Long Term ROM Review: Apex 2.0 “Beta”

Well guys I know its been a while, but life happens ya know? And one thing you can always count no matter what happens in life is that the world keeps spinning. Including the tech world! One of our favorite devs, Fabdroid/@bigxie has done just that and released the “beta” version of his Apex ROM for the Droid X and Droid 2. Now this isn’t like what most people think of when they hear “beta”. Like he says himself, it’s “beta” in the Google sense of the world. This is no doubt a daily driver ROM. I’ve been going back and forth with other ROMs based off of various (read: waaaay too many) different leaks of the Gingerbread build from Motorola. ZombieStomped, Liberty GB, Rubix BlurryBread all come to mind and none have left me properly satisfied. Granted Liberty isn’t finished yet and I’ll of course be giving it a fair shot when it’s got some polish and finish. But until now there hasn’t really been “that” ROM based off Gingerbread for our Droid 2. In fact, this is one of the few I’ve tried that’s being made for the Droid 2. Most of the ones I’ve flashed that get updated are actually Droid X ROMs and then having the DXtoD2GB.zip flash file on hand. But this Apex 2.0 has really come along and I think you’ll be very impressed with how it looks, feels, and performs.

Keep clicking if you want to find out more in my in depth review and whether it’s worth installing for you or not!  Continue reading

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P3Droid Dropped A Bomb on Me… Baby

Warning! The following link may make you lose all faith in the Android platform.

P3Droid’s Post

Ok, that’s a little bit drastic, but at least on the carrier locked cell phone side of things, P3Droid paints a horrifying picture of the future in a post on MyDroidWorld.com. Hope is dwindling that there will be another phone that was quite as dev friendly and well supported as the Original Gangster Droid 1 form Motorola. More hair has been pulled from heads over the locked bootloaders in the HTC Thunderbolt and the Droid X/2 and things don’t look to be changing. In fact, it looks like carriers and manufacturers around the market are banding together against rooters with the sole beef against us being we’re stealing data by tethering. I believe this is an ability of our devices and should not be restricted by the carriers. Google implemented this feature and the carriers don’t want to be “dumb pipes”. This is exactly what I believe they should be. I pay $45 a month for access to CableOne’s Internet. I’m not paying for the ability to stream movies, play games, or share the internet I pay for via my router. They’re just pipes for the internet, not some kind of pay-per-service cockamamie bologna. I shouldn’t have to pay different amounts or an extra monthly service fee for different aspects of the internet. It is my most sincere hopes that the American people will stand up for freedom in all aspects, specifically the Internet here. I don’t normally like to rely on the government too heavily, but this might be a good time to step in and stand up for our rights. We have a right to internet, this is too much regulation by Verizon and the other carriers. I’m paying for unlimited internet, not a gimped mobile browser and that’s it. With the advent of 4G speeds exceeding the average home downlink and true mobile broadband letting carriers run all over us should not be tolerated by any self respecting citizen. If they don’t become “dumb pipes” within the next year by any kind of action I fear greatly for the future of our mobile communications. I will not bow to any carriers or manufacturers idea of what software I run. Unless the mobile computing (smartphones) can become like the PC and ISP realm is now with me able to buy any machine and put any software on it use it for any purpose I want the future of our mobile freedom is already lost. Say a prayer America, we’re going to need it. Fight the power!!!

You stay classy, World Wide Web.

 

Droid 2 GingerBlur Day 0/1: Initial Reactions

I’m gonna try and do a day by day check in with my experiences with the latest and greatest from Google and Motorola. Today was the first day flashing and it started out with a horrible panic filled morning. Mostly due to my apparent lack of experience with the stock recovery image. My story with this ROM began two days ago actually. I started following P3droid and was quickly rewarded with a tweet about a new Motorola leaked firmware for the Droid x and Droid 2. Both intrigued about the lack of the Droid 2 Global and over the moon about the prospect of receiving and official update to 2.3.3 I paid for the app. After installing I pulled it up to confirm my dreams had come true. I could have installed it that night, but downloading over 3G was less than desirable considering even in town I was barely pulling in 2mbps downlink. Waiting was definitely not a horrible prospect as I got to spend the night with my sweetheart but I have to admit I was really stoked to get home and install. I decided to forgo downloading through the app and instead hit up the forums. P3droid said the app’s servers were seriously strained, but I can attest that the MultiUpload servers must have also because I was only downloading at about 35kbps average. After waiting almost literally forever, I finally got it down. It was a simple update.zip install from Clockwork to get it started and it wasn’t long after the Team Black Hat logo went away that I was rebooting into glorious Gingerbread joy. After reactivating (it has a new radio) I was greeted by the pleasant new Blur home screen.

It’s impossible to describe how much a relief it was to see a new, truly useful UI mod from Motorola. The previous Blur was the bane of many developers and was no comparison to HTC’s Sense, but this new Blur is at least competitive. Does it beat Sense in terms of usefulness? No, but it’s a step in the right direction. There’s not the unifying experience I seem to feel when I had my HTC Eris, but it is definitely more helpful than harmful. If I were a first time Android buyer and were to use this on a Motorola I would probably prefer it over stock Android. As it is I’ve been running AOSP ROMs pretty much 90% of the time I’ve had an Android phone. The dock has been redone, there’s no more of that stupid delayed garbage swiping between screens. There’s also a Sense-esque home screen overlay when you press the home button from the main screen. There are four icons along the bottom instead of the original 3 fixed ones from before. The app drawer has also been redone with an option selection in the top left and a link to the Market in the top left. Long pressing an app inside the app drawer brings up a context menu with the options for: Add to Home or Add to Group for system apps and the addtion of Share and Uninstall for Market downloads. The Share option intrigued me, but alas it only lets you share a link to the Market for the selected app. Selecting Add to Home places a plus sign “+” over the 3 left icons on the dock and lets you drop any app over  the three stock ones. The social widgets all carried over to the new update with little changes on the exterior. Tapping the social networking widget, however, brings you to a new 3D carousel of floating “cards” that have the statuses (statusi?) and tweets (tweeti?) from your various contacts. Its a nifty interface, but crashes if you swipe too quickly, even over wifi.

All the quick contact widgets are also there, one of my personal favorites of Motorola’s Blur. Stock “bloatware” (not Android standard) apps include: 3G Mobile Hotspot, Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3, BlockBuster, City ID, DLNA, Emergency Alerts, Files, Help Center, My Accounts, My Verizon Mobile, Quick Office, Skype Mobile (Verizon’s version), Social Networking, Task Manager, Voice Command, and for some reason VZ Navigator. Why you’d use a lot of these apps over the much improved freely available ones in the Market I really don’t know. There’s also the Super User app included in the latest Gingerbread as it is prerooted. Why you’d get the non-rooted ROM I’m not sure, but that’s an option I guess. Tapping the top left option button in the app drawer pulls up a little bubble where you can sort by groups. You can create a custom group but it comes with All Apps, Recent, and Downloaded groups by default. This leads me to my single beef with this Blur. Switching between open/recent apps in Android is controlled by long pressing the Home button. When you do this on the new Blur, it actually takes you to the Recent group in the app drawer. It’s actually remarkably quick to switch apps from it, and I’m sure it’s all a perceived slowdown. It is cool to access the rest of your apps right from that menu though.

This is actually the best improvement Motorola could have made going to Gingerbread for the new Blur. It’s FAST. App switching is my favorite example. Going back and forth between several apps all at once is instantaneous. There’s little to no delay opening apps and sliding between homescreens. This is such a relief coming from the abomination that was the original Blur. Performance in benchmarks brings excellent news as I’ve scored an average about 1800 with no overclocking. On my old Apex 1.4.1 ROM that’s based on Blur 2.2 it would only post past 1800 when I pushed it to 1.3ghz. This kind of performance improvement at stock speeds is very welcome. File browsing in both Astro and the Gallery is smooth as butter, almost no lag. I’ve been spoiled and impressed with running 2.3.3 on my Droid 1 for a while before this phone and couldn’t be happier I get on my shiny new astromech now too.

Which brings me to my next point so far: Star Wars mods. I’ve only got the R2D2 clock widget and the lock screen MetaMorph theme install right now, but it looks good for compatibility. This is good to know because I’ll be very surprised if Motorola bothers rereleasing this ROM with all the Star Wars goodies for the Special Edition. This isn’t too big a deal for someone like me who loves modding his phone to the max but is kinda a killjoy for anyone just cruising with their R2 unit. I’ll be posting a video later tonight of it all in action and probably an update when I get all the mods I can installed.

That’s pretty much it so far as the actual software installed runs, but I sure didn’t get to that point easily. Oh no, it was far from a peaceful morning here. After installing the ROM yesterday, I naturally fell in love with it. I figured root would probably be a few days out so I might as well install this version and root when it came out. Turns out, it barely took P3droid to get root and release a pre-rooted version of the same software. Hat’s off to P3droid and the Team Black Hat for both the speed and the simplicity of the ROM release. Problem was, it was anything but simple this morning. Well, simple isn’t the right word. It was simple, but it was horribly described how to get into the menu for the stock recovery. It was easy enough to go back to the SBF for the stock Droid 2 system dump, but it bootlooped instantly upon restarting. No problem, it says in the instructions to simply wipe data/cache and reboot and it’ll work. Yeah, there’s no explanation besides that. After 4 hours of helplessly flashing 3 different files from RSDlite and scouring the forums some angel from above posts that to get to the menu in the stock recovery you have to press the search key. The freaking SEARCH KEY! I suppose eventually you’d find that but it was infuriating to see all the responses to my posts saying “just wipe data/cache from recovery”. Gah. It’s all over now, but I was pretty much freaking out this morning with T-2 hours till a very important job interview. After realizing this trivial but absolutely crucial step, it booted right up. Had to reactivate (old 2.2 radio) and then re-root with z4root and install Kousch’s bootstrap installer. Rebooting into the bootstrapped clockworkmod recovery made it easy to install the new rooted Gingerbread Blur leak. Just selected the .zip and voila! Rebooted, reactivated and bam! I’m already rooted and ready to rock! MAJOR thanks to P3droid, TeamBlackHat, Kousch, Jrummy16 and yes, even Motorola for convincing me to stick with my little R2 unit. I have to admit, I was seriously considering selling this while I could but with a new Gingerbread update I’m excited to stick with the Droid 2 R2D2 for at least the next year. Props to the dev community for keeping our phones alive and customizable like they should be. Can’t wait to see what all the devs can cook up with this! And here’s to hoping Motorola follows HTC’s steps and releases the kernel source/bootloader keys for the Sholes family!

Stay tuned for screenshots, videos, and later impressions as I spend more time with software. And feel free to try it out for yourself on your Droid 2/x!!!