Thanks to the Bazaar effort of The Guardian Project, I’ve been offered a phone to test F-Droid and other free software apps for Android. I accepted the offer, and chose a Samsung Galaxy S III phone with Replicant 4.2.2, installed and shipped by Tehnoetic.
I’m using it now as my main phone, and since it uses Android 4.x I’m able to install more modern apps than in my old Galaxy Ace (which remains usable with CyanongenMod 7.2 (Android 2.3.7)).
My plans with this new phone are:
- Test Replicant and free software for Android on it
- Get more involved in translations of Android apps
- Get more involved in the F-Droid community
- Keep an eye on Android tools in Debian
- Post here in my blog articles about what I’ve been doing (and of course report issues and contributions upstream)
Migration to the new phone
I’ve migrated my stuff from the old phone to this one. Some notes:
- Wrote down my list of apps
- Used Slight Backup for contacts, call logs and messages
- Periodical has its own backup tool
- Whatsapp has its own backup tool
- Exported settings in K-9 Mail
- Exported Kontalk GPG key
- Simply Do has its own backup tool
- I don’t use calendars in the phone so I didn’t migrate any events (I have Offline Calendar to ad temporary notes/reminders, but that’s all)
I moved the SIM card and the SD Card to the new phone and tried the restore tool for each app.
I found out that several apps could not find the backups because they were not looking at the SD Card for the files (seems that they were using internal memory locations). So for recovering my backups, I made new backups in the new phone with the empty apps, then found out where those backups were created (in the internal memory, /storage/emulated/0), and then copied the authentic backup files there (overwriting teh dummy ones), and then used the app to restore the backup.
For some apps (K-9) I had to set again the folder for attachments, since the SD was not anymore in /media/sdcard, now it was in /storage/sdcard1.
Apart from that, everything went well.
I was a bit upset that I could not migrate Kontalk conversations (there is no backup/export tool, and I am not sure where are the files/database stored).
I noticed that although Kontalk is ‘registered’ using the phone number, and it uses the phone numbers for contacts, it kept working in the old phone (Whatsapp detects when you change to a new phone and kind of ‘deactivates’ itself in the old one, but that’s not the case for Kontalk: it works as any XMPP client (if it’s open, it can send/receive messages)).
Replicant 4.2 in a Galaxy S III (i9300)
Here I write some particularities that I found in the phone, mostly bugs or problems. But don’t get me wrong: overall I’m very happy with it!
I experienced a problem when using the phone to make/receive calls, it seemed that the proximity sensor was not working well. I thought it was a Replicant issue, but later I realized that there was a Tehnoetic sticker that was partially covering the sensor. I removed the sticker and everything worked well.
The phone came with F-Droid installed which is nice. I upgraded to the latest alpha and I’m testing the alpha releases since then 🙂
I found that I cannot choose “where” to install apps nor move apps from internal memory to the SD Card: there is no such option in Settings > Apps > Manage Apps (there is such setting in my CyanogenMod 7.2 phone, though). Since my phone is rooted and I have full access to both internal memory and SDCard, and I have plenty of room in the internal memory, I didn’t bother too much. I’m not sure if this is a bug, a feature, something related to Android 4 or specific to Replicant, o specific to this phone model. Pending to investigate, but low priority.
Replicant is almost fully translated to Spanish, yay!. I only found one untranslated string: You go to Settings > Wireless > Cell Broadcasts, and in the settings page, “Cell Broadcasts” is untranslated (but the settings themselves are). I still need to find where/how to send a patch for this (not sure if it comes from Android, CyanogenMod, or it’s something specific for Replicant. Also, being Android 4.x, I’m not sure about the usefulness of reporting such a minimal and unimportant patch upstream…).
When I turn on the phone, I get the Samsung S III splash screen, later the Replicant Splash screen, later the numeric pad to unlock the SIM card. After that, I see the screen lock but when I press the lock to enter the pattern, the screen turns off and on, screen lock appearing again (and I have to press the lock again to enter the pattern). If after unlocking the SIM card I wait a bit, I see the screen lock and again black screen and screen lock, so it’s not my tap causing it. Doing like this (waiting a bit for the phone to show the screen lock for 2nd time) is less annoying, but I wonder why this happen and I cannot unlock the screen directly in the first attempt. This is also pending for research, but low priority.
When the phone boots, I find the splash screens too bright (the “Samsung Galaxy S III” splash, and later the red Replicant one). I don’t know if I can change that. I know that other people have created different ‘Replicant’ splash screens, so maybe I can create one almost black and only the “Replicant” text in very dark grey. But this is obviously a workaround, not a fix. OTOH, it’s an annoying thing just some seconds: when the unlock screen is shown, the phone shows the brightness level that I’ve set (usually, the lowest one).
From time to time, I suffer soft reboots:
- the phone hangs for 2-3 seconds
- then the red “Replicant” splash screen is shown (the phone is not totally rebooted, because I don’t see the “Samsung Galaxy S III” splash screen and and the SIM card unlock PIN is not requested)
- after unlocking the screen, I see a normal ‘desktop’ (similar to what I see after rebooting the phone: no apps running, and no “last used apps” history. Time and date are ok, wireless or 3G starts correctly etc).
I’ve tried to track the causes of these soft reboots, but I couldn’t find anything specific. They are not frequent at all, and when I decide to launch CatLog to try to catch any hint, the phone works perfectly for hours or days :s
Replicant is currently using the fallback Android EGL implementation, which is incomplete. The missing features of this implementation cause multiple issues, which are described in #705. These are the ones that I experience (or I miss):
- The phone comes with a video editor preinstalled: Movie Studio. I got excited about it, because I was jealous of the small built-in video editor that comes with Whatsapp, but I became sad because Movie Studio does not work 😦
- The camera does not record video.
- When I long-press the central button of my phone to see the list of recent apps, I don’t see their thumbnails (only the name, and their icons). This is quite unimportant for me, names and icons are enough.
- The stock Gallery app does not work well: I cannot see thumbnails of the albums. This is not very important, because I installed Gallery.
- I cannot use Firefox, Orfox and other derivative web browsers (I usually use the stock browser, and I installed Lightning too).
- I cannot use barcode or QR scanners.
- My son cannot play Shattered Pixel Dungeon (nor Pixel Dungeon). Fortunately he uses now my old Android 2.x devide for that.
I installed the non-free firmware to be able to use Wifi and tethering, GPS and some other things. This does not fix the graphics problems listed above.
New apps, and translations
Note: when I write about Android apps, I usually link to their pages in the F-Droid website. Here I talk about translations (contributions), so I’ll link to their original website or souce code repos. But you can find all those apps in F-Droid too.
As I told before, I installed another gallery app called Gallery and submitted an update to it Spanish translation.
I installed Red Moon to reduce (even more) the screen brightness. At night it’s a relieve. Maybe the brightness of the splash screen is not so much, and I perceive them annoying because I got accostumed to Red Moon! I contributed some strings to the Spanish translation.
I liked RadioDroid very much, and I translated the app to Spanish.
I translated Wifi Privacy Police, and I used for some time, but I became tired that it keeps asking all the time that I walk across my workplace (multiple buildings within the same Wifi network, but quite a lot access points…).
I keep on contributing to K-9 Mail to make it 100% translated to Spanish. Now with a modern Android I can move to the development branch (5.1xx releases), and just did it.
I submitted a Spanish translation to DAVDroid, although I’m not using it yet (I have to see if my University’s Owncloud instance allows to sync contacts and calendar).
I updated the Spanish translation of PassAndroid, although I don’t use it yet (I tend to print my train/airplane tickets…). I keep it installed in my phone, just in case.
Other apps that I use
I’m testing OwnCloud, NextCloud and NexCloud Beta clients with my University’s Owncloud and with Davros in my Sandstorm box (with Davros, I could only make it work installing an old version of Owncloud/Nexcloud client, and then upgrading. See #65).
I didn’t get accostumed to Conversations. Not sure why, though. Maybe it’s just that I got accostumed to Xabber-Classic, so I upgraded to Xabber. It works like a charm, dark theme, and I can close it easily when I don’t want to chat.
I got in love with KDE Connect. Later I realized that I could have been using it in my Android 2.x phone since long…
Sometimes I have fun activating Voice Notification and entering the redeslibres XMPP multi user chat at salas.mijabber.es, for example while I’m cooking in the kitchen (in that room people talk in Spanish and make many wordplays, mixing Spanish and English, and use tech slang, etc so it’s really fun to hear the Spanish-TTS deal with the conversation there!).
More to come
As I told at the beginning of this long post, my plan is to keep on tinkering with the phone, testing and translating apps, and becoming more involved. So expect some more posts about Android in this blog, in the future.
For now, some big things in my TODO:
- Watching again some videos: DebConf16 videos about Android tools in Debian, FOSDEM talks about Replicant, and some other talks about free software in Android.
- I track the #fdroid and #fdroid-dev channels in IRC, but I’m not very talkative there. I guess I could do more user support.
- Participate more in the F-Droid (client, server, data) issue trackers (I send reports when the alpha version crashes, and comment on few issues, but I don’t triage the issue tracker to find issues that I could reproduce or help to diagnose or contribute to fix).
- Long time ago I learned to setup an Android development environment and build apps. I would like to re-learn and maybe do some small fixes in unmaintained or near unmaintained apps, and maybe adopt them or join their development teams (I’m thinking, for example, in Puma, an Android client for pump.io network, the MediaGoblin app, or the DebianDroid app). And ship new versions of unmaintained apss, including Spanish translations.
We’ll see how far I can go!
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