Galaxy S5 Lollipop Root without Tripping Knox

If that headline makes no sense to you apart from the “Galaxy S5″ bit and you own that phone here’s why it’s important:

  • Gaining root access to your phone lets you have more control of your phone. It’s like the difference between having access to the engine of your car instead of the bonnet being welded shut. (I said “it’s like”, analogies are never 100% accurate!)
  • Lollipop is the latest version of Android that’s rolling out to Samsung Galaxy S5 phones right now. I’m still not happy that there’s no real “silent mode” any more. The developer of Llama, the app I use to switch to silent each night, includes silent mode in his list of Lollipop bugs and gotchas but he has released an updated apk with a fix for this Android bug so hopefully that works.
  • Knox is the security system Samsung uses to stop people messing with their phones and installing custom software like a new firmware on them. Once it’s tripped a yellow warning triangle appears on bootup and your warranty is void. Samsung KIES does not work either, but there are better backup solutions out there.

If you’ve had your phone for more than a year then you don’t really need to worry about Knox as your phone is out of warranty. You may not like the warning logo on bootup but how often do you boot your phone?

I found a great guide that explains how to root the Galaxy S5. You need to backup everything as your phone will be downgraded to an earlier version of Android that can be rooted and then upgraded again to an already rooted Lollipop ROM. You also have to splash out the $5 required for Mobile Odin Pro to flash Lollipop again without tripping Knox as it’s flashing a custom ROM. From what I’ve read, Odin running on your PC will trip Knox when you flash a custom ROM. I have no idea how the mobile version doesn’t.

towelroot

Installing Towelroot to root your 4.4.2 install of Android brings up this ominous message. I thought it was funny they didn’t escape the apostrophe correctly..

Oh, you’ll need several hours too. It took me an evening to do it which includes backing up files and apps and restoring them afterwards. If you use Google Authenticator, install Authy instead. It’s much easier to restore it. On the plus side, since Knox isn’t tripped, you can use KIES to restore your data!

A must-have app for Android users, rooted or not, is Greenify. It hibernates apps on your phone when you turn off the display to save battery. It works without root, but if you have a password or PIN on your lockscreen it won’t work automatically. You’ll need to use a launcher shortcut that automatically kills the apps when tapped. Facebook is always the first app I add to Greenify!

The Lollipop ROM linked from the guide above doesn’t have quite as much Samsung bloat installed by default. I use some of their software like the camera and S Health but now I can completely uninstall apps like ChatOn and almost anything else.

A final word of caution: you may soft brick your phone when you try to root it. It’s not for the faint at heart. It worked for me, but YMMV. Once rooted, apps have to ask for root permission, but once they have it they have free reign over everything so you have to be sure to only use root apps you trust.

How to improve your sleep in seconds….

In this post Richard Wiseman recommends reducing the use of screens late at night because of the blue light emitted by them as that can keep you awake for longer.

I read books on my phone but I use Screen Filter To bring the brightness way down. Once I start reading a book I generally get sleepy within a dozen words or so! Anyway, I just installed the Twilight app that changes the temperature of the screen at different times of the day. At night it will make the screen go slightly red. I’ll give it a go tonight. Maybe I’ll look at the screen and fall into a deep sleep..

The irony is, I’m typing this at my PC where I should really have something like f.lux installed if I’m that worried about it.

Raw DNG Samples from the Nexus 5

Android L, the next major release of Android will allow apps to get raw data from the camera. This lets photographers extract more information and develop photos a lot more than they could with simple Jpeg files. They’ll be able to “push” the image further to recover blown out highlights and recover detail from shadows.

At least that’s the theory. You’re still working with the relatively small lenses and sensors in camera phones so they’re not going to compare to a DSLR or dedicated camera but images will get closer in quality.

This thread on r/Android has some samples of DNG files you can work on in Lightroom or whatever your RAW processor of choice is. The photos were taken with lcamera as the official Google camera app only records to Jpeg images. I took a stab at the “auto exposure” image here and came up with this:

2014-10-19-182340-gp

That’s pretty good for a photo taken by a Nexus 5 at ISO 1635. Lightroom settings were as follows:

Settings:

  • Temp: -1.65
  • Tint: +59
  • Exposure: -1.65
  • Highlights: -100
  • Shadows: 100
  • Whites: +2
  • Blacks: -29
  • Clarity: +22

Detail

  • Sharpening
    • Amount: 67
    • Radius: 1.0
    • Detail: 10
    • Masking: 70
  • Noise Reduction
    • Luminance: 20
    • Detail: 50
    • Contrast: 0

I’m really excited to see what Android L will bring to camera apps once it’s officially out in the wild and more phones have it installed!

Unhide passwords on your Android Device

One of my pet peeves about logging into sites on my phone is the password field. On a large screen it makes sense that the field is obscured by * characters but what about on a small device only you can see?

I can’t be the only one bothered by this because the wifi login form on Android devices has a handy “Show password” setting. Maybe it’s because people use the default wifi password set by their ISPs so much it’s their only “strong” password. Anyway, I wished there was a similar setting for other login forms.

Well, now there is, sort of. A handy Xposed Framework module called HideNoPasswords that reveals the letters behind the dots. I found I could even swype my password which makes logging in with phrases so much easier.

logging into twitter

There are downsides. Security is the most obvious one. An application could take screenshots in the background when it detects the keyboard is in use and send that data somewhere. Someone could look over your shoulder and see the password.
Also, your phone has to be rooted, and you need the Xposed Framework installed but if you’ve conquered those hurdles installing this module is simple.

Here’s the XDA Thread on the module, and the XDA blog post where I found out about this handy extension.

Ipega 9025 Controller and Terraria on Android

The Android version of Terraria is on sale right now on the Play Store and Amazon App Store so I bought it last week and it’s a pretty decent port of the PC original. Controls are reasonably good although I’ve sometimes found the movement swipes (left side of the screen) get confused and my character uses his weapon/tool instead. The local multiplayer over wifi is great!

Anyway, I had ordered a Ipega 9025 controller on dealextreme and it arrived a few days ago. It’s a bluetooth controller designed to hold a smartphone in a cradle so I was interested to see if it would work with Terraria. Initial tests were not good and various forums said Terraria didn’t support the controller. I tried Tincore Mapper but could not figure out how to map anything.

I finally read the manual for the controller and found it mentioned something called the ipega game lobby. You can find the APK for it here. It’s the file called “IPEGA Game Center_ENG.apk” and should be side loaded on your phone. Most of the app has been translated to English but Chinese characters still show up in a few places. Getting it to work is a bit fiddly too. My Galaxy S4 wouldn’t always connect to the controller, but the game lobby would usually find it and launch the test app. Moving the analogue sticks around moves a green dot on the screen to verify it’s working. Terraria now works fine and is very playable with the controller!

Ittle Dew worked perfectly and I also tried RetroArch, the multi-system emulator. It didn’t pick up the controller until I defined the keys explicitly and told it which “keyboard device” or IME to use.

Here’s where the major downside to using the game lobby comes in. It doesn’t require root which is great, but it does ask you to set the controller as the default keyboard. That means when you later use your phone to send tweets, emails or type anything it’ll be through this keyboard. I’m rather fond of Swype, and TBH, I don’t fully trust them that they won’t try to download everything I type.
There is a way around it however. By using Llama Profiles I set up an action to catch when the controller disconnects. It then used the secure settings plugin to change the keyboard back to Swype and display a brief message saying, “Swype activated again”.

The Ipega 9025 is also available on Amazon UK and Amazon US. The controller feels good in my hands. It’s not going to feel as good as an Xbox 360 controller but it gets close and it’s super convenient being able to clip the phone to it. Recommended!

First Impressions of the Power Up 3.0 Paper Airplane

Ever wondered what it would be like to fly a remote controlled paper airplane?

I backed the Power Up 3.0 Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane last year and received my airplane in the post this morning. Excited? I was, just a bit.

I like the packaging. It comes in a plain cardboard box in a sleeve with a transparent plastic top containing the engine and brains of the device. Inside are a manual, papers for making various types of planes, a charger and a usb cable. There’s also a spare propeller and tail fin.

For my first airplane I decided on the Invader design they recommended. The instructions for making it are simple enough, although all the folding to strengthen the wings makes it more complicated than a regular paper plane.

How does it fly? Well, they’re not joking when they said you’d need around 150×150 meters. For my first flight I used a public grass area at the end of my street that’s maybe 15x15m and the plane flew so fast it had barely left my hand when I had to turn it. It didn’t respond too well to the Android app running on my S4 but that might just be my panic at seeing the thing fly away and heading towards a nearby tree at high velocity!

After a few goes we moved to a larger area that’s on a steep slope. So, up to the top, and there’s a wind blowing. “That’s going to cause havoc”, I thought. I was right. I released the plane and it was flying towards the hedge at the end of the park within seconds. A quick twist of my hand to tilt my phone and the plane changed direction and I cut the throttle. It glided to a stop just a short distance from a fence. Phew. The two kids watching the plane fly were a bit awed I think. :)

Next test will be tomorrow. I think the square in Blarney village is probably big enough..

Photos from Helios XM Anomaly in Dublin

Last weekend I took the train to Dublin to take part in my first Ingress event, the Helio XM Anomaly. All I knew was that both Resistance and Enlightened would be there fighting over portals but not much more than that.

Fights for portals were intense 15 minute battles. It must have made a strange sight watching two groups of adults bent over their phones on a street or park tapping at their phones. The only thing heard were the frequent shouts calling “DEPLOY”, “MOD” or “CUBE” as we shouted what we were doing. Who won? The Resistance of course!

The next (closest) Helios event is in Manchester but if there’s another one in Ireland I’d like to go if I can. Good fun, lots of walking.

Almost 23,000 steps around Dublin

Google Cardboard

If you’ve been hankering after an Oculus Rift then Google Cardboard might be something you can use to whet your appetite for virtual reality. It’s basically a cardboard enclosure for your Android phone with two lenses, a magnet and NFC tag. Once assembled you launch the Cardboard app on your phone, put it in the enclosure and use the magnet at the side as a trigger button. Warning, there’s some NSFW language in the video below.

The Tested guys have a blog post with a few more insights and thoughts about Cardboard.

If anything, Google Cardboard brings more credibility to the rumor that Oculus is working with Samsung to create virtual reality goggle frames that can use Samsung Galaxy smartphones as the display. Cardboard’s cheap construction belies its effectiveness–the secret sauce here is in the 40mm lenses and the brilliant magnet-based trigger button.

I’d love to try one out. I wonder if I can get those lenses anywhere nearby?

Turn your Android phone into a steering wheel

I was looking on Amazon over the weekend for PC steering wheels when I remembered that my phone could do the job! Install JD SimWheel from the Play Store, grab the device driver and server from here for your PC and you’re 90% of the way there.

It might take a few minutes tinkering with the settings in-game but Euro Truck Simulator 2 works fine with it. I still can’t reverse properly but now I can take corners smoothly and two of the buttons on-screen are already configured for left and right indicators!

Here’s a howto video and demonstration using the game GRID created by user MyHD2AndOthers on Youtube.

Next on my todo list is using a WiiMote as a steering wheel as I already have the steering wheel adaptor for it and it should be more comfortable than holding a phone!

Amazing Android Audio with ViPER4Android

If I was in any way skilled at writing prose I’d continue the alliteration in this post but alas I’m not so you’ll have to make do with the amazing ViPER4Android that makes Android devices sound absolutely amazing.

Their about page says that “ViPER’s Audio is an audio enhancing software to provide everyone with better audio experiences in various platforms such as smartphones and PCs.” It has a graphic equalizer and controls for changing surround sound, bass, treble, clarity and gain settings in the driver. I mostly used the default settings but pumped the clarity up to 12dB. There are different settings for headset, phone speaker, bluetooth and USB/dock. Music and voice sources sound so much richer, even through the phone speaker. I have yet to try the “sound of the kettle boiling” vs podcast test but hopefully it’ll help.

What first led me to try ViPER4Android was “Adapt Sound” on my Galaxy S4. The difference when using Samsung’s stock music player was like night and day. Unfortunately it didn’t change the sound out of any other player like Google’s Music Player. I needed an alternative.

You can download the apk file here. I installed the FX apk for the extra settings and installation is straightforward if your phone is rooted already. It may ask you to confirm a change to core configuration files that can cause damage. It warns you to make a backup first but I allowed it to do so and the phone rebooted without a hitch. I chose “Super Audio Quality” which the app warns might drain battery more quickly but I’m at home 99% of the time anyway so that’s not a major issue for me.

If you need further help, there’s some good illustrated installation instructions here.