Nuked my Desire Yet Again™. I had been running CyanogenMod 7.1RC1 with all the GO replacement parts (Launcher, Contacts, SMS, Keyboard), but I found that occasionally GO Launcher would go unresponsive -- which was deeply inconvenient at 1AM when I wanted to change the alarm clock! -- and CM7.1 simply ate too much of the built-in storage, particularly given the number of extra widgets and whatnot I was using.

So now it's Oxygen 2.1.6, which is a fairly stripped-back ROM based on AOSP 2.3.4. And I bit the bullet and paid for SBP Shell 3D. This is yet another replacement launcher for Android, and it comes with a bunch of rather well-designed widgets.

SBP made pretty much the best-regarded replacement shell for Windows Mobile, back in the day, so they've got a lot of experience doing this kind of thing. What they've done here is quite good, and I suppose once you consider the number of nicely-designed widgets they've included the $15 price tag isn't completely insane, even if it is pretty high by Android app standards.

And here's a screenshot of my "home" screen:

Read more... )
With the announcement that Telstra and HTC have decided between them to drop Sense from the Gingerbread update for the original Desire, I've opted to take another look at just what can be done with third-party tools.

This post is going to be a little screen-shot heavy, so I'll put the rest behind a cut.

Read more... )

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results.
A fair while back I gave up on trying to use my Bluetooth headset with the stock HTC Desire build of Android. Then two weeks ago I gave it another bash, and figured out how to make it work reliably.

The basic issue, it turns out, is that the HTC ROM takes much longer to detect and then use the headset, and you must get the order right. Headset powered on first, then enable Bluetooth on the phone, then wait for it to detect the headset, then wait a little longer until you hear a tiny bit of static on the headset, and finally you'll have calls routed to it.

The process takes about a minute, compared to doing the same on other ROMs on the same phone. With CM7 or Oxygen this process is much faster and you can switch on BT or the headset first and it doesn't make much difference.

Disabling this after your call also has to be done correctly. Turn BT off on the phone, wait until the "Headset disconnected" message appears, then turn the headset off. If you don't get it right I've found my Desire sometimes reboots...

I did report this to HTC support a while back but they don't really give a damn.

Now, Skype... The current version of Skype running on the current stock ROM works, mostly, except for one "small" detail: when you trigger the proximity sensor to switch the screen off, then try to get the screen back, the Skype call screen goes black and stays that way until the call is disconnected by the other end. At that point it'll go back to the dialler.

Reported this one to Skype, and they cared even less than HTC. At least HTC could be bothered with more than a canned response which indicated they hadn't even read the message...
Got sick of the bootloop problem on Oxygen ROM, reflashed the phone with the stock HTC FroYo install. There is one problem I have been unable to correct, though: while I can pair my Plantronics 590 headset with the phone, and audio works fine in most cases, it simply will not push phone-call audio to the headset.

This works fine on the various CyanogenMod and Oxygen builds I've used, so it seems to be specific to the HTC ROM. Probably the HTC Phone.apk implementation, even.

So, does anyone use an alternate in-call screen app that they can recommend? As you can imagine it's not an easy thing to search for, because what one winds up with is an assortment of call screening applications. There may well be a specific term used in the Android world that'd be more helpful, but I have no idea what it is.

Ultimately if needs be I guess I'll switch back to CyanogenMod, but the HTC mail application is rather better than the stock one, and I do quite like some of HTC's widgets, so if I could solve this one problem I think I'd be happy just sticking with the official software.

Other than that, though, with the wireless sleep policy change plus Locale turning off 3G data when I'm at home, battery life has been really good. And there's a backport of the Android 2.3 keyboard for use on 2.2, which is great because the 2.3 keyboard is much better than the HTC Sense one.
Following advice given in response to my last post, I changed the wireless sleep policy on the phone to "Never". Combined with Locale being configured to completely disable 3G data and enable WiFi when at home, battery use has gone way down. This even with the GPS overhead of running Locale.

Today has been very quiet -- no calls in or out -- and it's used ~15% of the battery. In the past it would've used more like 30-40% with the same load.

The next big test (tomorrow) will be to see how badly Skype kills the battery. At 3-10% of the call cost and some old Skype credit still on the account, it seems worth trying it out for the work conference calls. The test call service wasn't noticeably any worse than a typical overseas call, so here's hoping.

Only one complaint about Oxygen 2.0RC6/Gingerbread so far: there's a bug which causes a runtime crash followed by boot loop. This is apparently also in the AOSP 2.3.1 upstream.

Otherwise, Oxygen has been pretty nice. I've been running it for about a week now and it hasn't exhibited any of the annoying behaviour re: Exchange that I'd seen with the HTC and CyanogenMod 2.1 and 2.2 ROMs. Hopefully this means that whatever was causing the problem is fixed in 2.3 more generally.
When I sleep I have the radio on. It's been a habit for probably the last twenty years. In particular, I have ABC Newsradio going, which effectively means BBC World Service retransmission. Without this I have a very hard time getting to sleep.

This past week Newsradio has instead been retransmitting ABC Queensland local radio. Not particularly unreasonable, they do this whenever there's a major natural disaster going.

Unfortunately for me, though, this is not the soothing voices I'm used to, so I can't get to sleep while it's on.

So I installed "TuneIn" on my Desire, hooked up the speakers, and had it stream BBC World Service. Over WiFi of course, because I'm not crazy and don't have some sort of "unlimited" data service on the phone.

And what I discovered this morning is that it's still using 3G data to stream the audio. This should not be, but presumably the WiFi is occasionally dropping out, so it's falling back to 3G and sticking with it.

Thus I have had to re-enable Locale and add a plugin to control 3G data service. Now, when the handset is close to home, it'll turn on WiFi and shut down 3G data. Here's hoping it bloody well works!
This afternoon I installed Oxygen on my Desire. To quote from that page:


"Oxygen ROM is an AOSP source built ROM (ie. not a mod of any sense based ROM), it's minimal, it's superfast and mostly bugfree."


So far, so good. Gingerbread doesn't seem any less snappy than FroYo was, possibly more. It has a bunch of little interface tweaks and small bits of polish -- various widgets look a little different, there are some extra animation effects, and so on.

This particular ROM comes with a different launcher, a thing called "Zeam". The dock is a little different to the standard one, and there are some handy gesture shortcuts, for example if you swipe down anywhere on the home screen it'll bring up the application menu. The dock icons are more colourful than is usually the case with LauncherPro or ADW.

I've also re-installed Beautiful Widgets -- which I had previously misidentified as a performance killer -- and a new (to me) calendar widget: Agenda Widget. This has the customisability I'd been wanting, and which is completely lacking in most of the calendar/agenda widgets I've seen, including those from HTC and LauncherPro.

It is so far satisfactory. The medium-term tests will be battery use and whether the Exchange sync falls over. Those will probably take a few days to clarify.

Phone-fu

Nov. 20th, 2010 03:19 pm
I've been using the HTC Desire for about six months now. It's not too bad.

But. While the spec claims 360 hours standby (on 3G) and 6.5 hours talk, the reality is that the battery is getting close to drained after a day of not-particularly-heavy use. One can only assume that the 360 hour standby is based on having no polling of anything and the phone left completely untouched.

It's also a bit unreliable. The official HTC ROM has crashed on me a few times. The Exchange support has been a bit wobbly: it gets particularly confused by multiple-time-zone appointments and timezone changes, to the point where it was necessary to nuke a recurring appointment and recreate it once the AU and US daylight saving changes were all done, because it insisted that a 9AM Friday AEDT appointment was actually at 9AM Thursday AEDT -- I think because it was originally set up to be at 6PM Thursday US EDT and all the changes got things horribly confused.

Unfortunately, while iOS is better about the Exchange stuff at least, experience with the iPhone makes it pretty clear that the shinies kill the battery on that just as effectively. While the platform has some neato-keen accessibility stuff you don't find anywhere else -- I particularly love the screen-inverse on triple-home-tap and the screen magnifier -- it's all a bit too locked-down and battery-killing if you actually use the device.

And so I find myself contemplating the merits of a simpler phone that has decent battery life and knows how to be a phone really well. I'm required to have Exchange email on-the-go for work, so it can't be too simple, but I do recall the Nokia E71 doing pretty well on the battery-life thing. I am very curious about the later Symbian phones and am about to go into crazy-research-mode: I know they're not as shiny as Android or iOS, that Symbian itself is pretty much a dead platform, but Nokia did do a really good job of the Exchange support and they know how to build good hardware.
The official update from HTC came out over the past few days. It's not being made available OTA, if you want it you'll have to grab it from the HTC support site. Given that this wipes all data on the phone it's probably a good thing it's not OTA...

The first big downside is that you can only install it from a Windows box. I believe there are leaked copies floating about that'll install from Clockworkmod Recovery, but I just opted for using Boot Camp and doing it the "official" way.

Initial impressions are good. It's FroYo with Sense on top, as you'd expect. My one big annoyance with the 2.1+Sense build -- the use of the system-default input method for the PIN unlock screen -- has been fixed, it now uses a dialpad-style keyboard, just like stock Android.

Not noticing any obvious differences in Sense from what was previously running on the phone.

The official install process blows away the recovery partition, so if you were using Clockworkmod Recovery you'll need to re-do that. Unrevoked^3 works just fine.

I did however get a bit of a scare after installing Clockworkmod Recovery: the phone was working Just Fine, then I rebooted into Recovery, did a nandroid backup, and rebooted. At this point the phone got stuck in a reboot loop.

Tried a few things to fix it, including removing the SD card and removing the SIM. The fix turned out to be to boot into Recovery again and restore the phone from the backup I'd just made. Now it's working properly again. Weird and scary, but at least it's working.
My conclusion after a month of traveling, plus a couple of weeks at home, is that the iPad makes for a fine e-reader, better suited to my specific needs -- particularly around lighting -- than the Kindle or any of the other e-ink readers I've used.

I don't much like that there's still no single consistent standard for e-books and e-book DRM, but at least using the iPad I can get at content provided by pretty much any of the stores even if it does mean remembering which store sold which book.

Of the e-book readers available on the platform, my preference is for the Kindle app. I know iBooks is prettier, but it again comes down to my specific needs: the Kindle app works in landscape without going to a dual-page view, and I find it easier to hold the iPad in two hands in landscape.

The iPad also makes for a really neat email device. I've been using it for work email when I'm at home (I only have the WiFi model) and while there are some things for which I still need to do the VPN+RDC dance (Nagios goes batshit, need to do a massive batch-delete) it is in general more than sufficient for keeping an eye on things and responding to short queries.

My Android phone -- a HTC Desire -- chewed through battery running CyanogenMod 6.0 at an unreasonable rate, such that on some days it came close to running out and generally wound up with under 50% left almost every day. I had assumed this was because AT&T sucks and it was having to work the radio harder, but it's been just as bad since getting home.

So I've "downgraded" back to the stock 2.1 plus Sense and will see how that goes. My one big gripe with this remains: the PIN-unlock screen uses whatever keyboard you have set as default for text entry, which is really not very efficient for entering a numeric PIN. Here's hoping they fixed that in the 2.2 update due to roll out soon.

On the bright side having Clockwork Recovery installed means I can screw around with firmware with impunity, always knowing I can roll back at any time.

Civilization V runs acceptably under Parallels 6 on the top-end Macbook Pro. I've only poked at the demo from Steam running under XP SP3, and at that not for more than about half an hour, but not only does it run, it seems to run okay. But Parallels eats the system horribly so I won't be doing that. I shall instead wait for the inevitable Mac port some time in 2012.
After a full day of use more things are apparent.

In addition to the lack of font-size selection in the Email app, I really miss the "VIP" mode from the Sense Mail application. For those unfamiliar with it, this lets you nominate particular contacts as "VIPs" and then just see mail from those people when you're in "VIP" view. I found it very very useful, much of the email I get in my work inbox is... not unimportant but not anything I need to see when checking mail from my phone.

Guess I'll have to make use of filtering on the server instead.

The Calendar application is much better now I've found agenda view. The default day view is just too small for my lousy vision.

Tried K-9 Mail, doesn't seem to work with our OMA server.

Have "SMS Popup" installed. Can't quite get it to display on the lock screen, which is mildly annoying. Reviews imply that it can do this, but tweaking the privacy options doesn't help. Handcent does it, but I'm otherwise happy with the built-in Froyo SMS application, so...

Still miss FriendStream. The official Facebook app and widget have the fonts set a little too small, and there's no way to change them. May have to switch to just using the mobile Facebook website instead.

Kindle for Android is now working correctly. So far, anyway. Not sure what happened there, but I did reboot the phone at some point and after that it was fine.

The built-in clock application doesn't appear to include a timer. Found an acceptable substitute on the Market.

Happy with it so far, feels snappier than 2.1 with Sense. Is that 2.2, or is it the lack of Sense? Hard to say, at least until the 2.2-with-Sense build is available.
Waiting on calls yesterday that I knew were coming I enabled Bluetooth on my Desire, powered up my headset, and the two connected happily enough.

But when the first call came, the phone continued using the built-in speaker and microphone. This was a fairly important call so I wasn't really able to futz about with making things work properly.

While waiting for the second, I once again enabled Bluetooth, powered on the headset, and poked around a bit. Outgoing calls used the headset Just Fine, no problems at all, but once again when the call came, the phone used the built-in speaker and microphone.

There doesn't seem to be any obvious way to tell switch device in-call. With the iPhone this was pretty simple, the screen would show which input/output device was in use and provided a simple tool to change that.

Maybe I'm just missing something here, because it seems like a really stupid thing for the phone to not do properly. I don't recall having this problem before the silent update.
A quick update to my previous post regarding the apparent brokenness of ActiveSync and Friendstream: deleting both accounts then re-adding them appears to have sorted the problem. Both have been working correctly for the past six hours.
I've had the Desire for just on two months now, so it's a reasonable time to reflect on the choice.

I was really happy. And then a software update was silently applied -- or at least I think that's what happened -- and now FriendStream is completely broken and the ActiveSync stuff is behaving weirdly too. Nothing changed on the OMA server, and all the non-Desire clients are working just fine (a colleague with a Desire is having the same problem), so either it's the software from HTC/Google or it's something in the Telstra network.

The browser also started behaving annoyingly, with pinch-zoom broken and replaced by cut-and-paste. Power cycling the phone as per recommendations on random forum threads discussing the FriendStream thing seems to have sorted that, at least.

I am perhaps more productive with FriendStream dead, as the Facebook app uses a font too small for me to read and thus I look at that much less often.

All this aside, and assuming I can get it satisfactorily resolved...

The phone itself remains really good. I am particularly liking Swype. I got into the beta programme when they opened it up, doesn't seem to be available standalone any more.

It's a replacement input method. Presents an on-screen keyboard, which can be used in the usual way, but which has an alternate trick: put your finger on the first letter of the word you want, "swipe" it over the keyboard so you cross each of the letters in the word, and it'll figure out what word you wanted. It does reasonably well and is faster than the usual approach once you're used to it.

My biggest gripe with the phone is the input method stuff. What I want is for applications to remember which input method was last used with that application, but it seems to be a system-wide setting. This is particularly frustrating with the PIN-lock system, because what one really wants is a numeric keypad, not a QWERTY keyboard.

Would I make the same choice of phone today? Probably. The iPhone 4 doesn't seem to have worked out so well, it looks like the Desire will be getting the next stable CyanogenMod release, as well as an official Froyo build, and it's now available on a $59/month contract. I might be tempted by the Samsung Galaxy S if Samsung didn't have such a bad reputation for software updates and it wasn't going to be on a shoddy network, and if I had a lower budget I might hold out for the HTC Wildfire next month. But otherwise, pretty happy with the Android choice
I've had this thing for two days now. Not enough time to be claiming a deep understanding but enough to make some initial comments. The primary comparison will be to the phone it's replacing, a 16GB iPhone 3G, but I'll try not to repeat too much of the obvious stuff every random reviewer mentions.

I have not used any Android device before, so I'm going to comment on the overall "HTC Desire experience" without trying to draw too many distinctions between what's part of this device and the HTC Sense overlay, and what's part of Android proper.

Physically it feels pretty good to hold. Enough heft to feel solid. And it looks very shiny, have had quite a few comments about that at work from people randomly passing my desk.

Hard-button-wise, there's the power button at the top, volume rocker on the left side, the four "standard" Android keys at the bottom, and an optical trackball in the lower-middle. Those "standard" keys are "home", "menu", "back", and "search". They do what you would expect pretty much everywhere, so for example in any application where search is a relevant function you hit the search button and off you go.

For those who've never touched one of these devices before, the home screens (there are seven on the Desire) are a four-by-four grid. Widgets can use more than one square, of course, but they all fit into this format. So, for example, my "home" home screen has a four-by-two clock showing the current location's time and weather at the top, a pair of two-by-one digital clocks showing the time in Hong Kong and New York immediately below, and then a four-by-one calendar widget showing the next item.

Generally tapping on a widget will take you into the application it relates to. A few are very single-purpose -- toggling a phone setting like WiFi -- so they just do whatever it is they're supposed to do when tapped. It's reasonably intuitive.

The web browser is, for my purposes, better than mobile Safari. It does the double-tap-to-zoom thing, but if you zoom further it makes the text larger and reflows it. I cannot being to describe how helpful that is with sub-par vision. Otherwise it's basically just a browser, it does what you'd expect it to do and works just like every other half-decent mobile browser.

The Mail application -- as distinct from the GMail application -- is both more flexible and frustratingly dodgy than the iPhone equivalent. The message-viewer has the same nice reflow as the browser, and lets you set a default font size which is large enough for me to read without my glasses. Which is lovely.

It also has a relatively sophisticated set of options for polling and notifications. Each account can have a peak/off-peak schedule, independently setting how often to poll. So, for example, I've got it configured to automatically check my personal email every half hour from 8AM to midnight, and it'll go off and check it outside those hours if I open the app.

But then it goes and muffs it by not having any way to set the IMAP folders to be used for drafts, sent-mail, and such. Instead it just goes off and creates "[Imap]/Sent" and so on. This while talking to GMail as a backend.

Still, it works pretty nicely. It's also handling my work Exchange mail via OMA quite handily.

The less said about the GMail application the better. It's there, it provides an interface a little more like GMail proper, but it has pretty much no useful options to tweak and presents everything in the tiniest font imaginable. Can't pinch-zoom in the message view.

The calendar app does what you'd expect, I haven't had any trouble with it. It's quite happily syncing both my personal calendars from Google and my work calendars from Exchange via OMA. The last time I tried to make my iPhone do this -- about a year ago -- it wasn't very good at it, but this Just Works.

Exchange support in general was a complete non-problem to get going. Answer a few questions -- the most tricky for most users being the name of the OMA server -- and off it went.

The Music application works as expected. It's fairly similar to the iPod app on an iPhone. One nice touch is that if the phone is locked you can press the power key and the music player interface immediately appears -- no unlocking required. This is particularly helpful when you've set a security code and need to stop playback right now.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The HTC Clock widget has some views that look very nice, but they want a four-by-three space. With the city tag turned off they only actually occupy four-by-two. Given that the weather data is from the ironically-named AccuWeather it's not very useful, so a two-by-four view of one of those lovely Bell & Ross knockoff faces would be a great choice, except for the dead space.

I'd like some way to quickly switch keyboards without digging into the settings. There's a key to go into the input settings menu, which is fine, but I'd rather it just gave a popup with all the installed keyboards listed plus an item to go into the broader input settings. A bit like -- gods help me -- Windows Mobile circa 2004.

The battery burns down pretty quickly. Yesterday I got it below 10% with about half an hour on the phone, half an hour of music, and an awful lot of poking at the sheer novelty of the thing. Granted I have the screen brightness maxed out, so a more "normal" user who can actually read the thing on a lower brightness will have an easier time battery-wise. And it is very much in the shiny-new-fiddle stage.

There is an Accessibility menu in the settings area, but I have no idea what it might do as it contains just one item -- a toggle labelled "Accessibility" -- which is unchecked and greyed-out. No idea if this is the usual for Android or because there's some component missing or because it's got HTC Sense running. Google is not being my friend here as "htc desire accessibility" simply returns lots of pages about "access", which is a rather less useful term when we're talking mobile phone networks.

Ultimately the biggest advantage Android has over the iPhone for an end-user is, in my view, the way apps can hook into just about anything and one can replace parts that don't perform the way one wants. I have, for example, installed a replacement SMS tool (chompSMS) because the built-in one doesn't offer any options for larger fonts. On the iPhone I'd just squint and occasionally grouch.

This has the potential for trouble, too, so it may perhaps require more sophistication from the user than the iPhone approach. But there's no particular reason why most people would need to replace the built-in components so it isn't demanding that the user know how to do this stuff, it just provides the option.

Anyway, so far so good. The only functions I haven't been able to migrate off the iPhone are audiobooks and ebooks -- Audible and Kindle respectively. Amazon has said in both cases that work is underway on Android clients, so that is hopefully only a matter of time. For now, I'll move audiobooks over to my Kindle, and forget about the extra-portable ebooks for a while.

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