Archives For Samsung

samsung galaxy s4 redux

January 15, 2017

My second Android handset was the Samsung Galaxy S4 on AT&T, my first being the HTC myTouch 4G on T-Mobile. I picked up the Galaxy when I switched from T-Mobile to AT&T some four years ago. At the time I wanted a more up-to-date Android distribution on my handset. The myTouch was left at Android 2.3, while the S4 was released with Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean) installed. Before I walked away from Samsung the S4 was upgraded to 4.4, then finally to 5.0.1 where it is today.

This weekend I uncovered both my wife’s S4 as well as mine in a drawer, where all our past cellphones have been tossed. I was getting ready to donate the older feature phones to a charitable cause, but held back doing the same with the Galaxies. I had to trade in the HTC for the Samsung, so I didn’t have it lying around. The “uncovering” triggered what finding old tech always does, a desire to see if it still works. Sure enough when I hit the power button it still had a 25% charge and it came on back up.

During the day I managed to charge it back up 100%. While it was on the charger I went out to the Android Play Store and updated about 3o apps. It took a while to get everything taken care of, and I had to delete a few because they kept hanging during the upgrade process. But by the time it was all finished everything was updated and I was off and exploring how well the S4 still operated. Because this phone is no longer on AT&T I removed the SIM card and disabled a few more phone-centric applications. As a historical footnote I disabled every AT&T app on this phone that was a functional duplicate of both Samsung and Android apps, and poor duplicates at that. And for those who still use an S4 and need a new battery they can depend on, I replaced the batteries in both S4’s with the Duracell Ultra CEL11327A which I purchased at a local Batteries Plus. That’s one of the really nice features of older Samsung phones, the ability to replace the battery by peeling off the back cover.

One of the apps that was still on the phone was this quaint little gem that informed me that the S4 was “affected by Certifi-gate vulnerabilities.” I have no idea when I downloaded this app, but I do remember downloading a test app when the Stage Fright exploit was all the rage. The app was supposed to test if you were vulnerable or not, and surprising, the S4 wasn’t. Or at least not my exploit. This current vulnerability smells like a marketing vulnerability to sell mitigation tools and services (the text at the bottom, “Protect your organization from mobile threats,” is a dead giveaway).

Anyway, after cleaning out the few apps that stubbornly refused to update (they hung) and updating everything else, as well as removing the Samsung-phone-centric apps, including the dial links on the main screen, the S4 settled into being Samsung’s version of the Apple iPod. Using a mix of Android-only and some third party apps (Netflix, for example) I found I could stream video as well as make reasonable use of the device. That’s when I could sit back and really use the device, and compare it to the Apple iPhone 7 Plus that’s my main driver phone.

Mini Comparison

  • The Duracell Ultra in the S4 is rated 2600mAh. The iPhone 7 Plus internal battery is rated 2900mAh, which is surprisingly not all that much greater. I say surprisingly because the iPhone 7 Plus is certainly larger than the Galaxy S4. And yet I was able to go the entire day with streaming, web surfing, and working with Instagram and Facebook with about 40% battery left at the end of the day. I’m sure I could have drained the battery completely with a heavier load, but that’s not the point: the point is that, for my usage, there’s little practical difference between battery life in the four year old S4 and the one year old 7 Plus.
  • The S4 screen is still bright and clear. It won’t show the same amount of information that 7 Plus’ screen will show, but it’s still quite pleasant to work with.
  • The S4 is still quite capable of cleanly streaming Netflix and of running the latest Netflix app. I watched segments of several Netflix movies on both devices, and when held a reasonable distance away from my eyes, found watching them equally pleasant. The sound was equally pleasant, but that conclusion should be taken with a grain of salt. I’m a 63 year old heavy metal rock listener who’s hearing is shot to hell due to too loud a volume level in my younger years (Led Zeppelin in particular).
  • I swapped Google Hangouts for the built-in SMS app, partly to shut up the alert that kept popping up about being unable to download a message, partly to move as many Google Android apps onto the phone. When I made that substitution all my older text messages showed up on the local Hangouts, and I’m glad it did. I found old texts from a few folks that were still important, as well as photos they’d sent me.
  • I moved data worth keeping up to my Google account via Google Drive. I now use Drive, rather than iCloud, to tie all my devices together. For my use cases, I find Google Drive much better than iCloud.
  • I used to play EA’s SimCity Buildit on both iOS and Android, until Google updated my 2013 Nexus tablet to Android 6.0.1, at which point it’s so slow as to be nearly useless for anything. The S4, with Android 5.0.1, has much better response, but SimCity is still slow and not nearly as enjoyable as the iOS version. And that’s fine, as for general consumption (streaming, web, social networks) the performance and response is just fine.

The upshot for me is that the S4, while it may be behind the 7 Plus, isn’t that far behind. It goes to underscore what many others have discovered with PCs and now smartphones, and that for general use just about any smartphone made since 2012/2013 is Good Enough. The only real issue with Android phones is the difficulty of keeping the OS up to date with the current release. That was the primary reason I switched to the iPhone 6S Plus in 2015; I got sick and tired of watching security fixes pushed out by Google not being pushed along to my S4 through Samsung and AT&T, while watching just about every iOS device get timely updates directly from Apple. I might break down and root the S4 and flash it with a more current AOSP/Android ROM, but that would ruin my ability to unlock the S4. I’ve got the AT&T code to unlock mine, but it requires I insert a different carrier SIM into the phone while running with the stock AT&T ROM. Choices, choices.

I’ve got an embarrassment of riches when it comes to mobile devices, so I don’t know if I’ll be spending much more time with this device. And I’ve ordered yet another smartphone, a factory unlocked Lenovo Moto G4 Plus with Android 6.0.1 installed for international use in Japan and Korea (it arrives 18 January, and I’ll write about it then, including why I felt the need to purchase it). But before I put it away again and forget about it for another year, I wanted to see how well it worked. It may not be a flagship phone anymore, but as a mid-tier contemporary smartphone, it’s more than adequate. Which helps to explain why the market is flattening the way it has and driving towards the bottom, the way the PC market has done.

screenshot-from-2016-12-18-11-16-40

The Samsung R580 is like the Timex watches of yore, when they “took a lickin’ and kept on ticken’.” Or maybe it should be compared to something more contemporary like the Energizer Bunny. Regardless, the R580 continues to do yeoman duty, what with its ‘mere’ 4GB of memory and now-modest Intel Core i5 m430 processor. It was originally purchased with Windows Vista installed back in 2010. It was upgraded to Windows 7 when that was offered as a free upgrade, and stayed that way until Windows 7 decided to corrupt itself. When that happened I installed Ubuntu 13.10 on it in December 2013. It’s been an Ubuntu workhorse ever since.

When I upgraded the R580 to Ubuntu I replaced the keyboard and put a new 500GB hard drive in it to match the size of the original hard drive. Over the years I started to replace the hard drive, first with a 1TB model, then a second just to make sure that at least the rotating media was kept up to date. I thought about upgrading to 8GB, the highest you could go with this model, but I just never got around to it. This December, I decided to be a bit more drastic with my upgrade.

As you’ll note above, I upgraded the R580 with a 1TB Samsung 850 EVO SSD. The price finally dropped low enough to make installation a no-brainer. I’d already upgraded a Samsung 17″ running Windows 10 with a 1TB Samsung 950 Pro, and I’d purchased a mid-2015 MBP with a 1TB SSD built in. So I was quite appreciative of how an SSD significantly speeds up a computer. It just made more sense to spend the money on the SSD rather than more memory, so when the Christmas sale on the 850 EVO was announced I picked up a copy, along with a Sabrent USB adapter. With Clonezilla on a USB thumb drive, I booted into Clonezilla and proceeded to clone the HDD disk to the SSD. Total time took about two hours, most of which was just waiting for it to finish. Once finished I swapped the HDD out for the SSD, booted the system back up, and here I am writing this blog entry on it.

Before you ask: No, dd is not as good as Clonezilla, at least not for this use case. For example, Clonezilla (for which I have extensive experience) will analyze the drive to be cloned and only copy over what needs to be copied over. dd is blind in that it duplicates the entire drive from one device to another. And in order to make that work you still need to boot into a live version of the OS from a thumb drive, so the amount of prep work is identical. It makes far more sense to use Clonezilla.

Needless to say, everything is so much faster, from startup and shutdown to launching applications. And if it goes to swap, well then, it goes to very, very fast swap. I don’t intend to do any more hard disk upgrades, just as I don’t intend to update the OS beyond Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. I’ll keep using the R580 until it literally dies of something, I’m not sure what. I keep thinking I’ll replace it with another used notebook, but its overall combination of reasonable performance, many ports, and the fact it has a Blueray drive make it hard to find a replacement for, now that everybody and their relative wants to drop ports and repairability and upgradability in the name of convenience, cost cutting, and dare I say it? Lock-in.

Here’s to another five years of drama-free usage.

You’re viewing CentOS 7 running in VirtualBox 5.0.16, with a micro SDHC card mounted and in turn viewing the Arch Linux ARM ext4 native Linux filesystem I created for my RP3. When I originally created the RP3 micro SDHC card I used my Ubuntu 15.10 notebook as the workbench. But I’ve been wanting to do similar work using my MBP as the primary tool bench, with an eye towards retiring the native Ubuntu notebook with the MBP due to the Ubuntu notebook’s age, rather than attempting to replace the Ubuntu notebook as I’ve written I originally wanted to do. The biggest hurdle to using the MBP was just reading the native ext4 file system on the MBP, as Max OS X has no native provisions to read Linux file systems. This post is about getting to that point. As time goes along I’ll be doing more than just reading the microSDHC, but reading (and then writing) is the foundational requirement, else this is all a waste of time and resources.

Before I go much farther let me properly attribute this from another post, “Mount SD card in VirtualBox from Mac OS X Host,” written by Brady Holt on 21 July 2014. Please note this was done nearly two years ago. This is an update to his post using contemporary software and with my observations.

Software and hardware I’ll be using:

  • OS X El Capitan, version 10.11.3 running on a MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015)
  • VirtualBox 5.0.16 with Oracle_VM_VirtualBox_Extension_Pack-5.0.16
  • CentOS 7 with all updates as of the date of this post with VBoxGuestAdditions_5.0.16 running as a VM

I’m going to create a Linux VM with VirtualBox and use that to mount and at least read the micro SDHC card with the Arch Linux ARM ext4 file system. I had originally looked for a Mac OS X utility to do this, but eventually gave up as the utilities that claimed they could do that had allegedly stopped working with the release of El Capitan because of System Integrity Protection, or rootless, mode. Far be it from me to disable in El Capitan what is supposed to add additional security to OS X. I’m somewhat surprised that I could get this to work, but I suppose that if, at some point in the future, Apple releases a Mac OS X update that breaks what I’ve built here that I’ll be back to using a separate Linux machine.

The first step is to install VirtualBox and then to install CentOS 7 within a VirtualBox VM. I won’t cover that here, as there are plenty of existing how-tos for that. Just make sure that the Virtual Box Extension Pack is installed and that you’ve downloaded and installed the VBoxGuesAdditions and have built it within the VM. That gets everything prepared both on the OS X host side as well as within the VM.

The next step is to get the overall system prepared to mount the RP3 micro SDHC card within the CentOS 7 VM.

  1. Plug in the microSDHC card into the MBP using the microSDHC adapter. I’m using a Samsung 32GB Evo Plus device. Note that it’s named “NO NAME” on the desktop. This is the MSDOS 100MB boot partition on the microSDHC card.
  2. Go to Launchpad and search for diskutil. Launch diskutil. Select “NO NAME.”

  1. Click the Info button at the top right. Note the device associated with “NO NAME.” It’s the third line down from the top, called “BSD device node.” In my case it’s disk2s1. The device associated with this partition is /dev/disk2. We’ll use this later.

  1. At the top of the utility click the ‘Unmount’ button with your mouse. The button text will then change to ‘Mount.’ Please note you don’t want to eject the device, just unmount.

  1. Now we need to create a VirtualBox VMDK file to point to this device. That’s how we’ll get it to mount inside the Linux VM. Open a terminal and type sudo VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename sd-card.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/disk2 at the prompt. The file will be created where ever you run it, so my advice is to change directory to a location where you want this (or preface the file name with a full path) to create the file. Just remember where you left it.
  2. Change permissions on the microSDHC device and the VMDK file to 777. At the prompt type chmod 777 sd-card.vmdk /dev/disk2. This opens up permissions for the file and card to be used later by the VM
  3. Add sd-card.vmdk to the VM’s storage devices. In VirtualBox, under the CentOS VM, select the Storage dialog, and in the Storage Tree under Controller: SATA click the add device button. You will be prompted to either create a new device or add an existing device. Choose to add existing and add sd-card.vmdk.
  4. Check diskutil one more time and make sure that the microSDHC card is still unmounted. OS X has automount and can silently remount the drive. If it does then you will fail to start the Linux VM.
  5. Once the VM is started bring up Nautilus and note two new ejectable entries for the card, a 103MB entry and a 32GB entry. Click on the 32GB volume. You’ll be prompted by Nautilus to enter root’s password for that VM to view that volume. Once that’s done Nautilus opens into the 32GB volume. You can drag and drop files into and out of the midroSDHC’s 32GB volume. I do this to add content as well as pull log files while developing.

One caveat. If you shut down the VM and then want to bring it back up, you’ll need to unmount the microSDHC card like before and execute chmod 777 /dev/disk# again, or the VM will fail to start due to lack of permissions on the raw device.

This is a teensy-weensy review of Windows 10, specifically how my Samsung Series 7 Chronos, model NP700Z7C, upgraded from Windows 8.1 Update 1. Here, in general order, is my experience upgrading to Windows 10.

  1. I get the “reserve your update” notice like the rest of the world sometime in July. I tended to ignore the invite for weeks, until a week before the official release on 29 August, I go ahead and make my reservation. And then I wait.
  2. I wait for one, then two weeks after the official release. When I click on the little Windows icon on the task bar I’m told that Windows 10 isn’t quite ready for my computer but not to worry because Microsoft is working very hard to get Windows 10 ready for my PC. So I continue to wait.
  3. In the mean time I’m reading various upgrade tales of woe. I sift through them to see what the core issues are. They appear evenly divided between general stupidity and older, off-brand or oddball on-brand models. But Microsoft has made the promise that if it’s running Windows 7 or Windows 8, then it’ll run Windows 10.

win10upgrade

  1. In the mean time I check the Samsung upgrade website to see if my notebook is officially supported by Samsung for Windows 10. Here’s what I see (and still see to this day). See my computer model on that list? Neither do I. My Samsung 17″ notebook, with Windows 8 pre-installed, which cost about $1,500 brand-spanking new from Best Buy back in May 2013, which I’ve updated and upgraded almost religiously since the first day I powered it on, isn’t supported by Samsung for Windows 10. I’m used to this insular lack of software upgrade support from Samsung over on the smartphone side. I also own a Galaxy S4. So far Samsung, through AT&T, has managed to upgrade my S4 to Android 5.0.1, even though Android 5 is up to 5.1.1, and everyone is all a-quiver waiting for Android 6/M to land on their devices.
  2. Then one day, late in September, I get a notice from Microsoft that I can update my notebook to Windows 10. Microsoft might be excited, but I’m beginning to feel a bit of nameless dread. So I push off the upgrade, instead ordering a 1TB Samsung 850 Pro SSD from Amazon (which comes highly recommended). Once it arrives I spend eight hours transferring the image off the older rotating media the notebook came with onto the new SSD, swap the HDD for the SDD, then power on the notebook. The notebook with the SDD is remarkably snappier. Applications appear to start almost instantly, such as Google’s Chrome or any of the Microsoft Office applications. I now have my older Windows 8.1 Update 1 original hard drive stored in a safe place, and I decide, what the hell, now is the time to update to Windows 10.
  3. On 30 September I finally update to Windows 10. Total time from start to finish is about two hours, about half of that due to downloading. What an incredible difference an SSD makes.

The only quirk I ran into was the HP printer driver upgrade failure I wrote about in the last post, and it was eventually, simply, and cleanly taken care of. After a week-and-a-half of serious work I can report absolutely no other failures thus far. If anything goes awry I have the original 1TB drive to fall back to.

I feel it is important to bring up the update failure, because it appears it was interfering with other updates in the queue. Perhaps it was just pure coincidence, but when I fixed the HP driver update problem, a number of other updates finally showed up and were installed. If I’d not solved that HP update issue, would those other updates have installed? I don’t know.

As far as brand trustworthiness goes, this experience has left me with a lot more trust in Microsoft than Samsung. My satisfaction with Samsung consumer electronics has fallen steadily over the last year, driven by my growing lack of satisfaction with the Galaxy S4 and how its Android is upgraded. This isn’t to say I’m all that much happier with how Google does it; I have a pair of 2013 Nexus 7’s that took forever to upgrade OTA. No, the best upgrade experience so far has been with my Apple iPad Air 2 and iOS. Over less than a year I’ve gone through three OTA updates with iOS 8, one to iOS9, and right now I’m on iOS 9.1 beta 4 (four updates). That’s eight in 11 months. Every time Apple announces an update it shows up almost immediately after. Oh, that also includes my Mac Mini’s updates to Yosemite and its point releases and El Capitan.

Unless something goes catastrophically wrong, I see at least another year’s solid use out of this notebook, with its new SSD and Windows 10. When it comes time to upgrade I’m going to see how Microsoft is treating Windows. I’ve read some frankly disturbing comments with regards to how Microsoft sees Windows in the future. I’m still of the opinion that my next notebook should be running Linux, probably Ubuntu (my fallback distribution is RHEL Workstation). The hardware platform I’d like to run it on is along the lines of the Dell XPS 15, with 16GB DRAM and 1TB SSD. All of this is just pure speculation right now, and a good year away from now.

In the mean time I’m enjoying this particular evolved computer. And I have to give credit where credit is due for this state of enjoyment. Thank you Microsoft for making it this easy and this enjoyable. And thank you for making something really worth liking again.

orange and white
blue wall
train wreck
missouri river bank
I recovered these from my Samsung S4 tonight, after VSCO Cam had undergone at least two updates. These were actually some of the first photos I made while in Kansas, in Leavenworth, next to the Missouri River, while there was still snow on the ground from the earlier storms. I was excited to get these, and I liked the VSCO treatment on them. When I got back to the hotel room that evening, my excitement evaporated in the face of an obstinate phone and application that refused to give me the images. In particular the images were rotated 90 degrees to the right, and the phone/software refused to allow me to rotate them back. Unlike the majority of smartphone photographers I do know how to use the phone/camera in landscape mode. And one other note, it’s in 4:3rds aspect ratio, to match what I get from my Olympus and Panasonic cameras.

When I finally gave up trying to unload my camera photos I tweeted that the experiment with the smartphone had ended. And for the time it had. I went on to concentrate using just the E-M5 and the two primes I’d brought with me, the Panasonic 25mm and the Olympus 45mm. I got what I consider a lot of good photos out of that combination.

Then today I got a email from VSCO about four more new “analogue” effects, all for free. I love free. I downloaded them, then thought maybe I should give the S4/VSCO combo another go. And then I found these photos still on the phone. I went back in and discovered I could rotate them back to normal view, and then pulled them off the S4 and on my notebook. They’re now up on my Flickr stream.

It’s hard to pick an individual favorite. But if I had to, it would probably be the third, “train wreck.” Except they were all taken together, and trying to break them up just won’t work. They were taken at the same time of the evening, on the same day, in the same evening cold. That deep, deep Kansas cold.

Now that the combination of smartphone and software are behaving again, I’ll probably give it another go. But just as I’m not one to suffer fools gladly, neither am I one to suffer screwy tools either. And I’m speaking more of the smartphone than I am of VSCO Cam. I can certainly see the creative potential of the two together, but I consider the camera on the Galaxy S4 to be almost fatally flawed. What pulls me back to trying again is VSCO Cam.