CyanogenMod, there and back again

I own a Samsung Galaxy III (I9300), which has been my primary phone for just over two years. It takes care of the job, and I’m happy enough with it that I chose not to upgrade when my contract expired.

However, a few months ago I became increasingly annoyed with it:

  • Some apps would start updating and never finish, even after a restart
  • The keyboard became laggy, which can really drive you crazy
  • It has all these Samsung apps that I never use but cannot uninstall (classic example of Bloatware)

So I wanted to try a clean, stock Android install, without any bundled apps, to see if I get better performance. Turns out finding a “stock Android install without any bundled apps” that is sure to work on my phone is impossible or at least non-trivial. The core Android code is released publicly, but you still need someone to bundle it with the appropriate drivers and the essential apps you need to make the phone usuable.

A search for recommended open source, non-stock, Android builds lead me to CyanogenMod, which is most of the forums and blogs I went through recommended as the most stable and usable of the options out there.

I tried it for a few months, and switched back to the stock Samsung build this week. Below are my observations, all of which are anecdotal and not at all scientific.

Installing CyanogenMod

Installing CyanogenMod on my phone was really easy and hassle-free. Basically you download something on the phone, you download something on your PC, connect the two, and click a few buttons. The rest is all automatic, and worked first time, no issues. Very impressive.

Experience using CyanogenMod

The good:

  • The phone felt fast, snappier, more responsive, which I really enjoyed
  • Battery life definitely improved, lasting around 20% – 50% longer
  • The CyanogenMod UI is nice – homescreens and settings are organised in a slightly different way from the standard Samsung build, and I found it an improvement. You can take pictures from the lock screen, which come in handy to quickly capture something.
  • No bloatware!

The bad:

  • Google Talkback crashed on every use attempt.
  • Taking a photo and then hitting share works fine, but if you’re already in, say, WhatsApp, and then hit Attach -> Camera, it crashes. Same with Facebook.
  • Playing videos from within an application is broken. Clicking a video link in the Facebook app would open a page that never loaded. The same with BBC News videos and video links in the reddit app I was using.
  • Not something CyanogenMod can fix – but not using the standard Samsung Android build meant my employer’s security policies prohibited me from connecting to the corporate network, which meant no more e-mail on my phone, and no more calendar either – I was late for so many meetings – (sorry guys!)

Finally I became too annoyed with the inability to watch videos from within another app, and decided to switch back.

Switching back to the Samsung build

Switching back to the standard Samsung Android build was somewhat more tedious than switching to CyanogenMod. It involved:

  • Registering on www.sammobile.com so I could download the correct image to install.
  • Downloading Odin to flash the phone with the new image.
  • Following the instructions in this silent movie.

Overall, I am impressed by CyanogenMod, as a free, open project. It seems reasonably stable, and definitely has some improvements over the stock Samsung build. In the end, however, a small number of bugs made me switch back.

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