Sunday, March 4, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Note: ICS installation guide, detailed impressions

Up until a few days ago I was really beginning to worry that Samsung wasn't on track with it's release schedule for bringing ICS to the Galaxy Note. I'd been watching leaked ICS ROMs come to the Galaxy S II with an alarming frequency for weeks and weeks, but nothing for the Note. Given Samsung seem to be as leaky as a sieve when it comes to keeping their firmwares in-house, this just made me think the Note might have been getting a bit neglected. Fortunately those fears have proven unfounded, as an ICS build for the Note leaked a couple of days ago. Naturally I flashed it ASAP, I mean, what's a self-respecting Android geek to do?

OK, so here are some of my thoughts in some more detail and some screengrab which might be an easier way to digest some of the stuff.

In terms of looks the ROM is a bit frankenstein at the moment with a mixture of TW/GB/ICS elements throughout the UI. This isn't too big a deal, within a few days we should start getting custom ROMs and themes to remove this jarring eyesore from our vision.
  • Performance in general UI navigation is a big step up from Gingerbread ROMs, even custom ones. It's worth pointing out that this is despite this ROM limiting the CPU clock speed to the 1.2Ghz/core that the Chinese i9220 Note uses, rather than the 1.4Ghz/core clock speed in the international N7000 version.

As you see from the model number in settings
this ICS build comes from the Chinese Note
- model number i9220
  • On the topic of performance, there is one thing I know a lot of people will want to know - has wakelock delay been sorted? Happily I can report that it seems drastically reduced in ICS - in fact from my point of view it's gone (others who are more discriminating than me may still notice it I guess)
    If we move away from how it feels in general use and get to some hard numbers the Note saw nice increases all around in benchmarks. In particular graphics performance got a very nice bump in ICS - 44fps in Nenamark 2 which is basically the same as the Transformer Prime on ICS (in other words, wow)

                An increase of 12fps over the Note's Nenamark 2 score on Gingerbread!
  • Those lovely little ICS touches that I missed coming back to the Note from the Nexus - the brilliant task switcher, swiping to dismiss individual notifications, Face Unlock in all it's novelty-not-security glory, the consistent UI language throughout system and stock apps - are all here

The ICS task switcher, awesome. Swiping
away recent apps is rather addictive.

Swiping away individual notifications? Also
addictive. Note the ICS persistent shortcut to
Settings here also, and the Mobile Data
Toggle, which I much prefer here over GPS

  • Inbuilt Google Apps are of course lovely in their ICS incarnations
  • While talking about new ICS stock apps I really want to single out the most important of them - the browser. The browser is a massive step up from the Gingerbread browser. The performance is better for one thing, but even better the options are excellent - inverted rendering (an excellent battery saver on AMOLED screens), the ability to save pages for offline reading, the ability to finally! have a desktop UA without about:useragent shenannigans. If that wasn't enough you can even get the Chrome for Android beta, which is also excellent, although lacking some nice features of the ICS default browser like the ones mentioned above and flash player support.

Inverted rendering, your AMOLED will thank
you for it

A bevy of excellent new options

A good increase in the Vellamo score, if a little
disappointingly less than the Tab 7.7's score

The browsermark score much increased

The Chrome Beta, love how it handles tabs!

...and here is that consistent UI design in action:
you can swipe between tabs if you start the
swipe from the bezel outside the screen!
Still some work to do to bring the beta browser
up to speed though

  • Apps with stuff specifically for ICS work with this build, for example notification drawer controls for PowerAMP are present (YES!)
A feature I've wanted for a while from
  • Of course all this is well and good, if it's too unstable to be actually be used as your daily driver then this all becomes a bit academic, doesn't it? This may be the best news of all, because it is already stable enough. More than stable enough, it's running incredibly well!

So, you've suffered through reading my impressions of the ICS build, and all you really want now is to find out how to get it on your Note - this bit is for you (or maybe you paged down a couple of times instead, whatever). What follows is the method I used, and I've had zero problems with it on my Note. Naturally I can't guarantee that it'll be so smooth for you, that seems to be one of the vagaries of flashing, sometimes things don't seem to work the same even following the same procedure. While I'm talking about not guaranteeing anything, please familiarise yourself with our standard disclaimers found at the beginning of this post here. Bear in mind I don't say all that stuff to be cruel, it's just that our capacity to troubleshoot from the blog is limited.

Before we get into the step-by-step, there are of course a few pre-requisites:

A fully charged Galaxy Note. Duh.
The Galaxy Note must be Rooted. Bummer. Oh, wait!
The Note must be properly backed up before flashing this ROM. That means making a Nandroid backup, backing up your apps and their data in Titanium Backup, and backing up your EFS folder. That's quite a bit to get your head around if you're not already familiar with it, but luckily for you we've got your back again with a guide for backing up your Rooted 'Droid.
Odin on your PC, or Mobile Odin from the Android Market on your Note. Mobile Odin is the easiest option, and a superb app for supported Galaxy Devices. It is a paid app, but you should know that in buying it you not only get the app, but also a heaping helping of warm fuzzies for supporting developer extraordinaire Chainfire - at no extra cost!
OK, once you've worked through those few things here are the steps you need to follow to give your Note the fresh, fresh taste of Ice Cream Sandwich:
Download Chainfire's repack of the i9220 ROM version for the international N7000 Note model. Get it here. Once downloaded copy it to your internal SD.
Download Google Apps 7.1 here. Once downloaded copy it to your internal SD.
Open Mobile Odin, choose the ROM .tar file and flash it to the phone - this will also Root the new ROM and pre-install CWM recovery and Superuser. Your phone will reboot.
When your phone restarts it should automatically boot into recovery, in recovery factory reset/wipe data and then install the Gapps zip.
Reboot the phone.
When your phone is fully rebooted, reboot it again.
Use Titanium Backup to restore apps and their data. DO NOT restore system settings. Freeze or uninstall all of the Chinese bloatware the ROM comes with - I got rid of them all without incident.
Enjoy ICS on your Galaxy Note
If any of that is difficult to follow read the guides linked to above, they cover basics like going into recovery, and how to do things in recovery like factory resets/wiping data/installing zip files and so on.

If you're too cheap or too poor to get Mobile Odin you can get the same result with Odin on your PC, simply flash the ROM .tar file as PDA in Odin (the second half of the Note Root guide shows you how to use PC Odin if you're not already familiar). Be aware that if you do use PC Odin the flash count for the phone will increase, which of course means potential warranty problems. You can reset the counter and remove the attendant yellow triangle by using Triangleaway. This is yet another Chainfire app, so I hope you're beginning to realise how awesome this guy is and how much he deserves a few of your dollars for Mobile Odin if you're in a position to pay for it.

So, there it is. ICS finally! on our Galaxy Notes.

What are you waiting for?

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