Have Superphone, Will Travel
July 31, 2012 7:20 PM   Subscribe

I bought a Galaxy Nexus HSPA+ and an unlimited pay-as-you-go plan. Ummm. Now what?

I bought a Motorola Droid way back when, and while planning on doing crazy awesome stuff with it, I wound up only using it for casual web surfing, checking forecasts and GPS navigation.

This time, I'm gonna do it right. I have an unlocked super-phone running JellyBean (4.1), an interest in programming and information security, a voracious appetite for knowledge, particularly current events and ancient history and investment strategies and what the hell is that growing in the garden I just bought and why is it dying?

Difficulty - Mac user, at home and at work. Also something of a Unix wonk.

What life-changing apps, sites or books should I be devoting some time to?
posted by Slap*Happy to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, as a follow up, I'm not a very serious gamer, apart from Starcraft.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:22 PM on July 31, 2012

Do you have 4g? Will you ever be going anywhere with 4g? And your phone's rooted?
Tether that phone. Connect your Mac to it. Use your ridiculous connection to:
- play SC2 with a friend on vacation
- geek out with the SC2Casts Pro App
- save YouTube videos with TubeMate (download through the Amazon Appstore app-- wouldn't trust it anywhere else) in HD to show off the Nexus' amazing screen to your nerd friends
- sniff packets with your phone
- don't forget to keep your phone plugged in and cooled when tethering-- it gets _hot_.

Other fun apps:
- Buildings. Fun while traveling or exploring locally.
- USPS Mobile. Find the nearest post office or dropbox.
- Google Goggles. Just give it a shot.

I could go on and on I think, but part of the fun is finding fun and useful apps yourself, I think. The Google Voice thing is pretty swell, and you can learn more about what you can do with it here (you'll find links to vids, etc.)

Protip: Use the built-in Bookmark widget and perma-set MetaFilter to your homescreen. This would solve 99.44% of what you're looking for. Except for the SC2 stuff. And the garden stuff, though you could just bookmark AskMe if you wanna save yourself a fraction of a second.
posted by herrdoktor at 8:25 PM on July 31, 2012

I have a G-Nexus too and I love it. In the more "general advice" category, Xda is a great place to hang out and learn neat things your phone can do. There's a lot there about modding your phone and installing different roms and such, but there is also plenty there for the regular user. Personally, once I started modding my phone, I couldn't stop. It's a bit of a compulsion.
posted by Geppp at 8:41 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat, having bought a Nexus recently. Stuff that I think is cool, which may anyway be old hat: GoogleGoggles is occasionally creepily good. ConnectBot is a surprisingly okay ssh client. Glympse is something I've wanted on a phone for a long time. I haven't played with the NFC interface much yet, but have had fun pointing taginfo at things and seeing what it picks up, and I have an Adafruit NFC board lying around waiting for me to do something with it.

The Android development kit runs fine on MacOSX, so if you wanted to you could write programs or contribute to some interesting open-source pro ject.
posted by hattifattener at 12:16 AM on August 1, 2012

Unlock the bootloader before you do more than play with it superficially. Unlocking it is easy as pie, but wipes the phone, so you'll really not want to do it after you've spent a month customizing your phone in ways that don't require root. You just need the Android SDK and a cable to plug it in to your computer. You might have to download the ADB driver for it as well. I'm not sure if it's on Samsung's site or Google's.

With the SDK installed, it's as simple as doing 'adb reboot bootloader' then 'fastboot oem unlock'.

You can wait to bother rooting and otherwise messing about until you've found something you're actually interested in doing with it that requires root. It only requires downloading a couple of files, copying one to your phone, typing a couple of things on the command line again, and installing the package you put on the phone.

Personally, one of my favorite things to do on my phone, and this is stupid, is watch the videos on the ReutersTV YouTube channel. ConnectBot pretty much requires Hacker's Keyboard on buttonless devices like the Gnex, btw. If/when you root your phone, you might want to pick up a USB on the go cable so you can plug USB sticks into your phone. You'll need a program called StickMount to actually mount it so you can see it, but it's really neat, and makes the 16GB of space much easier to deal with. Finally, a place to put my nandroid backups!
posted by wierdo at 12:20 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As wierdo said, one of the first things you should do is unlock the bootloader, and eventually you'll probably want to root your phone. BY FAR the easiest way I've found to do this is Wugfresh's Nexus Root Toolkit. It's GUI-based, works on several devices (including the new Nexus 7 tablet) easy to use, and very powerful, even allowing backups without having an alternate recovery installed. From there, you can "permanently" root (i.e. as long as you want) your phone by installing said alternate recovery, either in the form of ClockworkMod or TeamWinRecoveryProject, both of which now have touch-based interfaces as opposed to their earlier physical-button-only interfaces. Those alternate recoveries allow you to clear caches and reset your phone's system, backup your entire phone in case something goes wrong, as well as installing modifications up to and including new or alternate versions of the operating system. And if you ever need to set everything back to complete, factory-fresh stock, the Root Toolkit can do that as well. Just make sure you know the correct model of your phone for this process as well as the ROM/kernel process I'll mention below. From your post, it looks like you have the maguro model.

Once you're unlocked and rooted, you'll need to install a "superuser" app like SuperSU to grant root access to any apps that need it. Then you can start in with stuff like Titanium Backup, which will not only back up your apps, but also stuff like your SMS/MMS messages and call logs. If you have any games with saves or high scores, or apps that store data over time, then this app is essential.

If you're ready for bigger and better, then it's time to move onto ROMs, which are kind of like the Android equivalent of the various flavors of Linux. Since the Android code is open-source, programmers build their own versions with improved performance and/or functionality. The two big ones at the moment are CyanogenMod and AOKP, both of which are officially still on Ice Cream Sandwich, but are also allowing nightlies (CM)/builds (AOKP) of Jelly Bean that basically function as betas for the new OS and/or new features. The usual caveats for beta-testing apply, but once they're ready for primetime, you'll start to see official release candidates (CM)/milestones (AOKP). They share some code with each other, and on the surface they're fairly similar, but each has their merits. There's a ton of other ROMs out there like ParanoidAndroid (uses a tablet interface on phones) and BuglessBeast (as close to stock as possible while cleaning up minor bugs in the source), so you're not just stuck with those two. My personal favorite is AOKP, mainly because it's insanely customizable and comes with one of the better alternate interfaces in the form of Nova Launcher, and a customized kernel that allows for stuff like overclocking and color control.

As for apps, there's a bunch of advice in a similar thread about the Nexus 7 a couple days ago, and much of what's mentioned there applies to the GN as well. I'd expand on my Google Voice suggestion by mentioning that you can set it up to be your phone's voicemail on steroids. It's accessible from any device or computer, will transcribe messages if possible, can be customized on a per-contact basis, and doesn't require additional costs like AT&T or Verizon does with Visual Voice Mail. Some good sites for modifying your phone are the previously-mentioned XDA (especially the GN forums) as well as RootzWiki. Both of those have general support/Q&A sections that will have FAQs and other important information to get you familiar with your phone and what it can do.

It's a little overwhelming at first, I know. But the appeal (to me) of Android phones as opposed to iPhones and BlackBerries is having so much that you can do if you want to.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:49 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Nexus Root Toolkit probably isn't going to do a lot of good on a Mac, but otherwise zombieflanders' suggestions are excellent. Let me reiterate that if you plan to change ROMs or anything like that, Titanium Backup is a must.

Luckily, all this stuff is pretty easy even from the command line. There are probably Mac GUIs for unlocking and rooting, but I don't know what they are.

Also, you needn't worry much about bricking your phone. The Galaxy Nexus HSPA has a TI OMAP CPU. Happily, there is a tool called OMAPFlash that can communicate directly with the SoC and flash a bootloader and recovery image no matter how screwed up the software on your phone is. Barring somehow ruining the hardware, there's not much you can do to kill it. If a ROM flash goes bad because you forgot to check your battery level and it dies in the middle of the process, it's not the end of the world.
posted by wierdo at 4:15 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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