What do I run on my Galaxy S2 in March, 2013?

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 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.

In November 2012, Cyanogenmod 10 came out in stable release for my T-Mobile GS2. I upgraded. The upgrade to Android 4.1.2 was smooth and is fantastic; I love it. This is why I run a custom rom! If I was running stock from Samsung/T-Mobile, I might never see this upgrade.

In January, I began to have trouble with my S2 while charging. On an AC charger, it would bounce in and out of charging status and never sleep. The result was that the charging was hardly keeping up with the drain on the battery. I became difficult to keep my phone charged! This was serious. Had I been able to get a Nexus 4, I probably would have at this point. However, they were sold out. In addition, they max out at 16gb of memory with no SD card slot! This is very bad. And the camera is not as good as the S2. So now what?

Intense research showed that there was some chance this was a software problem and not a hardware issue. There is an android bug report that shows my problem is reasonably common on Samsung phone – but not considered a show-stopper! My son had this problem on his Galaxy Nexus, but it went away after a factory reset. So I tried that. It didn’t help. Eventually I installed the Jedi Jelly ROM hoping that might help. It has some fairly silly graphics on boot up, but runs quite well. In addition, it is a focus for the developer instead of being like Cyanogenmod, which is a minimal port to the T-Mobile S2. Charging began to work more reliably. However, this state has since regressed. I can charge reliably from USB, but not from an AC adapter or auto adapter.

My solution? I purchased an Anker charger that came with two additional batteries. Total $21.74! Now, I charge batteries on this charger and cycle them through the phone, rarely plugging the phone in to charge. This arrangement is actually quite a relief from constantly looking for ways to plug my phone in and keep it charged. I typically have one battery charging, carry another, and have one in the phone. I have not needed more than one battery change in a day. So my charging problem has a worked-around that is actually an improvement. (However, this make for another black mark against the Nexus 4, which does not have a removable battery. My charging problem in the Nexus 4 would be very difficult to overcome.)

I still don’t recommend the custom ROM route to people who are not prepared to tackle nasty software problems like this. It is conceivable that my charging problem is due to these custom ROMs; though I doubt it. I generally don’t recommend you update your ROM at all unless you have a reason to update it. If you do, then using the stock updates from Samsung for the T-Mobile Galaxy S2 is the standard way to go.

Note well: There are different versions of the Galaxy S2. Mine is the T-Mobile variety, T989. The ROM software for each Galaxy S2 variety differs; they are 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. (Actually, my data is throttled after 2gb… I mostly use wi-fi and have not seen a need to upgrade to truly unlimited data now that it is available.) It’s cheap and T-Mobile phone reps 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. (Note: it didn’t work so well in South Dakota, and AT&T roaming access had a low cap that I exceeded quickly. I really hated that.)

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. My one reservation is that Google seems to not understand the need for an SD card nor for removable batteries. Bug fixes are few and far between from the vendors that distribute their own Android builds. That’s what eventually drove me to use a custom 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 November 20, 2012.

1Weather – This is a nice weather app with lots of info and pretty graphics.

Air Droid – This app lets me connect to my phone as a web server using a web browser. I can get files from it, copy files to it, install apps, and more. Very nice. However, the file browser does not handle large lists of files in one directory very well; it is far too slow.

Adobe Flash Player – Get it, unless you are short on app space. You will need FireFox or Dolphin to run it. It won’t work in the stock browser or Chrome.

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.

Antennas – This app lets me see where my local phone and data service antennas are located and shows signal strength.

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 a tool that does that. You can 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 (NOT) – I have removed all traces of apps from the Amazon app store because it is too confusing to remember what came from Amazon and what came from Google’s store and they both try to update. It seems as though Amazon attempts to take over apps that I got from Google. I don’t like this at all.

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.

Aviary – photo editing for android

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. I use the unlocked version.

Bible – This is the Android app from Logos. I use it almost exclusively for Bible reading. The only exception is that I have some Kindle bibles, also.

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.

Camera Zoom FX – This is a highly-rated camera app for Android that I am trying. So far, I like it.

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 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 almost all the time now, after recent performance improvements. The time I don’t use it is when I need flash, as when watching Amazon video. (Amazon, why not have your video app on Android? This is silly.)

Clojure – A Lisp for your phone. How cool is that?

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.

CPU Spy Plus Free – This helps me figure out what is happening on my phone. Most people would not need it.

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 2 and various add-on modules – Excellent window into everything on your phone. High nerd appeal. I install a lot of the extra modules.

ES File Explorer – An excellent file system browser with root capability and good SMB support for network browsing.

EverNote – I am using this as my standard way 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. I think Google should buy them and integrate it with Google Drive.

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 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.)

First Aid – Just what it says it is. A guide to, that is.

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.

FxCamera – a camera app with various special effects. I use it occasionally.

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. Also, you should find a way to backup your gmail. I use BackUpGoo.

Go – I have removed all things Go. They were free and worked pretty well, but too invasive with too many messages trying to sell me things that require me to dismiss them. So, no Go.

Google Play Books, Movies & TV, Music – Google’s apps for purchasing media and using it.

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.

History Here – An app that lets you find sites of historical interest wherever you are. Great for history nerd vacationing.

Home Switcher for Froyo – lets me change my Home app easily. Not really necessary.

iBird Yard + – Want to know what that bird is in your North American yard?

Instagram – easily share pix. Very popular, but has limitations.

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.
Logos – It’s over for OliveTree. They’re kind of lame in comparison.

Ki Keyboard – I like this keyboard. Swiftkey does not allow me to swype in url contexts – a horrible decision for Chrome. Swype is still good. I use it on my Nexus 7.

Kingsoft Office – the free version reads Office docs on your phone – but without editing.

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.

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.

MoboPlayer – plays the most video formats of any video player I know of.

My Account – Just how many text message have I sent this month, anyway? This lets me answer that question.

NASA – lets me access stuff from the NASA websites conveniently.

Ol File Manager – This file manager was required in order to select files in some other app. I don’t use it otherwise.

PowerAmp – a really nice audio app. I find that I use different apps for different listening or watching contexts. This allows me to resume one context while leaving another intact. Listen to audio on PowerAmp. Stop and watch video on Meridian. Then finish listening to audio on PowerAmp from where I left off without searching. This should just work in Meridian this way; but it does not. Context is lost too easily. And now that I have PowerAmp I like it! Lots of control over the sound. I purchased the full version.

QuickPic – Fast gallery replacement for viewing photos.

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.

ROM Toolbox Pro – This is a very convenient set of utilities for those who root their phones.

Sensorly – Lets me see and contribute to coverage maps from an independent source. I sometimes install this.

Series Guide – Helps me keep up with Breaking Bad and Warehouse 13.

Skype – I haven’t used Skype so much lately. My international call volume is down.

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.” But it has a nice LED flashlight feature.

StopWatch & Timer – Just what it says it is.

Storage Analyzer – a good tool for figuring out what files are using up your memory.

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.

Sygic – navigation software from eastern Europe. Cheaper than other offline alternatives and works OK. I prefer Google Maps and Nav when available, but they are not operable offline. Yes, I know about downloading Google maps for offline access. That’s nice, but not good enough.

SystemPanel – A very nice app backup and management tool. Somewhat redundant with Elixir. Will also do app backup.

TextWarrior – Geeky test editor. Not super fast, but works well enough for me to search files and update my text file notes.

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. It works, but the backups are not so useful in my experience.

TivoRemote – This is the remote from my Tivo. Very nice. Not from the Tivo company; not free.

TVFoodie, TVFoodMaps – This is how you remember and find all those cool places to eat that you saw on the Food Channel. It is easier than the web.

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 watched 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.

Waze – social media traffic reports. Still deciding about this one.

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…

US Army Survival Guide

Voodoo OTA RootKeeper – If you like to unroot to run certain apps, this is a good way to do it.

YouTube – Nice youtube client.

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