In late 2011, I gave up my Nexus One for a Samsung Galaxy S2. I wanted a Galaxy Nexus, but those were expensive at the time. So I used an upgrade on our T-Mobile plan to get a GS2 more for a lot less. It was running Gingerbread, and is a great phone. It had 16gb of storage built in and 2 gb of app storage – more than enough for me. I’ve never even moved an app to the SD card. And it turns out that the camera is better than on the Galaxy Nexus and it will support SD cards. I really appreciate the extra 32gb of SD card storage for video and audio and pictures.
After a short time, I rooted the phone for Titanium Backup and other geeky control freak software that I use. Then, I installed the optional ICS upgrade when it finally came out for the GS2. It was nice… smoother operation and a bit better battery life, I thought. But there were also more freezes and restarts. Now, this might have been due to my rooting of the phone; but I was dissatisfied. So, I installed Cyanogenmod 9.0 RC2.
Installing Cyanogenmod RC2 should have been straightforward, but it was not. After some hours of despair, I eventually figured out that the ClockworkMod cache wipe was not working on the GS2. I downloaded a Darkside ROM that does a cache wipe after reading through the instructions for the Darkside install that explained the Clockwordmod deficiency. Once the cache wipe rom was installed, the Cyanogenmod rom started working. The symptom of non-operation was the Cyanogenmod blue boot-android with a pulsating heart would come up on screen and just stay there. Forever. If you face this symptom while upgrading your ROM and want more details on how I stumbled into the cure, email me.
I don’t recommend the custom ROM route to people who are not prepared to tackle nasty software problems. I don’t recommend you update your ROM at all unless you have a reason to update it. If you do, then the ICS ROM from Samsung for the T-Mobile Galaxy S2 is the standard way to go.
Note: There are different versions of the Galaxy S2. Mine is the T-Mobile variety, T989. The ROM software for each Galaxy S2 variety differs and is not interchangeable. Do not try to install a ROM intended for one Galaxy S2 on another. It will not work. You probably won’t damage your phone beyond repair, though.
As I wrote before… I started using Android when the G1 came out and have never looked back to my blackberry. I have T-Mobile unlimited everything service. It’s cheap and they are pleasant and helpful to talk to. Neither AT&T nor Verizon can make these claims today. When I talk to their reps on the phone, my blood pressure is up for a week. T-Mobile service works well for me most of the time, but not on Balboa Island or other neighborhoods where mostly well-to-do people live. Evidently rich people don’t use T-Mobile, so T-Mobile coverage is often sketchy in higher-income neighborhoods. It works great where I normally hang out, though.
I like my Galaxy S2 a lot. However, I would strongly consider sticking with the Nexus line of phones (or tablets) when I next purchase just to always be able to get the latest Android straight from Google. Bug fixes are few and far between from the vendors that distribute their own Android builds. That’s what eventually drove me to use the custom Cyanogenmod ROM again. I want the latest fixes and stability, both. Cyanogenmod has a good track record for this in the stable builds. If I got a Nexus, the path to updates would be even better. This will color my future purchases.
So, what do I run on my phone and why? Here’s the list as of August 7, 2012.
Adobe Flash Player – Get it, unless you are short on app space.
Amazon Kindle – I use my phone as my kindle. The text formatting is not always good, but it works well enough to read books on my phone.
Amazon MP3 – This would be a waste for me save for the Amazon Cloud Player features. It is nice to be able to store music in the Amazon cloud and play it anywhere without using my own SD card space.
APG – There are certain files on my phone that I don’t want others to be able to read – like files that have personal data in them that would be useful for identity theft. So, I encrypt them. This is the tool that does that. You can also encrypt your entire phone file system, but I think that would be so invasive that it would be self-compromising. This allows me to pick and choose so that stuff I protect is really protected without slowing down access to other stuff.
Appstore – The Amazon app store is installed. I sometimes get free apps from Amazon, but otherwise the standard Google play store is better. I use this only when there is a price or availability advantage over the Google play store. It is simpler to manage your app upgrades when they are all from the play store.
Astrid Tasks – This is my to-do list. It works very well and syncs with Google tasks. Tried Evernote, but it was overkill for me.
Audible – I am an audiobook junkie. You folks who say reading is not the same as listening are right. I usually do better listening, even though I love to read. Good for the gym.
Authenticator – This is a way to use the Google two-factor authentication system for many other security purposes. It is not useful unless you use stuff that supports it. My ISP supports it, and I use it.
Barcode Scanner – Don’t use it much because I shop online. But when I want it while in a store, it is great.
Beautiful Widgets and Beautiful Widgets Animation Addon – Very nice home screen information display. I use it for time and weather and nice appearance.
BeyondPod – This is the class of the podcast software for Android. If you listen to regular podcasts, get it and pay for it.
Brightness Level – I wanted easy access to setting my brightness level high for watching video at the gym. This was the nice, free control I found for that.
Bump – a way to share stuff you have on your phone, but only if the other person has Bump too.
Business Calendar Free – I liked the TouchWiz calendar a lot better than stock Cyanogenmod’s. So I downloaded this, and it is very nice. I might like it even better than TouchWiz’s calendar.
Camera360 Ultimate – I like this camera software a lot. The image stabilization is great. Pay the guy. Complaint: have to use a different video recorder.
CamScanner – This is a convenience app that packages up using your camera to capture images of receipts and labels and business cards and so on. It turns them into pdf and allows you to share them via email and other social media or just save them to your sd card. I find that I use this nearly every day. I use this to capture handwritten notes, nutrition info from labels, and any written material I want to save and not have to carry with me on paper.
Chrome – The Chrome web browser for Android phones. I use this about half the time. I use the standard browser, which is quite good in ICS, the other half. Xscope and Dolphin didn’t catch up on ICS soon enough and lost my mind share. I use them occasionally, but not so much any more.
Clojure – A Lisp for your phone. How cool is that?
Cloud Print – Hmmm. Still deciding about this one. Allows me to print to cloud printers from my phone. It’s sometimes unreliable.
ConnectBot – I am geeky enough to need an ssh client on my phone. If you know what that is, this is a good free version.
Disk Usage – What is using up all my SD card space? This is how I find out.
Dolphin Browser / Reader – I have four web browsers. Sometimes I use this one. It’s fine.
Drive – Google Docs/Drive is very convenient, though imperfect. This is sometimes better than using it from the web browser; other times the web browser can display tables that the app cannot.
DropBox – A way to store and save files in the cloud.
Earth – Explore the earth using Google’s software.
Elixir and Elixir Personal Add-on – Excellent window into everything on your phone. High nerd appeal, but it eventually succumbed to my app space shortage. I just reinstall it when I want it.
EverNote – I am using this more and more to take notes and save them. I don’t like that it is not integrated into the rest of my filing system. But it is very good. Still thinking about where this goes long term.
EveryTrail – Cool software that allows you to download maps of hiking trails to carry and access from your phone.
ezPDF Reader – I want to read PDF files. This was my solution. So far, so good.
FaithLife – Another Logos app. Has some good Bible study content if you can still get it free.
Fing – a tool for exploring LAN’s
FIOS Mobile Remote – Sometimes Susie can’t find the remote. Other times she has it and I want it but am too lazy to go get it. This is the answer. I always have my phone, so I can always control the Verizon DVR, which I don’t like nearly as much as my TIVO. (But Susie likes it better.)
FlightTrack – Easy real-time flight tracking for all the flights that matter to you. Not free.
FX, FX Root Access – This is the best file manager for Android now. However, I have trouble getting it to access Windows network shares unless they are on Samba. For just managing your phone’s files, this is the ticket. Root access won’t be free once they exit beta-testing.
Gesture Search – A Google app for searching your app by drawing letters on the screen. Nice quick access, but I always forget to use it.
Gmail – Indispensable once I got mad enough to abandon Outlook. And Gmail has fantastic spam filtering built in, so I can give up managing my own mail server. The phone access to my mail archives once I switched them over (no mean trick) is a “how did I ever live without this” kind of thing. I live by email and having it all available through my phone is a huge win. I recommend the two-factor authentication for Gmail and Drive, but only if you take the time to understand it in advance. Be sure and get the emergency access codes for your account if you set this up, even if you don’t know how to use them. And be sure and set up an emergency contact number for backup delivery of access codes. If you ever need them, you will be very glad to have them.
Go Contacts EX – I like the stock TouchWiz Contacts better than Cyanogenmod’s Contacts, but other things lagged. So I upgraded Cyanogenmod with this. Nice!
Go Launcher EX – I use this instead of the default launcher, both on the stock Samsung ROM and on Cyanogenmod.
Go SMS Pro (and Simple Blue Theme) – Got it free from Amazon. Great SMS app. Not sure I’d pay for it, but it is good. It includes backup of your text messages, something that often comes as a separate app.
Go Weather – a nice weather client.
Google Play Books, Movies & TV, Music – Google’s apps for purchasing media and using it.
Google+ – Your phone client for accessing Google+. A nice way to get your photos backed up online, if you can handle the battery drain and the data usage.
Google Sky Map – Cool map of the sky… “Where’s Orion’s belt again? Oh, over there.”
Google Voice – Stop using your phone service’s voice mail and start using Google Voice. It will transcribe your messages and email them to you. T-mobile’s visual voice mail is problematic; I gave up on it.
GPS Share – Decide to share your location with other people of your choice. “Where are you? I’m HERE! (send location)”
Hacker’s Keyboard – You too can type like a programmer! If you ever want to run emacs or its ilk on your phone, you need this. If you never heard of emacs, then you probably don’t need this. It’s kind of a full function keyboard instead of the stripped down keyboard for texting and data entry.
HDR Camera+ – Takes several pictures at different exposures and then merges the results to get one picture, so you don’t lose the darkest and lightest details. Not great, but sometimes allows you to take pictures you can’t get otherwise.
Logos – It’s over for OliveTree. They’re kind of lame in comparison.
Lookout – This is the best security software for Android last time I checked it out, which was months ago. Working well. It scans apps for safety (not something I was thinking I needed), but the nice thing is the ability to track down your phone from the web when it is lost and lock it or wipe it clear if it is in someone else’s hands who shouldn’t have it. It also does backups.
KeePassDroid – This is a password keeper that supports Android and Windows and more. It provides a good way to keep track of your passwords and use different passwords for your various logins.
Maps – Google Maps is great. Who needs a separate GPS? This is one of the best features of a good Android phone.
Meridian – This is the best media player that I know of. I want it to remember its place in more than one item of each type, but it doesn’t. No EQ, but you can get that from Cyanogenmod. Great features and stability for people who have their own media files and want to manipulate and play them. Updated frequently.
My Account – Just how many text message have I sent this month, anyway? This lets me answer that question.
NPR News – One way to get NPR news reports and audio. Not that much better than the web page.
Ol File Manager – This file manager was required in order to select files in some other app. I don’t use it otherwise.
Pandora – Surely you and everyone else knows about Pandora radio? It is an ad-based internet “radio” station. You say, “Play music like this song by that artist” and it complies. You tell it how good it is doing. If you pay, you can skip unlimited times when you don’t like what it plays. If you don’t pay, skipping is limited. Occasionally useful for me. Others use it constantly.
Paper Camera – Takes pictures and applies special effects to make them cool. Well, sometimes the effects are cool. Sort of makes the picture look like a comic strip.
QuickBoot – You need to be rooted to use this. It lets you reboot your phone from an app screen.
QuickPic – Fast gallery replacement for viewing photos. Not so necessary after ICS, perhaps, but I still use it.
QuickSSHd – Truly a geek toy. Let’s me connect to my phone via ssh. Would you like to type linux shell commands to your phone?
ROM Manager – The best ROM manager. I finally paid for the pro version that notifies me when a new cyanogenmod ROM is available. I don’t really need this a lot, but the guy deserves to be paid. Very nice software, except that clearing the cache on the Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile didn’t work when I moved to Cyanogenmod. This cost me a full day of effort to figure out and solve, which makes me grumpy.
Samba File Sharing – This is how I access the file system on my phone over the network now. Let’s me get files from my phone and put media files to listen to or watch on my phone. Far better than other options. Occasionally punks out after copying many large video files to the phone, but not often. Seems to be less reliable with a tendency to take over the phone since moving to ICS.
Schemer – I don’t use this so much. It’s kind of an “I’d like to do this” list and a way to see what other people like to do.
Skitch – Anotate pictures, useful with EverNote.
Skype – Works much better since Froyo. Be sure you know how to sign out in case it goes crazy and you need to switch to another device to continue your conversation. I haven’t needed to do this since Froyo, however. I use Skype on my phone a lot now, and it has been very reliable in recent months.
Smart Tools – Measuring tools for your phone. Very cool to play with. Useful? Hmmm. Soft of, if you don’t need precision. “It’s about 12 feet to that wall over there.”
Street View – Adds street view to Google maps.
Subsonic – I am such a nerd that I run a freeware subsonic server on linux to serve my entire library of audio and video. This is the client for Android. So why do I use the Amazon Cloud, you ask? Good question. Exploring. Redundancy. (You need to restart the linux server with a cron job every few hours or it will go belly up and stop responding.)
Swype – By far the best keyboard for Android. Take the short time to get used to it; you will become much faster at typing, not need a hardware keyboard, and hate having to live without it. Swype is not perfect. There are some tricks it could learn from the stock keyboard even, and certainly from SwiftKey. Even from Smart. But still the best.
SystemPanel – A very nice app backup and management tool. Somewhat redundant with Elixir. Will also do app backup.
TED – One way to watch TED video on your phone. Only TED stuff.
TextWarrior – Geeky test editor. Not super fast, but works well enough for me to search files and update my text file notes.
The Weather Channel – There are a gazillion weather apps. I’m using this one sometimes. It’s at least as good as the others, pretty much. I don’t pay that much attention so long as it works and is not obnoxious about ads or stability.
Titanium Backup PRO – This is the way to get rid of the apps you don’t want from a rooted stock ROM from T-Mobile or whomever. It also does nice backup work, sometimes. My results have been mixed when it comes to backup.
TivoRemote – This is the remote from my Tivo. Very nice. Not from the Tivo company; not free.
Tweetdeck – This is the tweeting and facebook status client I’ve settled on so far. Not perfect, but better than the competition so far. I admit I have not explored other options for months. I finally removed Facebook coverage from it because it was just too much and not well-enough integrated with Facebook.
UrbanSpoon – I like to find new restaurants. This helps.
Ustream – a Ustream client. I watches the Mars Curiosity landing coverage from NASA using this, for example. And this is how you check what is going on in the LBFC sanctuary on Sunday.
Vyrso â€“ I have this new reader from Logos. I’m not sure why I want it, but I like the Logos app and decided to give it a shot. So far, I don’t use it.
Wifi Analyzer and Wifi Connector Library – I maintain wifi networks. I like being able to find out what is happening in wifiland around me. And so…
WW Mobile – My dirty little secret… Ironically, this is about the fattest app that is on my phone. This is not good engineering, but it mostly works.
XScope Pro – This is the fastest Android web browser. I like it. Did I mention that I started using it on my G1? Maybe I should try that stock browser again… Definitely liked it better than Dolphin, which is also not bad. I paid for this.
YouTube – Nice youtube client.