LineageOS April Fool’s 2018 – Lost Trust?

Android user’s with LineageOS 14.1 ROM’s recently received an over the air (OTA) update. As dutiful users trusting their ROM providers, knowing that security is important, the vast majority of users accepted the update.

What they got was this:

IMG_20180405_113240012

When a user clicks on that, it takes the user to this web page. At least it did after April 1st. I can’t say if it impacts all versions of LineageOS or just a few.  I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly how many are impacted, but the latest info I saw was that there are more than a million users of LineageOS ROMs.

As you read down the page, you realize that this embedded link was from LineageOS as an April Fool’s joke, even though my OTA update prompt occurred on the 5th, a little late as jokes go. And it included a fictional story about Lineage starting their own digital currency.

I’m okay with a decent joke once in a while. Haha on me.

But when I attempt to get rid of the alert, no joy. It’s not a simple ‘swipe it away.’ I’m stuck with this thing.

If a user further examines their phone, there is a ROM based app called ‘Wallet’. Open it and it prompts a user for a Login and password. I wasn’t about to log into it. There is no way to uninstall the app, because it’s part of the ROM.

You have to read the web site under the second bullet for LineaGenuine (both 15.1 and 14.1) for a means of correcting this prank. And, yes, I can confirm the TWRP command line option from the site works.

Most of the user reactions on Reddit are irritated, negative or downright flaming. The LineageOS insider that did respond didn’t indicate they would not prank users in the future. I read it as passive acknowledgment and maybe they’ll think about listening to users.

So, if you really really really like LineageOS (yes, that’s a lot of really), expect to have some kind of April Fools prank occur that could involve more than a simple pop up. It’s likely to be a pain to get rid of. In this case, it may have sent you into a paranoid tizzy.

But, let’s talk about what ROM’s are in the first place. They are customized Android operating systems built for each piece of hardware. Android for phone from manufacturer A won’t work on manufacturer phone B. It requires development effort to make Android run on any given phone. And for each upgrade in Android, that development effort has to occur again. Not every manufacturer cares, because you would be less inclined to buy a new phone every year if it’s kept current.

Custom ROM’s frequently exist to allow old hardware to still be functional. Or allows more user control. Why replace a great phone, when a custom ROM will work great and make it current. Those are just a few reasons ‘why use a custom ROM’.

They are generally created with an open development model, by volunteers putting together the packages, sometimes with no or little financial incentive, for each piece of hardware. With no financial incentive, it means they have no one to really answer to and nothing that prevents them from doing whatever they want (like pranking users).  I’m sure some ROM teams look at it seriously and others as just a hobby or learning experience, so they want their fun. But that doesn’t guarantee the integrity of their work or their personal character.

Basically, if you’re knowledgeable enough to go through the process of loading a custom ROM you’re subject to whatever those developers decide to do. And if you don’t like it, some of them feel you should take your toys and play somewhere else.

I can see why some people would stop using LineageOS.

Why?

The idea that in this age of security conscientiousness when ROM developers go this far to ‘prank’ a large segment of their user community, that can be interpreted that they don’t value the end users trust.

And yes, the ROM Developers may know it’s not a big deal or an exposure themselves. But many of the users would say this crosses a fine line between having fun and threatening something that many value very seriously.

It can lead a person to think, “in what other ways will they mess with me? Data collection? Call and location tracking? Contextual details? User ID and password skimming? Banking and financials?” We know it’s feasible, especially with the Facebook issues that were made public.

As for me, LineageOS does make a decent ROM. But there are a lot of options out there. Then again, “Android One” may be the answer. But that’s another story.

Google Feed Rant & What to Do

I became determined to remove Google Feed

Have you ever spent a little time checking out the Google Feed on your Android phone? That additional screen that appears when you side swipe from your home screens? I did. I thought it was a great idea to provide a source of information that I could curate and customize for what was important to me. I spent some time giving it a chance. I worked with customizing it, thinking I could boil things down to what I was actually interested in.

It was a disappointment, repeatedly. Yes, it was nice to see my teams scores, weather and Continue reading “Google Feed Rant & What to Do”

OnePlus One – Still like it

It was a recent day on a cool brisk evening. I was out with our ten year old walking the dog after dark and, as he sometimes does, he started asking me about the stars because they were out brightly that night. So I whip out the phone and downloaded Sky Map hoping to show the relative position of the far off planets in our constellation, but it was a flop. Apparently I didn’t have a built in compass.

Then I was at a runners event with nothing but my cell phone after a run and there were stands with merchandise I wanted to buy. No plastic, no cash, no purchase. I realized I didn’t have a built in NFC chip on my phone.

And the light bulb went off, I have a phone with those features sitting in a box at home.  Continue reading “OnePlus One – Still like it”

Nexus 7 Resurrection – Again


3 October 2017 – This will be my second post related to my old Google Nexus 7 (Grouper) and bringing it back to a usable state. I previously touched on it with this article.

So let’s bring things up to date. CyanogenMod’s Nexus 7 revisions worked great initially. Then updates continued on a regular basis, but also accomplished the same end game that Google updates did. The tablet just bogged down to a crawl in performance as the updates rolled out.

For about 9 months, I relegated it to performing as a picture frame. Always on and scrolling through family photos on my desk.  And it was frustrating knowing that this old tablet had more storage than more modern Android devices.

But it was always there. Staring at me. Showing me photos that were important to me. And I always felt it had more potential. When I finally came across some free time, I started scouring the searches and found this Top Best Custom ROMs for Nexus 7 (2012)”. Exactly the kind of article I was looking for.

Once again, I don’t recommend this for those who may suffer impatience, ignore instructions or are unwilling to attempt this more than once. And remember, although improbable, there is a chance to ‘brick’ your device.

Do your homework in advance and be organized. As a reminder, I already had TWRP loaded from the first resurrection so I was a bit ahead of the game. I performed a factory reset and wiped the DALVIK during the process. Of course, all the data was backed up except for the OS. I made sure that I reviewed the key steps for all the elements and had links to alternatives (like GAPPs) in case links were out of date.

Ultimately I chose AOSP. It’s Android 6 and includes the 2016 September security fix, which covered one of my concerns. But it wasn’t so current that all the ‘next great ideas’ created excessive bloat. Going through the load, I actually had to attempt it twice, but was finally successful after ensuring I completed both a factory reset and wiping the DALVIK.

I’m not concerned with regular updates for the bleeding edge roll out because this old tablet just can’t hack newer stuff.

Dolphin browser was a part of the OS and I was very surprised at how well it works. The OS reminded me that this was a good tablet and I was right to hang onto it. Putting it on an older skinnier OS without a lot of the progressive add on’s and enhancements that come with normal tech growth really helped.

So, what do I do with it? It will be an alternate tablet. I use it as an eReader, media streamer, news tablet, and podcasts. And I’ll still use it as a digital photo frame. I love the reminders of good things. 

Mini Digital ATSC HD Pad TV

It was football season and I had plans for camping. And I realized, in this world of modern technology why can’t I watch the locally aired games?I had a very old rechargeable LCD TV with a small screen about 4 inches, but the battery was shot and replacing it would cost a lot.

Enter the great new idea of an Android plug in that allows you to receive local broadcast TV. I’d seen an article or two and Youtube videos on these and thought, hmmmm, great idea. Lightweight, small, I could keep things charged with my existing USB supplies when needed.

After hunting online I couldn’t find a retailer that carried them. But when I went through eBay, I found a few and decided to give it a try since it looked like the one I saw in the article. After all, eBay has a buyer’s guarantee and the seller had good reviews at the time. I made sure I researched the details to confirm it was designed to operate in the US. And I had good luck in the recent past with eBay (recently having purchased a bundle of ten iphone cords for $10).

I made the commitment on December 29th.

Mini Digital ATSC HD Pad TV Tuner Receiver for Android Phone Tablet PC Antenna
Item # : 351612560729
Sale price: $31.33
Quantity: 1
Sale date: Dec-29-15 13:36:01 PST
Seller: wuyouguo2110

It arrived surprisingly quick having originated from China. I believe it was January 5th. Immediately I tried to put it to use. It required you to download an App from the Google play store. And this is where things began to go wrong.

The app in their broken english instructions didn’t exist on Google Play here in the US. I emailed the seller (wuyouguo2110), but would always have to wait at least a day for a response (another part of the world, okay I get it). We went back and forth. They tried sending me a link to an app that turned out to be absolute spam and I had to factory reset my tablet to prevent being hijacked. They made available a demo of a raw apk android file through a file drop service and, although it appeared to install properly, was absolutely useless. It never detected a single station and I have excellent reception of several channels.

I had hoped to do a positive review on YouTube, but no such luck. Here is the actual review.

And that’s where things really went wrong.

According to what the seller says, they never received it, but “no worry friend, we’ll refund you as soon as we see it”. He sounded earnest so I didn’t press right away. After significant delays and ‘no it hasn’t arrived yet’, I opened a case for eBays guarantee to be initiated Feb 28th and it was denied.

I called eBay customer service to understand the entire situation. That’s when I got the explanation about timelines to support everything. Apparently their guarantee is only supportable within 30 days of the original purchase. That’s the only date they care about. Which means if you get stalled even the slightest because your dealing with China, better ask immediately instead of waiting like I did.

So I asked if there is any way I could at least leave a rating on the seller and they said no. That has to be done quickly also. Great (that’s sarcasm of course).

Fast forward to late March and still nothing from the seller (wuyouguo2110) either to acknowledge receipt, issue a refund or forward a replacement that might work.

To sum up: As for eBay, to be fair, I used them in a very limited fashion, with maybe two purchases a year on average. And this has been my very first bad experience. Does it mean I won’t use eBay again? Possibly. Does it mean I learned an expensive lesson? Yes. Does it mean that I will jump onto eBay looking for great idea products that I can’t find via US suppliers? No. I’ll wait for a reputable retailer.

ATSC Tuner via Android for the US summary: 
       So far, I haven’t seen great reviews on anything for the US. That includes all the retailers I’m aware of including eBay, BangGood and Amazon. Youtube shows a lot of options, but separating it out will take too much time.

My eBay lessons learned: 

  • eBay is like a garage sale, buyer beware.
  • eBay support is limited in time and function.
  • Deal with US Only sellers. Less expensive and faster shipping that can be tracked.
  • Read return and guarantee’s BEFORE you buy if it’s something important or a service you use regularly. A point for eBay or any online supplier.
  • Deal with a reputable retailer before turning to eBay if you can find what you need that way.

17 January 2018: Update – I’ve since canceled my eBay membership. Better reliability and quality support can be found elsewhere. 

OnePlus One – Is it for you?

I’ve had the OnePlus One phone since spring of 2015. It was touted as a “flagship killer”.

I bought this phone because it hit a tolerable price point of $350 when I bought it (I like to steer clear of phones that are $500 or more). With a 64GB of ram and a powerhouse processor it seemed like an awesome phone.

After receiving the phone it became clear that this was going to be a different user experience. First off, who ever owns this phone has to be patient enough to do their homework and willing to load new system roms (phone operating system). But that’s also what prevents this from being a true flagship killer.

Why? When the OPO came out Cyanogenmod was the rom provider. Shortly afterward, there was some sort of falling out between Cyanogenmod (CM) developers and OnePlus. There were a lot of delays with rolling out updates to address performance issues, primarily battery life. The user community believed they were supposed to receive rom updates via ‘push’, meaning no manual effort. Around that time Android Lollipop came out and then there were extra updates due to security weaknesses.  To add further fog to the landscape OnePlus developed it’s own rom called OxygenOS, but didn’t include the OPO in that.

So to actually enjoy the phone you had to be okay with cruising the forums for the latest OS updates and be willing to wade through the mountains of personal user rhetoric to get those nuggets of real information and hope that you had enough to make the right decision for yourself.

Why did I choose the phone? Because of my experience with CM on my Nexus 7 I felt familiar with CM and loading OS’es.

Have I been happy with my phone? For the most part. I make it about 18 hours on a charge and would have liked more. I can’t honestly say whether the batteries are under engineered or the CM versions I’ve used have just not taken care of performance well enough.

I do enjoy pouring through the information and making the phone do what I want. And it’s definitely the most powerful and largest phone I’ve ever owned.

Do I think this phone is still relevant? Yes. Just check the specs and you can see that it still performs with the best of them and the price point is very attractive.

Would I recommend this phone? Only with significant caveats and user awareness. If you like to get your geek on, have patience and are willing to learn, go for it.

Breathing new life into a Nexus 7 original

I own an old Google Nexus 7.
It was relatively inexpensive and delivered a true current Android experience  most of it’s life. But, as with most things techie, it eventually couldn’t keep up.  
It’s an old single core processor but with a decent amount of memory. I truly appreciate Google’s Nexus plans of putting out new hardware and then sending the latest OS’s out. Eventually, whether it was the old hardware or the more demanding OS or just the combination of both, but getting it to boot and run an app inside of five minutes was driving me crazy.
Eventually, I did a little homework and decided to try a new OS. Or, I should say variation on Android.
Quick lesson. Every Android device that is circulated has some level of development and testing done to make an Android operating system work with whatever it’s installed on. Samsung has people that do it for their phones and tablets. LG has people doing the same. Most of the time with that testing they add their own personal touch in the form of bloat ware. In effect, a bunch of extra programs that are typically redundant and often look for money.
Then, there is the open source community of Android OS developers, similar to the world of Linux developers. I’ve always liked Open Source. 
I made the commitment to change the OS for my Nexus 7. I chose Cyanogenmod because it seemed to have the largest and most supportive community. And the community was on the latest versions of Android. Cyanogenmod list links and basic steps if you search hard enough. 
From a high level, you rooted your device, you load a recovery program (like TWRP), you download the OS (Cyanogenmod), you download the proper version of gapps (google apps) and then follow the script. Yes, it formats your Nexus’s memory. But knowing I might be able to use it rather than toss it seriously appealed to my frugal and my geek side. 
So what was the prognosis? It was a positive one. The process went easy and smooth. No, it didn’t make my Nexus 7 perform like it had a quad core cpu. But, I could once again surf the web reasonably. I could stream videos from Netflix. I could once again use it with a bluetooth keyboard for documents or chatting. And, a surprise I hadn’t anticipated was that CyanoGenMod makes it easy to keep your hardware current by checking something they call their nightly updates. Every new one that’s available, like the one following Lollipop or stagefright updates, I check for system updates, download it to an internal directory, boot into recovery mode and perform an update. After it completes the update, you’re on the latest version.
So, if you have an old Android phone or tablet and have time or just like techie stuff like this, give it a shot. I feel better now that I have a secondary tablet. Are you up for it?