From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thinking of ditching an iPhone for an Android? Do it!

One of my esteemed colleagues, at Gazzang, our lead Sales Engineer Robert Linden asked me a great question via email this week.  As I wrote my response to him, I realized that I've composed similar answers before to friends and family and colleagues who have asked me about iPhone and Android devices.  With Robert's blessing, I'm posting both his question and response here in my blog.  Enjoy!
On Tue, Apr 17, 2012 at 5:53 PM, Robert Linden wrote:In the spirit of open source, trying new things, etc...   I'm considering replacing my iPhone with an Android phone.  I've done some research, but wanted to get your thoughts on things.   I know "Ice Cream Sandwich" is the latest release of the OS, and next month the big wave of new phones will hit the market with this version of the Android operating system.   I believe that the Samsung Galaxy is the only one currently out with the latest OS already on it, right?
Some things I'm wondering about are... Is there a phone / carrier that is more 'open' than others?  I heard Eddie talking at the All Hands how he had just upgraded to 'Sandwich' on his phone... I know that this isn't always possible to do, is it? The "guy at Best Buy" mentioned a phone that had "less bloat-ware" and "free apps" installed (a desirable situation I think).   I didn't make note of this.   Can I "un-bloat" my phone? Do you have to "jailbreak" some Android phones, like you can do with iPhone to open it up?  I'd appreciate any advice / recommendations if I do decide to make the switch soon...
Hey Robert,

These are great questions!

As a rule, I always "root" my phone.  It voids the warranty (to some extent), in that if I have to return the phone to manufacturer, I'd need to "unroot" my phone before mailing it to them.  If it's still functional, that's possible to do.  If it's totally dead, then it's not possible.  In which case, if the manufacturer can tell that I've rooted, they *could* possible refuse to repair it.  I also have to "hide" the fact that I've rooted the phone from Sprint (my carrier).
Mostly, this just means being smart when you're talking to them on the phone.  It's about like hiding from your parents in high that you occasionally went to parties when kids were doing less than wholesome things :-)  Sprint *probably* knows that you've rooted your phone, but definitely don't flaunt it or even admit to it.

For me, it's a matter of personal choice.   I buy my devices out right, without any contract or rebate.  I often buy them used off of swappa.com.  I like to "take control" of my device, uninstalling the "bloat ware" and "crap ware" that comes with the device from the manufacturer, and re-installing the OS and all applications per my choice.  That's not for everyone, of course.  My wife, for instance, doesn't really care.  Nor does most of the waking population of the world.  But for hard core hackers, it often is important.  That's actually one of the interview questions we've started working into our engineering interview process...asking if the candidate has ever rooted their phone or tablet or router, etc.  :-)

So yeah, step 1 is rooting (unlocking, jailbreaking) the phone, which allows you to replace the bootloader.  This is easier on some devices, and harder on others.  Some are "development" models (like my old HTC G1, and my original WebOS Palm Pre), which basically come rooted by default.  I flash my bootloader with a tool called ClockworkMod (CWM).  This allows you to do two very important things...make a complete backup image of your phone, and boot any kernel/os you choose.  Note that most, but not all, devices are supported by ClockworkMod.  You'll need to check that website to see its compatibility with your device.  If you're buying something that just hit the market, it can sometimes take 3 months for the very smart developers to port CWM to it.

Next, I backup my stock image from the manufacturer.  This is what you'd need to re-image the device with, if you ever return it.  I've had to recover and send back to the manufacturer one phone (HTC Shift), and one tablet (Lenovo A1) for repair.  Both HTC and Lenovo fixed my device exactly as requested, no problem. 


Then, I typically install CyanogenMod (CM).  Cyanogen is a "distribution" of Android, much like Ubuntu and Red Hat are distributions of Linux.  Cyanogen removes all the bloatware and adds some really nice utilities and functions.  It's sort of like the DD-WRT of Android (if you're familiar with the DD-WRT Linux distribution for routers).  Cyanogen actually DOUBLED the battery life of my HTC Shift, having removed all of the crap ware that Sprint and HTC load the phone with, and tweaking a number of power settings.


Cyanogen has its own versioning scheme.  I'm running CM7 on my HTC Shift.  You mentioned "Ice Cream Sandwich" -- that will be CM9, which is currently in a beta testing mode.  Again, you'll need to check the
Cyanogen website for compatibility with your device, but if you want a stable CM9 installation for your device, you might need to wait a few more weeks/months.

Hopefully this all makes sense :-)  I usually allow about 2 hours nowadays for:
 - rooting
 - installing CWM
 - backing up
 - installing CM
 - configuring to my liking
However, the first time you do it, the first 2 steps might take you a bit longer.

If you don't mind buying something slightly used, I highly recommend swappa.com.  There, you can find many gently used Android devices that are *already* rooted, and some are already running Cyanogen. Perhaps do a little browsing there before you overpay "the guy at Best Buy" for a brand new phone brimming with bloatware :-)


--
:-Dustin

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