Android Apps

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When I first replaced my Windows Phone with Lineage, I gave a summary of the software I was using with it.  Well, it’s been a year and so it’s time to give an update…

GAPPS

When I first used Lineage I installed a minimal set of Google apps, but having just installed Lineage 15.1 on a new phone I’ve decided against install GAPPS.  This has come with a few drawbacks, apps that either warn you that they don’t run without GAPPS (but often still work anyway) to a few (like KAYAK) that just crash after loading.

It seems like a reasonable trade-off though as almost all of the apps I’ve found that don’t work have websites that do.

App Stores

Initially I used F-Droid and 1Mobile for my app stores, but I’ve moved away from 1Mobile.  I found too many issue with it.

To replace it, I’m using Yalp Store, which pulls apks straight from Google Play (obviously only free apps).

The Launcher

Trebuchet has come a long way with Lineage 15.1 and while previously I had installed Nova launcher, I’ve decided to give Trebuchet a try for a while.

The Keyboard

AnySoft Keyboard is still my go to keyboard  Nuf said.

Applications

  • Weather: Forecastie isn’t the slickest weather app around, but it has a good widget for the home screen and is completely open source.
  • Music: I have been using Phonograph for quite a while, but it’s recently implemented a “Pro” pay version.  This has caused it a bit of a stir in the open source project and a fork has been made, Vinyl.  The other benefit to Vinyl is that it is on F-Droid.
  • Mapping: osmAnd~ is an open source mapping solution.  I used it last year on a trip to the southern US without any issue.
  • Passwords: Still using Keepass2Android.
  • Bluetooth Connections: Stock Android doesn’t seem to remember volume settings for different Bluetooth devices, so I installed A2DP from the F-Droid store which allows for complete customization of what happens when a Bluetooth device connects to the phone.
  • Mail: I’ve gone though several mail clients, but I’ve landed on K9, while it has a very outdated visual design, it is extremely functional.
  • BrowserFirefox, along with Ghostery.
  • Office: LibreOffice Viewer handles any office file formats I need to view.
  • Twitter: Twidere is a nice open source client for Twitter, it also supports several other social networks as well.
  • Two Factor Auth: Several sites I login to use OTP, so andOTP is my go to client for them.
  • Gallery: Lineage’s default gallery app has one major limit, no ability to exclude folders, so instead is use Simple Gallery.
  • Birthdays: Birthday Droid keeps me up to date for upcoming birthdays.
  • Music Store: I don’t subscribe to any streaming music services, but I do use the 7 Digital music store to purchase any music I want.
  • Contacts/Calendar Sync: Having moved away from MS Exchange to NextCloud for my calendar and contacts means I need something to sync them to Android, DAVdroid works flawlessly.
  • Torrents: Ok, so I don’t do much torrenting on my phone, but once in a while in an emergency I have had need to, so LibreTorrent is installed.
  • PDF: MuPDF is my PDF viewer.
  • Tasks: OpenTasks is the recommended task app for DAVdroid.

I’ve also installed NextCloud and the related apps.

Lineage 15.1

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In my previous post about replacing Windows Phone I eventually installed Lineage 14.1 (Android 7.1.2) on my Motorola G4 Plus.  It’s been a while and things have been going well with it, but Lineage released 15.1 (Android 8.1) a few weeks ago and the G4 didn’tit make the list of first devices supported by 15.1.

Of course, the G4 is a very popular phone for Lineage and there is no doubt that it will eventually be supported, but I picked it up in the first place to give Lineage a try and after almost a year of usage, it was time to move on.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Before I get to that though, about six months ago I picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 to replace my Surface 3 as my primary tablet.  The S2 is well supported by Lineage and was included in the initial list of supported devices for 15.1 and so that was the first device I upgraded.

Lineage has a nice built in auto-updater and it has worked well for me over the last year, but the upgrade to 15.1 is a manual process.  Basically you need to wipe the system partition and then re-flash Lineage.

That all went fine and the tablet booted up without a problem right until the launcher tried to load and failed.

I poked around a bit to see if I could download a different launcher and run it, but that failed to work as well.

I then tried to downgrade to 14.1 again, but that simply never got past the Lineage boot screen.

That turned out to be more of a problem than you might think as the S2 doesn’t do a hard power off by holding down the power button.  I looked around the net and there didn’t seem to be any info on how to do it and the few suggestions I found basically said to wait for the battery to run down.

That didn’t seem like something I wanted to wait on so I tried a few key combo’s and found that holding the volume down and power button for 10 seconds did the trick.

Once it was back in to recovery mode, I did a clean wipe of the hole device and reinstalled 15.1.

After rebooting, everything worked as expected, including the launcher.

Lineage 15.1

Lineage is pretty faithful to the stock Android look and feel, but there are some enhancements that Lineage has put in over the years.  A few of these are missing on 15.1 but are being worked on and should be released over the coming releases.

The most notable changes I’ve noticed so far are:

  • Trebuchet (the Lineage launcher) has had a pretty major overhaul, with the new “dots” feature fully supported.
  • The notifications pull down is now semi-transparent (not a real fan of this)
  • The settings icon in the notification area has been moved to below the quick actions instead of above it.
  • All new icons… again not sure if I like them yet.
  • Icon styles, don’t like them round?  No problem, though I find it odd that “square” isn’t an option.

OnePlus 5T

To replace my G4 I decided on the OnePus 5T, for a few reasons:

  • Reasonably priced.
  • High end specs.
  • Nice “almost” full body OLED screen, I really don’t like the idea of notches.
  • Carrier support.
  • Unlocking the bootloader is quick and easy.
  • True dual SIM support.

The phone is incredible well built, it feels solid and comfortable in my hand and so far it’s been great

I went with the 8g/128g model as I’ve always preferred to have lots of local storage.  It would have been nice to have an SD card slot, but not a deal breaker.

The only thing that it’s really missing is wireless charging.

Installing Lineage was pretty straight forward, simply follow the Lineage wiki instructions with two minor points:

  • Before unlocking the bootloader, you have to enable developer options and enable the unlock function.
  • After unlocking the bootloader, the 5T leaves the data partition unformatted, if you try and boot Lineage with it unformatted you’ll get punted back to recovery mode without an explanation.

After that it was just a matter of setting up the phone with apps.

There was one other thing to do, since I don’t use Google services on my phone, I used SMS Backup and Restore to move my SMS and call log across from the G4.

I’ve been using the phone for a few days and all is good. Next week I’ll give an update on the software that I’m currently using on my phone.

Replacing Windows Phone

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I’ve been a big fan of Windows Phone since it came out, but fandom can only take you so far.  Microsoft, while not abandoning Windows Phone, has let it languish to the point where I have been unable to recommend it to anyone for over a year.  Likewise, I’ve had to take a hard look at if it still meeting my needs and the answer is frankly, no.

As much as I still love using my 950XL, there are now a few deal breakers for it to continue as my primary phone.

  • Continued issues with car audio integration
  • No support for anything but the most major of applications

I won’t go in to app support much other than to say that there are a few smaller apps (buy tickets for a movie?  Not on Windows Phone…) I’d like to use on my phone but they just aren’t available.  This isn’t really a huge problem for me, but it’s significant enough now and it’s only getting worse.

The real deal breaker for me is integration with my car audio system.  Using Windows Phone as a media player has never been very good, but after a few dozen iterations of Groove music, it had finally gotten to a place where I could start up my car and drive away confident that the music would start.

That started to change about 6 months ago with an update that started to break the auto play and since then it’s been getting worse and worse.  It finally reached a point I was no longer willing to put up with it and so it was time to start looking around for a new phone.

Choices

The two choices, of course, are iOS and Android.

Apple has done a good job of creating a very curated ecosystem and they charge you for the privilege of getting in to their gated community.  I consider an iPhone as Apple’s stance on privacy is second to none in the industry, but the Apple tax and the inability to customize the phone put it out of contention.

That left Android, but unlike Apple, Google has no privacy stance when it comes to harvesting your data for their advertising needs.  However, there is another Android build out there that isn’t Google, Lineage OS.

Lineage is the fork of the old Cyanogenmod after it imploded and it’s still relatively new, but it seems to have momentum behind it so I decided to give it a try.

Of course, Lineage needs hardware to run and that means tracking down a phone.

A while ago, a friend gave me his old Samsung Galaxy S4 after he upgraded to an S7, while the S4 is pretty long in the tooth, I used it to install Cyanogenmod to play with and didn’t have any issues.

I had also picked up an ASUS Zenfone 2 a while ago to use with Freedom Mobile (aka Wind Mobile) as a WiFi hotspot. I’ll go in to more detail about it later, but for now let’s just say it turned out to be a poor choice.

That meant looking for a new piece of hardware, and my requirements were for something decidedly mid-range as Freedom Mobile is just starting it’s LTE rollout and the selection of phones that work with it are limited.  So for the time being I wanted a phone to tide me over until some more options are available.

After some digging round I found a Motorola G4 Plus online for just under $300 which looked like it would do the job.

Installing Lineage

Installing Lineage on a phone requires a few things:

  • An unlocked boot loader
  • TWRP recovery
  • The Lineage OS for the phone

My first attempt to install Lineage on my ASUS Zenfone 2 went poorly, unlocking the boot loader was easy enough and TWRP installed without issue, but something went drastically wrong with Lineage.

After installing Lineage, the phone went in to a boot loop, with nothing on the display.  Normally this would not be a problem as most phones have a way to get in to fastboot mode through a hardware key combo.  The Zenfone 2 doesn’t, which means you have to have a functioning OS to get in to recovery mode.  Since the boot loop never brought up the OS, the Zenfone was effectively bricked.

That was unfortunate, but if I’d managed to get Lineage up and running without bricking one piece of hardware I don’t know if I would have considered it a complete success 🙂

So, after waiting a couple of days for the G4 to arrive, I proceeded to a second attempt.

The G4 has a locked bootloader and Motorola makes you go through some hoops to unlock it, but once it’s done the phone is ready to go.

Installing TWRP went well, but strangely it has a tendency to disappear once in a while from the phone.  It’s easy enough to replace and since the G4 does have a hardware key combo to get in to fastboot mode, it’s not like the phone becomes unusable because of it.

Installing Lineage was easy enough as well, you can follow along the instructions on the Lineage Wiki for how to do it.  Once the Lineage was installed, the phone booted in to a shiny new Android 7.1.1 install.

GAPPS

Of course one of the primary reasons to use Lineage is avoid having a lot of Google services on your phone.  My first attempt at using Lineage was to leave all Google apps off of the phone.

This worked with the base OS and quite a few applications, but anything there were a few issues, mostly related to location services.  Applications like Outlook worked fine, but as soon as something required location services (like Here WeGo for GPS) things started to get funky.

Long application pauses, failure to load, missing functionality (screens you couldn’t get by because they were missing controls) seemed to be the order of the day.

In the end I decided to do a minimal install of GAPPS (the Pico install package), just enough to get the Play store running, which included location services.

Of course Google location services is one of the most intrusive apps Google makes, it send back “anonymized” location data to Google all the time.  You can opt out, which is what I’ve done.

App Stores

Once the base OS is up and running and GAPPS is installed, I wanted to avoid the Play store as much as possible and so I’ve installed to alternative app stores.

  1. F-Droid
  2. 1Mobile

F-Droid is an entirely open source app store, to the point of being overtly aggressive in their open source requirements (FireFox doesn’t meet their guidelines and is going to be removed in the near future).

1Mobile is the next best think to the Play store as it pulls the APK’s from the Play store in addition to the apps they have.

Of course for most “pay” apps I had to end up going to the Play store as 1Mobile just doesn’t have the coverage required on the pay side of apps.

The Launcher

One of the big things about Android is that you can customize just about everything, including the launcher you use.  Lineage comes with Trebuchet, the stock Android launcher which works pretty well, however coming from Windows Phone one of the things I really missed was some kind of notification count on the icons.

Trebuchet doesn’t support this, but another popular launcher, Nova, does and so I installed it.

So far it’s been quite good, with only a minor issue of Outlook not showing notification counts.

Another issue with Trebuchet is the number of widgets it supports, there seems to be a lot of apps that no longer support Trebuchet where as Nova is supported by everything I’ve found so far.

The Keyboard

The stock keyboard with Lineage works, but beyond that it’s nothing special and perhaps it’s biggest issue is the lack of Emoji support.

My first thought was to use the Microsoft Hub keyboard, which I did for a few days, but it too lacks Emoji support so it was replaced.

I ended up using the AnySoft Keyboard, it’s highly configurable, available through F-Droid, it’s open source as well.

The only annoyance I have with it is that you need to hit a long press on the emoji key to get a list of emoji to use, a short press simply inserts the smiley.  Not a huge deal, just something to get use to.

Applications

I’m going to cover a few “core” apps that any phone needs here, but I wont’ go in to things that are more personal preference (like IM clients and social networking apps).

  • Weather: Android has lots of choices for weather, but a lot of them are pretty gaudy as far as I’m concerned, however One Weather seems like a good choice and is highly customizable.
  • Music: The stock music apps is functional on Lineage, however it doesn’t seem to remember it’s last playlist very well so whenever my car connected to it, it started playing a random selection of my entire music library instead of the last playlist I was listening to.  Music Player Pro on the other hand is a very capable music player and has been flawless so far.
  • Mapping: Avoid Google Maps means finding an alternate mapping solution, coming from Windows Phone means I am very familiar with Here Maps so installing Here WeGo (the Android version of Here Maps) was an obvious choice.
  • Passwords: I’ve used KeePass as my password safe for years and Keepass2Android is a very capable version of KeePass for Android, including OneDrive integration.
  • Bluetooth Connections: Stock Android doesn’t seem to remember volume settings for different Bluetooth devices, so I installed A2DP from the F-Droid store which allows for complete customization of what happens when a Bluetooth device connects to the phone.
  • Mail: Mail apps on Android seem to be a mess in general, the stock mail app isn’t very good so I’ve install Outlook, which is Ok, but not nearly as good as Outlook on Windows Mobile.
  • Browser: The stock browser on Lineage is based on Chrome, I’ve installed Firefox, along with uBlock Origin and Ghostery.
  • Caller ID: Truecaller is available for Android of course so it is installed to avoid scam callers.
  • Office: For some reason MS Office says it doesn’t support my phone, so I’ve installed LibreOffice Viewer to handle any office file formats I need to view.

There are a few other apps (OneDrive, OneNote, etc.) I’ve installed, but of course those are dependent on what services you use so I won’t go in to detail on them here.

Other Items

Overall the new system is running well, but there are a few thoughts I’ve had on the experience:

  • In the current build of Lineage for the G4, whole phone encryption is broken, it seems to be a know issue so it will likely get addressed in a future release.
  • The default install of Lineage doesn’t seem to set the default ring and notification sounds, I had to select them otherwise the phone didn’t make any sound.
  • Android has a “screen save” mode, that is kind of like my 950 XL’s passive screen mode but it keeps the backlight on, which makes it too bright to keep on your nightstand.
  • I installed a 128g SD card, a Kingston card with an 90/80 read/write speed, but Lineage continues to think it’s “slow” and any app I put on it stutters and is slow to load.  I suspect it must be a bug in Lineage, but for the time being I’ve put my media on the SD card and it seems to run fine.  Applications I’ve moved to the primary memory and there are no issues there either.  The only thing is that installing a new app will, by default, go to the SD card and I then have to move it.  There doesn’t seem to be a way to use internal memory as the default install location for apps.

Vinsic Stand Qi Wireless Charger

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When I purchased my Lumia 925 and added the wireless charging to it, I picked up several of the DT910 wireless charging stands.  These were great and I really like them.

However, the size difference between my old 925 and the new 950XL meant that these small stands no longer line up with the charging coil and don’t work.

I’ve been looking for a replacement for the 910 for a while and I’ve finally found one.

The Vinsic Stand Charger is designed for larger phones and works with the 950XL.

It arrived and I was surprised by how light it was, it seems well-built but almost feels empty.  It comes in two pieces, the main body and a slide in stand to keep it upright and hold the phone.

I did have one slight problem with the unit when it arrived, a bad USB cable.  It would start charging my phone and then after a few seconds stop.

I contacted their support and they quickly identified the issue.  I didn’t both RMA’ing the unit, I just pulled a new USB cable from my pile 😉

Otherwise it’s been working flawlessly.

The only issue I have with these chargers (and it is with the 910 as well) is that they all have a charging light on them.  As I have this unit on my nightstand, I really don’t want a nightlight, so I’ve put a piece of tape over it.

950 XL Follow up

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Ok, so I’ve had the 950 XL for the last week and a bit so I thought I’d do a quick follow up with some additional thoughts:

  • Double tab to wake up: this feature is currently not available on the 950 but the rumors are that it will be coming.  I don’t really miss it, but once or twice I’ve double tapped the display before hitting the power button.
  • And speaking of the power button, I’ don’t really like it’s placement between the volume rocker.  It’s too easy to hit when I go to adjust the volume.
  • The XL might be a little large, but only just.  Typing on the keyboard, even with two hands sometimes feels just a bit off.
  • The display is large enough that Outlook, when you view it in landscape mode, actually gives you the message and folder list on the screen at the same time, which is kind of cool.
  • The reversible USB C cable is awesome 🙂