The Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" release happened in late 2010, but that
version of the operating system was initially only available to those who
obtained a Nexus S handset. Your editor, not being one of those
people, has had to wait a little longer. Nexus One owners running stock
firmware have been receiving updates for a few weeks as of this writing.
have yet to
see a stable Gingerbread-based distribution, but their wait, too, is coming
to an end; CyanogenMod
was announced on March 8. Your editor, never afraid to
brick an expensive handset, decided to give this release candidate a try.
Talking on the phone is overrated anyway.
The initial experience says that there is little need to worry; this
release candidate seems to be stable indeed on the Nexus One. Your
editor's careful Nandroid backup, it seems, will not be needed; there is no
evident reason to go back to the older code. That said, there are reports
of a "wonkiness issue" which affects phone calls in rc2; your editor has
not yet seen this behavior but others certainly have. Smarter CyanogenMod
users may want to wait for the official 7.0 release before updating.
Naturally, CyanogenMod 7 brings all of the enhancements that Google put
into the Gingerbread release. The new color scheme is nice - though some
applications (WeatherBug, for example) have not yet caught up to a world
where writing black text into the (now black) notification bar fails to
yield the desired results. The improved on-screen keyboard is most
welcome; it seems easier to avoid typing mistakes and the number of needed
mode-shifts is reduced. Most welcome are the ability to apply the spelling
corrector anywhere in a message and a comma key which does not require a mode
shift to reach.
Some other 2.3 features look nice, but your editor has not, yet, had the
ability to try them out. Near-field communications are not supported by
the Nexus One, and there is no nearby place to use that capability yet in
any case. For the time being, perhaps, being unable to spend money
directly with the handset is not an entirely bad thing. This release also
supports Internet telephony via an outside SIP provider, a feature which
certainly merits exploration at some point.
Nexus One users wanting the features found in the 2.3 release can, of
course, just use the stock firmware which is nicely delivered via an
over-the-air update. Owners of other handsets may not get any such
service. One of the most valuable features of CyanogenMod is the large
number of handsets supported; for many, it may be about the only way to get
a current Android distribution on their phones.
But, naturally, there is more to CyanogenMod than ports; it also brings a
number of features of its own. At the top of the list must be simple
configurability. There is (once again) an apparent trend in parts of the
free software community to remove configurability from systems in the name
of "user friendliness"; sometimes distributions like Android are held out
as examples of successful application of this approach. The CyanogenMod
developers have not bought into that idea.
With CyanogenMod, one can set the color of the notification LED based on
which application is trying to communicate something - email updates can be
pink, missed calls yellow, and text messages a deep blue. There are three
variants on the basic lock screen, with options for music player controls
and access to a user-chosen application without unlocking the screen. The
home screen/application launcher application has options controlling screen
layout, whether the wallpaper scrolls, various gesture actions, where the
trash can sits, and a vast number of other things. There is also a theme
mechanism and, happily, a means to
back up and restore all those settings. Other options control what happens
when the search button is pressed, how hard the phone vibrates in response
to various types of key events, which hours of the day the phone should be
silent, and more. If you truly want to change which CPU frequency governor is
used, or if you want to render the home screen in green only, CyanogenMod
makes it possible.
The "power control" widget follows the same theme. The contents of this
widget are under user control, with far more options (WiFi hotspot, mobile
data, 2G/3G, etc.) than stock Android provides. One can even control the
all-important flashlight capability through the power widget. An
especially nice feature is the ability to make connections between some of
the settings; for example, application synchronization can be enabled only
when WiFi is enabled. That allows the cautious use of data in
international-roaming environments without the danger of being bankrupted
by a surprise application update.
All told, CyanogenMod's configuration options can seem a bit overwhelming,
especially since their effect is not always obvious. But for somebody who
makes a lot of use of their handset, a half-hour or so spent doing a
depth-first traversal of the settings menus can go a long way toward
optimizing the device's behavior.
Other CyanogenMod features include an "incognito" mode for the web browser,
support for FLAC files in the music player (which has been "restyled" in a
number of ways), SMS templates available via gestures, "phone goggles" (an
outgoing call blocking mechanism), openVPN support, a dynamic equalizer for
audio output, various hardware enablement and performance improvements, and
Perhaps the real value of CyanogenMod, though, is that it turns Android
into something resembling a real open source project. They take Google's
code dumps and turn them into a working system which can be built and
enhanced by anybody. The community around the distribution appears to be
growing, and it is slowly developing the sort of infrastructure that a
community-oriented project should have (even if they still insist on using
obnoxious forums for their communications). Many people repackage Android
binaries; CyanogenMod seems nearly alone in working at the source level.
The result is a phone which works better for its users and which improves
over time. It's hard to be grumpy about that.
to post comments)