BLU Life One: Android 5 Lollipop now available - first experiences on installation

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Dec 4, 2015
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Today (3 Dec 2015) I got a notification that the Android 5 update was available for my BLU Life One (and a friend who has one also got it today, so it seems they have started to roll it out recently). And indeed the build and kernel versions both have dates of 16 Nov 2015, and a couple of weeks of internal testing on a stable version seems reasonable before release. This was announced as being available in July 2015, but hey, better late than never!

I am usually not one to install new OS versions until the bugs have been worked out and only if I really see value in the new features (hence on my iPhone 5 I am still at 7.1 and refuse to "upgrade" to the seemingly increasingly buggy and bloated versions since then). But in this case I really wanted to get my hands dirty, so to speak, with Android, and what better way to do so than being one of the first to install a new OS version!

So here are my initial impressions (after about 8 hours). I will continue to post updates as I go through the process, for the benefit of others.

For those who want the bottom line: The update is not trouble free by any means, but I think I've worked through it, and it's nonetheless left me rather impressed with BLU's technical support and customer service. So here is the blow-by-blow report:

1. The update is a 2-step process. You first install something like a BLU_X010Q_V18_GENERIC (which is still Android 4.4.4 but has the upgrade loader built-in). This first installation is very quick, just a couple of minutes. After the auto-reboot, you will be prompted to do the real Kit Kat to Lollipop upgrade (which you can defer until a better time and continue to use the phone--it will remind you every 24 hours).

2. Once you say yes to the main upgrade, you will download a close-to-1GB file, followed by a claimed 15-minute installation time (it was actually somewhat longer). It then indeed boots up under Android 5.0.2 (build name is BLU_X010Q_V09_L_GENERIC, so a new numbering scheme).

3. It seemed to boot up under 5.0.2 just fine with my original unlock code and other settings intact. Note, however, that the 4.4.4 launcher for this Blu model was not the stock launcher but rather a simpler one where all the apps are always on your home screens with no App drawer. With 5.0.2, they have returned to the standard App drawer model. So none of your launcher customizations will be retained (e.g., folders you may have created).

4. Immediate problem: After about 5 minutes of use under 5.0.2, the device abruptly rebooted without warning, and presented a window saying "Starting Apps" with the revolving doughnut. This remained for far longer than necessary to start any number of apps (I waited about 15 minutes), so I had to hard-restart it holding down the power button. It came back up without this problem and appeared stable and useable. But this was not to last.

5. There were two initially alarming problems that came up almost right away:
a. Even though the device was plugged in and charging, the battery percentage indicator was slowly going DOWN!!
b. I got a message that Google Play Services needed to be updated for the Google Play to continue to work, but when I tried to do so, it claimed that there was insufficient memory for the installation (not true). No amount of rebooting or removing every single thing from internal memory and moving to the SD card helped resolve this fake "out-of-memory" problem.

6. I called customer support. They answered relatively promptly, were extremely courteous and respectful, and pretty knowledgeable. To my surprise they immediately offered to replace the phone under warranty(!). This surprised me for 2 reasons: Firstly, for the low price-point that BLU maintains, it's very unusual to find a company so willing to replace a phone so promptly "no questions asked" (I hadn't even asked for a replacement, nor did I really want one if the phone wasn't bricked, and it hardly seemed to be). Secondly, because it really was premature. The agent did suggest to do a hard reset (wiping out everything :-() and let it charge longer, which of course were the correct suggestions, but said they'd be happy to replace it under warranty if this didn't work. So kudos to BLU for customer support!

7. But back to the two problems. The charging problem disappeared on its own and the phone started showing increasing numbers rather than decreasing numbers. I attribute this to the battery monitoring routine needing to recalibrate after it was reset upon the major upgrade and it was showing erratic numbers during this initial period. So I wouldn't let that worry you if you see it--let it charge overnight and it should be fine. It seemed to be just an artifact. This is just my speculation.

8. The fake out-of-memory problem was more serious. Under Settings > Storage it was showing my internal storage as being 3 GB OS (correct) and 7 GB apps (+0.2 GB other stuff)! Clearly impossible to have 10+ GB in internal memory since the phone only has 8 GB of internal storage! Somehow, it got confused and was registering the memory usage of ALL my apps (most of which were on the SD card) as if they were all on internal memory. And the OS was incorrectly reporting to any app that tried to use more memory that it was already full. No amount of rebooting fixed this. I unmounted and removed the SD card and it temporarily cleared but as soon as I put the card back in, the problem returned.

9. So the next step was to do a "factory reset." I have now done a Factory Data Reset (via Settings > Backup & Restore > Factory Data Reset) which pretty much wipes out everything and you will have to reinstall everything from scratch or if you have everything backed up on Google, you can let it reinstall everything for you. (I took the precaution of plugging the phone into my computer over USB and making a full copy of "Internal Storage" and "SD Card" before doing this reset.) This has apparently fixed the problem with the false memory reporting. (I didn't need to do the raw hard reset via Vol+/Power).

Here is my take-away after 8 hours:
- You should not expect the update to work seamlessly as an update, retaining all your apps and data, and so on. Maybe if you have no SD card at all, it possibly might, but even then I wouldn't count on it. So assume you will have to do a hard reset and restore your phone from backups (either manually if you know how or from the cloud automatically, or some combination).
- DON'T do this when you are travelling or don't have the time to dedicated several hours to getting your phone back up to where you want it to be with no urgent use of your phone anticipated.
- There is no way to go back to the previous Android version 4.4.4 once you start the download (there isn't even enough memory in the phone to hold both versions ...), so if you don't like 5.0.2 you're stuck (if the phone bricks, you're stuck too until you can mail it in to BLU and get a replacement).
- Initially I found 5.0.2 to be VERY sluggish compared to 4.4.4. It seemed like it was almost not responding. But after some usage it seems to have stabilized and now is SLIGHTLY more sluggish, noticeable but not bad.
- Interestingly (shockingly, even ...), the amount of internal memory taken by 5.0.2 (3.13 GB) does not seem to be more than that taken by 4.4.4, perhaps even less (I recall 4.4.4 being 3.x but more than 3.13)!!

I don't yet have a recommendation on whether to do the upgrade or not, but I will after some days of use. For now, this is only a report of how the upgrade process went and what it took to get my phone back to being useable!
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