Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Downgraded from Android Marshmallow to KitKat on my Nexus 5

Backt to KitKat


Yes, you read it right. Downgrading is not a term that's often associated with me, but I had to do it. And in this case, it is not just one, but two major OS versions that I had to say bye bye to.

I had to do it to confirm a critical issue that I was facing with my Nexus 5 was caused by the OS updates.

The issue that I was facing was regarding navigation in Google Maps. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you would know that I recently migrated to Australia. I also bought my first car, not because it is a fashion, but it is an absolute necessity in Australia. The country is huge and the public transport service is not efficient for a developed nation. Since the country is quite new to me, I have to get the help of a navigator to drive few km even. My car does not have an inbuilt navigator nor I did buy a 3rd party one. I depend on Google Maps on my phone for that.

But it was not working as expected.

The maps would suddenly stop updating my location and because of this, I have missed my turn several times. I was not sure why it stopped updating the location every now and then (this usually happens like one or two times in every trip and if I reboot the phone before starting navigation, this would happen less often, but it would still happen.)

I found out the reason why the location was not updating accidently. I wanted to know who the culprit was so I installed Nokia Here maps (which by the way, is brilliant! It even shows the speed limits for the section of the road.) to first rule out Google Maps was not the one. The same thing happened with Nokia Here maps too and instead of being tight lipped, it informed me “GPS Signal Lost”. This was when I found out, it was not a problem with Google Maps, but a problem with GPS signal reception. Was it really cloud cover? Probably it has something to do with it, but why would this happen everyday?

When I searched around the web, I found out that many peoples’ Nexus 5 phones were plagued with this issue, and they were claiming this happened after upgrading to Lollipop from KitKat (the OS that Nexus 5 was originally shipped with). But I was already on Marshmallow and I have no data to support that this problem showed up after upgrading the OS. This is because, I never drove since I had the phone, until now.

But there was one way to find out. That was by actually downgrading the OS to KitKat and experimenting.

Downgrading to KitKat

With the guides available on the Internet, I was able to downgrade to KitKat successfully. I installed build KTU84P. Before flashing the firmware, I reset everything to factory defaults, just to be safe.

Installation of KitKat was really quick compared to Lollipop or Marshmallow. I started the flashing and moved away from the PC and when I got back, the screen of the phone was off. When I pressed the power button, I was greeted with the welcome screen of KitKat.

I think it is easier to downgrade a Nexus device compared to a device from a different manufacturer.


First impressions after the downgrade

My first impression was that it wasn't that bad compared to Marshmallow. I was afraid that it would be unusable. Once I installed my usual apps, it started behaving almost similarly to Marshmallow in terms of functionality. There are indeed a few UI enhancements I miss but that was to be expected. I am glad that I don't miss a lot.

Did it do any good?

But what about the GPS signal status? Has it improved? As far as I can tell,  it has improved massively. Yesterday and the day before, I drove the car for more than 3hrs (that's more than 120km) and it only stopped updating the location once for about 10 seconds. That's a clear improvement.

I'm sure the GPS  hardware isn't as good as the ones found inside modern phones and I cannot expect miracles. The Nexus 5 hardware is more than 2.5 years old now and that's a very long time. I will continue to monitor the status of the location update for few more days to get a definitive idea. Who knows, it might gradually get bad with usage.

In addition to this, there is another positive; the phone performs much faster too. I have about two times more apps installed compared to when I was using Marshmallow as of writing this post. Even with more apps installed, the UI is snappier, Chrome runs much better than on Marshmallow and Real Racing 3, the only game that I play on the phone doesn't run as a slideshow anymore. Those are big wins.

The battery life seems to have gone down though. But this could be attributable to the increased number of apps I have installed and the increased number of services that run in the background as a result. I am not that worried about battery life anymore. I can charge the phone at work, my total commute is less than 15 minutes and that also is by foot, I can charge the phone while driving the car and I have a portable battery charger. I would hardly run out of battery.

What happens now?

Downgrading the OS may have fixed the issue but that completely rules out a reason for getting a Nexus device in the first place. As many manufacturers are trimming down the amount of bloat they ship with their phones, I think I won't be restricting myself to Nexus devices from here onwards, if I still decode to stick with Android.

If you know me well, then you would know that I don't like this whole idea of downgrading. That means I am looking to upgrade the phone, right? RIGHT? You shall see.

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