BlackBerry but that didn’t help. Went to Account settings on the BlackBerry and checked whether there was something I could toggle to get the folder to appear – no luck! I checked the BES 10 server too in case that had some setting but there was none.

FYI: Not surprising that the BES 10 server didn’t have any email folder settings because BES 10 uses ActiveSync instead of the custom syncing protocol of BES 5 and prior. Previously BlackBerries and BES 5 servers communicated via RIM’s servers and used a custom syncing protocol but all that has changed with the new devices and BES 10 as these communicate directly via ActiveSync. The BES 10 server is really optional and if present it is used only to apply security policies and extend the corporate network to the BlackBerries without requiring a VPN or exposing ActiveSync to the Internet. The BES 10 server does not play a role in the email delivery or access.

I noticed that the new folders I created in Outlook were sub-folders of Inbox. I wasn’t sure if that mattered so I created a new folder outside of Inbox to see if that appears on the BlackBerry. Quite oddly, it did! Now I moved the previous sub-folders of Inbox into this new folder and oddly again these now appear on the BlackBerry. Finally I moved these folders back to being a sub-folder of Inbox and now these appear under the Inbox too! Very weird. And now if I create a new sub-folder under Inbox in Outlook, it too appears on the BlackBerry.

Not sure what the issue was or why the above steps fixed it, but I thought to post it here in case it helps anyone.

BlackBerry Z3: First Impressions

At work we are trialing BlackBerry Z3 devices. This is my first BlackBerry 10 device so here are some first impressions.

  • The device is huge. It’s a phablet form factor. Some people will like it; the rest – like me – will find it a handful. It is not impossible to use the device with one hand, but is not too convenient either. I think I have medium size hands and I like using devices one hand and I manage to do that more or less with this device. After a period of heavy one handed use I’ve noticed my palm hurts a bit but that’s probably just a learning curve.
  • The keyboard sucks. I just hate it. I am not a stranger to touch keyboards – been a long time iPhone/ iPod Touch user and have also played with Android phones. None of their keyboards were as crappy as this. I regularly make typos with the Z3 keyboard. When composing an email or message etc the device slowly learns your habits and I’ve noticed it gets better at predicting what I meant to type, but that magic doesn’t apply in apps such as the browser for instance. In the latter I have to keep going back and correct typos.
  • When typing if you long press the text a ring appears. Initially I wasn’t sure what to do with this. Then I realized the ring has markings on both sides, I can touch that and move the ring to move around the typed text. Useful for going back and fro.
  • There are no physical buttons except for four buttons on the left side – Power, Up & Down volume, and a Camera click. There are no soft-buttons either, like in Android phones for instance. This took a while to get used to. I thought I would never get used to it, but after 2-3 days of use I don’t mind it any more. Instead of the home button what you have to do with this device is swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen. This takes you to a application switcher sort of view from where you can (a) close applications, (b) swipe right to view your emails, or (c) swipe left to see your home screen.IMG_20140912_010802
  • Emails, messages, LinkedIn, WhatsApp etc are first-class citizens here. Always just a swipe away. From the home screen swipe right to see your ‘Hub’ which contains a unified view of all these – or swipe once more to go into the view you want. Similarly, from the application switcher swipe right to go to the same view. And when in this view swipe left to go back to application switcher or home screen – wherever you came from. I find that convenient.
  • Each app has its own Settings menu, like in Android. Unlike in Android though it’s not accessible from the bottom part of the screen. You have to swipe up from the top edge of the screen to get this. So this definitely requires two hands. I don’t like that much. Thankfully this isn’t frequently accessed.
  • The camera is fine. Nothing great, but not a total waste either. Got confused initially that just tapping the screen clicks a pic. Unlike in the iPhone where tapping lets you focus on an object.
  • These new BlackBerry devices have the concept of a workspace and personal space. Confusing at first, but it has its uses I think. The workspace is what your employer has control. They can choose the apps there etc. The personal space is your area. The two don’t meet either so you end up in situations such as say you get a pic in your work email, save it to the photos app, go to BlackBerry Messenger to attach and send, and you won’t be able to find it! That’s because the BlackBerry Messenger has access only to the personal space whereas your picture is in the workspace. This is one device with two sides.
  • The home screen has three soft buttons. Phone, Search, and Camera. That’s convenient. Phone and Camera are two things would would frequently like access to from the home screen. And search is useful to quickly search anything on the phone. You can search for contacts, emails, settings, installed apps, and can even type shortcut words like “task” followed by some text to add the text as a task in the “Remember” app. There are many such shortcuts. Useful. I tried the “task” shortcut and it didn’t add to my work tasks though, it only added to the BlackBerry tasks section. Have to explore on how I can get it to save in the work tasks and also ask for more details like a Reminder or Due Date.
  • Screenshots can be taken by pressing the Up & Down volume keys together. The picture is saved in your ‘Pictures’ app and is limited to the space you were in when taking the screenshot.
  • The Z3 runs BlackBerry OS 10.2 and this can run Android apps if you have the APK file. Nice!
  • The battery life is nothing to rave about. Seems to require charging every night.
  • There are some features like Wi-Fi direct, sharing media to your TV, etc that I didn’t explore further. Must do later.
  • I connected the phone to my LinkedIn account and now it shows photo for my contacts that are in LinkedIn. Even for my work contacts if they are in LinkedIn. Nice touch.
  • You are able to add your work email account of course, but can also add other email account as well as CardDAV and CalDAV. The latter is useful as all my phone contacts are in Gmail and synced via CardDAV amongst my various phones. Since the Z3 supports CardDAV I can add this account and now all my contacts are available on the Z3 too and changes get synced.
  • When on the email screen I can pinch to show only unread emails (this can be customized to show drafts or other type of emails). Useful. There’s also a priority hub which shows messages which your device think are of higher priority. You can modify what contacts/ conversations are considered priority.
  • Long press the power button to manually lock the device or even restart (useful!). Also, if you long press by mistake it won’t shutdown unless you keep long pressing for 4-5 seconds.
  • The lock screen can be configured to show notifications. By default it shows icons for emails, calendar etc. Swipe right on an icon and it expands to show more details. Nice!
  • Not a biggie for me – the device doesn’t have 4G. It is meant for the Asian market. Specifically, it was introduced for Indonesia (hence the Z3’s code name is ‘Jakarta’) and is now being released in other countries. I couldn’t get it in Oman so had to get from our Dubai office. It is not available in the UK yet either.
  • The keyboard has a “funny” feature in that while you are typing suggested words appear all over the place. If you want to use one of those words you are supposed to flick it on to the text. This can be configured to show suggested words only on the top row. And the most obvious selection is shown on the space key so pressing that will easily insert that followed by a space. Convenient! The flick gesture wasn’t so obvious and I am yet to get used to it.
  • There’s a very brief tutorial and a more extensive help application. The latter is useful for discovering how to do what you want.
  • The Z3 takes a micro SIM and has a slot for microSD.

All said and done, except for the keyboard – and to an extent the large size – I don’t mind the device much. Of course I won’t be replacing my iPhone with this any time (mainly coz I love the iPhone, its camera is awesome, there are tons of apps, I prefer the smaller size, etc etc) but it’s a good device well worth your consideration. It is not very pricey either, and doesn’t feel cheap for the low price. If you don’t have any previous phone hangups you might love the device too!

The new Paper app from Facebook

Just tried out the new Paper app from Facebook. Blown away by its design and interface. I think I might finally start following my Facebook newsfeed again.

The cool thing about the Paper app is that it gives your Facebook stories equal footing as other stories. Previously I used to use Flipboard, Google+, or Twitter to follow stories while Facebook was just for following news and pics from my friends. This usually led to the Facebook app being rarely opened as general news was more important to me than friends news. Moreover the linear interface while fine wasn’t conducive for the media rich content that my friends were sharing.

The Paper app changes all that. It lets you subscribe to various categories (called Headlines) such as Tech, Pop Culture, etc and also shows your Facebook feed as another category (the first in fact). Moreover, the stories are shown in a Flipboard style interface – both layout and gestures – and that’s very good for quickly flipping through all the stories (news as well as friend updates). Now I don’t have to choose between these two. One app let’s me read both, share to Facebook easily, and even save to apps like Instapaper and Pocket for reading later.

I think the cool realisation that Facebook struck upon here is that rather than having an app that was solely about reading and posting to Facebook, it made an app that is just about ensuring users spend their time in that app. As a side effect of that users automatically end up spending time on their Facebook feeds too. And based on the stories users read, like, and share – which they might not have done otherwise if they were reading the stories in another app – Facebook is able to capture all these signals about its users. Which is all the more useful to Facebook.

Check it out!

iPhone 4S under iOS 7 is slow…?

A few days ago I had remarked that I don’t find the iPhone 4S under iOS 7 slower than before. Now I am wondering whether that comment was in haste.

The past 5 days, while I am on vacation in India, I have been using the iPhone 4S exclusively. And it does feel slow. Not extreme slow like my Galaxy Nexus, but definitely slower compared to the 5S and also possibly compared to how the 4S was before.

I have to qualify my statement with a “possibly” because I am not really sure. I feel the 4S is slower under iOS 7 than iOS 6.x but I am aware that could partly be perception too. After using the iPhone 5S for a month I am used to its faster speeds and so the bar is set higher in my mind. Now I expect apps to open with the speed of iPhone 5S and animations to be as smooth as the 5S, but the 4S being a slower phone can definitely not live up to that expectations.

A few days ago for instance I took out my old iPod Touch 2nd generation and installed whited00r, a custom firmware for such old iDevices that include enhancements from newer Apple firmware. I expected this firmware to be fast on the iPod Touch, but it was not. I disabled all the extra animations and tools, and while I can see the device is not sluggish it just does not match up to my expectations. Which is where the idea first cropped in my head that maybe the problem is in my head. I know the iPod Touch was a great device up to the time I used it last, so if it feels slow now with the same version of firmware it was on (whited00r is based on the 3.x series) it can’t be an issue of using a more demanding firmware on an older device – it has to be my expectation. This is why I qualify my statement about the iPhone 4S and iOS 7 with a “possibly” above.

Apart from that, the iPhone 4S is actually probably slower on the iOS 7 than iOS 6 due to the extra features and gloss and animation. Even the iPhone 5S has a bit of slowness opening folders and some apps, so one can expect it to be worse on iPhone 4S. I feel this slowness is slower than bearable, and I don’t like it much, but I also feel if it’s fixed on the iPhone 5S (I hear iOS 7.1 fixes all these) then it will probably improve on the iPhone 4S. These are quirks with iOS 7 itself – manifesting in both devices – and fixing these quirks will make the iPhone 4S behave as it should. Slow, yes, partly due to perception and partly due to slower hardware, but not as noticeably slow as I have been finding it the past few days.

Hope iOS 7.1 indeed makes the 4S faster. I hate being unable to use the 4S as happily as I used to before.

I believe Apple does not sell you a phone. It sells you an experience, which is why Apple tightly controls the hardware, software, selling channels etc, and so a sub par performance on the 4S is something Apple can’t ignore as other manufactures might, because experience is central to Apple. Even on an older hardware users expect bearable performance from newer firmware as long as Apple officially supports it. Some performance loss would be there due to perception, but apart from that it should work smooth. If Apple feels certain features might not work well on the older devices they are welcome to disable it on such hardware, but everything else should work as expected.

OpenVPN “pausing” bug in iOS 7

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If you are using iOS 7 and the OpenVPN app you might notice it “pauses” when on 3G and the phone goes to sleep.

This only happens on 3G and when you switch from Wi-Fi to 3G and is a known bug.

Fantastical 2 is a great iPhone calendar app

Started using a new calendar app on my iPhone yesterday, called Fantastical 2, and I am excited by it! Which is odd because who gets excited by a Calendar app, right? Calendars are supposed to boring and people try and make pretty interfaces to it, but at the end of the days there’s nothing exciting about a calendar app. But no so with Fantastical 2!

For one this is a pretty app. It doesn’t try anything fancy with the interface – just some minor but very smart changes like a day picker that shows the free/ busy status of your next few days, a nice month view that shows your appointments for the day via dots, and an events/ tasks view that combines your Calendar and Reminders app. That latter bit is super cool because I have always hated having two separate apps for these. Reminders, in my opinion, should be part of the Calendar but just kept and shown separately due to them being of a different nature. The creators of Fantastical 2 understand that.

Another neat feature is the ability to search. Just a slight swipe down to reveal a search box. Similar slight swipes show/ hide the day picker and the month view. Very near interface design decisions!

But probably the coolest feature for me is the natural language input. I can make entries like “Class on 30 Jan at XYZ place from 8 am to 10pm” and Fantastical 2 understands what I mean and makes an entry accordingly. Now if that isn’t cool in a calendar app, what is? Similarly I can make reminders too in natural language by starting it with specific words such as “todo” or “remind” or “task”. Neat!

Maybe it’s the bull (Taurean) in me but another thing I like about the design is the red bar on top. I love that shade of red and how the white text showing the date contrasts with it! This red bar is also useful in that you can long press it to go to any date you choose. And a plus sign next to it let’s you add new entries. You can also add new entries by long pressing on any date in the month view to add an entry with that date chosen. Little things, but they make a big difference.

All in all a great app and highly recommend by me. It’s currently on sale for $1.99 (60% off usual price) which is what prompted me to purchase and give it a go.

ps. Fantastical 2 can sync with all the calendars setup on your phone. So it can easily use your Google Calendar etc. And it stores reminders in the iOS reminders app so these too get synced to other devices via iCloud. A good side effect of using the iOS reminders app is that you get all its features such as geo-fencing, and are also able to add reminders via Siri. Siri will add the reminder to iOS and the reminder will pop up in Fantastical 2!