I suppose this is a good time to post about a hobby of mine that I’ve never brought up before (except for the earlier post about how much I want a Motorola Xoom): Android.
Since I’m not rich I’m still coasting along with my original Droid, but if there’s one legacy Android phone to own, it’s definitely the Droid. And yes, I think the Droid does qualify as “legacy,” since it won’t be getting an official update to Android 2.3. But here’s an important thing to know: Motorola’s decision not to update the Droid 1 has nothing to do with the phone’s hardware. It’s eminently capable of running Gingerbread. Presumably the move was a case of engineered obsolesence, which is fine with me since, with the right ROMs and overclock settings, the Droid 1 doesn’t have to be functionally obsolete at all. In fact, in a moment I’ll show benchmarks that rate my overclocked Droid 1 almost as fast as a stock Droid X.
There are several good Gingerbread ROMs out for the Droid now. It was a rocky road for the developers, along with those of us who jump on these builds before they’re out of beta. While the Droid, as I said, is powerful enough to run Gingerbread, without Motorola providing the layers of compatibility necessary for the 2.3 software to operate the Droid hardware, the ROM devs had to build them from scratch. Well, not entirely from scratch – it was a combination of importing and adapting the Droid’s Froyo APIs, some of which worked with Gingerbread to some extent, and adapting APIs from other phones such as the Nexus One. But that’s not to downplay the efforts of the Cyanogen team, Blackdroid, ChevyNo1, Liquidroms, and the rest of the devs. They all put a lot of sweat into making the Droid run 2.3 flawlessly, all without the resources of the software engineering teams at Verizon and Motorola.
And it was a rocky road, but they’ve finally made it. Cyanogen, Ultimate Droid, Simply Stunning, Liquid Gingerbread, and more, all have fully functional Gingerbread ROMs available to the root-enabled masses.
Ultimate Droid 3.0 was my original favorite, and it was one of the first Gingerbread ROMs to reach Froyo levels of speed. I jumped onboard with UD back when there were relatively few options – Liquid Gingerbread was reasonably good but had awful battery life. This may have been fixed by now, but I haven’t gone back since LGB’s pre-release builds. Cyanogen Mod turned out to be the source of pretty much all of UD3′s positive developments in terms of speed and functionality. In fact, as I had already known, the Cyanogen team’s incredible hard work is at the core of almost every Gingerbread Droid ROM, including Ultimate Droid and Simply Stunning, so my past aversion to Cyanogen Mod is something I’m kicking myself for. Plus, the same team is responsible for the excellent Clockworkmod recovery
What ended up driving me away from Ultimate Droid was its RAM usage, which was poor, even post-release. I had heard that low available memory can result in things like lost SMS messages, but I had never experienced it on my Droid before. UD3 gave me the pleasure of missing an entire weekend’s worth of texts from my girlfriend. I had already been tracking its sub-20-MB RAM availability with concern, and that event was the final straw. In my search for a replacement, I found that Simply Stunning 5.0 had reached final release. I had never tried it in beta but I wanted something other than UD and LGB.
The creator of Simply Stunning, ChevyNo1, is a fantastic developer who has a good track record of streamlining the Droid’s performance. I had serious performance issues with Simply Stunning 4.x for some reason, but even with other ROMs I would replace the stock kernel with one of Chevy’s. His low-voltage kernels can make an overclocked Droid’s battery last longer than a stock Droid’s, which is impressive. (He’s not the only dev with good low-voltage Droid kernels, I hasten to point out; but I go to him for consistent quality and, to be honest, because as kernels go it’s what I’m most familiar with.)
Simply Stunning 5.0 impressed me. The usual Cyanogen Gingerbread innards are accessible in the Settings, along with the Gingerbread variant of the ChevyNo1Tools we all know from previous iterations of SS. The stock theme looks very nice, with a blue aesthetic that’s substantially less overbearing than most blue Android aesthetics. Chevy finally just packed the ADW.Launcher (long a personal favorite of mine) in with the ROM, though he left the default Gingerbread launcher in place as well.
Protip: Pick which launcher you want to use, and delete the other. Don’t just select one as default – remove the other. You don’t want two launchers locked into memory and sucking up your RAM when you’re only using one. You can’t “officially” uninstall the stock launcher, but as a root user you can flex your mighty root access and simply delete Launcher2.apk from /system/app. Just be careful in there.
SS5.0 was about as fast and smooth as UD3 was before I started having the RAM issuse. SS5.x has yet to disappoint me on that front: RAM usage was reasonable in 5.0 and only got better with each update.
SS5.1 was a good update, but not overwhelmingly different from 5.0, especially in terms of subjective experience. It did seem to run a bit smoother.
Simply Stunning 5.2 is the update that got me excited enough to write this post. I installed it this morning, and holy balls. It’s leagues better than 5.1, and so far, in my opinion, the best Gingerbread experience you’ll find on the Droid thus far.
On the surface level, Chevy has provided a third launcher option: the launcher from the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. I never thought I’d say this about a launcher made by a phone manufacturer (especially Sony!), but it’s excellent. It’s smooth, fast, and minimalistic. Absolutely nothing like Motorola’s clunky Motoblur or HTC’s okayish but, let’s be honest, overrated SenseUI. It has nice pop-out folders. And in combination with Chevy’s excellent kernel, it is virtually lag-free. I’m using this as my one and only launcher without reservation. I’ve deleted Launcher2, but I backed up the ADW apk in case the Arc Launcher (ha) ended up having unforeseen issues (it is from Sony, after all, even if it’s Sony Ericsson).
Under the hood is where SS5.2 excites me the most, though. Chevy has made a couple tweaks that had very noticeable effects. First, he disabled the OS’s logging in order to free up that share of CPU time. This is something that the vase majority of users will never notice, so it was a great idea. But if you by any chance need your Android to keep a log, you can enable it in ChevyNo1Tools.
The other tweak is a compromise in Android’s bitter ambivalence about task killing. Task killers on Android are a divisive issue, with some people swearing by them and others denouncing them as unnecessary and counterproductive. In theory, they make your phone run faster and save battery life by killing background apps that you aren’t using. In practice, claim the denouncers, any app that is truly not in use will already be killed automatically by Android; meanwhile, auto-killing other tasks will just cause Android to recall them, resulting in an endless cycle that will actually eat more battery life than it saves.
I’ll be frank: my personal, admittedly anecdotal experience puts me in the camp of denouncers. I haven’t had a task killer installed on my Droid in a long time.
Chevy has created, as I said, a compromise. SS5.x does have a native task-killer beyond that of the even more native task-killing that stock Android enforces. It is more limited than the task killers you can download on the Android Market, however; it keeps a short list of auto-kill tasks that can only be modified by the user with non-trivial effort. So while I was never happy about it, I begrudgingly tolerated it.
As of SS5.2, however, the task-killer does double duty: it auto-kills the designated tasks and prevents Android from recalling them for a period of time. This sidesteps the endless loop that normal task-killers create. I really want to be skeptical of the very necessity of a task-killer in Android, but from anecdotal evidence so far, I think it’s actually very effective. I’ve never had more free RAM, and more consistently, on my Droid than I do with SS5.2. I’m pretty much always seeing around 75 MB free, where with other ROMs I would almost never see more than 50, and often less. Chevy’s under-the-hood tweak appears to finally make task-killing a serious boon to Android performance.
My Droid is running smooth, my RAM is well-managed, and I have a pretty, lag-free new launcher to play with. So yes, I’m very exicted with Simply Stunning 5.2 so far, and if you want Android 2.3 on your Droid, it is by far my top recommendation.
After the break, benchmarks and other pretty pictures!