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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

New Gadgets

I didn’t realize I had a Gadgets category on this blog. Funny I forgot about it, considering I had blogged just a few months back about my new Kindles. 

Anyhoo. Two more gadget updates in case anyone’s interested. 

I bought a new phone for myself. The OnePlus 3T. 128GB/ Gunmetal version. Lovely phone! 

And I bought a new pair of headphones. The noise-canceling Bluetooth sort of headphones. :) Got myself a Sennheiser PXC 550 – which sounds so formal and uncool, but it’s a good pair of headphones nevertheless. It would be in the same category as the Bose QC 35 or the Sony MDX-1000X. I haven’t used either of them but I went with the Sennheiser as it had way more features than either of those, and I was able to get it at the same price point (well, slightly cheaper actually) as the Sony MDX-1000X (which is what I was eyeing, until I came across the PSX 550). 

Cool features of the Sennheiser PXC500 in a nutshell:

  1. It comes with a wired cable with a mic, so even if you run out of battery you can use the headset with no compromises (most other Bluetooth headsets that come with a cable don’t include a mic).
  2. It has a great battery life (30 hours or something, I think; I dunno, I just charge it every weekend or so).
  3. I like the touch controls – lets me easily pause, rewind, forward via a touch on the right ear cup.
  4. The headphones have an inbuilt DSP for modes like speech (useful for podcasts & audio books), movies (useful for movies or listening to film scores), club (I never use this), or none.
  5. Using the companion Android & iOS app you can create custom equalizer settings (I don’t use this) and also enable a cool feature that automatically pauses the music when you take off the headphones (but I turned it off since I discovered that I use the headphones a lot when walking, and the sweat that accumulates seems to confuse these sensors and they randomly pause the music). 
  6. There’s no off/ on button. Simply take off headphones and fold them flat (which is what I always do) and it powers them off! So nice. Unfold and they power on. 
  7. It can connect to 2 devices at the same time. Sooo convenient! It can remember up to 8 (or is it 10) devices – but it only connects automatically to the last 2. 
  8. You can turn off the noise-cancelling or set a percentage for it (which you set via the app). So it doesn’t have to be full noise-cancelling always. Personally, I don’t find any difference between full and a percentage. Which makes me wonder if it’s doing a proper noise-cancelling or not, but I know it blocks out most noise so it’s doing something. One thing I learn about “noise cancelling” is that it doesn’t not entirely cancel noise as the ads might have you believe. You can still hear train announcements and a bit of the background noise – so it’s not totally silent! 
  9. When there’s no music playing you can double tap the right ear cup to turn on a mode that pulls in the surrounding noise via the mics into your ears. So you can hear even more clearly what’s on your surroundings – say you want to talk to someone and don’t want to take off the headphones (and because they are around the ear they still block out noise even if noise cancelling is off). This mode’s useful for that. 

That’s all I think! 

OnePlus One first impressions

Big phone! :) I thought the BlackBerry Z3 was big, this is bigger! But not in an uncomfortable way. Maybe it’s because of the Android UI, I don’t find the size that bad. In contrast when I tested the iPhone 6 Plus at a shop the other day I was put off by the size (mind you that could also be because all these shop demo pieces have an attachment at the back that pulls the phone down). 

Performance is good though there are occasional lags. Not that I am complaining – I mean, for this price, wow! Just a bit surprising that a high spec Android phone still isn’t as buttery smooth as a last year iPhone (the iPhone 5S). The OnePlus One has 3 GB RAM and a 2.5GHz CPU I believe. In contrast the iPhone 5S has 1 GB RAM  and a 1.3 GHz CPU. Sure there maybe other differences between the two which I am not aware of, still I sort of expected the two to be on par at least. I think it all comes down to the fact that Android uses Java and so requires more RAM, whereas iOS is simply more efficient. Anyhow, like I said it’s not a big deal and it’s only an occasional lag, so I am not complaining merely mentioning. 

The camera seems to be fine. But launching it seems to take 5-6 seconds, and that I don’t like! Once launched it clicks photos fast enough though. And I can set the size to 9.7 MP to click 16:9 resolution widescreen photos. That’s cool!

I love the back of the phone. I absolutely love it! I got the Sandstone Black version and the back has this rough texture sort of thing. I love it because that gives me a firm feel of the phone. In fact, maybe that’s why the large size doesn’t affect me much – the phone feels more stable in my hand due to the material I think. I love it!

The back isn’t removable. So there’s no removable battery, no microSD slot. There’s a slot on the side for the SIM tray. The device comes with both a micro-SIM and nano-SIM tray! So I could put my iPhone 5S SIM into this. That’s very thoughtful of OnePlus to support both. (Disclosure: It looks like a nano-SIM tray. And I checked Google and others too report it as a nano-SIM tray. So I am guessing it is a nano-SIM tray. I haven’t actually put my nano-SIM into it yet. :))

What else? CyanogenMod is good. Already got a couple of updates since yesterday. And I like being able to tweak bits and pieces. The phone comes with hardware keys for the navigation panel – not physical click type keys, but LED keys that light up. That’s cool because the keys don’t take up screen space and are below the screen. CyanogenMod lets you disable these and use the regular Android soft-keys. CyanogenMod also lets you customize what long press, single press, double tap, etc does to these keys (not all actions are available to all keys). I like that. By default the key that one usually uses for the app switcher – like on Nexus phones – doesn’t behave like that. It behave like the open/ close menu button we have on Samsung phones and such, so I remapped that to the app switcher and set long press to open / close the menu.

The lock screen too can be customized. And the keys can be modified to launch the torch or play music etc. For instance, I can double tap the screen to wake it up. Or long press the home key to put it back to sleep. 

I am trying the Yahoo! Aviate launcher on this. Once upon a time I was (still am) a huge fan of the Nova Launcher. Then I started using Action Launcher on my Nexus 7 tablet and slowly got using that on the Galaxy Nexus phone. I started off with Action Launcher on the OnePlus One but then thought of trying new launchers and so Aviate it is now. Spent a little bit of the morning customizing it to my liking. 

That’s it so far I think! Once again, I am pleased with the big screen size surprisingly! Never thought I’d like it. Who knows, maybe I’ll do more InstaPaper reading on this phone. 

Update: Turns out Aviate doesn’t do notification badges for non-default apps such as WhatsApp. Neither does Action launcher. I don’t mind these on a tablet as I don’t use WhatApp etc there. So I am with Nova launcher now. That has a plugin which does WhatsApp (and experimentally all other apps by monitoring the notification area). I am also using Fleksy as my keyboard now. I had forgotten how crappy the default Android keyboard is. Not only is it ugly, I keep making typos with it. Fleksy is awesome! :) Good themes too. Initially I was wary about using a 3rd party toolbar and them being able to snoop my private info, but soon I got over it. Had to! It’s all about trust after all. I am in a way trusting Google/ CyanogenMod/ OnePlus to not snoop with the existing keyboard, so why not trust Fleksy too. 

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.

:)