Shameless Plug: Northeast District (GA) Health Inspection Records App

So, I wrote a native Android app. It’s my first Android app and it’s now published in the Android market.Β This app helps you find the latest health inspection scores and health violation details of the restaurants in the following counties in Northeast District of Georgia, US: Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton. If you have an Android device with Gingerbread and up, go ahead and give the Athens GA Northeast District Health Inspection Records app Β a whirl. Bug reports are greatly treasured. πŸ™‚

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 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
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


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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. πŸ™‚ 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: 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. πŸ˜€ 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

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.

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

Main Photo Gallery
My Library

Friends' online albums
My Online Albums

Browsing DLNA servers
Gallery settings on Atrix (Gingerbread)
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
First run of default music app
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:

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

Now Playing on the Google Music app
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. πŸ˜› 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”.

Adding App to Existing Group
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. πŸ™‚ 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:

Mixed noficiations on the Motorola Atrix

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! πŸ™‚ 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 gallery which should contain the screenshots in this article and more.

Why I Haven’t Rooted My Motorola Atrix

TL;DR – I haven’t needed to because the Atrix (custom Android skin – MOTOBLUR, generous specs, warts and all) is quite capable for me as a ‘regular’ user. Sys admins, serious tinkerers and people who yearn for a plain vanilla Android experience are probably not the target for this article. If you are in the market for an Android phone, I urge you to do your research and not leap for the cheapest deal.

My first exposure to Android was a rooted T-Mobile G1 I got off Craigslist in July, 2010. The performance on that phone was abysmal and it would be close to 7 months (& an ill-advised foray into Symbian with the Nokia N8 in October 2010) before I found a powerful phone that, for once, I didn’t need to fool around with to work. Not because I’m consciously avoiding or overlooking problems, but because this particular phone is great for my needs.

My two main reasons for not rooting are:

  1. I have found nearly everything (apps) I need via the Android Market. Thanks to the apps on the Android Market, my phone nicely complements for my computer (really, things I use my computer for e.g. heavy browsing, Facebook/Twitter/News, sharing, etc). My bank has an Android app with which I can check my account balance or transfer money between my accounts or send money to another customer. For reading, I’ve got FBReader, Adobe Reader, Aldiko Premium and QuickOffice installed. Document creation is covered thanks to QuickOffice Premium & Google Docs and there are more apps for sharing (photos, text, video, etc) than I can count.

    Amazon has an Appstore which, before the Gingerbread update, was unavailable because Motorola removed the option to install software from unknown sources. Now, that option is available on the Atrix with the Gingerbread update.

  2. Performance on the Atrix has been great. Apps are snappy to use and with Gingerbread, the Atrix is more stable than ever. This point is relevant because many articles proclaiming the advantages of rooting tout the fact that you can install performance management apps or task managers and whatnot. The Atrix ships with a task manager but I can count the number of times that I have used it in the 4 or so months I’ve had the Atrix. In fact, the Atrix *also* ships with a battery manager app. I think my point is: doing your research and betting on a powerful phone is a good way to make sure you won’t need to worry about task managers or performance tweaks. I was able to uninstall many of the ATT pre-installed apps on the Atrix.

In researching online for the top/recommended apps for rooted phones, I’ve found several reasons for rooting phones but none compelling enough to make me up & root. Well, that and I haven’t found a solid unrooting procedure yet for the Atrix. πŸ™‚

  • Full system backups of your phone e.g. using Titanium Backup. This comes in handy for backing up data from saved games, system files, etc. However, even when I had a rooted phone, I found that I didn’t really use this feature except to upgrade the custom ROM. Thankfully, the loss of this feature on my unrooted Atrix is mitigated by the fact that if you wipe your phone and you’ve elected to back up your data to Google’s servers, you can have your data (contacts, calendar, etc) restored when you reinstall. Right now, I also have Lookout Premium which also backs up photos, call history (Pssst, check your cellphone provider statements for this also) and contact details for me.
  • System tweaks like overclocking, louder volume hacks, battery conservation apps, etc. This is where doing your due diligence like testing the phones in stores, reading online reviews particularly on sites like Amazon and honestly assessing your uses for a smart phone comes in really handy. Again, I strongly recommend *against* picking an Android phone simply because it’s $1 or free with your 2 year contract. <rant>I blame manufacturers for churning out turds and then, I get to read articles about how someone’s mom’s Android phone sucked so she got an iPhone.</rant> πŸ™‚ With my kick-ass phone, the Motorola Atrix, which I have no problem pimping & promoting (sans sponsorship from the folks at Motorola), I have never strongly considered rooting because despite howls of how MOTOBLUR sucks, MOTOBLUR is actually … not bad. Is it because I don’t have an alternative (which admittedly rooting could cure) or because MOTOBLUR actually works? I’d wager that it’s the latter based on my experiences but it’s just a matter of taste. A quick trip to the store should give you a feel for the UI on the Atrix. I mean, ATT’s pre-installed apps can actually be uninstalled! Yes, I’ve kvetched about the Atrix’s somewhat beta feel but I’m greatly heartened by the Gingerbread update which makes the Atrix feel like a brand new device. Battery life on the Atrix is ~ 4 hrs which kinda stinks but I’ve become conditioned to automatically plug my phone into my computer when I’m on the internet or just leave it on the wall charger.
  • System tools like setCPU, root explorer, etc. If you know what these things mean and you need them, root, root, root. πŸ™‚ BUT going back to my key point about honestly assessing one’s smartphone usage, I haven’t graduated the halls of geekdom yet to even begin to appreciate these apps or why I need them.
  • Tethering and Screen Capture (screenshot or video recording): These features are arguably the biggest draws of rooting. For me, I care about hassle-free screen capture but I’ve resigned myself to going the route of installing the Android SDK tools and connecting my phone to my notebook to get a screenshot of my phone. I purchased a “No root” screenshot app from the Android market, but the instructions for getting the app working did not work for my Atrix. However, feel free to check that app out. Then, for recording your Android phone’s screen, there is the Droid VNC server (beta). Regarding tethering, please note that ATT is also cracking down on unauthorized tethering. Besides, where I live, many stores offer free WiFi so unless I happen to be in a developing country with limited internet access, this might be an issue.
  • Custom ROMs: For those yearning for Android’s “true” face, CyanogenMod is the gold standard in custom ROMs for Android. Most manufacturers add their own flavors to the Android User Interface. The best way to find out if you can live with a manufacturer’s spin on a phone you’ve been eyeing is to actually use the phone or watch videos of the device in action. My only experience with CyanogenMod was on the Google G1 and now, I’ve graduated to the Motorola Atrix. It would be unfair to compare the two but so far, I’m not complaining about MOTOBLUR. I do hate that my home screens are fixed in portrait orientation (pour quoi, Motorola?) but it’s not a deal breaker.
  • Apps from non-Market Sources: Stock android has a neat feature which allows you to install apps from “Unknown sources”. which simply means if an app isn’t in the Android market, you can still install it on your phone. Depending on the manufacturer of your Android phone, you may not have this option available. This was true of the Motorola Atrix until the latest Gingerbread update. Please don’t go crazy downloading random apps from the internet.