Office ICS Release for the S II LTE from Rogers

Last Updated: 28-Jun-2012

Although Iíve already tested at least 2 phones that have Ice Cream Sandwich on them natively (the Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy S III) Iíd not tested version 4.0 of the Android operating system on my own Samsung Galaxy S II LTE until just recently. I could have installed a leaked copy of ICS some months ago, but I didnít want to bias my opinion by using a version that might not have been fully functional, or might have had bugs. Once Rogers and Samsung released the official copy of 4.0.4 of Ice Cream Sandwich on the 20th of June (2012) I felt that it was high time I gave it a try.

Please bear in mind that this article is not a review of Ice Cream Sandwich in general, but rather a critique of the specific version made available for use on the Samsung Galaxy S II LTE from Rogers. More specifically itís a look at how it differs from the stock copy of Gingerbread that the phone originally came with.

Before I did anything however, I installed a copy of ClockworkMod on my phone so that I could make a Nandroid Backup of it. That gave me a snapshot of my Gingerbread O/S that I could use to restore my phone to exactly where it had been in the event that I didnít want to continue with ICS indefinitely. I should interject at this point that I highly recommend you take this step before you make any changes to your phone. If anything goes wrong, or you arenít completely satisfied with the changes you make, then a Nandroid Backup is a lifesaver.

For full instructions on installing ClockworkMod on your phone, see the following page:

The installation process went smoothly and ICS upgraded my existing apps when it initially booted. I was surprised to find that LauncherPro was still my default launcher, just as it had been on Gingerbread, though I found the launcher a little bit more sluggish on ICS. As far as the native launcher was concerned however, I was quite shocked to find that Samsung had not included TouchWiz 4.0 (as found on the S III). I donít really care for TouchWiz 3.0, and so a 3rd-party launcher is always the way to go for me.

I therefore downloaded a copy of Nova, which is a 3rd-party launcher written specifically for ICS. Nova provides an experience that is very similar to the native ICS launcher (as found on the Galaxy Nexus). It ran smoothly and it didnít seem the least bit sluggish. I therefore spent about an hour setting it up with my personal preferences and all went well.

So, everything was off an excellent start and it seemed highly likely that Iíd stick with Ice Cream Sandwich and enjoy it immensely. However, the more I played with it, the more disillusioned I became. Iíd come from a version of Gingerbread that had been working exceptionally well, in that it was fast, very responsive, and as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar. ICS had to live up to this standard, but in many ways it failed to do so.

Letís first look at the issue of smoothness, which youíll find many people discussing when it comes to ICS vs Gingerbread. Google has finally written the U/I to use hardware acceleration. I therefore expected liquid-smooth scrolling performance on par with iOS or Windows Phone, but what I got was a very mixed bag. At low velocities the smoothness of lists was indeed up to the standards of Apple, and as an added bonus Google dialed in slower, more gradual, deceleration to make that smoothness more obvious. However, when lists are flung quickly, many of them fail to retain that smoothness and become jerky. Even more so than they had been in Gingerbread.

So, while the improvement at low speeds is a welcome sight, the jerkiness at extremely high speeds (more so in apps that donít yet use hardware acceleration) is very off-putting. I went to the Developer options and I forced the use of hardware acceleration, but doing so caused some apps to misbehave (such as Rainy Days and Flipboard for example). Even ignoring the misbehaving apps, I didnít find that the improvement was quite as dramatic as Iíd expected and lists still remained jerky when they were flung quickly.

However, Iíd have to say that overall the graphics experience under ICS is better than under Gingerbread, but only in an evolutionary way, and not dramatically as one might have expected. Had the improvement been all positive however, Iíd have gladly welcomed it, but the inconsistency (the jerkiness at high scroll speeds) nullified the smooth low-speed scrolling for me.

The next thing I did was to look around for a new compelling feature in the O/S that I didnít have in Gingerbread. I read through the list of new features found in ICS and there were quite a few of them. However, none of them was a game-changer and many (for me at least) were completely irrelevant or already provided via 3rd-party apps. One of the big changes promised in ICS is a better camera experience, but as far as I could tell the camera app provided in this version of ICS is identical to the one in Gingerbread and the speed of the camera is completely unchanged.

Iím a big fan of the Swype keyboard and the newest beta with built-in Dragon Dictation is beyond fabulous. However, Swype doesnít work particularly well under ICS in the S II LTE and is noticeably sluggish, especially when you choose to tap keys rather than swipe them. Even the stock Samsung keyboard doesnít have the lightning-fast reflexes it did under Gingerbread, though itís certainly far less sluggish than Swype. Iíve read quite a few comments from disgruntled S II LTE owners over the sluggishness of keyboard input, but before I made any judgments I completely uninstalled Swype, rebooted the phone, and then reinstalled the keyboard to see if that made any difference, but it didnít. I also tried clearing the Dalvik Cache, but that didnít help either.

Throughout my tests I suffered from a number of force-closes, and to make matters worse they were painfully slow. Way back when I bought my first Android phone (the Samsung Galaxy S Captivate) I found that on …clair whenever crashes occurred the phone would lock up for about 15 to 20 seconds and THEN the force-close box would pop up and the phone returned to normal. This went away with the release of Froyo and had never been a problem on Gingerbread either. However, that appears the behavior is back.

It was suggested that many of the crashes would go away if I wiped all the data and did a factory reset. This theory is supported by the fact that Howard Chui reported to me (when he loaned me the S III to test) that it crashed all the time. However, after the phone had been restored to factory freshness, I never had a problem with crashes when I tested the S III.

Throughout my testing I found that apps (including the Nova launcher) sometimes had to reinitialize. This used to be a problem on my old Galaxy S Captivate, because 512 MB of RAM just wasnít enough to ensure that most things you wanted to survive in RAM wouldnít be killed by the O/S when space was needed. When the S II moved to 1 GB of RAM the problem went away. I looked into the reason for this behavior and I discovered that ICS uses up a lot more RAM than Gingerbread (by my estimates, about 200 to 250 MB more). Samsung made the right decision to include 2 GB of RAM in the S III, because clearly 1 GB is not optimal amount for ICS.

I frequently use a Samsung embedded app called Service Monitor, which allows me to make changes to the radio not supported in the Android menus (such as forced LTE-only for example), or displaying field test information. These features are usually accessed by typing special secret codes into the dialer (such as *#0011# or *#2263#). Service Monitor still exists in ICS and it still does all the same things. However, Samsung as broken the app in that it doesnít display the correct screen when first entered and none of the apparent menu items used to exit the app work at all. The only way to exit is to press the Home key, but that leaves Service Monitor running (and needlessly using up that precious RAM).

For some reason the touch screen just wasnít as sensitive as it had been before. When Iíd owned the Captivate I was used to the screen not being super-sensitive, but when I got the S II LTE that all changed. With Gingerbread installed the touch sensitivity on the screen is pure magic. It was lightning fast, super responsive, and always a joy to use. Once Iíd installed ICS the screen still worked just fine, but I found myself have to retouch things quite often to get the phone to react. Perhaps this was a deliberate de-tuning of touch sensitivity, but regardless I found it as annoying as the other issues Iíve outlined thus far.

In the end the weight of all those annoyances, as well as the nagging feeling that the phone was more sluggish, finally got the better of me and I used my Nandroid Backup to quickly return the phone not only to Gingerbread, but to exactly the state it had been in just before Iíd installed ICS. Everything worked exactly as I remembered it and I was happy again.

Now the takeaway from this article shouldnít be that Ice Cream Sandwich on the Samsung Galaxy S II LTE is a complete waste of time. Some people have reported not suffering from some of the issues Iíd outlined here, and not all of the annoyances are going to be annoying to everyone. But with the ease at which you can restore your phone using Nandroid Backup, there really isnít a defensible reason why you shouldnít at least give ICS a try and see for yourself.

However, at the end of the day, ask yourself what youíve gained by moving to the new O/S and what youíve lost. If the pluses outweigh the minuses, then by all means stick with ICS. However, I suspect youíll find that the minuses outweigh the pluses (even if things donít work out the same for you as they did for me).

For me at least, ICS has come across like the Android equivalent of VISTA, or more to the point, Gingerbread seems to be the Android equivalent of XP. Iíll sticking with Gingerbread for now, but perhaps once the official release of Cyanogenmod 9 becomes available (it may be out by the time you read this) Iíll give ICS another try.