Sunday, 10 February 2013

Is JellyBean really more buttery?

Project Butter is the effort made by Google to improve the user responsiveness of Android phones running the new JellyBean (4.1). JellyBean is the latest and current version of Android.

Does it work and is it worth the effort upgrading? Well, subjectively, I would say yes.

  • The GUI is very responsive. Certainly this is both subjective and could be easily be wishful thinking. All that said and done and making some mental allowances, it does seem to be very slick.
  • The music player is very nice and sports a built in equaliser.
  • Samsung's TouchWiz launcher is still weak. I replaced with with Nova Launcher Prime which gives the ability to organise the App Drawer into groups, hide unwanted apps (like the built in ones that cannot be uninstalled), have a scrollable Dock Bar and nice effects without being fat and slow.
  • Samsung's keyboard seems better than I remember of the GingerBread version so I have not bothered to replace with with Perfect Keyboard Pro like I usually do.
  • Finally the cellular signal strength metric is available to apps (Samsung broke the API in Gingerbread and ICS). This is of interest to people like me who like to participate in cell strength surveys like Sensorly.
  • GPS and 3G data connectivity seem to be better.
  • The phone is definitely not running hot like it used to when undertaking intensive tasks like being a car GPS.
  • Lots of things are more customisable, including the notification bar.

I'll add an update on battery life at the end of the week. I have reasonably constant and heavy usage patterns in the week to base opinion on.

A note of the actual upgrade procedure

My Samsung Galaxy S2 (I9100) was supplied with GingerBread (2.3.5 IIRC). After a few months I rooted and upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich (CyanogenMod ( RC1). Getting fed up with video out over HDMI not working with a non Samsung firmware, I decided to reflash when JellyBean official became available.

For some reason, despite Samsung having done the first release for the I9100 on January 23rd 2013, there is still no (at the time of writing) official release for the UK. Having checked I decided to use the latest issue to Spain, XWLS8, which can be found at SamMobile. This has been superceded by a minor update. I may update later, but I see no immediate reason as I find no fault with XWLS8.

Flashing was easy with Odin and a virtual machine running Windows. Heimdall is a protocol compatible equivalent tool for Linux (but is not official software) and would almost certainly work as well.

That went well, and I used CWM Recovery (installed as a power on recovery option) to wipe the user data and cache - you could alternatively use the Factory Data Reset option inside Android Settings. This is not absolutely required, but personally I like to start afresh with a major upgrade and clear cruft.

One problem remained which did cause a moderate heart attack: I discovered some files on the internal SDCard were not deletable. Reading around, it seemed this was likely to be the result of bad blocks on the internal flash. The solution seems to be to plug the phone into a computer, switch the phone USB into "Storage Mode" and reformat the phone's USB storage. It is important to do a long format and not a quick format - we need every block tested and bad blocks potentially marked unusable. It was not clear whether the format operation found any bad blocks or whether the flash hardware remapped the bad block on write - but either way, the internal storage is now reliable.

Updates

Well, 3G reception is vastly improved over CyanogenMod and Samsung Gingerbread. 14% PING packet loss between Robertsbridge and Sevenoaks by railway (there are several tunnels on that line, one a mile long!). Now measuring packet loss between Sevenoaks and London Charing X. Signal recovery, including packets through WIFI tethering is extremely fast - again much better than previously and infinitely better that Huawei's dedicated MIFI device, the E585, which was completely useless coping with repeated lost signal.

5% packet loss between Sevenoaks and London Charing X - unheard of! I'll be measuring that over the rest of the week...

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