Wednesday 21 May 2014

Google Camera is now working for CM11 on my Galaxy S3!

Ever since I originally installed the M6 Snapshot of CyanogenMod 11 on my Galaxy S3, the stock camera would work reasonably well, but Google Camera would not work, even if I flashed the Zip. It would take one photo, lockup and the camera would be locked, so needing a reboot. The previous Nightly fixed the crashing launcher problems but made the stock camera inoperable and I got used to using A Better Camera instead, and although it is very good, I really missed taking proper Photospheres.

Thankfully I have just installed the latest Nightly build, 20140521, and Google Camera now works flawlessly! This also means I can finally try out Lens Blur too. I should say this version of Google Camera does not have HDR so I will still use a Better Camera sometimes, it takes fantastic HDR shots. Anyway, this has made me a happy bunny!

(Forgive the photo of my screen, I need to go outside and take photos when it's light!)

Saturday 17 May 2014

The Continuing Story of CyanogenMod 11 on my Samsung Galaxy S3.

I've been upgrading to every Nightly release of CyanogenMod 11 on my Galaxy S3, since I am hoping it will fix a slight issue in the release. Sometimes when you pull down from the top to see your Notifications it crashes the launcher and goes back to the lockscreen. It doesn't seem to make any difference which launcher is in use, it happens with all of them seemingly quite randomly. I have been trying out different launchers in the process.

Nova Launcher

My go-to launcher of choice has often been Nova, which has a nice stock Kit Kat look but with a decent amount of customisation and I have used it for quite a long time, and used it back when my LG Optimus 2X was my main phone. It's Tesla Unread plugin that shows a count of new messages missed calls etc. My favourite icon set is RoundOS which I use on any launcher that can use custom icons. The widget in the middle is for launching different modes in A Better Camera. The clock widget is part of the Chronus Home and Lock widget set.

Google Now Launcher

For a pure stock Android Kit Kat experience, Google's own Google Now Launcher is the best choice. It's simple and elegant and has the Google Now screen a swipe away on the left-most screen. The only downside of course is it is not for those who like to customise their Home screens, and of course that means no custom icon sets.

Inspire Launcher

My current default launcher is Inspire Launcher, I like it because it's based on the stock KitKat Android Launcher, but it is very customisable, which means I can use my favourite icon set, RoundOS. By default Inspire uses a different search panel instead of Google Now, though you can enable the Google Now screen in settings. Sadly it does not works as smoothly as it should since once you swipe to left to Google Now it won't let you swipe back to the Home screen, so you have to tap Home to get back. Inspire also has a Counter plugin for showing a count of new messages or missed calls when they come in, a bit like Nova's Tesla Unread plugin. It's quite possible I might get bored and switch to one of the other launchers again but here's how my Home screen looks now: 

Camera Issues

Also on the last Nightly the stock camera app stopped working and I downgraded to the previous Nightly with no luck. It's possibly that it might work again if I completely wipe data but that's a bit of a pain when I have every just right. I even tried to flash the Google Camera but it still does not work and hasn't worked since I installed CM (and obviously wouldn't work on JB when it was stock either) I can take one photo then it will lock up and stop the camera working at all with any app until I reboot. It definitely seems to be a bug in this release for the S3, it would probably be fine if I downgraded to the Jelly Bean version of CM. I'm sure the Google Camera probably works fine on other ROMs for other devices. Looks like I will be using A Better Camera and Focal more often. A Better Camera still works very well and will be my default choice for now. I'll continue upgrading to each Nightly and see how it goes. Also on the plus side, since this last Nightly I have not had the Notification drop-down bug, so far at least.

Update 20th May: I have switched back to Nova since the icons are slightly smaller and it definitely feels more spacious on the Home screens. Also today A Better Camera Widgets have been updated and they now have more options, you can now have them more translucent or transparent, and they look more polished, as you can see from my screenshot.


Wednesday 14 May 2014

Roku Streaming Stick (Round 2).

Well after the complete nightmare of the last Roku Streaming Stick, that I returned to the store, I am pleased to say that the replacement actually works fine out the box. The remote control paired itself this time with no problems. After the initial setup and signing in on the website, things worked just fine. There was a tense moment when the credit card detail page came up on the website, but a refresh of the page got rid of it. I still think Roku should remove the credit card page from the initial setup on the device, since it was not there in the first place, and was totally unexpected on the first Roku device and having to call up the premium helpline (and get them to call me back) was a pain just to get them to create an account without Credit Card details being entered. It's fine if you have one or were prepared to use it but I find it off-putting.

There are only a few channels installed by default, but there are plenty to add. The most useful channels for me are 4OD and Demand5 TV catchup channels, which work better than their websites, and also online radio channels such as Tunein, Shoutcast Radio etc. I was surprised YouTube was not selected by default so I added that too. There are also lots of Independent film and music channels that are essentially like podcasts. There are plenty of ways to get media onto the device from a server including Plex which I have been using already with my Chromecast. The Roku can of course also access Upnp devices too. One useful 'channel' is a Squeezebox client which works very well playing music from Logitech Squeeze Server on my Ubuntu Server. I notice that on my Nexus 7, I can now cast both to my Chromecast and to the Roku Streaming Stick, though the Chromecast has a smoother experience. 

Hardware-wise, the Roku's remote is simple and fairly easy to use, though I wish the OK button was in the centre of the direction buttons rather than underneath, i just cannot seem to get used to that arrangement, I end up using two hands, one to press OK and one to do directions, just to do things with some speed. The device itself seems solid enough, it would be nice if they bundled a little HDMI extemsion cable like Google do with the Chromecast.

Overall, it's a reasonably useful and usable device, slightly marred by the wireless connection problems on some devices. It seems to be pot-luck whether they work or not judging by mine and others reviews and experiences, and I am still not keen on the credit card info in the setup. Maybe it's that that's making me feel a little underwhelmed at this device, it does kind of put a dampener on the experience. I think maybe once I have used it for a month I'll see how it goes, at the moment I still prefer the Chromecast, even though it does less, it does it very well, though the Roku's hardware remote is one advantage it does have.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Testing Camera Apps in CyanogenMod 11 on My Galaxy S3

I've been on the look-out for a good third party camera app for my recently rooted and ROM'd Galaxy S3. I would use Google's own Google Camera but at the moment, in this ROM at least, it freezes up after taking a photo and then I get an error in other camera apps, and have to reboot to get a working camera again.

So the search is on for the best camera app for CyanogenMod for my S3. Since I've Kit Katted it out, I generally like using the default camera, which is the stock Android camera, minus Photosphere, because apparently that is proprietary so can't be included.

To fill that void I've installed Focal (Beta) by Team BBQ. I'm not overly keen on the rest of the app but it's PicSphere setting is a reasonable Photosphere alternative.


However, HDR seems to be missing for my hardware in Focal, so I went looking for a better camera app, and found the handily titled A Better Camera.

The best thing about A Better Camera, far better than it's name, is their ABC widget, which gives you a configurable set of buttons on a widget (there are two types), and, while not a particularly pretty widget, I find it very useful to go straight into HDR mode right from the widget. Hopefully the developers will make the widgets prettier and much more configurable. I'd like to have just a single row of buttons in a colour of my choosing.

And, in my opinion, it also takes very good HDR shots, possibly better than those from Samsung's own camera app that I used before I flashed CM. It takes 3 photos rather than 2 to create the HDR. There's a limit to how many HDR photos you can take before having to pay for the premium app. Of course if the Google Camera starts working in a future update of CyanogenMod I may end up using that for HDR instead or if I find an even better camera app.


Saturday 10 May 2014

CyanogenMod Installation on my Samsung Galaxy S3.

On Thursday the 8th May, Samsung announced that it will not be bringing Kit Kat to the Galaxy S3 (and S3 Mini), which is rather annoying to say the least! Apparently because they only have 1GB RAM so neither can handle the bloat of Samsung's Touchwiz interface, Kit Kat is supposed to run on as little as 512MB! The 2GB RAM LTE version of the S3 will get Kit Kat. Also of course Samsung also want you to buy a new S4 or soon an S5!

I have also finally got tired of the lag that Touchwiz causes and decided to take the plunge and install Cyanogenmod on my S3. I didn't do this before since I was worried about the camera not working properly, as I had already had a bad experience with my Atrix 4G. I was also worried that I would have to use Windows (I don't have a single Windows Vista, 7or 8 install, nor do I want one!).

It seems it is easier to install a ROM on the Galaxy S3 than I expected, and it is fairly easy to do without Windows and without even having to root the device too. I followed Cyanogen Mod's guide for the i9300. I decided to install CM11, M6 Snapshot, since I didn't want to go too bleeding edge with a 'Nightly' but I didn't want to stay on Jelly Bean with a 'Stable' release. For all I know the Nightly might be perfectly stable, I was just being cautious, I can always install another ROM later on.

Since I was using Linux Mint, for Step 1, I installed the Heimdall for 13.04 deb package and used it to install the custom recovery in step 2, which installs when the phone is in Download Mode. The Windows-only step 4 is skipped, then continue the tutorial to the end.

Once the Recovery image is installed it's just a case of flashing the correct CM image and Gapps in Recovery mode. I was amazed how quickly it took compared to my Atrix which spent about 30 mins on the boot screen! My S3 was done in minutes. The only step I had trouble with was putting the CM image on the MicroSD card. I could not be bothered to figure out how to get adb installed and working on Mint, I merely took the card out and used a multi card reader on my desktop to drag 'n' drop the image onto the card. One thing I wish I had done before factory reset and wipe was backup my Nova Launcher config! I had everything else backed up. I use Gcloud Backup to regularly backup my SMS messages.

Default Trebuchet Launcher setup and CM wallpaper

Upon first boot with CyanogenMod 11, I was greeted with the nice CM boot screen then the usual account wizard. There was a slight glitch when the Cyanogen account setup crapped out on me but was no big deal. It was then just a case of waiting for Google Play to reinstall all my apps, including Nova Launcher which I prefer over Trebuchet since I can install my favourite custom icon set, RoundOS and I like the unread message plugin for Nova. Here's how my Home screen looks now:

I found the wallpaper in the Wallbase app and you can also grab the wallpaper here.

 Pretty much the first thing I tested once I had my S3 all setup was the camera, and it works very well, at proper resolution and everything, except I found that it does not have Photosphere mode because that is apparently proprietary. Then I tried to install the official Google Camera available in Play. It installed fine but crapped out on trying to take a photo.

For now, I have settled on using the default camera app for general photo taking, Camera MX for HDR and other effects, and Panorama 360 for Photospheres, or equivalent of at least. If anyone has any better suggestions for alternate camera apps, please comment below, I'll gladly give them a go.

I think if I could afford a new phone right now I would probably not go for Samsung again, I would get either a Nexus 5 (for vanilla Android and updates) or a Moto X (the next best thing). I really like what Motorola are doing with bringing smartphones to every budget with the X, G and now the E.

Overall am I very impressed with the speed of my S3 with Cyanogenmod, it feels like a new phone again, no Touchwiz lag! I have not done a proper battery test yet since I have been using my phone a lot more the battery has gone down quicker since I have been trying apps and such. Though rooting was not needed for the install I rooted after install because it's very useful for other stuff, particularlythe excellent DriveDroid which allows you to use your phone as a virtual live Linux CD - I booted up a spare PC with Xubuntu 14.04 using nothing but my phone and charge lead!  Well I am happy with my S3 again thanks to CyanogenMod, just need to sort out a camera app and it'll be perfect.

Update: I have upgraded to a Nightly build since it apparently fixes the camera problems somewhat, specifically this build:
I am now upgrading pretty much every day to each Nightly build, which can be done in the update manager built into the ROM's settings.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Roku Streaming Stick Problems

Having recieved a Chromecast and a Roku Streaming Stick, I had hoped to compare and review both devices together, however due to various problems with the Roku, I was unable to do this. Many hours were wasted on this device and many expletives were uttered.

Firstly, the Roku asked for payment details on setup, and since I don't have a Credit Card or any of the other options I had to phone a premium rate number just to get them to setup an account without payment details. Luckily only a few minutes and they called me back to save me the expense on a long phone call, which was handy as there were more problems to come.

After sorting the account details, I had to restart setup on the device. At this point the remote decided to stop working, it refused to pair. Tried resetting the Roku, and resetting the remote, many, many times! It also kept rebooting itself and freezing up during the attempted pairing! Tried, on the suggestion of the helpline staff, using it in another TV in a different room as apparently the remote works on Wifi and suffers interference problems! They even suggested turning off the router, which seems a bit pointless since there are dozens of other wireless devices around this area and the router is of course needed for other stuff. Such a shame as this device was quite promising but it is going back to the shop unfortunately. The advantage over the Chromecast of having a proper remote (if it worked properly!), making it more standalone, would have been great.