Upgrading a highly customized phone to ICS+, part 1: S II, meet S II

two siis - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

There are times I really want to just blatantly state that my phone is more customized than anyone else’s out there. It problem wouldn’t be too far from the truth, and therein lies the biggest reason why I haven’t upgraded my Galaxy S II to anything above Gingerbread. There are just so much stuff on it that has been customized over the last year, that I honestly don’t remember how anything works anymore. We’re not just talking wallpapers and icons here, but custom software running in Tasker, relying on version-specific features and a dozen add-ons that all work together. Put simply, my phone works best when left to its own devices, so I’ve held it away from both OS and some app updates for ages.

Until now.

I’m not a big fan of Android versions newer than 2.3, simply because I don’t think anything truly noteworthy has been added. With that in mind, the idea of upgrading a phone that I know for a fact is not going to take to change lightly has just seemed like too much of a nightmare, and so I basically decided to leave it on Gingerbread until the day it got replaced.

That is sort of what happened, as my phone is still unchanged. I did however get my hands on a second Galaxy S II, thanks to a friend who was switching phones and sold his S II to me cheap. This gives me the unique opportunity to tinker and mess with a separate device for as long as I need before I move over, assuring that the phone I’m moving to is actually an upgrade from what I have now, not a downgrade.

This is quite a massive task, and I want to make sure that I can get everything working before I decide which device to keep. If I can’t make the new OS and app updates (some of which I’ve stayed away from due to knowing for a fact they break a ton of stuff on my device) work properly, I’m sticking to Gingerbread. I do how that with enough time and patience I can take a step forward into the future, although it will likely require that I rewrite a lot of my custom software.

So far, I’ve gotten the new phone rooted, and threw the latest Paranoid Android ROM for the S II on it. Paranoid Android is a ROM we’ve talked about quite a lot before on the site, and I’ve run it before on a Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. The unique thing about it is that it allows you to set custom DPI settings for individual apps, which in practice means you can run specific apps in tablet or phone mode. This feature alone is to me more impressive than what Google has done to Android in the last couple of years, which frankly doesn’t seem to be much.

I’ve also restored a lot of app data using Titanium Backup, though I need to go through and clean a lot of it, especially apps that operate with unique IDs for each install- something that has already caused one issue for me. Then, the next task will be to transfer all the locally stored data, a lot of which is critical for everything to restore correctly. After that, I need to dig into my Tasker creations, which is something I’m truly dreading. I know that the latest version of Tasker is going to screw up my custom todo list system beyond recognition, so I just hope I still remember enough of how it works to compensate. Then, if/when all of that is done, the mainstream part of Android customization needs to be handled- meaning just simple customization of icons and whatnot.

It’s going to be a massive task, and I can’t imagine doing this any other way than having one device that’s untouched and still working, and one that I can work on without having to transfer everything over in one go. This is the unfortunate downside of having such a highly customized device, but then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The things my phone can do are so beyond any other device I’ve ever seen that no iOS, Android, Firefox, Ubuntu, Windows Phone, or any other mobile OS feature from the last few years even makes me bat an eye.

It’s very hard to be impressed by pictures besides notifications in Android 4.1 when you’re used to your phone welcoming you home and turning on the lights for you as you walk in the door.

For the record, if I do end up getting the new S II to work on Android 4.2, it means I will once again be able to write about Tasker without just going on about an outdated version.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

14 thoughts on “Upgrading a highly customized phone to ICS+, part 1: S II, meet S II

  • Updating to a new phone (or to a newer version of Android) sooner or later. Unless you were planning on holding on to your current set up for the next 50 years :p.

    With Android if you don’t look at the large market features and focus on the slew of smaller usability improvements you’ll probably find the newer version of Android grow on you.

    For one, I found the multi tasking menu considerably better than Gingerbread. Gingerbread didn’t really have a multi tasking menu just a most recent apps which you can’t choose background applications away from a simple gesture such as a swipe.

    Second, for the data monitoring option in 4.0 and above menu you can have a lot better control of app data use. You can set limits on apps to only use data over wifi or to not use data at all. Of course there is main option to set data limits and warnings so you don’t go over your data plan and to pay ridiculous overage use fees.

    thirdly, the ability to see what the widget looks like in the app drawer before applying them to your home screen considerably better than in gingerbread you just saw the title of the widget. Being able to simply resize widgets a nice touch too. As well, “project butter” may not make your device more usable per say, but makes it more pleasant to use having 99.9% of Android run at 60 fps smoothness.

    Finally, Android 4.1 and 4.2 also have a bunch of security updates behind the scenes. There are bunch of other improvements that I haven’t mention for the sake of not writing a novel in the comment section but at least for most people, Android 4.0 and later is a considerable improvement.

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      While my phone is on GB, I did have a tablet for a year, which peaked at 4.1.2 before I sold it, sO i’m well aware of what’s in those releases. I have third party apps that do your point 1-2 better (for my purposes, anyways) than the built in Android equivalents, and as for number 3, most of my widgets are self-made in widget creator apps, which means I know exactly what they look like already ;)

  • I was fearing you were going to reply that you used apps to fill in those functions :). At least you agree that Google/manufacturers should have those features included into the OS. If you include costume ROMs and all the apps available it hard for Google to really improve Android. With those things, you can get Android to behave and to look anyway you want (which is a good thing). They could some improvement RAM management, and to improve driver support for better CPU/GPU handling but that doesn’t sound that cool in a 30 second tv ad or in news headlines.

  • Whether or not the various OS tweaks to Android since Gingerbread justify an upgrade, I can tell you that throwing ParanoidJelly onto my ZTE Skate has transformed its performance, never mind its interface. From a clunky ailing device I now have a slick butter-smooth machine good for at least another year or two. Fine, this is not stock Android, but Project Butter implementation makes a big difference to usability and performance. That’s surely a step forward.

  • Is your old S2 rooted? If so, I reckon you should make a nandroid backup and restore it on the second device and see what breaks and what doesn’t. Make a list of what you can or cannot fix and then go from there.

    That’s what I would do at least :D

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      Like I said in the article, I’ve already done that using Titanium Backup :)

  • I think if you are happy with your current setup you should keep it.

    I have had the S2 for 2 years and since going from Gingerbread to Jellybean, I can tell u that battery life has gone from easy 1d12h to about 14 hours if im lucky with only 2.5 hours screen time.

    Also the thing to remember with custom roms on the s2 such as paranoid, is that there are no sources from which the developers build. Samsung doesn’t release them. I have had major instability with Cyanogen Mod, Paranoid etc.

    If you really want a good custom rom with the google look, I suggest you try Chameleon rom. It is based on the Samsung base whilst integrated with Aokp. This has been the most stable for me, as I want ios like stability on my phone. However everyone is different. If you would like a dropbox link to the old ics build I can give it to you.

    When it comes to tasker, I have to say you are going to have lots of problems with it, I had major issues for some reason on Jb with your custom gmail notification. I’m glad you are testing the waters as I enjoy your articles on Android, however I think the compromises will just be too big for your liking.

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      Thanks for you comment, interesting to hear from someone with a similar setup. I’m starting to come to the same realization as you’re essentially pointing towards, i.e. leave well enough alone. I like some of the visuals of JB and PA, but I’m not sure how useful it will actually be. Also, if I really wanted a visually better phone, I’d get a jailbroken iPhone, whose combination of iOS and jailbreak tweak makes any version of Android feel like a command line interface. What I need Android for is all my custom stuff, things that there are no substitutions for on iOS no matter how long I search. The more I play with ICS+, the more I’m starting to feel that it’s really not worth it.

  • I think the biggest thing that trouble us which so many of the readers do not seem to get, is that our whole eco system revolves alot more around tasker then it does android. For instance this week I wanted to backup my sms to gmail. Instead of using sms backup app, I want tasker to do it. The reason being no added wake locks or instabilty and I just like knowing how things work.

    I think that once people understand what tasker is capable of and essentially how you use it, they will be in awe in comparision to exsisting platforms.

    I remember in 1996 on or about, Bill Gates talked about small computers which would be integrated into our lives. Current phones ios android etc, simple are mobile phones, however your phone is essentially the core of your home. This is good and bad in some sense as gingerbread is only getting older and apps do not get updated, however it still has a long way to go to match your current setup.

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      Exactly. I don’t want to sound like an ass, but I frankly have a hard time classifying a properly Tasker-customized phone and a stock Android phone under the same “smartphone” name. It’s like saying a house trained dog and Einstein are both “smart”. There just isn’t any comparison, and for people who never went as far as we have with their device, it’s impossible to understand.

      I don’t even use the latest Gingerbread version of Tasker, because the dev fixed a bug with how spaces are handled when writing to a text file. Sound minor, but it completely messed up my todo list creation, to such a degree that I eventually gave up trying to compensate and just reverted to a previous version of Tasker. At this point, I can add things to that todo list via Android’s share menu, via a custom UI, via a custom web app on my iPad, by right clicking in chrome, by sending messages to a gtalk bot, by using the new pop-up boxes that are part of the AutoRemote chrome plugin, on top of having voice, text, and image functionality for adding. It works perfectly, is such an amazingly useful thing to have, no third or first party todo app comes half close, and still it’s only the tip of the iceberg of what is going to have to be rewritten in order to make the change to ICS+. I have another app I use for work that saves me a ton of time and hassle, and that too has such a massive library of actions and tasks that make it work that I’m not even sure I remember how it works any more- it just does (on GB).

      • Honestly, after reading about your tasker to-do list, I think all that it does can actually be achieved with a good 3rd party app. I am super heavy task list user and I use DGT GTD which is perfect. Adding stuff from all the different resources is perfectly possible if you use it synchronized with Toodledoo, so you can add tasks from iPad using web interface.
        I suggest that you try to rethink your approach this way and maybe you find out that all the tasker hassle (in this particular case) is not worth it.

        Apart from that, I have been through similar troubles when I bought a new phone. The thing is, it is inevitable. Sooner or later you will change your phone and that one won’t come with GB. The more you wait, the more will the change hurt, because you will have to modify a lot of stuff. I did upgrade all my tasker stuff to JB and get all working again. It took some time, sure, but I also improved on the tasks I had, cleaned stuff up, upgraded some to work better, removed some that were not necessary anymore and in the end I got setup that I consider to be much more improved to previous state.

        • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

          I havent tried the app you’re talking about, but I somehow doubt it’s capable of being triggered by, and send info back to, Tasker. Those two points are the most important. As I write this, I’m on the bus, having just stopped by the grocery store to pick up the items that Tasker put in a lock screen widget when it checked for items in my grocery list, upon activation of the outside profile.

          Also, even if there is an app with those two features, I use other customs apps that are o specific to my situation that you wont find anything even remotely close to it

          • Just recently author added Tasker integration for DGT GTD. Based on Tasker event, you can filter your homescreen widget content, so you should be able to filter grocery list with your outside profile. I do not use this though, so I have not tried it.
            It probably can’t send info back to Tasker.
            What I would like to have is that notification of event in DGT GTD would trigger some Tasker tasks. This is not possible (afaik) unless you parse notification texts as with other notifications.
            I do not use lockscreen widgets and lists as you do, I particularly need audible and persistent notification reminders, otherwise I forget everything. :)
            Anyway, I was just suggesting to give DGT a shoot instead of your solution.

          • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

            I’ll check it out to see what the Tasker capabilities are. I would love to use third party software, but only if it’s not a huge compromise. Not being able to pull task data back into tasker is definitely a dealbreaker, as that’s one of the reasons I stopped using Astrid. That feature allows me to create custom notifications based on the situations: morning todo list is part of the Say message when I deactivate sleep mode, the shopping list is put on the lock screen, and the school list is a silent notification. Works wonderfully :)

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