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About Android Gingerbread & Installing non-Market Android apps on the Motorola Atrix

TL;DR – Android Gingerbread on the Atrix features a slew of new/updated features and this article goes over some of the more memorable changes to Gingerbread on the Atrix (Installation of apps from unknown sources is now enabled, etc). Visit my Min.us gallery of Atrix Gingerbread screenshots.

I updated my Motorola Atrix to Android 2.3 a.k.a. Gingerbread. You, too, can simply update your phone by going to your phone’s Settings” page, clicking on “About Phone” and tapping “System Updates”. You will get a simple notification that an update is available for your phone and offered the chance to download it. After downloading is complete, you can install it now or later. If you haven’t backed up your precious photos or phone contacts, please do so before proceeding with the update. After a restart or two, you will have the latest update from Motorola (Blur_Version.4.1.83.MB860.ATT.en.US to Blur_Version.4.5.91.MB860.ATT.en.US). Read my earlier post about the earlier updates that have been pushed out for the Motorola Atrix.

Update Available on the Atrix
Download Complete; Install Update Notification
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Version Info of Atrix Gingerbread

Straight from Motorola’s release notes, here are some areas you should see major changes:

  1. Productivity Tools: Enhancements to business ready security features so you can get more work done on-the-go which includes robust VPN, device and SD card encryption, device management via 3rd party console and remote wipe ability. Adding Ability to install apps from unknown/3rd party sources e.g. XDA apks, the Amazon store (and its apps, etc).
  2. Gallery: Enhancements to the picture Gallery allow you to aggregate all your photos, your friends’ photos and photo comments from social networking and photo sites like Facebook and Picasa in one place for easy viewing
  3. Music: Enhancements so your Music player is now connected to a dashboard for music discovery. Plus, easy access to all your favorite artists, live, personalized recommendations for songs & videos and news and event updates
  4. Dock Icons: Enhancement that enables easy access to favorite apps at bottom of each screen
  5. Organized App Tray: Enhancement that helps you personalize and categorize favorite apps into groups so you can be more efficient
  6. Location Based Recommendations: Enhancement that provides access to social content in one place so you can find out what is happening around you. You can use Yelp reviews and Facebook check-ins to find out what others are recommending
  7. Task Management Tools: Enhancement that makes it easier to create, edit & delete tasks, and to assign priorities and reminders
  8. Notification Tray: Enhancement that enables you to dismiss notifications one at a time
  9. Faster Webtop Browsing: Enhancement to webtop application includes Firefox 4.0 so you can browse faster than with earlier versions of Firefox.
    You can use the Webtop feature with optional accessories (Motorola HD Multimedia Dock, the Motorola Atrix Webtop Access Kit and the Atrix Laptop Dock). I may consider checking out the Atrix HD Multimedia dock or the Webtop access kit, but NOT the “laptop” dock priced at ~ $500.

  10. User Interface: Updated user interface with simpler home screen design, including shift to use of white backgrounds in menus, enabling better viewing experience
  11. HD Video Playback: Enhancement that now enables HD Video Playback in 1080p for better viewing experience
  12. Multiple Recipient Emails: Create groups for multiple recipient emails so you can communicate faster
  13. One touch conference call access: Enhancement that makes it easier to dial-in to conference bridges while you’re on-the-go

Productivity

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Unknown/3rd party app installation sources
When I discovered that ATT/MOTOROLA had finally enabled the ability to install Android apps from unknown or 3rd party sources, I was over the moon with joy. :) The first 3rd party app I installed was the Amazon AppStore. Did you know the Amazon appstore gives you 1 “free” paid app a day? I, too, initially thought that Amazon gave the developers of the promoted apps 20% to compensate for making their app free for the day, but I soon learned that this was not the case. After feeling sympathetic, then I realized that Amazon not paying the developers were no different that Apple choosing to spotlight apps during their commercials. Ultimately, choosing to be featured is your business’s call and part of that decision involves figuring out if the increased work(load) is worth the popularity & sign-ups received. That said, being able to install 3rd party apps on the Atrix means that I can actually develop for my particular phone. Case in point, I was able go through the Hello Android tutorial & run the compiled apk on my phone.

I found a screen-grabbing application on XDA’s forums: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1009451. It works without needing root and the only permission required is SD card editing & storage. Boom.

This discovery reduces the likelihood of me needing to root my Atrix even more. :D If you have followed the instructions on installing Android SDk to your phone, all you need to do to install the app is: Open up command prompt and type: adb install path/to/the/apk/file. You should get a success message if all went well:

C:\Users\Jane\: adb install C:\Users\Jane\Documents\Coding\Android\Atrix\screengrab.apk
879 KB/s (52210 bytes in 0.058s)
        pkg: /data/local/tmp/screengrab.apk
Success

Please note: You will not be asked to okay the installation so please use this command with care. According to this Android Developer document, that adb install path/to/file only copies the file to a location on the phone, but I didn’t have to do anything else to get Screen grabber apk installed on my phone *shrug*. I can’t stress enough: don’t be rash and download random apks from the internet. If you want to verify the permissions required by an app, simply tap the “Options” button and select “Manage Apps”. Apps are now sorted alphabetically so scroll to the Screen Grabber entry and tap on it; the permissions required are at the bottom of that page and displayed below. The main difference I have found between the screenshots from the Screen Grabber app and those from the Android SDK method are: Screen Grabber’s method is easier, snaps taken by Screen Grabber have a greater bit depth (32) & thus, a larger file size than those by the SDK method.

Lastly, the Atrix now comes with the ability to encrypt personal data including data on the internal & external storage devices (good news for IT departments everywhere)! I turned on the personal data encryption on my Atrix and after rebooting, I got a message about my SIM card being removed or changed. Thanks to the encryption/security feature, you will need to enter your MOTOBLUR account/password combo every time you reboot. A little inconvenience for peace of mind is not too much to ask especially if you need it i.e. if sensitive data passes through your phone, a spy, etc. Also, please be aware that if you turn on SD card encryption, factory resetting your phone may result in total data loss.

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Encryption on the Motorola Atrix running Gingerbread
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Options for Screen Grabber app for Atrix
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Screen Grabber permissions
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Screen grabber method vs Android SDK method
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Installin Amazon AppStore apk
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Amazon AppStore permissions
Sign-in to Amazon AppStore
Sign-in to Amazon AppStore
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Downloading a 'free' paid app from Amazon Appstore
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Permission request from amazon app
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"Hello World" Android tutorial running on the Motorola Atrix

Refreshed Android Photo Gallery

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With Gingerbread on the Atrix, the photo gallery shows your friends’ galleries by default. The first gallery set has the “views” which are:

  1. Camera roll: Pulls photos from the DCIM folder or where photos taken from the camera are specifically stored.
  2. My library: Pulls photos stored on your internal and external storage systems on the Atrix.
  3. Online: This hooks into my Flickr, Facebook and Picasa Web Albums and it’s pretty nifty.
  4. Friends: This pulls photos from your friend’s public Flickr, Facebook and Picasa albums.
  5. DLNA servers: Pulls photos from a media server you specify.

If you’re irritated by the default setting to show pictures from your Facebook friends, turn that setting off by going to the “Settings” page. You can also setup DLNA servers via the settings. See the gallery below for the revamped options in the photo gallery app.

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Main Photo Gallery
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My Library

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Friends' online albums
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My Online Albums

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Browsing DLNA servers
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Gallery settings on Atrix (Gingerbread)
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Options for Photo/Video upload on Atrix (gingerbread)

Refreshed Music Listening Experience

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Motorola didn’t add anything too drastic to the stock Android Gingerbread music app. One of the things I noticed was a “Music Store” app which is from AT&T. I haven’t bothered to uninstall it; besides, I already have my Amazon MP3 app installed. On the first run of the Music app on the Atrix, you will be asked if you want to get “Live Music” recommendations which is the main change to the bundled Music app. Once you have gone through the prompts on the default Music app, little has been done to differentiate the MOTOBLUR-skinned music app from Android 2.2.

ATT Music Store App
Motorola Music App & Google Music app
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First run of default music app
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Home Screens for Music player app

The most obvious addition is that, by default, starting up the Music app (by MOTOBLUR) will display ‘live’ music recommendations to you and there is a tight integration with the (new) ATT music store. After you’ve set up the Music app, you will be presented with video, song & station recommendations. If you want a better music player, download the Google Music (beta) app which is pretty. I have used it as my main music player and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Plus, if you install the Music beta application on your computer and upload your music library to Google’s servers, you will be able to stream your music via the Android app. Check out the gallery of the MOTOBLUR music app:

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Swiping on Music App - Atrix Gingerbread
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Recommended Video/Song/Stations via Music app
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"Now Playing" motorola music app
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Options in Motorola Music App

The Google Music app is another effort from Google to learn more about you and your music listening habits. Because I had Google’s Music (beta) app installed when I upgraded to the Gingerbread release, I saw 2 music apps in my App Tray. If you haven’t selected a default music player and you tap a (supported – I specify this because WMA files are apparently not supported) music file, you get to pick which player you want to play the file with. Anyway, here are some screenshots for your viewing to see just how much nicer the Google Music app is compared to the built-in app on the Atrix.

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Now Playing on the Google Music app
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Viewing Album page on Google Music beta

Refreshed Dock Icons

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Here’s what the earlier dock icons of the Atrix (when running Android 2.2) looked like:

Old Homescreen (Android 2.2 wth MOTOBLUR)
Old Atrix Dock icons when scrolling
Old Dock Icons for Atrix

I didn’t know I was missing out but now that the icons on the dock have been revamped, I’m very appreciative. My only gripe would be that I’ve mistaken the dock icons for my home screen apps and I’m not sure if I like that or not. The distinction was clearer with the old dock icons. Nevertheless, I am pleased with MOTOBLUR’s second take on the dock icons see here:

New Atrix-Gingerbread Dock Icons

Refreshed App Tray

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Motorola added a shortcut to all apps installed to the Dock Icons. This has been incredible handy and better than the generic looking circle that was inflicted on us.

Tap the Circle to Access All Apps
Tap the leftmost icon to use all apps
App Groups

Then, when you get to the page listing all your apps, there are now options to group your apps! There is an “ATT” group by default and mine only shows 2 apps because I uninstalled much of the pre-installed ATT apps that the Atrix came with. Then, I was able to create a “Google” apps group which is pretty self-explanatory. If your apps are edging into the 100s like mine, this is pretty handy. :P Alas, there is a fly in this ointment: a not-so-welcome change to the All Apps screen is an extra step towards pinning apps to your home screens. When you press and hold an app now, a dialog box pops up and asks you whether you’d like to:

  1. Add to Home: Adds the highlighted app to any of your Atrix’s homescreens
  2. Share: shares the app to apps like Docs, Dropbox, email, etc.
  3. Add to group: add the app to whatever group you’ve created earlier. If you haven’t created any special groups yet, you will be able to create one at this time.
  4. Uninstall: self-explanatory. I like that uninstalling apps has become easier than ever.

Depending on the app you are attempting to pin, you may only have the options to “Add to Home” or “Add to group”. I’m sure once I’ve spent a month with this change, I’ll grow to appreciate it, but for now, it’s taking me some time to get used to. The gallery below has screenshots of the me adding apps to a newly created “App group”.

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Adding App to Existing Group
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Addings Apps to New Group

Improved Location Recommendation tools

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The main location-related change I noticed was the addition of an app called “Rich Location”.

Rich Location App Icon
Opening up Rich Location app
Eatery listing and PIcking a Location
Adding Channels
Eatery Display page

Tasks Management & Notification Tray

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Notifications can now be dismissed on a per-item basis. App updates (if more than 3) are grouped into one and you can tap the new icon (a “Minus” sign) to dismiss those notifications. Otherwise, you can tap “Clear” to remove all notifications. Missed calls will be on top of any notifications (higher priority); Voicemail & Text messages are lower on the totem pole. Another new thing: when you ignore a call, you will be prompted (by default) to send a text message in return but I have since turned this feature off. Also, when you receive an incoming call notification, if your phone is locked, you get to slide-to-answer. If your phone isn’t locked, you get to tap-to-answer. :) The new Tasks app is underwhelming to me. I tried Astrid but it felt very “beta”. I will give GTask a try next. Feel free to read AndroidAndMe‘s brief overview of the top to-do apps for Android. The tasks app from Motorola doesn’t offer synchronization with Google Tasks or any other popular task management tool. So, if you don’t care that it’s completely local, then enjoy these screenshots:

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Mixed noficiations on the Motorola Atrix

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Incoming call notification states
Task app from Motorola
Task app open
Creating a task with extra options
Options for using the Task app

User Interface Changes

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The visual changes to Atrix are too many to list. The best way to find out is install the update and enjoy the eye candy! :) The icons for pretty much everything on the Atrix look newer (i.e. new icons), new color scheme which I’m slowly coming to terms with, the camera/camcorder app got digital zoom, picture/video modes & exposure features which is pretty cool, more options for saving contacts, etc. Overall, I’m been pretty impressed with Gingerbread and the stability it brings to the Atrix. For more screenshots of new features in Gingerbread (on the Atrix), visit my Minus.com gallery which should contain the screenshots in this article and more.

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  • StarTrekRedneck

    Great overview! Thanks so much!

  • usedtoloveandroid

    Totally hate the new look, the dock, and the rich location crap.  So disappointed.