It looks like my Motorola Droid-3 has come down with bit rot -- a bad spot in flash memory, which is not recoverable and prevents flashing a new operating system image. I'm going to need a new pocket computer on short notice.
Should I attempt to enforce the warranty, getting it replaced with a refurbished unit? Or should I get a new kind of pocket computer? I like the Droid-3, I like continuity, and I don't like getting only a year of use out of this item that was so expensive in both cash and effort. But I don't like the idea of a refurb, and in the fast-moving world of cellphones the Droid-3 was at the end of the previous generation. Reviewing my current view of my goals for this pocket computer, I've decided to do the full selection process.
From experience with the Droid-3 I have modified my goals quite a bit. A lot of pocket computer activities depend more on operating system support than on hardware components. However, the point here is to pick the hardware. The lists below are organized around the hardware that supports the activities rather than grouped by function, downplaying the very important responsibility of the operating system to use that hardware effectively.
I very much like CyanogenMod as the modified operating system.
But on the Droid-3 it has taken a heroic effort (by Hashcode) to come up
with up-to-date kernels and system infrastructure. The next phone will
have a well-travelled path to root access and to the installation of
CyanogenMod, preferably version 10 based on
Jelly Bean, and
preferably an official non-beta version, versus alpha-level for the
Motorola Droid series. (Update: version is official but is beta level.)
(Update: as of 2012-11-13 a production version has been issued.)
Unlike the last time, the carrier is settled: Verizon Wireless. Probably I will get something that Verizon subsidizes. This restricts the range of choices. A big problem with cellphones is the short life of any one model. Presence in Verizon's list guarantees that the phone's life is not over.
I view HTML content a lot. The phone must have a nice display and a decent web browser. 960x540px (QHD) or 800x480px (WVGA) are desired. The Droid's screen size is good: 103mm (4in).
At times I use the hand computer outdoors in direct sunlight, particularly for map navigation. It is quite important that the display be readable in that situation, even though its color and contrast may be degraded from its performance in artificial light. A transflective display (color) would be rated highly if available (not likely). I doubt an OLED display can fight the sun and win, or if it does, it will totally eat battery. (Update: this fear is ill-founded.)
Many tasks involve extensive text entry. Specifically, I record my blood pressure; I send e-mail; I make shopping lists, I connect to a terminal (shell) session on both my work and home computers; and various similar tasks. Formerly I insisted on a physical keyboard, on the Nokia 810, the G1 (HTC Dream), and the Droid-3 (Motorola Solana). Here is my current feeling on the physical keyboard:
Phones with physical keyboards are rare, greatly limiting the choices. This is the biggest problem with the physical keyboard.
All of the keyboards I have had have deficiencies: keys require unpleasant force (Nokia 810), keys activate unreliably (all), programmer's punctuation is hard to get at (Droid is the best).
None of the keyboards are satisfactory for extensive writing, e.g. writing a web page such as this one. Medium-scale texts like one or at most two paragraphs of e-mail are the most I've ever done.
The physical keyboard adds about 40 grams to the phone's mass.
140 grams is a
nice mass; the Droid-3 at 183 grams is like a
SUV. (The lightest phone I've seen was 82 grams.)
The physical keyboard makes the phone more vulnerable to rain and beverage spills.
I have been impressed by the on-screen keyboard on Windows Phone 7, and I assume that modern Android input methods share its good features. (With my pocket computer inoperative, I can't test this assumption, unfortunately.) There are a lot of keyboards and advanced input methods in the Android Market. On the Nokia 770 I disliked the on-screen keyboard because it takes up too much space and is too klunky, but my negative feeling in this area is perhaps reduced a little now. In portrait orientation on a 16x9 screen there should be more space for the app than on the Nokia 770.
So this time around I am going to specify a nonphysical keyboard.
I need rare but important connectivity (both voice and data) outside the United States. A phone that can do both GSM and CDMA would be rated highly. On a recent trip to Europe my wife and I both had such phones and the ability to send SMS and/or voice in an emergency gave us a lot of peace of mind.
In my area 4G LTE is widely available. I don't do activities on cellular data for which speed is critical. However, I also don't want to be behind the times, and won't reject a LTE modem. It's assumed that the modem can also do CDMA-2000 and EV-DO. WiMax is also available but appears to be limited to one carrier and to not be so wonderful technically. I won't consider a WiMax modem.
Batteries degrade with time, and on a long flight I will need a spare fully charged battery to keep entertained the whole way. A field-replaceable battery is essential, preferably without removing screws. The arrangement on the Apple iDevices, where you need to send it in to depot repair to get a new battery, is unacceptable.
The Droid-3's external SD card arrangement has been completely satisfactory: to swap it you need to turn off power and remove the back cover, but this is a field-replace job, not like the iPhone family where there is no external SD card and the memory is fixed at the time of purchase.
Here is a list of features that are important, and that every modern cellphone is expected to have.
The Droid-3 (with a 1.2GHz dual core TI OMAP-4430 processor, 0.5Gb RAM, and 16Gb internal flash) has been exemplary in CPU power; in fact, it is faster (even on a one-core task) than my wife's desktop machine. There has been no sign of RAM limitations. There is more than enough room for all the apps and data I need, plus there is expansion space on the external SD card (32Gb addressing limit). Likely, modern phones all equal or exceed these specifications. However, Hashcode had a lot of trouble squeezing the Jelly Bean kernel into 0.5Gb RAM due to memory mapping issues with the graphics and multimedia coprocessors. I'm going to take memory under 1Gb as a red flag.
Wired headphones and Bluetooth A2DP are required for music listening. Every phone should have both. A 3.5mm stereo jack is preferred over a proprietary jobbie like on the HTC Dream.
I rely on the pocket computer for navigation and mapping. It must have a GPS receiver for this activity. All modern phones have GPS.
USB connection to the host computer, including Android debugging. All Android phones have this. File transfer without unmounting the SD card is desireable, but this is an OS issue.
Photography with a rear-facing camera. Massive resolution is not needed; it's impossible for a cellphone to have optics to match the sensors that go into cellphones these days. Auto focus is important for jobs like reading barcodes, which is one of my major uses of the rear-facing camera. LED flash is a nice addition.
Here is a laundry list of features which would be nice but are not deal-breakers if absent. They are ordered by importance.
Water and rain resistance. There is no chance that I will get what I want for this requirement.
Adjusts the screen brightness according to the ambient light level. The Droid-3 does this very nicely, and it saves battery while keeping the display readable as lighting changes.
Charges from a generic micro-USB or mini-USB connector, not a vendor-specific charger like Nokia's 1.5mm cylinder connector.
Video chat with a front-facing camera.
My plan is to look at registration statistics on the CyanogenMod site, pick the top ten or so most popular models, and verify their CyanogenMod status. Then I will intersect these with Verizon's offering. I will use summary listings to assess required features, cut the list down to about four phones, and then read detailed reviews.
Link to CyanogenMod statistics page. These numbers should be compared to the number of activations of unmodded Android phones, which is in the millions per day. These numbers count devices that have reported aliveness within 90 days. Some users do not turn on the statistics gathering feature so these underestimate CyanogenMod's actual market penetration. There are other modded OS images beyond CyanogenMod.
For a cross reference from chassis names (as used for CyanogenMod images) to marketing names as used by the carriers, see the CyanogenMod download page. In the left column the chassis are in alphabetical order, and hovering will pop up the vendor/carrier name. The CyanogenMod chassis name for Verizon's variant of the Galaxy S III is the d2vzw; for the Galaxy Nexus it is the toro.
Here is a list of the top 20 phones (self-reporting that they currently run CyanogenMod) plus a few others.
|Total||2,496,113||All||18,569 new in last 24 hours|
|galaxysmtd||117627||10||Samsung Galaxy S i9000|
|cooper||87257||7||Samsung Galaxy Ace (Martin Cooper developed the first handheld radio phone.)|
|blade||84937||7||ZTE Blade (aka Venus, or Orange San Francisco), European market|
|i9100||74998||10||Samsung Galaxy S II (international)|
|galaxys2||65783||9||Samsung Galaxy S 2|
|shakira||52762||7?||SE Xperia X8-E15i|
|maguro||40940||10||Google Galaxy Nexus GSM|
|tass||38326||7||Samsung Galaxy Mini|
|ace||37539||7||HTC Desire HD or Inspire 4G|
|i9300||35194||10||Samsung Galaxy S III (international)|
|toro||20489||10||Samsung Galaxy Nexus (VZW)|
|p1c||?||10||Samsung Galaxy Tab (CDMA) (this is a tablet)|
The phones stuck on CM-7 based on
Gingerbread have memory or
hardware limitations that prevent putting CM-10
Jelly Bean on them.
There is a good reason why CyanogenMod-10 is available for recent
Samsung phones: Cyanogen himself (Steve Kondik) was hired as
a developer by Samsung on about 2011-08-15.
CM Nameis from the table above; where blank, CyanogenMod is probably not available.
|Samsung Galaxy S III||16GB||$200||d2vzw||Colors blue, white, black, red|
|Samsung Galaxy S III||32GB||$250||d2vzw||Colors blue, white|
|Samsung Galaxy Stellar||--||(free)|
|Droid Charge by Samsung||--||$100|
|Galaxy Nexus by Samsung||16Gb||$50||toro|
It it took some work to be sure which chassis the
Samsung Galaxy S III really
is. See the links below for confirming the identification as the d2vzw.
Galaxy Nexus by Samsung almost certainly is the Toro.
Web links to CyanogenMod images for the two identified phones:
|Display Size||1280x720px 120mm||1280x720px 118mm|
|Display Technology||Super AMOLED||Super AMOLED|
|Modulation||CDMA, GSM, LTE||CDMA, others not sure|
|Processor|| Qualcomm |
Krait2 core 1.5GHz
|TI OMAP 4460 2 core 1.2GHz|
|Removeable Flash||64Gb MicroSDXC||NONE!|
|Audio||Wired, Bluetooth||Wired, Bluetooth|
|USB/ADB||Has||Doesn't say, likely has|
|MHL (HDMI from USB port)||Has (Samsung adapter)||Has (generic adapter)|
|Rear Camera||8Mpx (3264x2448px), autofocus, LED flash, f/2.6||5Mpx (2592x1936px), autofocus, LED flash|
|Ambient Light Sensor||Has||Has|
|Battery||2.1Ah LiIon field replaceable||1.75Ah LiIon field replaceable|
|Chassis Dimensions||136 x 70 x 9mm||135 x 68 x 9mm|
|Physical Buttons||Home, Volume, Power, plus 2 capacitive buttons (home, back)||Power and volume rocker, plus 3 capacitive buttons (home, back, search)|
Miscellaneous for the Galaxy S III:
Mobile High Definition Link. CyanogenMod supports mass storage on this connector.
torture testwhich it survived: -4C and 88C non-operating, and immersion in water (how deep? a fishtank.) Screen did not survive a drop test, though (how high?) Flash required to view the video.
Miscellaneous for the Galaxy Nexus:
only3.0 supported by software)
Mobile High Definition Link.
There are five hardware variants of the Galaxy Nexus:
Toro for Verizon: 4G-LTE on 700MHz, CDMA/EVDO-A on
PCS 800/1900MHz, 32Gb internal flash, 1.85Ah battery.
Maguro for AT&T and T-Mobile. GSM. Can handle
both normal and T-Mobile frequencies. This is the variant available
direct from Google.
Toro Plus for Sprint. Same as Toro except it lacks
a SIM slot. (And if Toro has a SIM slot, what's it going to be used
GT-i9250T: For Australian carriers: Optus, Telstra, Vodafone. GSM. Prefers 3G on 850MHz.
SHW-M420S/K: For Korean SKT and KT. GSM. Special Korean regulatory compliance.
Both phones received rave reviews when new. Experience with reviews in the past leads me to believe that criticisms will probably involve the camera (one critic says colors are washed out, another on the same phone says they're oversaturated); software issues; and other irrelevancies. Criticisms on points important to me will probably only make themselves known when it's too late to change to the other phone.
I'm going to read one review on Engadget for each phone.
Samsung Galaxy S III Review on Engadget by Sharif Sakr, 2012-05-25
Build quality is hard to criticise. Plastic is extremely well put together. It doesn't flex or creak and the phone never feels fragile.
Comparing to Galaxy Nexus from 6 months ago, the display isn't
oversaturated and avoids the bluish tint. It uses the
sub-pixel layout which doesn't give as good resolution as straight
RGB, but with the big screen and the high pixel density, the reviewer
was not as bothered as in competing phones like the Nokia Lumia 800.
He likes the camera and also the software with it. Although the HTC One X has a f/2.0 lens, better than this one's f/2.6.
He reports good audio quality in voice chat, using the conventional speaker/mic, speakerphone, or earbud (included), although the latter was too tinny to be taken seriously for music.
Battery life: 9hr 2min of looped video. Brilliant score.
Samsung Galaxy S III for Verizon Wireless on Engadget by Brad Molen, 2012-07-09.
This review concentrates on the differences between the Verizon SCH-I535 and previously announced Galaxy S III variants.
The SCH-I535 does have a GSM radio, currently (2012-07) not enabled, but a software update is promised in summer 2012. Everything else (hardware-wise) is the same as the GSM counterpart. Inductive charging is available (sold separately?)
The bootloader is locked (unlike on other variants). Nonetheless the CyanogenMod nightlies have got to be going on the phones somehow.
GPS performance was excellent: within 40m in 5 sec, final position in 20 sec.
Voice chat audio quality was excellent. Internal speaker is incredibly loud (when turned up all the way). Wired audio was excellent too.
Data speed test on LTE (with good signal in Salt Lake): 25Mbit/s download, 15Mbit/s upload. Repeat in Chicago: 35Mbit/s down, 20Mbit/s up.
Reviewer really liked the camera. A gallery of easy outdoor shots came out good.
MHL requires a proprietary adapter; jimc is surprised that this was not mentioned in other reviews, as an adapter is obviously necessary.
Review of Nexus (HSPA) on Engadget by Miriam Joire, 2011-11-24.
Physical: case is satiny gunmetal gray, very refined. But build quality is typical Samsung: plastic construction is durable but looks and feels cheap.
Display glass is curved. Jimc says: from the photo, looks like the edges curve back a little, but the main display area is flat. And the Galaxy S III has similar glass. It has 3 dedicated soft keys (off the display area). Notification light is below the display.
Textured back cover. Battery door snap-on design; reviewer found it hard to snap closed. Camera is raised 1 or 2mm above the rest of the back.
Location of ports: bottom edge has audio, USB, and main microphone. Left side has volume rocker. Power button on right side. Near the power button are 3 contacts for a dock.
Gorgeous, mind-boggling screen.
Android ICS (unlike Gingerbread) only supports USB mass storage on removeable media, making this useless on the Nexus, making MTP or PTP the only way to copy content to/from the phone over USB. Jimc says: what about ADB? (Update: without root, ADB can read but can't write to the SD card.)
It has a dual microphone for noise cancellation. Calls sounded loud and clear on both ends. Data speeds (HSPA): 8Mb/s download, 1.7Mb/s upload (bits/sec), radio rated for 21Mb/s. Music audio was fine on wired phones. Internal speaker is surprisingly decent.
Battery life: excellent. 5.25hr playing video continuously, same
as for a Droid RAZR with similar battery and processor. 28hr of
Camera: Underwhelming. The cameras on the Galaxy S II and the
iPhone 4S take better pictures. Jimc says: the subjects in the sample
shots were definitely difficult, and the software could have done a
much better job with level (exposure) adjustment and color balance.
Hand editing would improve these pics a lot. But the point is,
you would like the software to get it right the first time. In any
case, the reviewer is incorrect to say
the camera is
underwhelming; rather, the camera is fine and the controlling
software is underwhelming. (She liked the UI of the camera app.)
The camera app can do time lapse.
Overall, the Galaxy Nexus is definitely the best Android phone available at [time of review] -- possibly even the best phone available, period. Not perfect, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Status of CyanogenMod on the Galaxy S III, from a search on Google for
Galaxy S III Verizon CyanogenMod:
CyanogenMod Wiki confirms that it is available for SCH-I535.
Youtube video showing how to install it. By Shane on
DroidModders.com. Apparently you can install kexec Clockwork
Recovery and it doesn't realize it's being raped. But I think this
is on a phone with an unlocked bootloader, not d2vzw.
Youtube video showing how to install it. By Shane on DroidModders.com. Apparently you can install kexec Clockwork Recovery and it doesn't realize it's being raped. But I think this is on a phone with an unlocked bootloader, not d2vzw.
Now comes the time to balance the strengths and deficiencies of the two phones, and pick one or the other.
Display: Size is identical. The S III has 6 months of technological development which makes the display look significantly nicer, according to the reviewer.
AMOLED display: We've seen Ben demonstrate a AMOLED display
outdoors, and it was adequate. Use testing by reviewers indicates
normal use situations it does not excessively eat
Both the S III and the Nexus have 4G-LTE, CDMA and GSM radios. On the S III stock ROM, the software can't use GSM, but a software patch is promised by 2012 summer. Probably a hack to the radio software.
The S III has 2Gb RAM vs. 1Gb for Nexus. Way overkill.
The Nexus does not have removeable flash memory; the S III does, 64Gb addressing limit. This may be a deal breaker.
The Nexus came out 2011-10-19 versus S III 2012-05-03. Verizon is doing a fire sale promo on the Nexus and one Canadian carrier has already discontinued it. Should I get the Nexus at the end of its effective life?
Price: The Verizon subsidized price for the Nexus is $50 vs. $200 for the S III.
For the S III, the Wikipedia article refers to a successful water immersion test.
The Nexus has an unlocked boot loader; the S III is locked. However, evidently you can install Clockwork Recovery anyway.
Conclusion: I'm getting the Galaxy S III.
Verizon's price is $200 + $55 tax (on the retail price of $600) + $30 phone upgrade fee. I got it at the local brick and mortar store. It's available in four colors: blue, white, black and red, but the latter two are only available online. Blue turns out to be a very dark blue, almost black, only on the back cover; the face of the device is black. This is the color I got.
Since I'm going to install CyanogenMod I'll wipe out almost all the work I do setting up the machine, so I'll minimize such work. My goal is to exercise all the hardware functions in stock mode and report the results, then do the upgrade.
Setup steps in stock mode:
Copy down key parameters:
Per Wikipedia's Android Version History , 4.0.x is Ice Cream Sandwich, and 4.1.x will be Jelly Bean.
Grant access to the new pocket computer on the local network's firewall. Files to edit:
Set up Wi-Fi network. To get to settings, pull down the notification area and hit the gear icon. Done. I got the password right on the first try, using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard. 64 bytes of English text, 196 bits entropy. Update: long press on the Wi-Fi icon and you jump directly to its settings page.
Establish Google identity so I can use the
(Android Market). Settings - Accounts+Sync - Google. Decline
Google+. Decline Google backup.
Install Phone Tester from market. Also GPS Status and Coverage Map.
While my back was turned it proceeded to do an OTA update and I didn't have the forethought to capture the SBF file. The update actually went pretty fast.
Pouch properly sized for the Galaxy S III. The one for the Droid-3 is nice but is just a bit too small. I thought about vertical pouches but they all have a single belt clip that's sure to either come off the belt or off the pouch. A hit: Premium Horizontal EVA2 - Black Carrying Case Pouch Case for Samsung Galaxy S III $12.49 sold by DreamBargains and fulfilled by Amazon. This one has 2 belt loops and a central clip. On a similar design I used to have, getting the belt through the clip is a pain, but at least it works. Update: This pouch is nice, just the right size. Putting the belt through the clip is easier than on the previous pouch.
Replacement battery. There are a lot of nonbranded substitutes, and some of them clearly say they don't do NFC (and some don't). I got one Samsung OEM battery, 2100mAh, p/n EB-L1G6LLAGSTA, $18.99 sold by Yucsyi and fulfilled by Amazon. I'm storing it in the refrigerator so it degrades more slowly. It's important to buy the replacement battery as soon as you get the phone because batteries tend to sit in the vendor's warehouse starting from when the phone first came out.
Stand, to support the pocket computer vertically (landscape
orientation) at night, while it charges, so I can see the clock
display, replacing a low tech alarm clock. This is referred to as
plate easel and may be found with the picture frames.
The smallest size, $5 at Bed Bath and Beyond. It's working out OK.