Tips for upgrading your Samsung Galaxy S II to Ice Cream Sandwich
Over the weekend Samsung released the long awaited upgrade to Android known as Ice Cream Sandwich (Android version 4.0) for the Samsung Galaxy S II with Telstra.
Ice Cream Sandwich (or ICS as it is known for short) has some neat new features such as face unlock, resizable widgets and the ability to build folders by simply dropping application icons on top of each other. As a serious Android user, I was keen to get hold of these new features and it is also a good idea to get the latest software version as usually there are a few bug fixes (for example, one of my favourite Apps, Microsoft OneNote, kept crashing on the previous Gingerbread version of Android and that is now fixed on ICS).
However, no upgrade process is ever totally straightforward and it would have been nice to have some tips on dos and dont’s before I embarked, as opposed to the Googling and trial effort that it took to get it all going. Having now been through the process, I thought I should at least write down my tips – earned by hard experience – for others who follow. So here goes:
- Screen Capture: If you are a neat freak like me, you have spent some time organising all your desktop screens so that the things you use a lot are exactly where you know you want to find them. So, capture all your screens (press the Home and Power buttons at the same time) before the upgrade because the upgrade removes screen settings. The screen pictures get stored in the SDcard under Screencapture and can be used to remember where you had things after the upgrade. Thanks to Chris Duckett of CNET for this tip.
- Uninstall some of your unused apps: There are two ways to upgrade your firmware – either using the OTA (Over-The-Air) download or via a the USB cable to a PC using the Samsung Kies software. I strongly recommend the former as the Samsung Kies software can be confusing. In the event, I tried both because my upgrade did not succeed.
A bit of Googling suggested that one of my apps could have been disrupting the upgrade. This left me on the horns of a dilemma: while the upgrade does not keep your screen settings, it does keep your apps and their settings, which saves you a heap of work in reinstalling them especially if you, like me, have 150 apps on the phone (do you think it is a coincidence that is the same as the Dunbar number?). I either had to systematically go through my apps one by one and retry the upgrade (an impossible task as you need to download the full 200+ Mbyte of the upgrade each time you retry) or do a factory reset on the phone to remove all apps and then reinstall everything after the upgrade, a long and tedious process. It would have been really good if Samsung or Google could have given me a list of apps known not to be compatible with the upgrade, or better still an app that would check the apps on the phone and advise you which ones to remove. But alas, as far as I am aware, neither such a list nor app exist.
As luck would have it, a bit more Googling suggested that Widgetsoid may be the culprit. Widgetsoid is an odd app which has the most amazingly obscure user interface but is incredibly useful. For example, I have created a speed dial list using Widgetsoid which works from the notification screen so it is available no matter which screen I am on. I removed Widgetsoid and had one more go at the upgrade and lo and behold, it worked! Once the upgrade was complete, I reinstalled Widgetsoid and it worked as well.
Instead of spending a lot of time Googling through apps which may be incompatible like I did, you may find that cleaning up your current list of apps could really help. Especially those you haven’t opened for a while. If you are afraid to uninstall, don’t forget a record of all the apps you have downloaded is kept online at play.google.com/apps (make sure you have signed into your Gmail account).
- Resizing Widgets: Having completed the upgrade, I found that Samsung have retained their “TouchWiz” interface pretty much unchanged from Gingerbread. While there is nothing wrong with this interface, and keeping it unchanged softens any learning curve for the user in getting going with ICS (which in many ways is quite different to Gingerbread), I was disappointed to find that even the ICS version of Touchwiz does not allow resizing of widgets or creating folders by dropping application icons on top of each other. While I could have lived without the latter, I found that the inability to resize widgets meant that some widgets such as that of the excellent DGT GTD task list application (which I use a lot – as I said, I am a neat freak) were too small because the app had been designed for widgets to be resizable.
Fortunately, however, others had experienced this problem and the support site for DGT GTD suggested changing the launcher (which is the software that runs your front screens – like Touchwiz).
I changed my launcher to Apex (Free version) which I found in Google Play, and the problem was solved. I am a bit wary of software like alternate launchers because often they impact machine performance, but after about a day of testing, Apex seems pretty good.
- Apex launcher: One of the painful things about Android, is that every time you set up a new phone, you need to manually reinstate your front screen layouts. Apex, however, has the ability to backup your settings to the SD card and restore them at a later date which is very handy (having said that, I have not yet tested the restore aspect).
- USB Mass Storage Mode : If you do file transfers from your computer to your phone or use DoubleTwist as your music player (which I do because it automatically picks up my iTunes library and playlists), then you need to mount the phone as a USB storage device on the PC. For some reason, Samsung don’t give you a choice menu so in the old version of Android (Gingerbread) you had to set the phone to USB Debugging mode, an effective but sometimes complex solution. Now, with ICS, you can set the phone to USB Storage mode without putting it in USB Debug mode. You need to go to the Settings menu, select “More” (under the “Wireless and network” section), select “USB Utilities” and press the button to “Connect Storage to PC”. I found that you needed to do this prior to connecting the phone cable to the PC.
For a step-by-step guide to upgrading your Samsung Galaxy S II from Telstra read this blog
I know that the above list will not be comprehensive because a modern computing system (which is what an Android phone is) has an infinite number of possibilities, but perhaps the above tips will save you some pain in going through a very worthwhile upgrade. Why not post your own tips below in the comments.