Month: January 2012

Running Ice Cream Sandwich on the Nexus S

After ignoring the update notification for 7 to 10 days, I finally took the plunge and updated my Nexus S to ICS 4.0.3. After all, that’s part of why I wanted a pure Google phone – early access to OS updates.

I was a bit apprehensive after seeing that a lot of people had run into problems with ICS and it had been pulled by Google. But I figured there must be some way to go back if I ran into serious problems. Here’s a list of ten things I’ve experienced with ICS that stand out to me – some good, some not so good.

1. Constant Google+ crashes related to a Picasa Sync database.

I was regularly getting popups telling me Google+ had shutdown or was no longer responding. According to the crash data, the problem had something to do with a failure to upgrade a Picasa-related database from version 5 to version 4. That’s right – it seemed to be trying to downgrade the database schema.

After several days of trying to figure out the problem, I found a post online that explained it was a simple matter of updating Google+ from the Android Market. Sure enough, I browsed into the market, found an update to Google+, and my problems disappeared. For some reason, the update only appeared when I went to the listing for the app. The Market app wouldn’t recognize the need for an update simply by visiting the list of my installed apps even though other updates had shown up.

2. Left swipe to access the camera from the lock screen.

I think this was a great addition to the phone. I’m still getting used to doing the left swipe and find myself doing a right swipe and getting ready to touch the camera app I used to have pinned on my home screen. I end up needing to hit the power button to suspend the phone, hit again to wake it up, and then left swipe to get to the camera. I figure in time I’ll get it down.

3. Settings are accessible from the notification tray.

This was actually one of the items that got me to try the update to ICS. Having quick access to settings from anywhere is very helpful. Just swipe down and tap the icon.

4. Auto-rotate seems to have some problems.

I noticed a couple of times that rotating the phone wasn’t automatically rotating the current app even though I knew the app should support it. Another Google search shows this is a fairly common problem, but I haven’t found a solution for it yet.

[Update: Apparently, this problem can often be correctly by a simple reboot, but I’m still unsure about what causes the problem.]

5. No more silencing the phone from the lock screen.

It used to be a simple matter of swiping across the lock screen to toggle in and out of silent mode, but now that ability has gone away. You can access the notification tray from the lock screen and quickly access notifications without needing to unlock the phone, which can be an added convenience.

[UPDATE: I’ve discovered this functionality is still available by holding down the power button. The popup menu contains buttons for silent, vibrate, and normal modes.]

6. Easy screenshots!!

Holding the power button and the down volume button for a second will generate a screenshot. This is a terrific new feature that I’m glad to see.

7. Look at all those new contacts.

I was a bit surprised when I first opened up my contact list and saw some unfamiliar names. All of my Google+ and Twitter contacts had been pulled into my contact list alongside my GMail contacts. I suppose that might make sense for some people, but most of those contacts are not people I actually know. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to restrict the list back to just my GMail contacts.

8. What happened to my wallpaper?

I’m not sure how it happened, but the default Gingerbread live wallpaper was replaced by a close up of green grass at some point during my use of ICS. I never attempted to change this and I’m still not sure how it happened, but one minute I had colorful stripes shooting across my background, I experienced some kind of momentary lock up of the screen, and I had new wallpaper. I actually like the green grass so I’ve kept it around, but it’s still a big mystery as to what happened.

9. Creating home screen folders is easy.

I never did anything with folders on Gingerbread, so I’m not sure if anything like this was possible, but it’s very nice being able to quickly create folders to organize apps on my home screen. Now Angry Birds only occupies one space instead of three.

10. Improved scrolling through apps.

I always liked the way your list of apps scrolled off into the distance at the top and bottom of the screen on Gingerbread. I knew that had gone away in ICS and I thought I’d miss it, but the new page scrolling is far better. It’s much quicker to scroll through apps to find the one you want going one page at a time rather than flicking the list and hoping you stop it at the right location.

Well, that’s my “top ten list” for ICS experiences. Perhaps I’ll update it as I continue to use the update. If you’re still wondering whether to upgrade or not, I suggest doing some searching online to see what others are experiencing. Then once you know what you might run into, go ahead and take the plunge.

Streaming Video – Even for Grandma

I recently spent some time at the local Micro Center¬†shopping for some network equipment. It’s pretty interesting what you can overhear on shopping excursions like this…

Customer: Hi, I’m looking for a wireless router.

Associate: Well, we have this D-Link Wireless-N router for $29.99, but it only transmits at 150 Mbps. For $39.99 you can get the one that transmits at 300 Mbps.

Customer: Do I need the extra speed?

Associate: Well, the 150 Mbps is fine if you’re a grandma just sending e-mail or something, but if you want to do any kind of serious networking like video streaming or gaming, 150 Mbps isn’t going to cut it and you’re going to want the 300 Mbps.

Well, your grandma’s e-mail needs will probably be just fine with less than 1 Mbps transfer speeds, but this made me wonder… Are these associates really ignorant of the technology they’re selling and they simply repeat what they’ve been told, or do they actually know they’re misleading customers in order to sell higher priced products?

The higher throughput router should alleviate network congestion on a very busy home network, but it’s not going to make any real difference when you try to stream your next YouTube or Netflix video. ¬†If you’re not sure this is the case, run a quick internet bandwidth benchmark from a computer you plan to connect to that wireless router. You will quickly find that your ISP doesn’t come anywhere close to 150 Mbps, much less 300 Mbps, when transferring data from the internet to your house. More likely, you will see transfer speeds in the 12-16 Mbps range. Your ISP is the bottleneck in your connection to the internet and regardless of what wireless networking equipment you’re using, you can’t do anything to your home network that will make your ISP provide you data at a faster rate. (Though you can sometimes pay them more money for a faster connection.) Unless you have an unusually large amount of internal traffic on your home network, the 150 Mbps and 300 Mbps routers should provide the same experience with internet video and gaming.

So why would anyone need the 300 Mbps router? There is some advantage to using the faster router, but it only provides an advantage for local network traffic, not traffic coming from the internet. For example, if you are frequently transferring a lot of data from a laptop to another computer on your network (such as backing up photos or video), you may want to go after the better networking performance of the 300 Mbps router. However, you still need to be aware that achieving the best networking speeds will depend on factors beyond the specs on the 300 Mbps router. For example, does the wireless card on your laptop support the higher data rates? Even if it does, how does your environment affect the signal-to-noise ratio between your laptop and the wireless router? The clarity of the wireless signal is going to affect your throughput. There are a lot of factors beyond the numbers on the router packaging that you will want to consider.

Most of the wireless devices I connect to my network are still Wireless-G, not Wireless-N. The Wireless-G standard achieves a maximum possible throughput of 54Mbps. That’s not anywhere near 150 Mbps – but it’s still plenty fast compared to the bottleneck of my ISP and Netflix comes through just fine.

So the next time you wander into your local tech store and ask about a product, just be aware that the person answering your questions may not know a whole lot more than you about what they’re selling.