Tag Archives: Android

LineageOS Breathes Life Into Old Phones



Android smartphone and tablet manufacturers are notoriously bad at providing OS updates to their hardware, leaving owners without new features and vulnerable to security flaws. While several OEMs now guarantee updates for two years, most devices are still very capable well beyond this artificial obsolesence.  LineageOS, a flavour of Android built from Google’s AOSP,  continues to support devices that have been disowned by their makers.

When it comes to keeping older devices up-to-date with the latest versions of Android, some OEMs are better than others at pushing out updates. Samsung‘s well known for a lack of updates but even Google only commits to two years of updates for new features and three years for security updates. OnePlus has recently committed to a similar support schedule. Overall, that’s pretty bad when iOS 11 still supports the iPhone 5S from 2013.

My particular gripe is with the Nexus 9 from late 2014. Launched with Lollipop (5.0.1), the Nexus 9’s last update was to 7.1.1 back in 2016 and while it was never a great tablet, it has a very capable CPU in the form of the nVidia Tegra K1 which continues to cope well with today’s apps. The particular problem with the Nexus 9 is that the 7.1.1 release really wasn’t very good and the device became prone to freezing and random rebooting. I’ve previously written about my problems with the Nexus 9 on GNC and while my previous efforts did help in the short-term, the tablet was back to its old ways in a few months.

If the name LineageOS is unfamiliar, CyanogenMod might ring some bells. After Cyanogen Inc decided to closedown the CM distro, it was forked, rebranded and taken over by the community as LineageOS. It now supports nearly two hundred smartphones and tablets, with the vast majority on 7.1.2 but an increasing number on Android 8.

Converting a smartphone or tablet to LineageOS can be a little daunting and there’s always that niggling fear of bricking the device. However, there’s generally good instructions for each model and there’s an active online community. All the tools are available online for download – Android Studio or ADB Tools, LineageOS, TWRP, GApps…

After a particularly annoying day when I wanted to throw my Nexus 9 out of the window, I decided to convert the tablet from Google’s 7.1.1 to LineageOS’s take on 7.1.2. It was either that or buy a new tablet so I took the plunge….The key to a successful transition is preparation: read the instructions, download all the software and get it installed before doing anything at the command line. The Android device is going to be completely wiped so make sure everything important has been copied off.

It doesn’t take long to do the work but can be a bit nerve-wracking if you’ve never unlocked a bootloader. The worst bit is when you’ve done all the work and have rebooted the device for the last time. It can take several minutes to finalise the install and present the “Getting Started” screen.  Tense moments watching the boot animations.

The good news is that I’ve been using LineageOS for at least three months now and I’m very pleased with the change. The Nexus 9 is much more reliable than it was with stock Android. Yes, I still get the occasional random reboot but reliability is way better than the original. Weekly OTA updates keeps the 9 up-to-date with the latest patches.

And LineageOS isn’t only a port of 7.1.2: the distro has additional features not found in standard Android, including system profiles, app locking, PIN scrambling and custom button placement. Nothing strays too far from stock but there are additional benefits.

If you’ve got an older device that’s been left for dead by its manufacturer but you want to keep it alive for longer, I’d recommend you take a look at LineageOS.


OnePlus 5T Drops In NY



OnePlus has officially unveiled its latest flagship, the OnePlus 5T at a live event in Brooklyn, New York. In a change from the usual on-line reveal, the OnePlus team were live on stage to give an insight into their relationship with users, the benefits of OxygenOS and developing the 5T before the big reveal.

As expected, the 5T sports a large 6″ AMOLED screen with an 18:9 aspect ratio, face unlock and a secondary low-light camera. Compared with the OnePlus 5, the internals are largely unchanged – Snapdragon 835 and a choice of 6GB  RAM / 64GB storage or 8GB RAM / 128GB storage – and it still has a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Hurrah!

The new AMOLED screen is 1080 by 2160 giving 401 ppi. It’s a 6″ screen but the exterior dimensions (156 x 75 x 7.3 mm) of the 5T are only millimetres bigger than the 5 and its 5.5″ screen (154 x 74 x 7.25 mm). This has been achieved by moving the fingerprint sensor to the back which gives more real estate over for the display without needing to increase the phone’s size. Sadly, it’s the end of the line for the capacitive buttons.

While the fingerprint sensor will unlock the phone in under 0.2 seconds, new to the OnePlus range is the face unlock feature, which uses 100 identifiers to ensure that it’s really the right person holding the phone before it unlocks. Hard to say how it will stack up against another flagship phone.

Disappointingly the 5T will ship with Android 7 (Nougat), though Oreo is expected to arrive on both the 5 and 5T in early 2018.

However, the 5T isn’t without software tweaks. A new feature called “Parallel Apps” clones certain apps, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Skype, so that each copy can be run with a different profile, without needing to logout and then login as a different user. Think of being able to have personal and business versions of the apps. That’s pretty neat.

On the camera front, the OnePlus 5T has a high resolution dual camera system, with a 16 megapixel main camera supported by a 20 megapixel secondary camera for enhanced low-light performance and beautiful portraits.

Battery and power are unchanged from the 5, with a capacity of 3300 mAh and Dash charging, which will charge the phone in half an hour. In further good news, OnePlus have retained the alert slider.

The 5T will be available from the OnePlus on-line store from 21 November for US$499 / EUR 499 / GB£449. No invites required these days. In the UK, O2 will be hosting pop-up events in Oxford Street London, Westfield Stratford and Manchester Arndale and, for the first time, one in Castle Lane, Belfast (Yay!) from 2 pm on Wednesday.


Small Size, Small Price – RCA Mercury 7L Tablet



The RCA Mercury 7L Pro tablet is a 7″ Android tablet with budget specs and a price to match, at just GB£49. That’s about US$65 and it’s right in there as an impulse purchase. But is it a case of buying in haste, repent at leisure? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Mercury 7L is the little sister to the Saturn 10 Pro and both carry the RCA branding: I reviewed the 10 Pro a couple of weeks ago here on GNC and I’ll confess upfront to lifting parts of the Saturn’s review: unsurprisingly, the 7L shares many of the 10 Pro’s traits. There are two other models in the line up; a 7R which has double the internal storage at 16GB and 7 Pro with a folio Bluetooth keyboard.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, the first impressions is how small it is. It’s a 7″ 1024 x 600 screen and the device is 8.25″ across the whole diagonal. For metric people, the Mercury 7 is 185 x 113.8 mm and is 12.5 mm deep and as expected, it’s all pastic. In places, it actually feels that someone thought about how it might be used but in other areas, gets it totally wrong. For example, the bezel on one side is slightly thicker and if you hold it in your right hand in landscape mode, the front-facing camera is neatly positioned to the top right, away from your thumb. Briliant….except that the same hand covers up the microphone. So close….

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button and volume rocker. The single speaker round the back is loud. It’s not terribly clear from the website but I think microSD cards up to 128GB can be used. It’s light at 280g.

Despite the name, speed is not one of Mercury 7L’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. Once apps get going, they’re fine, but starting a new app or switching between apps can be a little slow. For whatever reason, Geek Bench 4 refused to run so I can’t give a definitive comparison. Having said that Alto’s Adventure play surprisingly well (once it started).

The display could be better too but at this price, it’s in-line with expectations. 1024 x 600 on a 7″ screen is acceptable, the colours are strong and it’s reasonably bright. My only real criticism is that the viewing angle is a little narrow – it’s most noticeable when holding the tablet in portrait mode.

And as for the camera, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the one megapixel but for a bit of Skype, it’s ok.

As on the Saturn 10,  the user interface for the Mercury 7L would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) with a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred as my muscle memory expects it in the middle.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Mercury 7L is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

After owning the Mercury for a couple of weeks, I think the niche for this tablet is in the portable media space. It’s fine for listening to Spotify, watching Netflix and reading ebooks on OverDrive, plus the microSD card slot gives plenty of room for media. Switching apps can be slow, so if you’re a social butterfly mixing Facebook with Twitter and Instagram, you might need some patience. Overall, it’s a budget tablet for a budget price. Understand this and you won’t be disappointed.

If the Mercury 7L is of interest, it’s available from Asda for GB£49 at time of writing. Thanks to Venturer for supplying the tablet for review.


High 5 Fashion from OnePlus Callection



Fashion designer Jean-Charles​ ​de​ ​Castelbajac is well know for his bright use of colours and smiling models, and he’s brought this fantastic sense of fun to a new limited edition of the OnePlus 5. Combining French chic with technology, the new OnePlus​ ​5​ ​JCC+ “is not a mobile phone! it’s a creative machine for fashion expert“.

Branded as “Callection”, de Castelbajac has created an exclusive range of ​ holsters,​ ​bags,​ ​caps,​ ​t-shirts and​ ​the​ ​limited-edition​ ​OnePlus​ ​5​ ​design. All ​reflect​ ​his​ ​signature high colour style. I love it!

We’re​ ​always​ ​looking​ ​to​ ​try​ ​new​ ​things​ ​with​ ​partners​ ​who​ ​embody​ ​the​ ​Never​ ​Settle​ ​spirit,“​ ​said OnePlus​ ​co-founder​ ​and​ ​Head​ ​of​ ​Global,​ ​Carl​ ​Pei.​ ​”It’s​ ​been​ ​great​ ​collaborating​ ​with​ ​an​ ​icon​ ​like Jean-Charles​ ​Castelbajac,​ ​who​ ​is​ ​continuously​ ​bringing​ ​game-changing​ ​ideas​ ​to​ ​the​ ​fashion industry.

I​ ​always​ ​like​ ​looking​ ​towards​ ​the​ ​future,“​ ​said​ ​Castelbajac.​ ​”To​ ​change​ ​the​ ​world,​ ​you​ ​always need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​creative​ ​and​ ​work​ ​with​ ​people​ ​who​ ​are​ ​ahead​ ​of​ ​their​ ​time.

Not entirely too sure I can rock the smartphone holster with confidence, mind you…

In addition to the clothes and phone, there are ten wallpapers drawn by Jean-Charles​ ​de​ ​Castelbajac. These are pre-loaded on the 5 JCC+ but if you can’t wait, they’re here for download.

Technically identical to the top end OnePlus 5, the Callection 5 JCC+ has 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage. While available, it’ll retail for the same price at €559 EUR​ ​/​ ​£499​ ​GBP from 2 October on OnePlus.net.

Can’t wait that long? There’s a pop-up event at fashion boutique ​colette in Paris at 11:00 CEST​ 22 ​September. Sadly, the colette retail store is closing in December so this could be your last chance to visit and Paris is lovely in the autumn….


Great Features on a Budget Tablet – RCA Saturn 10 Pro



The RCA Saturn 10 Pro tablet is a 10″ Android tablet that marries budget specs with high-end features at an astonishingly low price, GB£109. That’s about US$140. Amazingly, that price includes a detachable keyboard, but have they cut the corners in the right places, or is this true value for money? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Saturn 10 Pro is the big brother to the Mercury 7L and both carry the RCA branding though I’m not sure if the RCA brand is as strong in the UK as it might be in the US. Eagle-eyed GNC readers will spot a great deal of similarity with the Venturer EliteWin which I reviewed previously. Unsurprisingly it’s no coincidence as the Saturn 10 Pro is produced by Venturer under the RCA brand. For those wondering what happened to RCA as a company, it was purchased and then broken up by GE in the 1980s.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, I think the design has got stronger with each iteration of the tablet. MoMA won’t be asking for an exhibit any time soon, but the Saturn Pro isn’t far off some of the other low cost tablets from a certain large on-line retailer. Mind you, it’s still quite thick at 11 mm without keyboard. Handily, most of the controls and features have been concentrated on what I perceive as the left-hand side. This is a good thing as it means there’s one unencumbered short edge which can be used to grasp the Saturn Pro in portrait mode.

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, HDMI connector, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button, volume rocker and full-size USB port. The keyboard connects onto a long edge via four pogo pings with magnets keeping the tablet in place. The single speaker round the back is possibly one of the loudest I’ve ever heard on a phone or tablet.

Speed is not one of the Saturn 10’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor and 32 GB of storage, it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. In benchmarking, Geek Bench 3 gave the Saturn 387 and 1113 in the single and multicore tests respectively. For comparison a Nexus 5 from 2013 scores 859 and 1764. In real world conditions, that means Alto’s Adventure takes over 20 seconds to launch. Still, it’s playable when it gets going though the tablet sometimes stutters when there’s too much action in the games. Surfing the web and watching YouTube is fine – give it time to get the videos loaded.

The display could be better too. 1280 x 800 on a 10″ screen simply is disappointingly low and at times there’s a hint of blurriness round text in places. Look closely at the “t” in the photo – it’s not crisp. 1280 x 800 was the resolution of the original Nexus 7 in 2012, and that had a 7″ screen. The Nexus 9 is 2048 x 1536 in a 9″ screen. To be fair, most of the time it’s not noticeable but open a text-heavy magazine in Zinio and it’s quite obvious.

And as for the cameras, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the two megapixels. Stick to using the camera in your smartphone.

What’s good? The plethora of ports is definitely interesting – full-size USB, microUSB, microSD and HDMI are all handy, particularly for photos and documents. Plug in a memory stick or card, fire up Google Photos and flick through the photos. Copy between media using ES File Explorer. I’m not sure if I had a setting wrong somewhere but I didn’t seem to be able to use the microUSB port for anything other than charging. Connecting up the Saturn to my PC via USB didn’t show any additional drives.

Connecting the Saturn to a big TV via HDMI is fun. I had the tablet on holiday with me and I could take the day’s GoPro footage and check it out on the big screen in the evening with the family watching. It’s good from that point of view.

Of course, the keyboard and touchpad are a win too. The keys are small but big enough for even a fat-fingered typist like myself to touch-type without too many errors and the key action is perfect acceptable. The keyboard has a sixth row of keys for back, home, search and other functions which greatly improved the Android-with-a-keyboard experience. Turning the tablet screen off is possible with the keyboard, but it’s not possible to wake the tablet from keyboard. The touchpad is sensitive, though I found it suffered a bit from stray fingers brushing the surface and occasionally text would end up being typed in the wrong place.

On first inspection, the user interface would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) but there are a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Saturn 10 Pro is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

Let’s be clear, the Saturn 10 Pro is not a Pixel C but then again, you’d get three Saturn 10s for the price of one Pixel C. The Saturn 10 is a budget tablet with a great deal of functionality from a microSD slot to a full-sized USB port,  HDMI out and a keyboard. On the other hand, the tablet is slow, cameras are low-res and the screen is disappointing for a 10″ display. What’s important to you will determine if £109 is money well spent on the Saturn 10.

As an example, I wouldn’t buy one personally because I read lots of magazines on my tablet and I want a glossy hi-res screen to enjoy the features. That’s important to me, but if you want to do a bit of email on the sofa, having the keyboard might make it a killer proposition at the price. As an aside, if Venturer was able to produce a tablet that bumped the specs to the mid-range and priced it well, I think they’d have a real winner.

If the Saturn 10 Pro makes your shortlist, it’s available from Asda for GB£109 at time of writing. Video unboxing and review below.

Thanks to RCA Venturer for providing the Saturn 10 Pro for review.


PlayOn Cloud comes to Android



If you aren’t familiar with PlayOn, It is a portal to over 100 streaming websites, allowing you watch multiple shows. And the Cloud acts as a DVR, allowing you to download shows and then watch, even offline.

Now that Cloud capability comes to the Android platform. This includes shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Yahoo View, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO NOW, PBS, The CW, and YouTube.

The company announces “We have officially launched PlayOn Cloud for Android. Now you can record and download any show or movie from top streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and more, with a simple touch of a button on your Android device.

There is more good news. Thanks to new optimizations and processing improvements that are designed to bring down the cost for all of this. The company claims it will now be $0.20 per recording. You’ll have to buy credits from the website.

If you have severed your ties with cable and satellite TV then PlayOn may be something you want to look at. That said, there are plenty of others as well.


Google’s Round Icons Are Rubbish



Android LogoMy Pixel C upgraded to Nougat 7.1.2 at the weekend and after the obligatory reboot, I was presented with Google’s best efforts to enforce round icons across their own suite of apps. It’s embarrassingly bad. It’s one thing to create circular icons with roundness in mind, but to make round icons by slapping a white disc into the background is lazy, looks rubbish and is confusing to the user. I know Todd likes to keep GNC G-Rated but this really is a PoS. Here’s a selection of icons from my app drawer, which has a white background.

Look at Google’s icons and the way they’ve shoe-horned triangular icons into their new circular standard by putting them on a white disc. It’s sheer laziness and the design has prioritised circular compliance over aesthetic. The white disk looks indistinct against the white background and simply makes the icons appear small. Inbox and Gmail apps have suffered the same fate as well with tiny envelopes inside white circles. What were the designers thinking? At least they made some effort with Sheets and Slides…

And it’s confusing too. Compare an icon with white disc with the previous look of folders. Both are small icons inside a circle so the new icons look like old folders. On the right is what my folders look like on my phone which runs an older version of Android. Compare the folders with the new icons. Pretty similar and it confused me the first time I saw the new Inbox logo. I thought, “What’s Inbox doing in a folder?” It’s badly thought out and bad for users.

Finally, what is it with this push to round icons over all other considerations? What’s wrong with square icons, round icons, irregular icons? I don’t want my phone or tablet to look like a game of Dots with every icon a neat circle and I sincerely hope that the app developers tell Google where to shove it.