Nov 27 2013
When the Cyanogenmod team released their “installer for everybody”, I couldn’t resist and give this alternative Android distribution a try. Luckily, my first generation Galaxy Note is on their list of supported smartphones and after using the program “zadig” to install a “libusbk” driver, the Cyanogenmod installer was able to communicate with the Galaxy Note and installed CM 10.2, which is based upon Android 4.3.1, on the machine.
Everything looked very different, since Cyanogenmod does not come with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface but rather uses a stock Android look and feel.
Everything was amazingly fast – just as if I had bought a brand-new phone with a much more powerful CPU and more RAM. The performance of CM on the Galaxy Note is just WOW!
But then, very quickly, came the downsides and the negative side effects:
To keep on using the built-in FM radio tuner, I had to buy an app from the Play Store for 8 Euros. The app is called “Spirit FM Unlocked” by Mike Reid, in case you’re interested.
The S-Pen is not very well supported, you can download an app like “Papyrus” for example that allows you to draw a bit with the S-Pen, but handwriting recognition is nowhere to be seen. I normally don’t use the S-Pen, so it didn’t really matter, but it felt like a let down nonetheless and it is a showcase for the useful and nicely designed apps that Samsung created for their smartphones. When you, for example, compare Google’s calendar app with the one that Samsung wrote for the Note, well, trust me on this, you won’t want to use Google’s app. Ever. I missed some of Samsung’s own apps very quickly, especially the calendar and the camera apps.
The missing Samsung camera app became a serious, showstopping problem. Only the camera application that comes with Cyanogenmod works in CM on the Note, and this camera app, compared to the one that Samsung ships, is, um, “very simple”, to put it as friendly as possible. I’ve tried a bunch of other camera apps from the Play Store, from focal to Camera MX and a couple of others and they ALL crashed as soon as I switched to video recording mode or when I wanted to move over to the Gallery. In my experience, not one third party camera application works on the Galaxy Note with Cyanogenmod. And even the built-in camera app very frequently crashed when I wanted to go to the gallery app and watch what I just had photographed or recorded.
Since I use the camera very often, this was the ultimate showstopper right there. I kept using CM for a couple of days on the Galaxy Note, but eventually reverted to the stock Samsung ROM. (Note: I used Odin 3.07 to flash a stock ROM from sammobile.com. In order for Odin to work, I first had to uninstall the libusbk drivers from my system – this can be done in Windows’ Device Manager. Once the libusbk drivers from zadig have been removed, Samsung’s own drivers can be installed and Odin will be able to detect the Galaxy Note.)
Samsung’s TouchWiz might be a performance killer, but everything is stable AND comfortable – at the end of the day, that counts more than raw performance at the cost of stability and usability.
I might give CM another spin when they upgrade to Android 4.4 and when I read that they fixed the camera problems on the Galaxy Note. I should have checked that before the installation – the web is full with problem reports about that.
Nevertheless, testing CM was an interesting and worthwhile experience. It’s good to know that there are alternatives out there and that we are not at the mercy of Samsung for receiving operating system updates. It was also nice to see how fast even the first generation Galaxy Note can still be with current Android versions – it’s far from being an old, slow phone when it’s fed with the right software.