Last night I nearly eliminated everything that was pissing me off about my Samsung Gravity Smart, which is a great phone that some boardroom turned into trash by loading it with bloatware and dumb social networking features. Here’s some of the things worth doing if you, like me, have been tempted to toss it into a garbage disposal now and then, but still need a useful phone.
Some aspects that seem mildly annoying when you start using it, and gradually increase until you sort of want to fly over to T-Mobile and start smashing skulls:
1) the aforementioned bloatware, including demo versions of games, an unnecessary map tool, an unnecessary photo gallery tool, and a whole bunch of other crapola I never even ran but which kept popping up notifications at random. I don’t like being forced to view advertisements on my phone. FIXABLE.
2) having keys on the keyboard for launching Facebook, a browser, email, etc., instead of cursor keys. Maybe somebody uses these launch buttons, but I only pressed them by accident. Having them instead of cursors is just cruel. FIXABLE.
3) lack of an off-screen notification light. There is an app called No Led or something to alleviate the pain, but it’s a battery drain and not worth the trouble. NOT FIXABLE, but not worth fixing if you would pretty much have notifications all the time anyway, in which case you just learn to pace yourself and let e-mails and SMSes wait a little instead of responding instantaneously. (Or you can listen for the chimes like a drooling hound in a psych experiment.) I am currently looking for apps compatible with this phone which will allow me to use the camera flash LED as a notification device (I’ve found two, but Google Market claims they are incompatible with the Samsung Galaxy Smart, so I can’t even install them).
4) Installing a quality SMS program like Handcent winds up giving you TWO text message indicators. FIXABLE.
5) Lack of storage space. Honestly, someone was smoking crack when they designed this phone. For some reason, it is constantly bitching about low disk space, even if you plug in a 8 GB SD card. FIXABLE.
The solutions to these complaints, other than the LED light problem, are all below.
1) ROOT IT. I was resistant to rooting my Samsung because I was worried about being able to return it to T-Mobile if it falls apart, which my last two phones did (Motorola CLIQs both, and T-Mobile was kind enough to let me switch since they were out of CLIQs). There is probably a way to revert your phone back to the original firmware anyway. I got pretty familiar with the process on the CLIQs, but it’s a bit of a pain, so I hope I never need to do that with the Gravity Smart. Rooting it is a trivial process. Download the Samsung drivers and the latest version of Super One Click Root. Install the drivers, then install SOCR. Plug your phone into your computer via USB, run it, and click Root. Wait about 30 seconds. You are now rooted. That’s right– it’s a simple process, and there’s nothing to fear except voiding your warranty. Now you can delete the bloatware. I don’t recommend doing that mindlessly though, as you can make your system unusable (a.k.a. bricked), or at least render it difficult to fix without advanced tricks, or shamefully apologizing to T-Mobile with tears running down your face, feeling like an asshole. What rooting provides, for the layman, is “Superuser” privileges. Which you oughta have anyway since you bought the damn thing and own it. When you’re not a Superuser, it’s like you’re just borrowing your phone. Once you’re a Superuser you can tell your telco, T-Mobile, to fuck off. Of course, most people don’t care because they don’t realize they are getting screwed. You, however, are not content to be a marionette controlled by the telecommunications industry.
Paranoia and misanthropy aside, there’s a fine guide for the rooting process here: http://www.addictivetips.com/mobile/root-t-mobile-samsung-gravity-smart-how-to-guide/
2) BACKUP your stuff from the SD card, and repartition it. The next few sentences may sound arcane; relax, there’s a link to a more complete guide coming up. Once you’ve rooted the phone you can install Titanium Backup and backup all your data onto the SD card, and copy the SD card contents elsewhere. Then repartition your SD card into a FAT32 primary partition followed by a smaller ext2 partition (that’s a Linux file system, if you’re curious). Later you’ll set up LINK2SD which tells apps to use the second partition as additional storage space instead of making you run out of space all the time. It takes a LOT of SMS messages to fill 512 MB. I won’t explain this in any more detail this since it’s all very well covered here: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1320187&page=4 . I did everything in the guide, except I used a different firmware. (I used AMS, which I gather is a fork off the one actually listed. I used AMS 0.3 since someone in the forum said AMS 0.4 had problems, but I had identical minor problems with AMS 0.3 so you may as well just use AMS 0.4.)
3) INSTALL AMS 0.3 or 0.4 or another custom ROM. AMS can be downloaded from the links in this forum (via MegaUpload or whatever). The instructions are the same except you want to rename AMS04.zip to update.zip and put it in the root of your SD card. DO NOT UNZIP THE FILE. Installing this pre-made firmware saves a lot of hassle as someone else took the time to remove the bloatware and test it, more or less. Firmware installation is quick and painless, but be sure you’ve got everything backed up first. Note one complication here: I get a couple of error messages when I startup the phone (“com.android.phone has stopped unexpectedly”– it sounds much worse than it actually is). Opera Mini (replacing the built-in browser) did not work initially either, but I re-installed it and then it worked (and later I upgraded to Opera Mobile). I found re-installing some apps to be handy. The important thing is that the non-software features of the phone all work fine (calls, messaging, sound, etc) and the error messages go away when you click OK and don’t come back, so it’s only something you need to deal with once in a while, when you reboot the phone. UPDATE: I later installed AMS 0.4 and the results were identical.
4) LINK2SD is now installed on there, if you indeed installed AMS. You want to launch it and configure it for using the surplus space. Same story; just use the instructions at that other link.
5) INSTALL HANDCENT SMS and uninstall the built-in Messaging application (you can use Titanium for this). I was worried that uninstalling the Messaging app would break Handcent as well, but my worries were for naught. Now I only get one notification; no more double-beeps, and two notifications icons on the notification bar, etc.
6) EDIT THE KEYBOARD LAYOUT FILE. To be honest, this is the only step that I couldn’t find explained in real detail elsewhere. Launch the File Expert app. You’ll find the keyboard layout under “Phone Internal Storage” in /system/usr/keylayout/gt2_keypad0.kl . This is a pretty human readable file. File Expert lets you mount the drive “Read Write” which will enable you to change the file using the text editor. (I actually wound up using the terminal and the vi editor, but I’m not about to write instructions on using vi.) Find the lines for the following keys (note, they’re not actually bunched together like this):
key 215 ENVELOPE WAKE_DROPPED
key 217 (whatever it used to be)
key 150 (whatever)
key 218 (whatever)
change them to say:
key 215 DPAD_LEFT
key 217 DPAD_DOWN
key 150 DPAD_UP
key 218 DPAD_RIGHT
Save it. You can leave out the WAKE_DROPPED parts. I assume that means that pressing the key will not light up the screen, and who cares. When you reboot the phone, you’ll have cursor keys: praise the lord! Your keyboard just became about 100x more useful. Based on the physical layout, it looks like the keyboard was designed this way originally and some asshole with a clipboard and a clip-on-tie sabotaged it (odds are he worked for T-Mobile, not Samsung). If you can’t launch Facebook, the browser, messaging, or whatever the other key did, without popping out the keyboard and pressing the big green buttons, you won’t get anywhere near this step… most likely you aren’t searching for “useful hacks for the Samsung Gravity Smart” to begin with.
By the way, you’ll probably have to edit this file again after any future firmware upgrades, so you might want to make a copy to your SD card or someplace else, so you can just copy-and-paste it instead.
7) YOU MAY NEED (OR WANT) TO CONFIGURE SOME OTHER SETTINGS. You’ll find that you have a few more of them. Settings aside, the above steps solved 95% of the issues I’ve had with this phone, the notification thing being a write-off. It’s also faster (I can’t tell if the No Frills CPU step from the original instructions had any impact, it seemed to be faster right after I flashed AMS). I do not yet know if there was an impact on the battery life, but I suspect it will be a negligible loss or a slight improvement. The best way to prolong the battery, in my experience, is to turn the brightness down, disable WiFi, and to turn off the data refresh (the thing that loads your gmail messages and such). Another thing I restored from T-Mobile is Lookout, which provides some [presumably false] sense of malware security when it isn’t shilling for the premium version. Probably better than nothing, especially once you start downloading Android apps from Zurblecchistan off MegaUpload…
8) Oh, one other thing you should know if you want to unlock your phone. You can always request the unlock code from T-Mobile. Go on live chat from their website and tell them you’re going overseas (Brazil is where I went) and they’ll e-mail you the code the next day. I wish I’d done that instead of paying $30 for the identical code from cell unlockers dot net. And supposedly you can cancel your plan by telling them you’re moving to an area with no T-Mobile coverage. (Note, I haven’t actually tried that last part, but best of luck.)
– UPDATED: loss of 3G. I didn’t notice this until doing everything else in this article. Then I started freaking out. It turns out you just need to add in your APN settings (Settings -> Wireless Networks -> Mobile Networks -> Access Point Names) and you’ll be good for 3G data and MMS. I used the second one that some angel posted here.
– The phone app has crashed warning, see above. Very minor unless you’re rebooting your phone often. UPDATE: I was able to get rid of this error by using Titanium Backup to remove the system app “CSC 1.0”. No idea what it does (although CSC has something to do with country-specific codes). SECOND UPDATE: on second thought, don’t do that. THIRD UPDATE: final verdict: it seems okay to remove but I wouldn’t do it unless you have witnessed the com.android.phone errors. I also think this could be resolved by reinstalling “Web 2.2.2” but I was unable to get Titanium to do that successfully (it kept hanging during the reinstall).
– I also get warning messages from WiFi Tether that seem to be equally meaningless, as WiFi works fine. UPDATE: I uninstalled Wifi Tether altogether using Titanium, and replaced it with OpenGarden Wifi Tether, which appears to work. Not sure if this will make any difference, but I doubt it. So, problem solved.
– AMS includes “GO Launcher”, which seems like a better launch platform than the default that ships with the phone. But for some reason I found it only worked after being run manually; after a reboot, it was back to the old launcher. Not a serious issue either, just mildly disconcerting. I’ve done no additional homework on this since I really don’t care.
– You may need to reconfigure your phone to use the correct ringtones. I had to, but I think that’s because I used to have an application called “Tone Picker” so I could use MP3s instead of the default Android selection. I didn’t reinstall Tone Picker, so after the above steps, wherever I’d originally used Tone Picker the ringtones got changed. This problem may not happen to anyone but me.
– I think GO Launcher might have a few bugs, but it was 4 am when I saw them and now I forget what they were.