Putting the Galaxy to rights #9 – The Benefits of a Mobile Meltdown

May 24, 2011

Vista busy cursor Normally a complete breakdown in the functioning of a phone would be thought of as a bad thing.  In my case at least it had a very positive result. My Samsung Galaxy S Android phone is now running far better than when it was new.

Right from when I bought it last September, the Galaxy S tended to be fairly sluggish.  Certainly not as snappy and responsive as my wife’s iPhone 4.  This may have been the so called “lag” problem which led to various “lag fix” solutions promoted on various websites, none of which I felt comfortable about trying.

I also put performance issues down to the fact that I tend to work my phone very hard – I have it playing back podcasts and audiobooks for hours during the day. For some reason, prolonged audio playback seemed to cause steady deterioration in performance.  The apps I use (ACast and the Audible app) tended to be very CPU and RAM hungry, and sometimes the phone would completely jam up, needing a reboot.  It was not uncommon to have to reboot the phone two or three times a day. That did not seem right.

There was another annoyance which caused even more reboots. This was the “stuck notifications pull-down” problem. With Android, if you see notification icons in the status bar at the top, you can look at the detailed notifications by touching the bar and dragging down, revealing the notifications screen.  Ever since the Froyo update, a bug appeared such that occasionally, seemingly at random, the notification screen would “stick”, i.e. refuse to open when dragged.  Only a reboot would fix it.

A few weeks ago there was a system update, from 2.2 to 2.2.1. I approached it with trepidation, much as I had before with the Froyo 2.2 upgrade, because of the risk of losing data.  I backed up everything I could think of, including use of MyBackup Pro from Rerware to back up phone logs, text messages and all sorts of other data up to the cloud. In the event, the update to 2.2.1 ran without a hitch and no data was lost.  It was just a matter of setting up all my app icons – I had made a list of the icons I had placed on the various desktops.

And the result of the update was a very noticeable improvement in performance. Version 2.2.1 is supposed to include an official version of the “lag fix” or at least something to make the phone run more snappily. The Quadrant Standard benchmark also showed a significant improvement.

All was wonderful … until the aforementioned meltdown.  I had just set off on a long journey in the car, driving home to Manchester from London, and was looking forward to 2 or 3 hours of my audiobook. The book was playing when my wife tried to call (she has a special ringtone) but I could not get the phone to complete the connection.  Possibly reception was bad.  I tried to return the call using Vlingo voice dialling but could not get it to recognise my voice command with all the surrounding traffic noise. Repeated attempts to use Vlingo seemed to squeeze the phone’s resources to breaking point. Every time I tried to restart the audiobook the playback deteriorated, becoming more halting or cylon-like.  Sometimes it recovers with time.  On this occasion the phone just gave up and died.  Total lock-up.

I was on the motorway approach at the time so kept on driving and later pulled into a service station so I could at least call my wife.  The battery was very low and I rang to warn her. But the phone had had to be rebooted and now was not booting cleanly. I was getting warning dialog after warning dialog about background apps failing to start up.  Many apps could not be launched at all.  I could make calls but no chance of any podcasts or audiobooks.  I completed my long journey in silence or listening to the least awful dross I could find on the radio.

Back home it was obvious the phone had suffered a terminal meltdown.  No way would it recover from the messed up state it was in. My guess is that, when stressed by my attempts to run Vlingo voice commands alternating with audiobook playback, some key configuration data had been overwritten or corrupted. There was only one way out and that was to try a factory reset. On the plus side, I had all the backups and other preparation from my upgrade to Froyo 2.2.1, so took the plunge.

It worked. The phone was returned to a stable state and I was able to get all my data back from the cloud and other locations.  Only my old Kik conversations were lost.  And the phone was flying!  It had never performed better.  No lag of any kind.  No stuck notification screen.  No gradual deterioration in performance over the course of the day.  Battery lasting far better.  And no more reboots!

I did have to reinstall my apps of course.  Part way through that process I obtained a Quadrant benchmark of 1260 which is pretty amazing for a Samsung Galaxy S.  I did notice that the benchmark was reducing as I added apps incrementally. So I left out some of the apps I had been using before, such as Watchdog and NetSentry, which I no longer felt I needed and which had been sapping phone resources continuously in the background.

The Quadrant benchmark came down to around 1050 with all the apps I felt I really needed, but that is still very good and the phone continues to be a revelation.  Frustrating lag and slow-downs have been banished, and the phone mostly gets through the day now without needing a middle of the day battery boost.




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