Improving my Samsung Galaxy SII

2012-03-22

As many of you might know, most Avanade personnel uses a Windows Phone 7 as their mobile device. I have one too and love it, for it does all that you'd want from a work phone perspective. The problem is though, that the device I got was one of the first devices available and that there was still a lot of room for improvement. Now, with the new HTC Titan and the Nokia Lumia 800 (and soon 900) things have changed dramatically, but the HTC Trophy which travels with me to work every day couldn't compete with the Android phones out there.

So, for personal use, I bought a Samsung Galaxy SII. And if it weren't for the ability to completely customize the thing, I wouldn't have liked it one bit :). This speaks for the Phone 7 experience. From a software perspective I love it. It's the hardware of the HTC Trophy I dislike. But this blog isn't about what I dislike about the Trophy it'll be about how I changed my Galaxy SII to a much better phone.

I've done this exercise a year ago, right after I bought it, but now that Ice Cream Sandwich is officially out and I upgraded my phone to it, it needed re-doing. So this is how it happened:

Reset your handset to its default settings, which will remove everything on it. Some of the old applications can cause issues after upgrading over the existing ROM. This is especially true if you've customized it as much as I had.

Go over to xda-developer.com and grab the latest ROM and the latest version of ODIN from it. Follow the posted guides to flash the ROM to your handset.

Restart your phone, it will start installing all kinds of stuff, wait for it to finish. Don't register it with your google account yet, we don't want it to start installing all your purchased apps just yet.

Download and flash the rooted kernel, you'll need root to get rid of all the things you don't want on your phone. Follow the process explained in the link.

Now that we have a rooted device, register your google account and install Titanium Backup. I love this program as it allows you to remove items from the otherwise read-only parts of your phone and you can make backups of your apps as well, in case you later find out you needed them anyway.

I froze (only available in the paid version of Titanium Backup) almost every app with Samsung in the name. With the free version of Titanium you can uninstall these apps, but freezing is safer, as you can easily thaw them to restore their functionality. This is the list of things I either uninstalled or froze:
AccuWeather.com, Android Live Wallpapers 4.0.3, AP Mobile News, Application Monitor, BluetoothTest, Clock, com.samsung.app.PlayReadyUI, com.samsung.InputEventApp, Days, Digital Clock, Dual Clock, Factory Test, Game Hub, Social Hub, Kies Air, Kies via Wifi, Kobo, Memo, Mini Diary, Mini Paper, Music Hub, Music Player, News & Weather, Ocean Weather, PressReader, Readers Hub, Samsung Account, Samsung Apps, SamsungAppsUna2,  Self Test Mode, SIM Toolkit, SNS, SNS disclaimer, SNS Account*, SNS Image Cache, Social Hub, Voice Command, Windy Weather, WlanTest, Zinio, Yahoo Finance.

I then proceeded to install the apps I already bought previously (some as a free app of the day on the Amazon Appstore, some during the 10 billion app sale, some with real money), most important ones being:
Adfree, Beautiful Widgets, Pocket Informant, Go SMS Pro, Amazon Kindle, Amazon AppStore for Android, Google Authenticator, Barcode Scanner, Dolphin HD, Google Chrome Beta, Flashlight, Gentle Alarm, Google Reader, LastPass (Dolphin HD Add-in), Lync 2010, My Coffee Card Pro, My Tracks, OneNone, Google Play Music, PrinterShare (key), Shazam, Sleep Now, Sleep Talk Recorder, SwiftKey X, and WhatsApp.


And a bunch of games: Angry Birds, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Seasons, Dragon Fly, Abduction World Attack, Grave Defense HD, Jelly Defense, Osmos HD, Plans vs Zombies (doesn't work on ICS yet), Robotek, Stellar Escape and World of Goo.


I also installed all of these social apps: Twitter, Facebook, Facebook MessengerGoogle Plus, Foursquare and LinkedIn.

I use strong passwords on all of these, and these are very hard to enter using a small onscreen keyboard and that's where LastPass comes to the rescue. Allowing you to copy-paste your passwords into these apps directly. It also nicely integrates into Dolphin HD.

I then let Google Play install all updates on my phone and then proceeded to use Titanium Backup again to integrate all updates that allowed it directly into my ROM.

I used to have Go Launcher as my default launcher, but wanted to have something closer to the ICS launcher. I ended up with the Apex Launcher after trying a few. I used Titanium Backup (again) to convert it to a System App in order for the Widget picker to work. (you can also disable the picker altogether if you don't want to convert it to a System App).

After restarting the phone and verifying that everything worked as expected I proceeded to remove three more apps: Swype (replaced by Swiftkey X), TwLauncher (replaced by Apex Launcher) and TwWallpaperChooser. Removing these before installing an alternative would have crippled the phone. (Had that happen on me before, I had to install Go Launcher from the web version of Google Play without entering the PIN on my phone to get out of the reboot loop. Luckily I has a password set).

I'm not sure yet if I want to install tasker again. I love(d) it... it's so powerful that in the end I still don't really know what to do with it. Maybe if it came with a lot of handy pre-built sample scripts, but unfortunately you need to invest a lot of time to figure out how to get things working...

I also haven't settled yet on a Calendar widget... I'm currently play testing Agenda Widget for Android, but I'm not convinced yet. I'm one of those people with just one or two home screens, maybe that's the problem ;). Secretly I'm hoping that the next version of Informant will come with a widget. And I'm also still looking for a better contacts app, but I haven't found one that doesn't have me go back to the default Samsung dialer.

Another thing I want to change is the lowest possible brightness of the screen. I found a promising post on xda-developers, but so far I've not been able to get it to work. It seems to be due to changes made by Samsung in their ICS ROMs hopefully these issues will be ironed out soon, and I'll be able to lower the energy usage of the phone by a few %.

Any tips on great apps or tweaks I might apply are welcome. Any questions on how I did it and where I found everything, please comment on this post.


 

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