Marshmallow on the Galaxy S5

It’s possible that Samsung are going to update the Galaxy S5 to Marshmallow (Android 6.0) this year, and there was even a leak when someone received an OTA update to a beta version of Android 6.0 on their Galaxy S5 but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting.

If it ever arrives, that update will still come with all the usual Samsung bloat. Some of it is useful but honestly, I could do without it. I managed to get rid of most of that when I used a different TouchWiz based rom but it didn’t leave much free space in the internal memory of the phone.

Then a few days ago came news of a 3 year old Linux kernel bug that puts any machine running vulnerable versions of Linux at risk. That includes millions of Android phones. Most of those phones will never be updated.

With Marshmallow, Google are responding faster with dated “patch levels” so you know when it has been updated but that’s not much good if you’re still on an earlier version of Android or using an older phone that’s unlikely to be updated.

So, with my phone regularly running out of space, the prospect of more Samsung bloat, and a nasty exploit, I decided to go down the Cyanogenmod route once more.

It took about 3 hours to do, and most of that was because of backing up and reconfiguring apps. I had a head start as my phone was already rooted so first I installed Philz Touch Recovery using a handy app called Rashr that I found through this video. I skipped the first 12 minutes where he rooted his phone:

I backed everything up (nandroid, Titanium, SMS etc) and grabbed a nightly build of Cyanogenmod from here and with the help of the install instructions I found the right Google Apps package. Installation after that was a breeze, I just followed the instructions. (Boot into recovery, wipe, flash Cyanogenmod first, then Gapps).

There was one hiccup. I couldn’t get root access, even after enabling it in Developer Options. I had to flash CM and Gapps again.

The phone does feel faster, even with Facebook, Messenger and Google Plus installed now. Unfortunately Greenify isn’t hibernating them as it thinks they’re “working” but Marshmallow has it’s own doze mode that I presume is doing something.

I also have lots of extra space. With nothing else installed I had around 9GB free in the internal memory! Samsung software usually swallows the majority of that.

It’s a good thing I had that space, as Pocket Casts wasn’t behaving properly. I had it backed up so when I restored it I tried to point it at my podcasts directory on the external card. For some reason I had to set the “custom directory” to point at the directory, but then it couldn’t download new podcasts so I moved the files to the internal memory. Several minutes later and 5GB of mp3 files were moved. Luckily, when I checked the settings again, it had an “sd card” option, so I was able to move the files back toe the external card.

I had worried that bluetooth wouldn’t work but it works almost as well as with the Samsung software. Occasionally there’s a click sound, and once it disconnected when I turned on the torch.

When I first turned on the phone I used a new external sd card (just in case), and I was offered the choice of making it behave like internal memory using Marshmallow’s Adaptable Storage feature. I enabled it, but the phone said it would be slow (even though it was a HCI, class 10 card) so I reformatted it as portable storage. I then rebooted and inserted my original card.

I like to read books at night, so I use screen filter to make the screen almost completely dark. I also use Twilight to make the screen more red (Marshmallow has a feature that changes the colour temperature of the screen, but I prefer the look of Twilight). Unfortunately, and I remember this from my previous adventures with Cyanogenmod, the capacitive buttons on my phone light up whenever I touched the screen, not just when I touched the buttons. Also, the charging light would remain on when the screen was on. There’s an option to disable the notification light for app notifications when the screen is on, but not the charging light. Luckily I was able to disable both buttons and charging light in the settings.
The button light is an issue going back years so it’s unlikely to be changed. I think I had to use an Xposed module last time to fix it. :(

The only thing I miss from the original S5 software is the pedometer in Samsung Health, but I’ve been using Google Fit for some time now and that works just as well.

I really love the app permissions in Marshmallow. Unlike earlier versions of Android where you have to grant an app a number of permissions on install, you grant them now when they’re needed (well, except Internet access). When I tried to post a photo to Facebook up popped this message:

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

I still have a nandroid backup of my phone so if I wanted to go back to the Samsung TouchWiz world I can, but I suspect I won’t.

Oh yeah, They’re working on that Linux exploit too. :)

Searching for Animals

searching for animals

The stand alone Google Photos app went live last night and I’m playing with it this morning. I love that I can search my photos for animals, family or San Francisco and it will return meaningful results.

The app is really nice to use now, I love the new month view for quickly moving back through the years. I only wish Google Backup would work on all DNG files. Despite what their documentation says those files aren’t getting backed up. :(

I’m not so fond of the limited editing features. Many of my older photos need to be rotated because they were shot in Jpeg and some app I used long ago changed the rotation bit in the files. To rotate I have to select an image, click the pencil to edit, click the crop tool, click rotate 3 times, save, X. Then move on to another. Hopefully they’ll allow batch editing of photos in the future.

Sabermod on the Galaxy S II

The ageing Samsung Galaxy S II still has plenty of life in it. It runs Minecraft PE and Terraria perfectly well!

Slimsaber

It might be old, but there are still developers hacking at it and releasing firmware upgrades with modern versions of Android. I decided to try this unofficial build of Slimkat i9100 Sabermod. My previous install barfed and half the apps on it disappeared somehow!

Sabermod installed easily. I already had TWRP installed so it was only a matter of installing the various zip files through it. Give it a go if you have this old phone, especially if you’ve never messed around with ROMs and have this phone lying around. The usual caveats apply. YMMV and you might soft-brick your phone.

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!