Archive for September 30, 2012

Resolving Seasonal Affective Disorder

I have for the last years started noticing that as soon as the winter period starts here in Denmark, I started being tired all day and from time to time suffered a bit on having a bad mood and temper.

This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is a widely scientific accepted disorder from which a lot of people are actually suffering. I’m not really tempted to start doing any drugs on this issue, so I tried buying a SAD light out of Amazon about a month ago.

I use it every morning while having breakfast. Since I usually have breakfast with my son, this do take some time, so I get light about 30 minutes every morning. I place it about 30-40 cm. away from my face in front of me while eating.

I was skeptic, but after one week of use, I can conclude that this works! My mood is generally better and my energy reserves are much better doing the day. This is a very easy way to resolve a slight “winter depression”!

Rooting the IStar i9220S

I tried rooting the IStar i9220S and it turned out to be pretty easy…

Follow the XDA-Developers thread here and download the root tool available here.

Simply connect the phone via USB to your (Windows-based) PC. Ensure your phone is in USB Debugging mode, execute TPSparkyRoot.bat and follow the on-screen instructions. Your phone will reboot three times and voila – your phone is rooted.

I’m satisfied with the stock ROM on my phone, so I won’t start flashing anything before a Jelly Bean-based ROM is available.

IStar i9220S review

My first real post will be somewhat different from what I’m actually planning to blog about in this blog. Despite this, I want to put a review up on my new phone, since I realized how difficult it was to find “real human” information on Chinese manufactured phones.

Background
I usually keep my phones for quite some time (at least a year..and that’s long in this business!), but I do use my cell phone pretty much during the day since working at IBM means a lot of talking via phone. On an average, I would say that I talk in my phone about 3-4 hours a day. I’m therefore pretty demanding to the phones I have, meaning that they must have a smooth and fast user interface for actually making calls, must have an easy to use mute function (as most of my calls are conference calls and yes, you would be surprised how f*cked up you can make mute functionality) and finally a decent battery life.
I’ve been with Nokia since the 6210i (awesome phone and I actually still believe it’s a very well designed phone), but got very happy on Android after purchasing a HTC Hero in the early days of Android. Great phone, but eventually a too slow CPU for running new Android releases. Through IBM I got hold of an HTC Wildfire S. I will not dwell a lot on that phone in this review, but it’s one of those products where you just sit back as consumer and think “Okay, jerks, this is a really crappy device…why did you even release it to the market?!” I can’t even count the amount of calls I have missed due to it’s complete lack of performance. Oh yes – and the FM radio which you cannot turn off without a complete restart of the phone (ARGH!)

So…I wanted to find a new phone. Basically with only three main criterias for choosing: It must have a decent performance (preferably dual-core), it must be Android 4 based and finally with a decent battery. You pretty soon realize that the interesting phones in that segment are priced well above $500, which I frankly believe is way too much. Having already a Chinese unknown-brand-based tablet, I started to look in the highly fragmented Chinese market to possibly identify a phone that would suit my needs.

I stumbled across the IStar i9220S and compared it to other phones over a long period of time (weeks!). It’s usually very difficult to find valid information on these Chinese devices, since the majority of sites referenced by Google are machine loaded crap which basically only includes the word review and the specifications of the device. They have for sure not tested the phones and this is primarily why I have made this review! Hope you find it :-)

Anyway I settled my choice eventually and ordered the phone. Delivery time to Denmark was about 4 days and they dispatch the phones from Singapore. It was caught for custom taxes even though the dispatchers claimed on the package it was only a value of $30.

Physical appearance
A few pictures of the phone + the package in which the phone arrived:

I will spare you the details on specifications – it’s listed on the order pages of the phone.

As you see on the pictures, the name “IStar i9220S” is not mentioned anywhere, but instead “i9220 N9000 PAD”…yeah, whatever…

In essence you will see that this is a ripoff of the Samsung Galaxy Note. It’s big, the screen is large, but surprisingly thin. It can hold two SIM cards, but only use data and 3G network on one SIM card. I haven’t tried with two SIMs inserted, but I assume it works as it’s listed in the Android software.
The build quality is okay. It’s not world class Apple-like chassis, but it’s okay. The Android logo on the back is a little loose, but was fixed easily with a small drop of glue. It really doesn’t matter anyway, because I ordered a cover to protect the phone just a little when I drop it by accident.

Screen
Big! It’s a 5″ super AMOLED screen and have good brightness to make it readable under most conditions. There’s build-in auto-adjustment of the brightness and this works just fine. The resolution is not high (480 x 800) and significantly lower than the real Samsung Galaxy Notes which runs at 800×1280.

Performance
The MT6575 CPU in the phone is a single-core CPU clocked at 1 Ghz and based on the ARM CortexTM‐A9 instruction set. This for instance means that Firefox is available. It’s fast, not blazingly, but I have yet to experience a single lag in the GUI – it has an overall quick response and I really have no complaints on it’s performance.
Google Play works just fine and I can find all the apps I wanted to install (this can sometimes be tricky since some Chinese devices are shipped with Chinese Google Play, but this was not the case here).
Locale settings are limited and danish is for instance not available. I prefer to have my phones set to English anyway and as I use SwiftKey 3 as keyboard, I still get access to the danish special characters.
The headset is okay and it’s a standard jack-socket, so you can connect your favorite headphones. The dialer software is standard Android, so no f*cked up ways to perform mute when you are in a conference call.
GPS works fine and it found my position within 30 seconds.
The FM radio is shitty and it’s almost impossible to reach any stations – at least in Denmark. If you have stronger signal in your country it might work just fine.
The phone does not vibrate a lot. I can’t figure out whether it just a matter of the size of the phone or it’s just not aggressive enough.
500 MB is mounted as internal ROM in the phone and an additional 2 GB storage device is mounted in advance. You can add a memory card to gain even further space. It’s easy to switch between where you want your apps to be installed.
It’s standard Android 4 – no issues at all.

The phone is not rooted. Update: Easily rooted!

Stability
I have been using the phone everyday for over a week now. I have not had any stability issues at all. No crashes – it just works.

Network
Buying a Chinese phone, you really must pay close attention to the network support. US, China and Europe use different frequencies and coding algorithms. In Denmark the network carriers transmit the 3G signals on various bands and I believe this phone will only work with TDC as they use 2100 Mhz to transmit 3G.

Signal strength is very good for 2G/3G GSM network and the build-in WIFI module works with no issues.

Battery
The phone comes with two 3200 mAh batteries, but the phone only carry one battery at the time. The battery life is better than I expected and based on my usage pattern (some surfing and 3-4 hours talk) it must be charged after aprox. 36 hours. Not bad.

Is it worth the money?
Absolutely! I admit that I was quite skeptical when I ordered this device and knew quite well buying a device like this is somewhat like participating in a lottery. Overall the phone, though, have fulfilled all my expectations and I have a fast Android based phone for about $230 including taxes, delivery and import to Denmark. This is cheap – very cheap – for a phone with these specifications.

I haven’t spend much time on figuring out how to root the phone and eventually update the phone with new firmware. The forum at XDA-Developers has a lively dialogue on this device, so I’m assuming it’s possible to at least root it. Whether new ROMs are available with Jelly Bean, I currently do not know. I will keep you posted if I dare starting to update the ROM in the phone.