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Sony Posts Guide on Building AOSP 7.0 Nougat for its Xperia Smartphones

Posted by wicked August - 27 - 2016 - Saturday Comments Off

If, for some reason, you were still of the opinion that an OEM could never be developer friendly, Sony has given yet another example of being just that.

On its official website for all developer resources, Sony has posted a build guide for building Android 7.0 Nougat, the AOSP flavor and not its skinned variant, for its Xperia branch of devices. And yes, before you ask, there are mentions of Leo (device codename for Xperia Z3). So Sony is indeed helping the users capable of building Android 7.0 to install and experience the same on their device, even if it did not announce that the Z3 will receive official Android 7.0.

The guide for building AOSP is very straightforward. You’d need a Linux environment to build if you follow the guide, and the guide also lists the tools and environment needed for the build. Once you do have build ready, you’d need a Sony device with an unlocked bootloader to flash the image using fastboot. If all went well, you should have a Sony Xperia device with Android 7.0 Nougat, brought to you courtesy of the efforts at Sony.

So go on ahead, you have something interesting to do for the weekend! Let us know your xperience in the comments below!

Let us start off by saying that the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are remarkable devices by themselves as far as hardware goes. They are among the best Android phones that one can purchase in all major markets of the world. The devices provide a decent user experience for a normal consumer, and the sales figures of the phones stand in testimony to its popularity.

But, if you did purchase the Galaxy S7 or the S7 Edge in parts of the world where the Exynos variant is being sold, that means that your S7/Edge is much less likely to see proper AOSP-based ROMs. The Exynos SoC family is not developer-friendly, and there is a good chance that most Exyno devices will never see a very stable AOSP-based ROM experience, even if avid developers manage to get the ROM to boot.

However, the world is built on hope and dreams. And a dream of several XDA members that own the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is to see a working build of CyanogenMod 13 on their device. And XDA Senior Member sktjdgns1189 is hard at work trying to make that dream a reality. For now, the developer has managed to boot up CM13 on his Galaxy S7 Edge, and has mentioned that sound works. This is the extent of progress that we are privy to, as there are no files for downloading and testing things out ourselves yet. The developer has posted a quick 5 second video on his personal blog as a “proof of concept” sorts.

20160708_160159

We are a bit wary of calling this even a Beta or Alpha ROM, simply because we do not know the true extent of current progress as well as the future scope of the project, given that it is Exynos and that all we see is early footage. But it is what it is, a glimmer of hope in the sea of TouchWiz.

What are your thoughts on this development? Let us know in the comments below!

You Asked, We Answer – AOSP Build Times on AMD Processors

Posted by wicked June - 13 - 2016 - Monday Comments Off

A few months ago I kicked off a series of articles aimed at examining what affects build times when building an Android ROM from open source options such as CyanogenMod or OMNIRom.

You showed us you were very interested and then did something else — started to ask questions. Does Intel or AMD make a difference? What about mobile processors versus desktop? I had many of the same questions and very little proof to back them up at the time. Today’s article will help answer some of the questions as far as AMD processors go to see how they fare in AOSP build times.

Now, before we get started it’s a good chance to explain something – what you can expect to see here on XDA regarding PC hardware coverage. We will continue a focus on things that affect build times as this seems to be the largest interest that can’t be found elsewhere. But when we shift away from that focus to look at other aspects, such as virtual/augmented reality or providing a recommended build configuration, we wouldn’t be doing a good job if we didn’t look at the complete system including graphics solutions. If there’s something you would like to see for development or other reasons feel free to reach out and let us know!

Testing ConfigurationsCkXQWk2UkAEtI6l

After the previous article we contacted AMD and they were happy to provide 3 processors in their current lineup for testing: The Athlon X4 845; the FX-6350 and FX-8350, both with the new Wraith coolers. This unfortunately requires two separate motherboards for testing, but all other components will be kept the same.

Test Bench: Lian Li Pit Stop T60B
CPU: AMD Athlon X4 845; FX-6350; FX-8350 (all using provided air cooling solution)
Motherboard: ASRock A88M‑G/3.1 (X4 845); ASUS A5R97 R2.0 (FX-6350, FX-8350)
RAM: Micron DDR3-1600 2x4GB
SSD: 2 x OCZ Trion 150 240GB configured in RAID 0 (except /boot and swap)
Power: Corsair CX750M
O/S: Ubuntu 16.04 LTS with latest updates installed on June 2nd.

Sourcing: All CPUs and ASRock motherboard provided by AMD. All other parts were either purchased or readily available to me.

Testing Plan

Both CyanogenMod (cm-13.0 branch) and OmniROM (android-6.0 branch) will be synced and necessary additional device/kernel/vendor for the Nexus 6P (angler).  A total of 12 builds will be performed in each configuration: 3 with ccache cleared, 3 using pre-populated ccache. An average will be taken from the 3 builds and used as the configuration’s “non-ccache” and “ccache” build times. I’m sure that there are better results that can be achieved on AMD hardware with other options, and we’ll explore those in a separate test. But for this one it’s all about consistency – minimizing the variables and maximizing the control group.

Wraith Cooler

Before getting to the results I’d like to give a shout out to AMD for the Wraith cooler. I opened up the one that came with the FX-6350 and then reused it for the FX-8350 after cleaning and reapplying thermal paste. And even during the entire build process and in a server room I could hear plenty of fans going, but not the Wraith. The cooler also comes with an LED that didn’t appear to light up on the one I opened, but that could have been an issue with the board since it was second-hand.

Results & Interpretation

OK, enough chatting, you’re here for build times. So here we go, the averages of 3 builds under each:

bench2

Times are provided in hours and minutes.  The first processor, the X4-845, is based on Carizzo and therefore the most recent architecture. The other two, the FX-6350 and FX-8350, are based on Vishera designs and have been on the market for 3 and 4 years respectively. We can’t take much away from the Carizzo performance versus Vishera because the CPU bottleneck is just way too high and causes the builds to suffer dramatically on a full build without ccache. That starts to open up and we see a better picture of performance with Vishera, but even in the case of the FX-8350 all CPUs were pinging at 100% for a good portion of both the non-ccache and ccache builds. This unfortunately means that there is a bottleneck here.

When we look at this from a different perspective though – price – we can see that for around $500 it’s possible to build the test configuration I have here. By comparison the Intel i7-4790K would cost about $150 more for that faster build performance, and builds might go to half of the time of the FX-8350. For most that could be just over the limit – I’d even suggest anyone consider the FX-6350 based on the slightly longer build time but $30 less. Kernel builders or app developers would probably still experience very little issue with either of the FX processors tested in this scenario. Add a video card such as AMD’s upcoming Radeon RX 480 that is supposed to come in at around $199 and you could have a build machine that can easily double as a VR capable system for under $700.

And then there’s Zen, the processor that AMD has been working on for years to better combat the performance that Intel has been delivering with its Core desktop lineup. Last year slides surfaced that indicated Zen would offer a 40% increase on instructions per clock (IPC) over Excavator, two revisions beyond the Vishera processors tested. While no solid numbers have been provided estimates have anywhere from a 60% to 90% IPC increase from Vishera to Zen. We’ll be looking forward to testing those processors as they make their way out and comparing them to these build times to see just how much they improve the situation

Conclusion

If you’re one of those users who has to crank out a build in very short order, the AMD FX line does seem to struggle to match the performance from the higher ends of the Intel Core lineup. But where it’s lacking in build times it makes up for in price, making the ability to build one of these systems on a budget much more likely – especially if reuse some existing parts, such as the power supply or case. Those who are focused only on a full AOSP ROM from source may have issues even then – kernel and app developers should be able to develop on AMD processors with little to fear in the way of performance. And with new processors on the way as early as this fall for Zen, this has been a great opportunity to review what AMD’s current lineup offers and set the stage to properly evaluate Zen’s performance when it releases.

For $30 less and almost similar build times the FX-6350 seems to be the way to go for most out of these three. Those that can afford the extra $30 may be better off putting that in faster RAM or an improved GPU if they are gaming. Even though these processors are longer in the tooth, they’ve also proven they can keep up with most average applications, especially when paired with the right GPU for gaming and are a great value for someone looking to do an upgrade on a budget. But what if you’re considering on upgrading away from any of this lineup currently?

My advice would be to wait just a little bit longer for Zen to come out. Go ahead and upgrade that GPU now while you wait, since you can take that over to a new motherboard. Zen has the potential to dramatically change the game and it’s definitely worth the wait to see how it performs before deciding.

Again our thanks to AMD for the supplying the CPUs for these tests! Did you find this information valuable? What would you like to see tested next? Let us know in the comments below or feel free to carry on the discussion in our forums, Twitter, Facebook or Google+!

Paranoid Android returned in what was probably one of the most exciting moments of the week for XDA users, even amidst new and significant phone releases. After a long hiatus, their newest Marshmallow builds are available to the public.

For those who don’t know about Paranoid Android, they had made some excellent ROMs crammed with functionality that pushed the user experience forward. They put forth really polished staple-features like Hover notifications, a concept which spread like wildfire. They championed immersive mode and alternative navigation controls with PIE, maximizing screen space for those willing to step out of the ordinary. Dynamic status bars, ambient-predecessor Peek, and a myriad of customization options… Paranoid Android not only had an extensive repertoire of fun, useful stuff, but also remarkable implementation.

With their newest Marshmallow ROM, much of that we fondly remember hasn’t made the cut, but that doesn’t meant there isn’t excitement to be had. I’ve flashed this ROM on my Nexus 6P and OnePlus 2, and the experience has so far been very satisfactory, albeit not what I had expected.

Great default wallpaper
Good toggle options
No silly menus
CM Theming!

These builds of Paranoid Android showcase a rather unadulterated Android. For many people, that’s a good thing, although I know some were disappointed to find that the Settings menus didn’t offer much new (or in this particular ROM’s case, old) stuff to play with. And in PA fashion, the toggles you are looking for are tucked away in the respective sub-menus.

Screenshot_20160608-201335The key features that this new Paranoid Android has to offer were those detailed in their release post. Let’s begin with floating windows: rather than the multi-tasking they and others in the custom ROM scene had championed, these floating windows are more like peeks, as the overlaying application is not manipulatable — it is designed not to multi-task but to facilitate certain actions. For example, you can make it so that heads-up notifications, or long-pressing notifications in the status bar, open up the relevant app in a floating window. For chat applications, this isn’t bad — it allows you to see the whole chat history while quick reply does not.

Quick Settings tiles can be re-ordered easily by dragging and dropping, and you can add extra ones with the plus icon at the top. This is very much like what you find in other ROMs (like OxygenOS, coincidentally) and while the animations for the sorting of the toggles are well-made and look really nice, it is not a feature many will enjoy multiple times a day. Once you are done setting your tiles however you like them, you are likely to leave them that way.

Screenshot_20160608-202739

The new tiles also serve as a gateway for Paranoid Android features, and they allow for quick and easy configuration of said features. You can change the behaviour of floating windows, and you can toggle immersive mode as well. But immersive mode, albeit awesome, is frustrating to use without navigation solutions like PIE. It is still nice to have a toggle for it, though, as it allows the feature to be situational rather than global, letting users get the most out of specific applications or use-cases.

What’s by far my favorite idea here is also the most tragically under-implemented feature: on-the-stop settings. Their blogspot casually mentioned it, likely because there’s only one proper implementation of this concept so far, but didn’t go into specifics.  What it does is, rather than configuring a “default” for very common and/or important ROM behavior, it asks you which setting you would like on the first trigger of such behavior.

quickpulldown

In the example you are presented early into your usage, the phone asks whether you want Quick Pulldown when lowering the notification shade. This solution is discreet and user-friendly, and does not take control away from the user nor demand attention like some other implementations. You can later either re-configure the appropriate toggle in the settings, or restore the setting under the Paranoid Android submenu of “Backup & Restore”.

Screenshot_20160608-220434
Screenshot_20160608-220616
Screenshot_20160608-220626
Screenshot_20160608-222530

Another really nice aspect of this ROM is that it feels very well polished, with performance on my Nexus 6P being extremely smooth and with very few drops in framerate while scrolling through lists. Opening applications is fast and I had no stability issues other than one instance of Clock app force close (granted, that’s one of the last applications you want to fail you). I can’t speak on battery life as I’ve only gotten a few charges out, and my usage has been highly atypical (hotspotting while waiting for a new router).


I feel that the team behind Paranoid Android has released a very solid and promising ROM with many of the right ideas, and a clear priority on quality over quantity — perhaps to the point where the lack of features hurt the ROM. But a ROM as influential as Paranoid Android was is not built in a day, and Paranoid Android still has many of the same underlying approaches and philosophy working in its favor.

Essentially, I’d say this is a polished ROM with good performance and thoughtful features. Many fans said Paranoid Android felt “professionally put together”, and this ROM isn’t much of a deviation from that. Menus are tidy, features are well-implemented and easily-accessible, and there is good thought behind each core function. But losing some of Paranoid Android’s prime functionality – at least temporarily – means the ROM has ways to go before really feeling like the PA many people came to expect. And considering that Android N is coming out soon, maybe the PA team is saving its cards for that round. And let’s not forget, many of the features PA pioneered are now in AOSP, and more are being adopted by N.

Some of the missing stuff is not just stuff PA used to have, but features custom ROMs have adopted as a standard. That doesn’t meant that you can’t get the features elsewhere through other mods on top of the PA ROM, though. And surprisingly enough, features like Android Pay were actually working. Users in the forum have also reported good battery life, and it has lasted me enough even with my atypical usage. So ultimately, if you want a stable ROM with thoughtful design, good theming capabilities and Android Pay, give this a shot — it’s bound to keep getting better over time.

An overview of the new Paranoid Android 6.0

Posted by wicked June - 9 - 2016 - Thursday Comments Off

Nine months ago, the Paranoid Android team found some new life and began working on their next release. The idea was to bring some fun, new features that helped improve the user experience while maintaining all of the things that has made Paranoid Android one of the best AOSP ROMs out there. Instead of putting out builds as alpha and beta releases, the team decided to forego those and go straight for a stable release. That release is here and we’re going to take a quick look at it.


paranoid android quick view

Floating Mode

Floating Mode is actually a floating window that you can use to view your applications without having to open the entire app. This is useful for things like replying to quick messages or checking something out on the fly without having to stop what you’re doing. The good news is that the window is large enough to make it useful for practically any app with the one downside being that you can’t really move it around all that much. There are three ways to make Floating Mode happen:

  • The first is by long pressing any notification. It’ll turn dark and then you’ll see the option on the right side. Tap it once and the app will open in front of whatever else you’re doing. Do note that this does not work with all apps, but it should work with most.
  • You can also go into the recent apps view and find the icon there. Each app has its own little box and the icon will be at the top bar next to the close button. Tap it once and the app will open in Floating Mode.
  • The third way is by far the easiest and it’s a toggle in the quick settings called Floating Peek. You enable it in the Quick Settings and then when you get a notification, you can click on the “heads up” notification to automatically open a floating window.

Once it’s open, you’ll have full functionality across the entire app to do what you need to do. Once it’s done, you simply hit the back button to return to whatever it was you were doing before. We found that if you don’t have any apps open when you create a floating window, it’ll open your most recently used app in the background, just in case. Overall, it’s the best system-wide implementation of floating windows that we’ve seen and it’s really easy to use it or ignore it if you want to.


Paranoid Android quick look

OTS Controls

OTS (or “On-The-Spot”) Controls is a something that Android tablets have had for a while already to some degree. When you drag the notification shade down for the first time, you’ll be asked if you want to turn the feature on. If you miss the opportunity then, you can find the option by navigating to the system settings, then to Backup & Restore, and then finally to Feature Preferences.

This is a really simple feature. The way it works is when you slide down the notification shade like normal, you’ll see your notifications. No magic there. However, if you slide your finger down over where the clock usually sits, you’ll be able to draw down the Quick Settings in one swipe. It’s true that this mimics the functionality of just swiping down with two fingers, but that’s difficult to do when you’re holding the phone in one hand.

The only issue we found with it is if you’re using larger phones and your thumb may not make it close enough to the center to pull down just the notifications. However, if that does become an issue, you can always turn the feature off. Otherwise, we recommend you leave it on because it’ll save you a couple of swipes once you get used to it.


Paranoid Android quick look

Quick Settings add and remove

In Android Marshmallow, you have the capacity to move your Quick Settings tiles around. However, if you want to delete them or add more, you have to go into the System Tuner and do it the hard way. In Paranoid Android, this functionality is baked directly into the Quick Settings. You’ll be able to move Quick Tiles around as usual, but you can also drag them up to the top and throw them away like you do icons on your home screen.

At the top of the status bar, there is a plus symbol where you can see all the Tiles that have been removed and re-add them to the Quick Settings at your discretion. This is turned on by default and is usable immediately after boot so you can customize as soon as you want to.


<img src=http://cdn03.androidauthority.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Paranoid-Android-Power-Off-Shut-Down-Reboot-Screenshot-Airplane-Mode-Power-Menu-840x473.jpg" alt="Paranoid Android quick look" width="840" height="473" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-697484" />

Additional features

Of course, there are plenty of features carried over from prior releases that are still there now.

  • Paranoid Android has CyanogenMod’s theme support and virtually any CM13 theme from the Google Play Store should work on this ROM.
  • System-wide Immersive Mode is still present and you can set the status bar and navigation bar to disappear pretty much whenever you want it to. It will reappear when you swipe up from the bottom or down from the top just like it usually does.
  • The ROM also retains support for layers. If you want to know more about that, we took a closer look in our Diving Into Android M series.
  • The power menu has been altered to include a reboot option, a screenshot option, and an Airplane Mode toggle.
  • Interestingly, the ROM doesn’t appear to come with root access by default. You’ll likely want to flash the latest SuperSU.zip along with the ROM (and Gapps!) if you want to keep root.
  • It’s also worth noting that there are additional features for OnePlus and OPPO owners, such as gestures and more involved kernel features.

android n preview logoSee also: Check out what’s next with an overview of Android N!264

Paranoid Android quick look

Paranoid Android Final Thoughts

Overall, Paranoid Android seems like a very competently done ROM. It maintains a lot of the features that made it really good in the first place, but also adds in a few new things for people to play with. We were especially impressed with how the new features have been integrated. Everything feels like an extension of the OS with a natural fluidity that isn’t generally typical for a custom ROM.

It seems to work well and we didn’t have any force closes or performance issues, but to be fair, we’ve only been using it for a few days and your results could vary. That said, it is stable enough for daily driver use if you’re interested. The following devices are supported right now with more to likely come in the future:

  • Nexus 6P
  • Nexus 5X
  • Nexus 6
  • Nexus 5
  • Nexus 4
  • Nexus 7 2013
  • Nexus 9
  • OnePlus One
  • OnePlus 2
  • OnePlus X
  • Some Sony devices

If you want to try it out for yourself, you can download the latest releases by clicking here.

Stick it to phone thieves: you can now remotely brick your phone

Posted by wicked June - 6 - 2016 - Monday Comments Off

Lost Android phone Shutterstock

When it comes to a lost or stolen phone there are a few things you can do: use Android Device Manager to locate or remotely wipe it; install an app to take a photo of anyone trying to unlock it; or even blacklist your phone’s IMEI. But the Android Open Source Project has just added another option: allowing you to remotely brick your phone, rendering it unbootable for whoever ends up with it.

android-device-manager-call-back-lock-screenSee also: How to find a lost or stolen Android phone79

On Friday, Change 235361 was merged into AOSP with a very simple role: to add support to brick a device. The change allows manufacturers to define partitions that can be remotely wiped, but it also gives you the power to brick your device via recovery, making it useless to anyone that stole or found it. Exactly how the change might get implemented in Android is currently unknown.

android recovery

It’s a pretty serious step and one that won’t help much if you end up finding your phone down the back of the sofa a week later. But if you know you’re definitely not getting your phone back then it is a pretty viable option for shutting down any potential re-sale value.

Remote bricking could also help stop criminals from accessing personal information and account details, especially if it is implemented in such a way that allows the original owner to unbrick it if the device finds its way home.

It is unclear at this point if Google plans to make this a user-facing feature of Android Device Manager in future or even if it will include it in future Android versions. When it comes to Android security though, any additional failsafes are welcome, even when they’re a full-blown nuclear option like this.

Have you ever lost a phone? What did you do?

At this year’s Code Conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke with Walt Mossberg about a few topics, including the company’s own Nexus Phones. During the conference, Sundar mentioned that Google will be ‘more opinionated’ with how they look at Nexus Phones.

Some news outlets have taken this as meaning that Google will no longer be shipping Nexus phones with ‘Pure’ or  ‘Stock’ Android. And once an idea is shared on the internet, it is commonplace for others to hook on to this idea and share it around endlessly, often times spreading false information. This is what I believe is happening with the “Nexus will no longer receive the Pure/Stock Android treatment” rumors as of late. Before we go on, let’s take a look at what was actually said during the talk (emphasis is ours):

Walt: So will you have next year, a phone at least that is made by you? Where the whole thing is made by you?

Sundar: We trade, do it as Nexus devices, that’s a plan but…

Walt: Ah, not made by you

Sundar: they’re not made by us but you know, we are investing more effort into them, and so you will see us putting a lot more thought into our nexus devices going forward because, and there are categories beyond phones which we are doing like Google Home and Chromecast and so on, so I think we’ll be opinionated where we’ll need to be to push the category forward.

Walt: Let me unpack that for a second, you’re doing other things, that are yours… I mean obviously contract out the manufacturing but basically it’s yours, both the hardware and the software, you’re gonna put more thought into the Nexus phones? What does that mean? Doesn’t that just lead you to make them?

Sundar: It depends on…

Walt: Or at least one of them?

Sundar: So for example today when we ship Nexus phones we just ship stock android on Nexus phones, right? You’ll see us, y’know, thoughtfully add more features on top of Android on Nexus phones so there’s a lot of software innovation to be had as an example of it. We could be more opinionated about the design of the phones even though we are working with the OEMs to do it, so those are all the kinds of evolutions you’ll see.

Walt: But you’re not, does that mean you’re not going to make your own phones?

Sundar: No, not as a, our plan is still to work with OEMs to make phones yeah.

The Nexus experience has exclusively offered one thing at every release: an “unadulterated” Android experience with all of Google’s latest core services. This means that Google provides users with a phone that runs off of the Android Open Source Project with all of it’s Gapps and services. As some have claimed, the Gapps and services Google provides are closed source — but this is not entirely true, most of the applications and services found on the Nexus devices have open source variants or alternatives.

If you’ve ever flashed a custom ROM onto your device, you are aware of Open Gapps, a package of Google apps and services provided to enrich the experience of Stock Android based ROMs. Google’s goal and vision in it’s software development is to provide users with a rich Android experience that will benefit their daily use. It always has been, and it always will be.

As you can see from the transcript above, Sundar never even mentioned changing how Nexus Phones receive android. His mention of being opinionated is in regards to the hardware, and how they interact with the OEMs to create the Nexus devices. When talking about software, Sundar mentions that Google will thoughtfully add software features. They have already been doing this, with features such as Google Play Services, Google Now on Tap, the ever-evolving Google Camera (which is particularly good on the latest Nexus devices, virtue of it being specially designed for them), and even the Nexus Imprint being spearheaded by Nexus phones. Google is planning to continue to mold Android for the better to shape the future of the mobile industry, and give the Nexus phones extra spice in the process — that we can surely infer from that statement.

But what is Stock Android? Why do we use the term?

Part of the debates sparked from Sundar and Walt’s interview is a debate about what the meaning of Stock Android truly is. Historically, Android did not start out as a Phone OS, but the platform was shifted into the mobile phone OS market, and was bought by Google. When it was first commercially launched there was no such thing as a third party skin, however they started to crop up to be able to stand out among the different phone products in the market. But Google had also launched the Nexus line of phones, offering an unaltered “Stock Android” experience. From then on, the term Stock Android has meant many things, ranging from Google’s vision of Android to pure AOSP source code, making for a slightly muddy definition

Stock Android as a term serves a practical purpose by denoting a specific type of UX

But what makes a phone a “Stock Android” Phone today? Here at XDA, when we think of Stock we think of a laid-back, leaner and less-modified Android, “as Google intended”. That doesn’t mean completely unaltered.

Some phones, such as those in the Moto X line, offer users a ‘basically stock’ experience with small features added in to help differentiate the product.

The term “Stock Android” or “basically Stock” is fundamental to describing what kind of experience the user will get when using the phone. It is a practical term that serves a purpose, and it’s been held in high regard by many precisely because it indicates a particular kind of Android experience. It is often a selling point for many users, and can easily communicate what an UX or UI is like.

Unfortunately, some sites and communities have confused or degenerated the term, often describing phones with a far-from-Stock Android experience as being Stock. A good example is HTC’s Sense software: many outlets have and will tell you that Sense is ‘as close to stock as you’re gonna get’ with third party software additions, usually used as an equivocation to cater to the aforementioned group, exploiting the muddy definition the term holds around the blogosphere. We noted this in our full review of the HTC 10, where we specified the changes in iconography, menus, notification shade, lockscreen and general design language, as well as the introduction of HTC features and the removal of system customization options.

inconsistencies

Some of Sense’s inconsistencies

This re-design was not widely thorough, leaving much of the iconography stuck between design languages, making the interface look inconsistent. Stock is not just a theme that can be applied on any phone, it’s an experience the user will receive when interacting with their device. And even though you will find many, many “Stock Android” themes floating around for OEM phones, they will not bring you a Stock experience.

These observations still haven’t completely resolved our identity issue, however. To do so I think we’ll need to take a closer look into the definition of “Stock Android”. The term Android isn’t a mystery to any of us, so let’s look more at the meaning of the word Stock. Generally in the tech industry, the term Stock refers to an original, off the shelf part. In terms of modifying our phones, we refer to Stock ROMs as the ones that came on the phones when they shipped (Touchwiz, Sense, LG UX, Miui, etc). But how does this “out of the box” characteristic apply to Android as a whole?

A few people will try to lead you to believe that the AOSP source is ”Stock Android”. However, AOSP is really an initiative created to guide development of the Android mobile platform. In other words, it is a striped down version of Android meant to be a resource and guide for ROM developers to build their Android concepts. It’s not “Stock” in that it is purposely devoid of the proprietary features in Android that dictate some of the key characteristics of “Stock Android”. 

Earlier I mentioned many define Stock Android as being ”as Google intended”… So that begs the question, is the Android experience on Nexus devices indicative of the “Stock Android” experience? What about upcoming Nexus phones? In short, yes. It is the view of Android that offers the closest experience Google intended for the platform at that specific time, designed by Google, following their vision for Android.

What are your opinions on the matter? What does Stock Android mean to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Biggest Bottlenecks When Building Android From Source

Posted by wicked April - 19 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off

Update 4/19 12 pm CT: Clarified build times are ccache build times.

In 2012 I started to build kernels — and relied on my trusty Core 2 Quad Q9550 to build it. If that wasn’t worthy of a cringe then the fact that I did it in a VM inside of Windows will probably ensure that for most folks who build Android from source.

A virtualized Ubuntu environment does not perform as well as a native environment and oh, how painful that was made apparent when a kernel took over 2 hours to build. As I wanted to start building Android from source the following year, I knew my current hardware wouldn’t cut it — and so began a long and still continuing journey to find a way to reduce that ever-growing build time.

In the years since then I’ve been fortunate enough to test on multiple form factors and platforms. This is important since build configurations are not a one-size-fits-all situation with Android. An application developer may not need the same configuration as game developer. And someone building kernels only may not need to spend as much as someone who needs to build a full Android ROM from source in a very short amount of time. And what about OS selection — what can (and can’t) be used right now? I hope to explore this more as well, especially with Windows and Canonical working to bring a full-fledged Bash to Windows 10.

To kick this series off right, we have to find where the biggest potential bottlenecks are in building AOSP projects from source. We don’t often go shopping for a PC or upgrades without knowing where to put your money. So based on 3 years of research and quantifiable results I’m ready to share what I’ve found. Now the expected disclaimer: These findings are based on personal experiences and can’t possibly factor in all combinations. Those of you with your own build configuration, sound off and let us know how your builds are faring! Times are also referring to builds with ccache enabled and populated – was usually double when ccache was not populated yet.

m550-introDisk I/O: I have to give a hat tip to Cyanogen’s Tom Marshall – also a member of Team Kang – for pointing me in this direction last year. I honestly didn’t believe him when he told me this would be the bottleneck over CPU.  But over the past 6 months I’ve been able to back this up with quantifiable data. In higher-end CPUs (such as most desktop Intel Core i7 models) this is the top bottleneck your system will experience.

Let’s take 4 build configurations that I have tested this on. I’ll highlight here the CPU,

  • Build 1, my “un-upgraded” PC, was an Intel i7-4790K with 32GB of DDR3-2400 RAM, a Samsung 840 Evo 250GB for my primary drive and an older Micron P400E 100GB.
  • Build 2, which was the upgraded version of Build 1. Now sports an Intel i7-5960X overclocked to 4.0 GHz, 32GB of DDR4-3200 RAM, a Samsung SM951 512GB AHCI m.2 SSD along with the two previous SSDs. Full build specs for this are on PCPartPicker.
  • Build 3, a recent user build, featured an Intel i7-5820K overclocked to 4.2 GHz, 16GB of DDR4-2400 and 2 Samsung 840 EVO 120GB in RAID1 configuration.
  • Build 4, a recent server build featuring an Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 at normal speeds, 32 GB DDR4-2133, a Samsung 950 Pro 512GB NVMe m.2 along with 4 SATA Samsung enterprise SSDs in a RAID5 array.

If you just looked at those, which one would you think achieved the lowest build time? How about the second? To my shock it wasn’t the second configuration that took lowest build time – it was the third configuration, at just under 14 minutes for building CyanogenMod 13.0. So certainly the dominating CPU would take second place, right? Wrong again. Build 4, which I just finished testing on, took just over 25 minutes! Only here is where my current build stands, 2 minutes slower than a system with half the cores and threads but an SSD array of 3 SSDs, whereas my SSDs were standalones. The SM951 has also been known to have throttling issues if it gets too hot, something that could be a very real factor in this case. The first and slowest build took about 30 minutes, one of the only times I had built CM 13.0; I have heard of similar build configurations doing it in 27.

SSDs also used to be a difficult item to get so there was very little discussion on the topic. However, prices have dropped dramatically both in retail and secondhand markets over the last year. With 120GB SSDs now under $50 it’s not the barrier it once was to add one to a system. Traditional hard drives will do the job as well, but users are more likely to reach this bottleneck before others if not using SSDs.

CPU SleepCPU: When I mention above that the top bottleneck is disk I/O it does bake in an assumption that may not always be the case – each of those builds I used featured an Intel Core i7. But as I found with the Xeon server, the disk keeps up but then keeps all 8 CPU threads at high utilization through the heaviest of build processes. And try as I might, without the RAID array that we found above I don’t find my Haswell-E even being close to fully utilized for most of the build process. So if you’re looking for the best bang for your building buck, consider the Intel i7-5820K.

True, it’s X99 and so the motherboard may be more expensive than a Z97 motherboard; but we’re also still in year one of the X99 cycle. Prices for Broadwell-E are also expected to remain similar to Haswell-E upon release, meaning that you should be able to buy into the enthusiast segment for almost the same price as a i7-4790K or i7-6700K.

On Intel there isn’t much reason to go beyond a 5820K at the moment as you can get impressive build times with it. For the most part the higher the core/thread count below, along with processor speeds, will get you a faster build time. An i7-4770R in a GIGABYTE Brix last year averaged me a 42 minute build. While not the fastest it did suit my needs and allowed me to have a dedicated low-power configuration. You’ll find the same with AMD APUs – while they may not currently perform as well as their Intel counterpart, they will easily get the job done and usually at a lower price point than buying Intel. This is a situation I have a close eye on because if the rumors are true then Zen based APUs may close that gap significantly.

There is an upshot to those of you who would choose to remove those bottlenecks, one that applies to home users more than the office. General performance will increase on a system by removing these bottlenecks. Gamers in particular will find that upgrading to address these bottlenecks will in almost all cases also increase game performance. While it may not have won the fastest build time, that second build gave an unexpected surprise — a 30 second load time on Just Cause 3 when many others were complaining about load times in minutes. In the end these build times are really high end and may be overkill for many… but at least now the argument that more cores will mean faster builds has been finally put to rest.

Since this is only the beginning we hope readers will chime in and share their build experiences on various configurations. As a reader do you want to see more discussions on these types of topics? Sound off in the comments below!

Google posts April’s security update for Android

Posted by wicked April - 5 - 2016 - Tuesday Comments Off

nexus_5x_on-screen_buttons_TA

On Monday afternoon, Google posted the monthly Nexus Security Bulletin that says what the company is doing to protect Android devices worldwide.

Here’s what was fixed this month:

  • Exploitation for many issues on Android is made more difficult by enhancements in newer versions of the Android platform. We encourage all users to update to the latest version of Android where possible.
  • The Android Security team is actively monitoring for abuse with Verify Apps and SafetyNet, which will warn the user about detected potentially harmful applications about to be installed. Device rooting tools are prohibited within Google Play. To protect users who install applications from outside of Google Play, Verify Apps is enabled by default and will warn users about known rooting applications. Verify Apps attempts to identify and block installation of known malicious applications that exploit a privilege escalation vulnerability. If such an application has already been installed, Verify Apps will notify the user and attempt to remove any such applications.
  • As appropriate, Google Hangouts and Messenger applications do not automatically pass media to processes such as mediaserver.

When you check your version of Android after the update, it’ll still read as usual. The difference, however, will be that the Android security patch level will read “April 2, 2016.”

nexus_5x_back_white_surface_TA

The following Nexus devices are getting the April security update right now:

  • Nexus 5 (MMB29X)
  • Nexus 5X (MHC19Q)
  • Nexus 6 (MMB29X)
  • Nexus 6P (MHC19Q)
  • Nexus 7 2013 WiFi (MOB30D)
  • Nexus 7 2013 LTE (MMB29X)
  • Nexus 9 WiFi (MOB30D)
  • Nexus 9 LTE (MMB29X)
  • Nexus 10 (LMY49J)
  • Nexus Player (MOB30D)

Factory images can be downloaded from Google right here, and you can get instructions for installing them by reading this guide put together by our very own Brad Ward. If you’re patient, Google will have the aforementioned devices fully secured in the coming days and weeks through an over-the-air update. It should also appear for anyone using Android N after manually installing factory images or enrolling in the Android Beta Program.

Two devices not belonging to the Nexus line are already covered by the latest security update — the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge from T-Mobile, which received a software update even before April’s Nexus Security Bulletin went live, and the BlackBerry Priv.

Source: Android Open Source Project

Come comment on this article: Google posts April’s security update for Android

A Case for Unlockable Bootloaders: How Could Everyone Benefit?

Posted by wicked December - 23 - 2015 - Wednesday Comments Off

rootoms

The reasons for why root access and unlocked bootloaders are useful and wanted are plentiful. Greater control, customization – if you’re visiting XDA, you’ll have heard them all dozens of times already. We know why we want it, but an argument that is usually left out is why it’s better for OEM’s to provide it.

OEM’s provide a service. Your device is a way to access that service, and whether you agree with the conclusion or not, you can see why they might want to limit your access to modify that service. However, there is a difference between modifying, tweaking and tinkering with your device to match your exact personal preferences and fixing genuine problems.

We miss you, GPE.

When I first received my S6, it had horrendous battery life. During the first weekend, I averaged under two hours of screen-on time. It was a well designed, premium-feel device that I loved in every way, except that it was borderline unusable. In this particular case, I managed to fix it myself by manually installing a different version of Google Play Services, but if I hadn’t, the S6 would have been sent back and exchanged for an LG G4. I would have gone on to tell anyone who asked that the S6 was a great device on paper, but unusable and that they should stay away from it.

Today, I’m happy with it, but better support for Exynos chips and AOSP ROMs would make me continue with Samsung in the future. Now, in my case in particular, root was not necessary, but it would severely cut down the time it took for me to hunt down the source of the battery drain. 

As it was, I first had to figure out why my phone went dead at noon. Plenty of screenshots of my limited battery information and many hours later, I knew it was because “mobile radio active” time was through the roof. Great news! …. except, of course, for the fact that “mobile radio active” doesn’t really narrow it down, as it could be caused by anything that connects to the internet. A few factory resets, and attempts to disable every single pre-installed app one at a time to identify the source did nothing to stop the battery from draining in under 8 hours on standby. Trawling through everything I could find online, I eventually came upon a source claiming it might be a problem with a particular version of Google Play Services (of course…).

So, after manually updating it to a newer version, it finally worked. A proper battery monitor would entirely cut out the process of identifying the problem, and rule out a number of options that instead had to ruled out through arduous trial and error.  

Companies like Sony have won the hearts of XDA users because of their respect for Android’s openness

 

 Furthermore, running CyanogenMod (amongst other ROMs) on my S4 is the reason I bought another Samsung in the first place. Once CM12 was even close to stable, it fixed as good as everything I disliked about it. So much so, I was more than willing to trade an (at the time) very good camera for early-2000’s webcam quality pictures, and I enjoy being able to just bring up my phone and being able to snap decent quality pictures when I’m out and about.

Custom ROMs are why many of us carefully choose our phones, and power users are at the vanguard of Android

Hell, getting rid of Touchwiz on KitKat was enticing enough that I was willing to haul around a DSLR camera! There is an early version of CM13 available for the S6, but like earlier unofficial Exynos CM ROMs, it is far from fully stable, and it’s not clear if it ever will be. Lackluster ROM performance on the Exynos devices means I’ll be unlikely to buy another Samsung device.

Another aspect rarely mentioned is that the people requesting root methods and unlocked bootloaders are not the same people who would be swayed by the benefits of staying with an OEM-specific Android skin. Instead, they are precisely the type of customers that are more than willing to swap to a competitor that caters to their needs. True, allowing us to root and flash ROMs means we’re more likely to keep the device for longer (and thus buy fewer products in the long run), and one could argue that we’re also more likely to continue with that brand in the future. A recent example is Sony, as the company’s recent development-centric approach has won the hearts of many of us at XDA.

What’s your allegiance?

Brand loyalty is hardly a new concept, and you want to keep your customer happy because of your decisions, not in spite of them. However, such a decision might cause issues with any deals regarding pre-installed software to go awry. Adding roadblocks to root access as a way of maintaining otherwise unsustainable business models is not something we as customers should reward. A prime example is locking hotspot access behind a paywall; a feature that – usually – comes with the phone, yet carriers get away by removing or restricting it by not allowing users to circumvent the roadblocks through root methods.

There are counterarguments, though. First, it is very likely that wanting unlocked bootloaders and having a severe distaste for bloatware coincide. Secondly, devices that are “repaired” by users themselves saves money for everyone. In many countries, OEM’s are required under law to either repair, replace or give back the money in case the device is not working as it should. In the EU, that warranty spans at least two years by law. Additionally, rooting your device will usually mean voiding any warranty claims. True, it might be possible to circumvent it by unrooting, but if you end up in a bootloop (reading this, you’ve most likely experienced the horror of a bootloop at least once), cannot fix it and have to send it in for repairs – they have the right to refuse to repair or replace it. Moreover, demanding payment to access features on a device that is already there has caused US carriers in particular to have an international reputation of – shall we say – “not great” business practices. Allowing root, full control and access to what you have already paid for is marketing and PR kryptonite, especially when your competitors do not. That goes for OEMs and carriers alike.


So which conclusions can be drawn? Giving more control to the users is not guaranteed to translate into financial gain. What we can be certain of, however, is that it would be a show of goodwill. For OEM’s (and carriers who use their own version of the most common devices), it could cut down repair costs and make the product more desirable to us enthusiasts. I don’t think I’m alone in that, being the resident Android-nut in my family and circle of friends, I’m usually asked for opinions before purchase.

Bad business practices are not exactly generating word-of-mouth marketing. But that shouldn’t be seen as a threat – rather, a huge potential for free advertising… And all arguments thus far are given under the assumption that giving customers what they want doesn’t carry enough weight on its own. If there needs to be a financial benefit to do the right thing, so be it. There just might be.

How could OEMs cater to power users without endangering their business model? Is it easier, or harder than it seems? Discuss below!

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