Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rejuvenate an old Android device with Cyanogen

My current phone is a two year old Samsung Galaxy S I9000. It is long out of contract and costs me very little every month for calls and data.  It is in great condition and it does everything I need a phone to do so it is hard to justify a replacement at this stage. Nevertheless the Android version 2.3 (Gingerbread) running on felt old and slow in comparison to a recently acquired Nexus 7 tablet running Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) so I decided to have a go at an upgrade. I hadn't done this for a quite some time and I was disappointed to discover that Samsung themselves stopped offering official upgrades for this phone after Android 2.3 so I would have to look for an unofficial upgrade or mod if I wanted to do better.

The open source nature of Android means it is supported by a vast hacking and modding community. This is an advantage in that there is a huge array of mods out there catering to all tastes and offering many improvements over the official stock operating system. It is also a disadvantage however because this huge choice is completely bewildering to the uninitiated outsider even if you have some level of general technical competence. The XDA Developer forums are probably the best place to go to to immerse yourself in this community and with patience you can learn how to make your Android device do all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff. My needs were simpler. I wanted a mod that would refresh my phone and allow it to do the standard stuff well. I delved into the forums just long enough to determine that the most popular mod is called "Cyanogen".  Cyanogen has been around for quite a while, has a great reputation and is available for a wide range of devices. I figured that with so many people choosing and using this over the years it must be pretty good and it is likely that any serious bugs have been ironed out by now.

To install the mod I followed the instructions for my phone given on Cyanogen's website. The step by step instructions given are pretty detailed so I won't add to them but I would suggest reading them over completely and making your own informed decision about whether or not you feel comfortable carrying out such a major overhaul  on your phone. I will make a couple of observations however:

1, This almost certainly voids your warranty so I wouldn't recommend it on a new phone. Why would you need to mod a new phone anyway?
2. The process will wipe all your apps. This was actually a bonus for me as it allowed me to start afresh and only re-download the ones I needed. If you do have any precious apps you can't replace or if you don't want to spend time re-installing I believe you can use a programme called "Titanium Backup" to save and restore apps.
3. If you have any personal data on the phone (photos, documents, calendar, address book etc) then you may want to back it up before you proceed. I didn't bother because I have long since moved any important data to cloud storage using Gmail, Dropbox etc. Phones get lost so you really shouldn't rely on a phone to store anything important. I notice that the upgrade seemed to delete save games for some installed games but not for others so probably best to assume that it will delete everything.
4. You should be aware that Cyanogen does not support the built in FM radio. I believe there may be an app available for this but I don't use the radio so I didn't bother looking into it.
5. The other big thing that is missing is the Samsung Store. I doubt Samsung will let you install their store on an unofficial operating system so if you have bought any important apps from Samsung you may want to reconsider the upgrade (or perhaps use Titanium Backup to carry the apps over).
6. Cyanogen does not come with the Google Play store installed so the first thing you will probably want to do is get the correct version of Google apps (gapps) for your phone. You can download it from goo.im/gapps.This Youtube Video is a little out of date but it gives a pretty good idea of how to install the download. Once you have Google Play store up and running you can sign into your Google account and download anything else you want from the market.

The good news is that I am very pleased with the upgrade. Cyanogen makes my phone look and feel a lot like the new Nexus tablet and has a few additional tweaks of its own. Battery life is good, Wifi, GPS and Mobile reception are all good. Best of all the phone feels much smoother and more responsive that it was before the upgrade. It really does feel like a new phone. Highly recommended.


Cap'n John said...

I attempted to install Cyanogen on my wife's Samsung Captivate (aka, AT&T's version of the Galaxy S) but it wouldn't take.

I was supposed to be able to install the update off the SD Card via Android Recovery but the Zip folder didn't show up...although...it occurs to me that perhaps the Recovery program was only looking at the phone's internal memory and not on the SD Card.

Although after the factory reset the problems that had been plaguing the wife's phone seemed to have disappeared, so it still worked out okay.

mbp said...

If I recall what it terms "sd card" is actually internal phone memory. the external sd card is called something else (probably just external SD).

Cap'n John said...

I believe you may be correct, MBP, in that "sd card" is the phone's internal memory, whereas I had the Cyanogen zip file stored on the real sd card.

Still, the wife's phone has been working great since the factory reset, so at the moment I have not needed to resort to a full-on Cyanogen mod.