Saturday, October 1, 2011

Motorola Charm MB502 customization

This note talks about the software customization I have done on Motorola Charm to make it usable, for what it is worth.

I bought this device for one reason - productivity. Read more about my thoughts in this note.

A very good hardware and form factor, excellent keyboard, optimal performance using the 600MHz processor. Unfortunately, lacks in display (QVGA) and video (max CIF) support. The screen is indeed bad and some widgets look squashed.

I did some customization to improve on the UI and brighten up the pixelated looks. My current home screens..

 Turtle Photoframe
 Turtle Photoframe
 Screen Filter, uptime, Weather, Agenda widget
Precious Metals Price Widget, aCurrency, Google Finance
 Turtle Photoframe, Drinking Water
 Mensa Word of the Day, Google+, Seesmic
 Android's Fortune, Babyage, Calorie Counter
Lock Screen

I am jotting down the list of changes I did on the device.

root it
Don't do this if you are concerned about support. Else do yourself a favour and root the device. Motorola is not interested in upgrading this device any further, you are left alone (check official Motorola forums on this). This device is probably on end of life list and may not get any more updates.

I downloaded and extracted the, and followed the instructions (look for reference link below). This also needs the Android SDK and Java SDK to be available on the system. Note, version 1.6 is required for this device, the higher version did not work for me.

Partition the SD card
This is required for the subsequent step for linking apps and moving them to SD card. I made use of MiniTool partition software to make three partitions on my 16GB SD Card (look for reference link below).

Cell1 -  11GB  (for actual data)
Cell2 -   3GB (for link2sd app)
swap  - 840MB (for additional memory space support)

link2sd - move apps to SD card
Downloaded and installed link2sd from market. The software link2sd requires a second primary partition. This basically moves all apps related files to the 2nd partition of the SD card and leaves a link in the internal memory that points to the actual file on SD. This saves huge amount of internal space and therefore allows installation of large number of apps. Something just not possible without rooting the device.

ADW Launcher as UI

Motoblur UI isn't that bad, but this is a small screen and I did not want it wasted on the dock bar and screen position indicators. The more space available for actual data and widgets display the better.

Installed ADW Launcher from market for easy screens. As the screen size is small and there is a physical keyboard available, I decided to remove the dock bar. Next I made some changes in the keyboard quick launch options to gain easy access to my frequently used apps.

Changed the home key to point to apps drawer and the double tap on home key to phone dialler. The quick launcher option also allows setting of search+ key to directly invoke apps. This is pretty cool as I can now avoid putting apps shortcuts on the desktop.

Font Changer

Downloaded and installed Font changer app from market. Font changer allows changing of font density from the default 120 to 140 or higher. This basically makes the font look bigger on the small screen. Though 140 was good to look at, it also increased the sizes of some of my apps. For instance,  the ADW Launcher 5-icons panel extended beyond the screen size. At a higher sizing, even the default dialler misbehaved due to the spillover of
buttons. I decided to keep the density at 120 and change the default font instead. I copied the Liberation fonts from my Linux desktop to the font changer folder. Then set Liberation Sans font for display from font changer app. This is much more crisp and easy to look at than the default font.

I found out that using a Mono font, such as Droid Mono, gave a good reading quality that did not strain the eyes. However, this takes up lot of space and most short-cuts and widget data is truncated. So will have to stick to a type face font.

Quite a few apps also allow setting there own custom font, this serves well for such small screens.

Some of my widgets did not allow font sizing and are barely readable. You will be able to make out from the screen shots. I still keep them as they act as reminders to get into the app itself.

I faced following issues with the device.

Battery charger conked
The battery charger worked for the first use. It just failed to work after this. The phone is getting charged from the USB link when attached to a computer. The phone is also getting charged from my wife's Samsung charger (same Micro-USB port). So Motorola does have some quality issue here. Checked some forums and realised I am not alone. It is OK for me as the alternatives work.

Washed out pictures
I knew the video quality on this device is pathetic. Was not happy with the pictures, 3MP should have been able to deliver better. With no flash present, the pics are unbearable in low light. There is a Kodak app included in the device that does picture enhancement. This is working out good for most pictures I take. So will use this as a process to enhance my snaps.

Not much can be done of the video quality. The CIF format is the best one can get from this phone. This will remain a bad score for me.

keyboard Delivers

This is the best part of getting the device. I typed most of this note on the device itself. I setup quick launch keys for my most frequently used apps (calendar, Seesmic, catch, Springpad, MySettings, greader, email clients..). Gotten used to this now. The keyboard is where the device delivers.

Working apps
I use the following apps on the device. Haven't noticed any issues in these. Some show a smaller font size though, have tweaked the settings of some to give better looks. Have put some screen shots here.

- aCurrency lite
- Adobe Reader

- Astro

- Agenda widget
- Android's fortune
- AVG Anti-virus
- Babyage
- Business calendar free
- Default Browser


- Default Dialler


- CamScanner
- Catch


- Calorie Counter
- Drinking water
- Font changer
- Folder Organizer lite
- Google+
- greader



- Default picture Gallery


- Link2SD
- Load Monitor


- Default Messaging


- Mensa word of the day
- MortPlayer Audio Book
- Market


- MySettings

- Openoffice document reader
- Precious Metals Price Widget
- Root explorer
- Seesmic
Screen filter
- Seven mail
- SMS backup
- SMS popup
- Springpad

- Turtle photoframe
- Google services (gmail, contacts, reader, maps, youtube etc.)



Final note
The device is much more acceptable with the above changes, but not quite there. Guess this is the maximum I can achieve on this hardware. I will be using this device till I get another up-scale qwerty device, may be in a few months time.


Android devices with physical QWERTY keyboards - for Productivity sake please

I have used Android devices for two years now, all touch screens with virtual  keyboards. Before this, I was a Palm freak and relished the Treo series. Ironically, I am still struggling to achieve the productivity levels I had with my Palm Treo series.

Using touch screen makes me realize that while I have gained on the quality and richness of contents in my hand, I have somehow lost on the productivity portion. This means a lot to me as I use my device as a personal assistance - manage my calendar, tasks, todo, meetings, reminder, grocery, notes, take pictures/videos, quotes, read ebooks, track my activities etc., besides doing the usual phone calls and messaging. Yes my device also reminds me to drink water and track calories?? I sometimes type notes for hours while travelling around.

Now for me, the good part of Android is that it has a very good presentation layer for reading docs or viewing media. The bad part is capturing text. I am finding it difficult to feed data on touch screen. While the virtual keyboards and Word corrections have improved a lot and definitely add to faster inputs, I am still not there with the pace I had on Palm. I prefer looking at the text while my fingers do the capturing. This does not work out very well on touch screens as my gaze has to constantly shift between the keyboard, the word correction bar and the text itself. Adding special characters becomes even more cumbersome as another set of keys pop up for selection. I find myself searching for the home keys (F, J) to position my thumb and start the flow; but then this happens too often.

Physical keyboard also gave the option of having keys assigned for quick launch. For instance I could just press a combination to start capturing a task on my calendar. I did find some quick alternatives on touch screens to somehow make up for this part.

Inadvertently, I also find myself occasionally indulging in endless customization of my device to find the right looks and apps, rather than focus on getting things done.

I might sound stupid to people who are more focussed on media contents and text inputs limited to tweets. I believe most blackberry and Palm folks can relate to this. So in my quest to find the ultimate Android device for my use, I have decided to try my hands on physical QWERTY keyboard based Android devices. Unfortunately, not many to choose from at this time. I am looking for devices that give Portrait QWERTY keyboard and yes with the M aligned under K (not under J). This is how computer keyboards are designed and my thumbs are used to similar alignment on cell phones.

I did find few devices out there to try out.. will update my blog again..