Speeding up your Rooted Android phone

I know, it’s been a long time since this blog was updated, but I’ve found something so juicy and newsworthy I found a reason to add a new blogpost.

So here goes, answer the following simple questions:

  • Do you have an Android-based phone?
  • Have you rooted your phone?
  • Does it lag when starting or switching between apps?

If you answered no to either of the first two questions, move along, nothing to see here. However, if you answered yes then this post is for you!

I was browsing my RSS feed, which among other topics, includes the Phandroid site feed and I spotted an interesting article about an app the claims to remove the lag on all Android phones.

Now, with most apps that claim to do miracles, you need to take them with a pinch of salt, and even more so, if you have to pay for said app. However, Google’s app store policy of 15 minutes after purchase for refunds made me less hesitant to try this out, as well as the R12 (ZAR) app cost.

It’s a small app, with only one permission (run at boot) so nothing scary there. The reviews so far have pretty much all been glowing. Good start.

So I purchased the app and had it download and install on my phone. It’s not very complicated. Once you open the app, you enable the entropy seeder and check the start automatically on boot option. That’s it, you’re good to go.

Seeder - Screenshot

So I switched back to my home screen and started firing up some apps. My phone has been on all day, I’ve been using it (no reboot) so some might say well apps are cached in RAM. But even so, they were quicker to switch to as well as being much more responsive. The notoriously laggy Facebook application (which is now native, in parts) was quicker to switch to and use. Okay, I thought – good start.

Now, how about a cold boot? So I rebooted the phone and immediately noticed that the pin and lock-screens were quicker to appear, and were responsive even during at-boot applications which were loading in memory (of which is Onavo for 3G traffic monitoring, Go Launcher EX to replace the standard launcher, Usage Timelines for showing CPU usage and Lookout for malware scanning and lost phone detection).

The usual lag during boot waiting for the launcher to become responsive wasn’t there. I could quickly fire up Facebook, Whatsapp, UberSocial, the default Camera app, the photo gallery browser and Astro’s file explorer were quick on the draw. Even switching back to the home screen and opening up GO SMS to view my SMS/MMS (which, while feature rich, is much laggier than the stock-standard SMS viewer) was near instant.

I had some app updates pending that I still wanted to install and during their install (which, again is notoriously laggy on this phone, not only because of the installing, but also post install scanning by Lookout and AVG are usually blocking processes), the phone was responsive during the install and post-install process and was usable, which it most certainly wasn’t before. Two thumbs up for that.

Some might say it’s the placebo effect. I dare you try it yourself and prove me wrong. I use my phone often enough to know when there’s a distinct difference in load/lag times of the various apps I use.

The team at LCIS that did the research and testing within the Android OS to figure this out and build this app deserve the props.

Seeder app – recommended.

In case anyone is wondering – my phone is a rooted HTC Desire running Cyanogen Mod’s CM7.2.0.1 (built on Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread)

If you go through the comments on the app in the Play store as well as on the XDA forum post you’ll see this performance improvement is more noticeable in older versions of the Android OS (i.e pre Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean). So if you’re running the latest stock Android OS (or a custom ROM built on top of the latest AOSP) you probably won’t see much, if any, improvement.

UPDATE: I’ve tried this on my wife’s HTC Wildfire (which is unbelievably painful to use because of how slow it is, but somehow she manages) and it has made a noticeable improvement almost eliminating all lag between switching applications, back to the desktop and opening new apps.

VOTD: Intel i5 commercial

There are many commercials out there for various products and services. Some good, some not and then there are those that stand out, and you remember. You don’t mind seeing them more often, unlike most commercials that you can’t grab the remote and change channels quick enough!

Here’s one that I spotted that was posted on the Cherryflava feed. It’s got that action-movie trailer feel to it. Watch it more than once, you might have missed some subtleties. This one definitely gets two thumbs up from me. Want more, check these out.

RockMelt – your new social browser

So for about a month now I’ve been testing the new social browser called RockMelt. It’s still in beta and there are a few kinks to iron out and some features that should be included but so far it’s a great browser.

ABOUT ROCKMELT

Well, the browser is great to start off with because it’s a custom build of Google’s Chromium (development build of Chrome) browser and integrated into Facebook (you need a Facebook account to log into and use RockMelt). Like I said, it’s a social browser – integrating your browsing and social media interaction all in one place.

So what do you get in the browser that makes it social? Two applications are currently integrated into RockMelt, Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be a social browser, now would it.

EDGES

As I mentioned earlier you need a Facebook account so you get all your notifications and news feed from Facebook on the right hand side of the browser – the sides are referred to as Edges in RockMelt.

The top icon is for your invites you get to dish out to friends whom you also want to introduce to RockMelt.

The next icon is Google’s URL shortener extension which I added – yes a lot of Google Chrome extensions work just the same in RockMelt as they do in the latest Chrome browser.

Next is the GMail Labs Notifier extension which gives me a counter of unread emails and the next one is a RSS Feed of my Gmail Inbox which shows a preview of new emails as well as an unread count.

The next two icons relate to Facebook. The first is my notifications icon (when people comment on something I commented on, or my status update, or liking a status update or comment I made). The second is my Facebook news stream, which you see on the Facebook home page when you view your Most Recent news stream items.

Below that is the Twitter app which you can enable in RockMelt by supplying your Twitter username and allowing RockMelt to access your Twitter account. This means you get to view your Twitter stream, reply, re-tweet and update your own Twitter status.

The next is simply another Chrome extension to capture portions of browser screens for sharing with others.

The last icon on the right edge is where you can change which RockMelt apps are active or not as well as where you can include an RSS stream of the recently visited websites.

Yup, RockMelt identifies RSS streams of websites as you visit them so that you can include them on the right edge and get updates as and when they’re made available. I still prefer all my RSS feeds in Google Reader though.

The great thing about this is that you can be browsing a website, reading some RSS feed article and you can still keep an eye on your social stream. Once there are new unread items in either Facebook or Twitter you can see the count as an icon overlay. Simply click on the icon and you get a window appearing with the unread (and read) items.

The other great thing is that a number of third party sites are integrated by RockMelt so that for example if someone tweeted a photo and posted it through YFrog it automatically appears in the stream for the user that posted it, you don’t even have to browse to the image hosting site to view the photo.

The same applies to YouTube videos tweeted or included in a Facebook status update. The player is embedded into the stream so that you can play it from there.

The left edge is where you get to see, in real-time, all your Facebook friends whether they’re online, idled, or offline on Facebook. By clicking on the avatar of your friend you can open up a chat window to chat to them (through Facebook) and/or send them a Facebook inbox message.

Avatars with a green icon next to it means the user is currently active on Facebook and their Facebook chat is set to online so that you can chat with them or send them a Facebook message.

Those with orange icons have been idle for a certain period of time on Facebook so they may not be available to  chat but you can still send them a message.

Those that have grey icons are no longer online on Facebook or like me, are not logged into Facebook chat right now. I prefer to keep my real-time conversations in Skype, my preferred instant messaging platform.

The thing that I found irritating/intrusive to my browsing was the constant shuffling if avatars as people came online and/or went offline on Facebook so I use RockMelt with this edge hidden (ctrl+shift+left arrow to toggle the left side, use the right arrow to toggle the right edge or ctrl+shift+space to toggle both edges).

Depending on how active/inactive you are on Facebook and/or use the Facebook Chat facility you may or may not use this feature in RockMelt.

If, however, you want to see a specific friend’s wall only you can click their avatar on the left edge and click the recent activity tab. Click on your own icon on the top left to update your Twitter/Facebook status.

But that’s one of the great things about RockMelt is you’re not forced to use features you don’t want or don’t need. It’s customizable!

SHARING

Another feature that makes this a great social networking tool is the in-line sharing of stuff that you’re currently reading. So someone emailed you a link to a funny YouTube video, simply open it up in a new tab in RockMelt and check out the video. You think it’s worth sharing to others on your Twitter and/or Facebook stream? Great, hit that Share button at the top, to the right of the address bar.

You’ll then be presented with a Twitter/Facebook share window (you get to toggle between the two if you have both apps active in your RockMelt browser).

Just like the share option in Facebook you get to pick a thumbnail (if you wish) to include in your post and add your own comment – simple as that, without leaving the page you’ve just been reading/watching.

And for Twitter, RockMelt have acquired the me.lt domain to automatically shorten URLs for you and automatically pick up the title of the page you were viewing and include it in the Twitter status update. Of course, you can edit this as you wish, add hash tags, etc, before actually posting it as your Twitter status update.

And in case you missed it, there’s a search field at the top as well, so you can search even without leaving the current page you’re viewing since the results are shown in a window. Of course you can open any result (or the entire list of results)  in another tab.

Could it be any simpler?

But don’t just take my word for it – try it out for yourself. You can also watch the promo video below which screencasts some of the features I’ve spoken about above, and more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAPKPhoTqFY&feature=player_embedded

Free Digital TV Channels available in SA

A few weeks ago I bought a new TV. A nice shiny, new Sony Bravia 40″ EX400 series digital LCD TV. It’s a nice step up from our 28″ Philips CRT TV that we’ve had for almost eight years now.

It’s a great TV and I’m glad we made the choice. It’s a full HD digital TV with a great picture and flexible set of features. It has a digital and analogue tuner built in, multiple analogue and digital inputs as well as a USB port for watching DivX encoded movies directly off of a USB stick (I bought a 16GB memory stick just for that purpose).

But I digress – the actual reason for this post is related to the digital tuner. When I first plugged in the new TV and went through the setup process, part of which is auto-tuning, it picked up 12 over-the-air digital channels as well as the 5 terrestrial analogue channels.

I know there’s been a lot of media reports about digital TV coming to South Africa and it being a requirement for broadcasting the 2010 FIFA World Cup (which by the way got off to a cracking start, even though it’s difficult to work with vuvuzelas blaring in the city all day and night long) but I was always under the impression that you needed a set-top box to decode the over-the-air (not satellite) digital channels. So when I did the initial setup of the TV I wasn’t surprised that none of the digital channels the digital tuner in the TV picked up were not displaying, since I didn’t have a decoder.

However, this morning I happened to switch to the digital channels accidentally and they were being broadcast and displayed on my TV. The following channels are being broadcast and unscrambled by my TV’s digital tuner:

  • e-TV (a free terrestrial channel)
  • eAfri (not sure about this seems to be airing similar programs to e-TV)
  • Mstar (showing infomercials in between airing movies, not latest block-busters)
  • National Geographic (the one reason I wanted satellite TV)
  • eClassic (e-TV broadcast programs, not same airtime as e-TV)
  • BBC Lifestyle (one of my wife’s favourite satellite channels)
  • Koowe (kids channel, by the looks of it a South African channel)
  • MK (music video channel)

Yes, I know, for those who have satellite/cable TV this is nothing exciting – but for those of us, like me, that don’t think paying the premium price you have to pay to get satellite TV is worth it, without having full choice of which channels you want to watch – I think it’s great! Yes, we’ve got loads of movies on DVD but it’s now nice to have a little bit more choice in our TV viewing, and we’re not (for now) paying anything above our usual annual TV licensing fees.

I’m hoping this is not a once-off (testing) thing or at the very least it’s accessible to us through-out the broadcasting of the World Cup, and of course first-prize, available to us in future.

Are there any other South Africans out there that have seen this with their own digital TVs?

Update:  28 September 2010

It would appear that testing has resumed again since there are 8 digital channels available free over the air again. I’ve picked up the following channels again:

  • e-TV (a free terrestrial channel)
  • eAfri (not sure about this seems to be airing similar programs to e-TV)
  • VUZU (wide variety of programmes)
  • Blitz (SuperSport blitz sports news and highlights)
  • Mstar (showing infomercials in between airing movies, not latest block-busters)
  • Action TV (movies and TV-series programmes)
  • Mzanzi Magic (local music, documentaries and TV-series programmes)
  • Koowe (kids channel, by the looks of it a South African channel)

Tune in and enjoy while they’re available.

Update:  23 October 2010

For about a week now we’ve also been able to tune into MNet and CSN (Sport channel showing Supersport and Indian movies when not broadcasting sport). Not complaining, just saying 🙂

Update: 14 March 2011

For the last couple of days transmission has been scrambled and none of the channels were showing anything – not even the digital version of free channel, e-TV. Tonight, however, it appears test broadcasting has resumed – free digital TV for a little while longer – yay!

Dell: Real Customer Service

A little less than a year ago I bought a new Dell Vostro laptop. It’s a nice light-weight, yet powerful little laptop that has done me well until now. Actually, to be honest, it’s still doing me well, it’s just the hard drive that’s been giving me problems.

I’ve had intermittent crashing since last year November. So much so that I got fed-up and rebuilt the machine from scratch. Re-installing the OS all my apps and restoring my backed-up data.

Then, about six weeks ago, it started happening again. Fed up with the constant and intermittent crashing (not limited to any particular application) I gave up again – backing up my data but I didn’t do a re-install. Instead, I called Dell.

When I bought the laptop I included an extended warranty (next business day) for a little extra. Now, I know, I don’t normally do the extended warranty thing with appliances as it’s usually over-priced and most of the time not worth it. This time, however, it paid off for itself.

Firstly, Dell call center staff actually are not only helpful but friendly too – something a lot of call centers around the world can learn from. All they needed to look up my details was my laptop service tag number. With that they could tell me what my warranty period was, when it expires and asked me how they could help. I explained that I had been having intermittent crashing and IO read/write failures.

They then asked me if I had any diagnostic error codes – I said I didn’t note down the actual error codes from the blue screens but they all pointed to IO failures. He then asked me if I had the laptop with me and I said no that it was at home. He then proceeded to explain to me that if I power the laptop off and then hold down the function (Fn) key while pressing the power button it would boot up into a built-in Dell Diagnostics mode. Wow, I was impressed, I’d learnt something new about my laptop (apparently this is built-in into all Dell machines).

So when I got home I ran the diagnostics tool (which looks very similar to a BIOS screen) and it let me know that there were indeed errors with the hard drive. I noted the error codes down and continued with the rest of the diagnostics. It even continues into a windows-like interface with nice options where you can either run a quick, full, or specific diagnostic test. It also has a symptom-tree function where you pick from a list of symptoms (like blue-screens, hanging, etc) and it shows you the various tests that can be performed. Let me tell you, it’s exhaustive. I ran all the tests and all of them passed, except for some of the read/write tests on the hard drive.

Obviously, now, the problem actually was the hard-drive. I called them up the next morning, following-up from my previous call and they verified that the drive would need to be replaced. Since this was a Friday and we would be going away for a long weekend I asked if the drive could be delivered to me at my office the following Wednesday (my first day back). They said not a problem, all I had to do was call the business day prior to when I wanted it delivered (before 4pm) and they would ensure next-business day delivery.

Monday morning I gave them a call again to confirm my delivery address and contact number. I was warned however that due to the volcanic ash from the Icelandic volcano that the delivery might be delayed if they did not have enough stock on hand. I understood. Before ending the call the agent asked me if I needed assistance removing the drive, re-installing the new one as well as whether or not I had the operating system to re-install. Oh, they also asked if I needed any data recovered/backed up on the drive once it was delivered to Dell. Is that service, or what? I said that it wasn’t a problem I could remove the drive, re-install the new one and re-install the OS by myself.

When I got home on Tuesday I made sure I had backed up all the files I needed and began shredding various sensitive and personal files before completely uninstalling everything down to just the OS and then removing the drive from the laptop, inserting it into my portable drive enclosure and using my work laptop to format the drive as well as removing the partitions, re-creating a new single partition and formatting it. Yes, I know it’s overkill but I wanted to try and make it as difficult as possible for any data to be recovered from the drive (there shouldn’t be a reason for it).

To my utter amazement, a little less than 20 minutes after I walked into the office at 8:30am on Wednesday morning (today) the courier brought me my new hard drive, sealed (not with a kiss, but with anti-static wrapping in a padded box). I removed my drive from the laptop (I had re-inserted it the night before again after cleaning it) and gave it to the courier, took my new drive from the anti-static enclosure and he left with the faulty drive. I installed the new drive – ran all the diagnostics and all the tests passed – clean as a whistle. I was a happy man – now all I needed was to re-install the OS, my applications and restore my data.

By the way, Windows Easy Transfer (for moving your entire windows profile, application settings, personal files, etc) works like a charm. Less than 12 hours later, I’m fully up and running again.

Dell Customer Service gets an A+ from me – well done!

Board games of the future?

As you may know, we’re fans of board games and we were recently introduced to the Settlers of Catan board game as well as playing Catan online and having written a review.

I’ve just come across this excellent piece on CNET’s Crave gadget and technology blog.

With OLED technology fast becoming the norm in new Television sets, board-game makers, like Settlers of Catan could very well be looking into using this technology to add “reality” to their game. Many people play games online (computer, console and hand-held) as opposed to normal “static” board-games because of the graphics and interactivity. But with OLED technology and projection the two could very well be merged.

Have a quick read of the CNET article as well as checking out the video demonstration below. I’m sure right now it could be quite expensive but it could very well be a viable option for many not too long from now.

At first glance, the cardboard tiles in the video look like typical white hexagons out of Settlers of Catan. But with the help of an overhead camera and projector, each piece becomes a mini-computer capable of displaying animated video images and even triggering events in adjacent tiles, such as queuing soldiers to attack.

In the video, you can also see what happens when players manipulate the tiles in various ways. When one part of the tile is lifted off the table’s flat surface, troops are offloaded onto shore by “pouring” them. Rotating the tiles can change the perspective on the animated building, tree, or person being displayed.

Isn’t that just awesome?

New Google Chrome v4 released

As you should know by now, I favour Google’s Chrome browser and today (finally), Google have released their latest stable build of the Chrome browser, 4.0.249.78. And as you can see from the screen shot above (if you’ve not already used their beta releases of v4 already) extensions and bookmark syncing are now available.

After my previous problems with the latest beta builds and instability on my laptop I was hesitant to stick to the beta builds and opted to wait for the stable version to be released.

Now, finally, I too can enjoy the benefits of over 1500 extensions and bookmark syncing.

Below is a list of the extensions I’ve just installed and tried out (you can click on any of the images below to go to the relevant extension download page):

Since I use Google Reader to keep up with all my various news/RSS feeds the first extension I’ve installed is the Google Reader one. It downloads and installs in, literally, seconds. If you’re already logged into Google the icon will already show you how many unread items there are. Clicking on the icon shows you unread items at a glance which you can click on the title to read the article or open Google Reader in a new tab.

Next on my list of wanted extensions is the 1-click Weather extension provided by Weather.com which gives you a toolbar icon showing the current temperature in your city and clicking on the icon will give you a detailed weather map as well as a mini forecast. If you’re using Windows Vista/7 you’ve probably already, like me, got the Windows Weather widget on your desktop but this is always using Chrome.

Like many other people, I too have and use my Gmail account, especially when sending emails when away from my own laptop and when sending interesting posts to friends. With this extension I can quickly keep a tab of any new emails arriving and the unread email count in my Gmail account right from my browser toolbar.

If you have a Google Wave, Google Voice account as well as Gmail and use Google Reader you can always opt to use the One Number extension which uses a single toolbar icon to monitor all your Google accounts together.

Even though I read most of what I’m interested in via Google Reader, I occasionally search for something through Google or click through to view the full post on the website, since it may be limited in the feed article. I’m so used to where ads appear and how they appear that they don’t really bother me, but others may enjoy the AdBlock extension (works similarly to Mozilla Firefox’s ad blocker – and it’s customizable too).

Update: for developers and designers out there – I’ve just seen the following post recommending 15 must have Google Chrome extensions.

These are just a few extensions that I’ve showcased here like I said there are over 1500 extensions to choose from. Go and have a browse, try them out, if you find an interesting one and it works well, let me know in the comments. Happy surfing!

PS: Remember you can manage your installed extensions (and their respective options) by selecting Extensions from the Tools menu or type in chrome://extensions/ in the address bar.