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I've taken to more of my medium length content being over on G+ these days, but I wanted to detail some things about my recently purchased Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet (GOOD LORD that's a mouthful!). I'll keep the gushing over the hardware to a minimum (it's a lot nicer than my old Xoom, that's for sure). So here goes!


Hardware


Yup, it's amazing, it's hard to argue with it much, it's thin, it's powerful, the screen looks nice. I do have some annoyances though, and they are just kind of stupid mistakes
  • Charging off of USB is *AMAZING*, seriously this fills me with such happiness it's crazy. What would have been BETTER is to have had an option to either wirelessly charge (Qi) or to make a USB to magnetic connector recharging thingie. These have been created by 3rd parties (I just ordered one of the usb to magnetic adapters, we'll see what I think) but it's just kind of odd that it wasn't dealt with up front. The reason I'm grumbling at all is the little door you have to open to get at the usb port (for charging) is a little obnoxious to open, and I could see it being really obnoxious if you didn't have any nails. Overall it's a minor nit-pick but yeah.
  • The headphone jack on the *BOTTOM* of the tablet? Seriously? So the obvious problem there is, what do I do when I'm at 30K feet on a flight? I suppose I can flip the tablet over entirely in it's case (I have the official Sony one, it's reasonably well thought out. Minor complaints there too), but yeah, that's annoying but not ideal. I've got a flight coming up, I'll "test" it and get back to this on G+, I likely will be annoyed
About it really, the hardware more or less speaks for itself beyond that.


Software



This is one area that many Android vendors futz up thinking that they are "adding value", what they are really adding is fragmentation and useless junk that usually undermines their own product. Sony, surprisingly, got the message somewhere and left nearly all of the OS stock, with minor tweaks here and there. Well done Sony!
  • The launcher / app drawer that Sony provides is actually quite nice despite it not being the stock ones. It's got some nice features that I would honestly like to see in the stock Android launcher:
    • Ability to search the apps
    • Re-order the apps (even a custom ordering)
    • Folders in the app drawer

Now this isn't to say that the app drawer is perfect...

  • What's wrong w/ the app drawer:
    • It wastes a fair amount of space on the page by not having the apps quite as dense. Another column or row would go a long way to alleviating that
    • I like on the stock launcher how if you long press on the app you get the option to put it on the home screen, uninstall or see more information. it's a little thing, but I'd love to see that added to the Sony launcher (it has similar functionality it's just not quite as intuitive)
Actually surprisingly I think that's about the only thing I can complain about there. I have the option to use the Google Now Launcher, but I'm going to stick with Sony's for now.

The other apps that deviate from Stock:
  • The Album / Gallery software is custom to Sony. It works, I have no major complaints about it, though I wish I could sort things a little bit better, it seems to just default to a very long sequential list by date, which is not the way my brain thinks about a lot of my photos. It does have the ability to connect to a network device and browse data there. I'm guessing it's only DLNA only but it's something!
  • Walkman / Play now / etc - Lets be honest here it's a music playing app, there's only so much here you do to differentiate. It looks like it supports all the formats I care about (mp3 & flac), the interface seems ok. It lacks genre tag support, so I'm not overly thrilled with it. Overall it looks fine. It's easily replaced by other things if you don't like it
  • Movies - again a custom setup. It's got a couple of nice bonuses, a couple of movies that I had on my xoom for testing that never played, now play on the Sony, so yay for expanded codec support. Looks like it lacks full mpg support though, not a show stopper obviously but something to note. It does have the ability to look up data from Gracenote and add extra meta-data, nice but again not critical.
  • The only other thing I've run into that's obnoxious is they "customized" the right side pull down. I expect that will go stock in Lollipop, but their quick settings thing is ok, it lacks the dynamic nature of stock, and things like Chromecast's cast entire screen will never show up in it. I'd argue that's fairly major demerits there.
The rest of the OS looks and feels stock with a few minor additions or changes, so kudos to Sony for that one.


Root


This is where the "fun" began for me.  Now many people will question why I care about root on my devices.  The biggest of which is that I run nightly backups of the devices.  It's silly, particularly for devices I'd consider generally ephemeral, but for some reason I don't see it as optional.  On my tablet I've also found having root dim very valuable when reading at night in bed and the lowest brightness setting is too bright for a fully darkened room and the tablet is less than a foot from my nose.

Some caveats

So I clearly didn't read all the documentation before I plowed into rooting my device, and it turns out Sony has something "special" about how they do things, namely there's a magical place called the TA partition, specifically (seemingly) the "Trim Area".  On most sane devices (Read: Google Nexus devices), you unlock the boot loader, flash a new recovery in, load up a flashable su app and you are off to the races.  It's easy, it's painless, you don't have to worry too much.

Sony on the other hand hides a bunch of things, like DRM keys, in the TA and specifically *WIPES* that area out when you unlock the boot loader.  These are things I think should be stored in a TPM, or some other chunk of hardware where even if I root around I can get at the base keys, but most ARM chips don't have such a thing, so that's where Sony put them.  The other thing this seems to govern is the warranty.  When you unlock the boot loader Sony uses words like "May void your warranty" or that warranty service may incur an additional charge if you unlock your bootloader.  In reality it looks like by unlocking the bootloader you DO void your warranty, which I'm actually VERY disappointed in Sony for.  It's their choice on that, but using words like "May" implies to me that if I screw it up badly enough from a software perspective I'm toast - I'm ok with that, but if the screen has a normal warranty-able issue (it seperates or something, I don't know), that I'd expect to be covered normally.  It also looks like, once you've unlocked your device you can't re-lock it.

Now I've said all of that, mainly, because I plowed forward and was stupid, didn't realize I needed / could backup the TA and it's all blown away.  The trick that people are finding is that if you back it up you can restore it and make it look like your device was never unlocked at the boot loader.  Ahhh but you ask, how can you back up the TA without root before you've unlocked the boot loader?  You got it, the 4.4.2 firmware is exploitable to gain root without unlocking the boot loader.  Do this, back up your TA and you are golden from then on out.

Ehhh Cest la vie, I've either gambled well and the device will be awesome and last me 3 years or it will destroy itself angering me and since I potentially have no warranty, I'll think twice about a Sony product in the future.

Recovery

Grief recovery is borked on the Sonys, not just a little, I mean A LOT.  Someone clever decided to deviate from the way many of the other devices work and instead of having a separate partition for the recovery (like Nexus devices) they stuck it in with the boot partition and made it work from there.  This means it's a pain to work with and that there's only really one recovery method: get XZDualRecovery to work.  This isn't *ENTIRELY* true but read the 4.4.4 section on why this is borked and I hate it.

Busybox

To keep XZDualRecovery (and make all that magic work) you need to keep their version of Busybox, so if you are like me and have Busybox Pro or something like that DON'T install it after installing XZDualRecovery.  XZDualRecovery seemingly needs lzma support to make all it's magic work, and that's not a common thing to have on other busyboxes.

4.4.2

This was basically a no brainer, run the various scripts around, they root the device, your golden.  Nothing but net!  caveat above on Busybox and you are golden.

Well you are golden until you decide "Hey 4.4.4 is out for the X2 Tablet SGP512, I should upgrade - heck even the tablet is telling me I should upgrade!" WELLLLLLLL, it seems Sony didn't like me rooting my tablet and the OTA servers stopped telling me there was an update, and the PCC (Sony's desktop app) refused to upgrade the device claiming it didn't like my modified software.

Can't say I was overly impressed there.  Eventually I just downloaded the right files, found a program called Flashtool and got it upgraded.  I expect I'll have to do roughly the same thing for Lollipop when it comes out.

4.4.4

So when I upgraded to 4.4.4 I lost root, and started a quest to get it back.  The short answer is it's NEARLY impossible, and almost assuredly impossible with a non-unlocked bootloader.  To start with, the recovery stuff you had setup in 4.4.2, yup - wiped out.  So step 1 was getting a recovery going.  The only recovery I could get to work were ones that were incompatible the rest of the OS.  Bugger so my process eventually came down to:
  1. Flash incompatible cwm-z2-tablet.img (search for it on Google)
  2. Boot to the new recovery (you can't boot anything else, it'll just end up in a boot loop)
  3. Take a program called PRG (Pre-Root Generator) which you can take the base files you would use for Flashtool and add in XZDualRecovery and a flashable super user of your choice and bolt them all in.  Pay close attention to include the kernel, as that will over write the recovery image that doesn't work.
  4. adb push the file generated from 3 into the sdcard of the tablet
  5. install the zip on the tablet
  6. Reboot
It's messy, but it worked, it got me root and recoveries work.  Things that don't work
  • When SuperSu updates from Google play and tells me it needs to update the su binary, the only way I found to make it work was to download the flashable and do it from the recovery manually.
  • I suspect other things that will be in similar shape
  • /system seems to be locked to read-only when not in a recovery mode

UPDATE:

Tonight I realized (while trying to copy some movies over), I seemingly broke MTP somewhere.  It tries to load but windows claims the device is broken (I've checked it with several other devices, they are all good), Linux gives a similar explosion.  easy enough to pop the sd card and copy the files over via usb3, but just odd

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