Huawei IDEOS U8150 – The Little Android That’s Bigger On The Inside
“Yes, it’s bigger on the inside”, to quote the words of Doctor Who whenever he’s addressing a first time visitor to the Tardis. Anyone regarding the Ideos from the outside tends to dismiss it. Despite being a nice looking phone, it has characteristics that immediately put you on your guard when phone shopping. For starters, Huawei is not exactly a leading name in the smartphone market. Next up is the size. It’s small, very small. So you can be excused for being skeptical about its utility as a smartphone. Finally comes the price tag. USD 100 (KES 8,500). In Kenya it’s even cheaper when you factor in the bundled talk time and data package. Did I mention it’s unlocked? So in your mind there must be a catch. Someone somewhere is going to be having a good laugh at your expense if you buy this phone.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been having an Ideos for some time now and, well, I’m still the one laughing. There’s so much you can do with this little smartphone, you literally forget the size. All courtesy of the Android 2.2 operating system running inside it. And the best part is I haven’t had to invest in a larger SD card like I had originally planned. The 1GB card is sufficient for plenty of apps and data. What apps you ask? I love customizing any device I own, so I got down to shaping the Ideos to my preferences from the moment I unboxed it. Here’s some of what I’ve done with it:
There are plenty of apps you can install on your Ideos in its off-the-shelf configuration. If you’re not too adventurous and just want to know some of the stuff you can install without having moments of increased adrenalin, then skip this section and check out the list of apps. If, on the other hand you want to get your hands dirty and truly bring your Android Ideos under your control, then rooting is a must.
Warning (yes I have to be dramatic about this): Rooting your Ideos is most likely going to void your warranty, so once you go down this road there’s no running back to the shop for assistance should anything go wrong. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you may brick your phone in the process so don’t attempt it if you don’t understand.
Now to the fun stuff. The Huawei Ideos, as with any other Android smartphone, operates in unprivileged mode. What this means is that there are parts of the phone that are inaccessible to regular apps. This is normally ok, but becomes a liability when you want to install apps that need access to protected areas of the Ideos. Accessing protected sections of the phone requires superuser (or root) privileges. Getting the Ideos to support operating in root mode is what is known as rooting.
Gaining root access isn’t always a straightforward task and you may have to experiment a bit, but at the very least you need to install ADB (Android Debug Bridge) and SuperOneClick on your computer. Once you have SuperOneClick installed, clicking on the Root button carries out the necessary commands to grant you root access on the Ideos. Of course you have to have the phone in debug mode and connected to the computer via USB.
Removing Unwanted Apps (requires root access)
The Ideos comes preinstalled with various apps, some of which may not be of much use to you. In my case, I removed the following:
- Google Maps – I chose to remove it since I was installing Brut Google Maps instead.
- Documents To Go – Didn’t have and still don’t have the need to view documents on the phone.
- Facebook – I’m not on Facebook (yep, I said that )
- Youtube – Didn’t seem to work well so I removed it
Removing these apps requires more than just root access. You need to remount the system partition in read/write mode and then use ADB to run the uninstall commands.
Adding Useful Apps I (not requiring root access)
Opera Mini – popular web browser for mobile devices and always among the first apps I install on any new phone.
TweetCaster – this Twitter client is overloaded with features. It’s a lot more fun to use than the default Twitter Client for Android. One of my favorite features is the ability to send links to Instapaper to read later. It also has a really neat conversation thread view.
JustPictures! – it manages all the photos on your Ideos and also allows you to browse online photos from all the major album hosting providers (Flickr, Picasa, Facebook etc)
SoundHound – fascinating app that comes to your aid whenever you want to ‘name that tune’. It has come to my aid when naming tracks from movies and also music playing in mats (public transport minibuses).
Barcode Scanner – this app can read both bar codes and QR codes. I use the QR reading feature heavily to ‘copy & paste’ links and text from the laptop to the phone. Generate the QR code on your computer with Kaywa and then pick it up via the phone’s camera. The app automatically copies whatever it decodes from the QR code onto the clipboard.
RealCalc – simply a scientific calculator. I like the way it has a classic scientific calculator look.
Time Recording – this is a highly recommended app for those who love to track their time. You simply ‘check in’ to tasks as you work on them. You can attach notes to days and also view daily, weekly or monthly reports
Catch Notes – I keep a lot of notes and this app not only helps me capture ideas as they come to me, but also synchs them to an online account so I can access them later from the laptop.
Brut Google Maps (version 4.6.0) – this is basically Google Maps with turn-by-turn navigation enabled worldwide. Very handy app, this. I used it to locate the nearest ATM recently and the directions were spot on. Thanks very much @Mwirigi for initiating the ATM mapping exercise
Google Sky Map – great app for the star-gazers! Aim the phone at whatever portion of sky you need to know more about and you’ll see the stars, constellations and planets mapped out – names included.
Ulysse Gizmos – this is a set of tools to aid travelling. There’s a compass, GPS status, altimeter, speedometer and more.
ES File Explorer – it allows you to navigate and manage the files on your Ideos. It can also browse the Local Area Network so I use it to copy files from my laptop to the phone over Wi-Fi.
Android VNC – I use this VNC client to get desktop access of Windows 2000 and Ubuntu. That way I can carry out some tasks without having to walk over to the computer.
Remote RDP Lite – great for having desktop access to Windows servers on the internet whenever I’m not at my workstation.
Battery Indicator – the default Android battery indicator doesn’t share a whole lot of info. With this app, you can tell exactly how much charge you have left, how long since the last time you charged and also the current battery voltage and temperature (no, I have no idea why I want to know the temperature).
APN OnOff – in order to conserve battery power, I normally switch off 3G reception whenever I’m using Wi-Fi. There’s also a pre-installed widget on the Ideos that I use to turn off Wi-Fi whenever I’m out of range.
APN OnOff stopped working at some point, so I went back to the Android Market for a replacement. Quick Settings turned out to be an excellent alternative with controls for turning off Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth in addition to 3G. It even has a torch feature and also allows you to modify various volume settings.
Brightness Level– I found the screen brightness on the Ideos to be higher than I wanted it, so I use this app to turn brightness all the way down for indoor use. The inbuilt Android brightness widget does not offer a sufficiently wide brightness range especially on the lower side.
MultiTask Manager – Even though Android is a multitasking operating system, I did not find an easy way to switch between apps. This app allows you to select a running app to switch to without having to close the one you’re viewing.
Drop – a very simple game that grows on you. It makes use of the phone’s vibration capability to make the impact of the bouncing ball feel extremely realistic.
Bubble Shoot – another simple game, basically about shooting colored balls. Great for passing time when you don’t want to engage your brain much
Adding Useful Apps II (requiring root access)
SuperUser – this app acts as a broker for other apps that need root access. It notifies you whenever an app requests superuser rights and you have the option to grant those rights in perpetuity.
Terminal Emulator – for those of you that like talking to computers via the command line, this app grants you that pleasure by presenting a linux commanline window.
ClockSync – keep your Ideos clock accurate. Computer clocks tend to drift and it’s a good idea to keep your phone ‘tethered’ to an online clock server. This app allows you to specify how often you want it to synchronize your phone’s clock with the time server of your choice.
Quick Boot – handy app for rebooting your Ideos. It can also reboot the phone into Recovery mode should suddenly find yourself needing to.
SetCPU – if you’re not happy with the default 528MHz on the Ideos, you can use this app to raise the speed to 600MHz.
That’s about it! I also have some music on the Ideos, but obviously not as many tracks as I’d wish since I’m still operating on the 1GB SD card. I’ve also come across a good number of folks complaining about the capabilities and performance of the Ideos. Well obviously we all have our opinions, but remember this phone is 8,000 freakin bob!