Android: Wink Hub and Sprint’s Data Optimizer

I reformatted my Android phone (LG G3 with Android 5.0.1, software version LS990ZVG) the other day to address a problem I was having.  After reformatting, I reinstalled all of my apps and everything seemed to be working fine until I tried to log into the Wink Hub app to adjust the settings for some of the lights in my house.  When I tried to log in, I got the following error:

looks like we encountered an error on the server; please try again later

I figured that Wink’s servers might be down, so I gave it a little bit of time and tried again.  An hour later, I got the same message.  Thinking it might be a real outage, I googled to see if Wink was reporting anything and didn’t see anything, though it did happen to coincide with Amazon’s AWS service going down, so I thought it might be related.  The light situation wasn’t that urgent, so I didn’t think much of it until the next day when I had the same light issue and wanted to adjust the settings of the Wink Hub on my phone again.  I tried to log in and got the same error, again.  This time I figured something must be wrong.  I tried a few things before I found out the real problem.

First, I tried clicking on “I forgot my password” to have my password reset, but I got the same error.  That meant I couldn’t reset my password and there was definitely something wrong.

I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the Wink Hub app, but got the same error after reinstalling the app.

Then I started googling.  In one forum buried deep in the recesses of the internet, I found a hint at what might be the problem.  And, not surprisingly, it’s the same piece of software that has plagued me for years: Sprint’s stupid Data Optimizer app.  I’ve had issues with this app in the past as it slowed and killed my data connection.  I routinely turn it off immediately after I reformat my phone because it is so worthless.  As it turns out, it was the culprit with this problem as well since I had forgotten to turn it off.

You can find the app in your list of apps under Optimize & Protect (see the screenshot):

Sprint Data Optimizer

When you open the app, you’ll see the following two options:

Sprint Data Optimizer

Click on Data Optimizer and you’ll see this screen:

Sprint Data Optimizer

Turn the Data Optimizer off and you can now log into the Wink Hub app.

I don’t know exactly what the problem is, but I’m guessing it has to do with how the Sprint Data Optimizer manages data.  It likely is compressing it and the Wink Hub app may not allow login credentials to be sent that way to the server.  Regardless of the problem, as soon as I turned this terrible piece of software off, I was able to log into the Wink Hub app and adjust my lighting settings.

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Android: LG G3 internet connectivity issues – Chrome, Feedly, and Sprint’s Data Optimizer

For about three weeks (end of June 2015 until mid July 2015), when I tried to go to a web page on my phone using Google’s Chrome browser (my default browser), about 2 out of 3 web pages wouldn’t load.  Instead, the bar at the top would freeze about half way and then nothing would happen.  Kind of like this:

Chrome browser on Android stuck loading
Chrome browser on Android stuck loading (NOTE: This was taken after I solved the problem, so the page actually loaded.  I just grabbed this in the process.  When it would get stuck, the bar would literally stop right in the middle and the page was typically white, not grey.)

Initially, I didn’t think it was a big deal as it was only a page or two.  But when it continued, I started to get really frustrated.  That’s when I started trying to solve the problem.  What follows are all the things I tried that didn’t work, followed by the actual solution:

Wrong Solution #1:

My first attempted solution was to clear the cache and all the data the Chrome browser had stored.  That didn’t help.

Now what?

Wrong Solution #2:

Thinking the problem may be with the Chrome browser, I started using the default browser that ships with Android.  Of course, that browser is very similar to Chrome (they are based on the same base software, Chromium).  So, when the stock browser had the same problems, I thought it might be still related to the Chromium browser base.

This led to Wrong Solution #3.

Wrong Solution #3:

I installed Mozilla’s mobile browser for Android thinking the problem was with Chrome.  Nope.  The same thing happened in Mozilla’s browser – it would freeze after loading about half way and never finish.

At that point, I wasn’t really sure what to do as I had tried three of the most popular mobile browsers for Android and all were having the same issue.  But something else happened that started to lead me down a different path.  I also use Feedly for my news.  Feedly started having issues as well.  I would simply try to open the app and it would just sit on the “loading” screen indefinitely, like this:

Feedly "loading updates" screen on Android
Feedly “loading updates” screen on Android

Occasionally it would load, but sometimes it would take upwards of 10 minutes or more.  I checked Feedly’s website and searched online to see if there were problems with Feedly loading for other people and no one was reporting any.  Whatever the problem was, it seemed to be unique to me and my phone.

Wrong Solution #4:

Not sure what to do about Feedly, I tried deleting all of its cached files and other data.  That didn’t fix the problem.

Okay, now what?

Wrong Solution #5:

I then tried to uninstall the Feedly app and reinstall it.  That worked, one time.  Then the problem returned.

At this point, I was kind of at wit’s end.  Two of the apps I use really often were not working – Chrome, and Feedly.  I didn’t know what else to do. Then I started considering what the two have in common.  That led me to realize that I had an ad blocking app installed.  I wondered if the ad blocking app was some how causing the two apps not to work.  That would be pretty nasty of both Google and Feedly, to reduce their functionality because I wasn’t looking at their ads.  But I was getting desperate.

Wrong Solution #6:

I removed the ad blocking app.  That didn’t work.  Both problems remained

My last smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S3, would periodically start running a bit slower and I would start getting weird messages (sometimes ads).  That usually meant I had installed some app I should not have (I like trying out new apps) and then I would go through and uninstall as many unnecessary apps as I could (and if that didn’t solve the problem, I’d wipe the phone and start over).  Thinking I may need to do the same thing on my LG G3, I started scanning through all the apps on the phone.  I found a few I could uninstall, but I haven’t actually tried out that many new apps.  However, in the process of scanning through the apps I had installed, I found one I didn’t recognize.  The app is called “Data Optimizer.”  I knew I didn’t install that.  Plus, something with a name like “Data Optimizer” just sounds sketchy to me.  So, I selected it to see what it was, and that’s when I found the problem.

Actual Solution:

Data Optimizer is a Sprint app.  I’m guessing it tries to cache data from websites or compress that data in order to make websites load faster or improve the browsing experience.  I don’t know for sure, as there isn’t tons of information about that app readily available online (if you search for it, you usually get information on Sprint’s Connection Optimizer, which is completely different).  But what I did see is that the app had mountains of data stored on my phone.  Here’s a screenshot from after I turned the app off:

Sprint Data Optimizer app
Sprint Data Optimizer app

When I initially opened up the Data Optimizer app, under Storage, the Total was 1.6 gigabytes.  Most of that was Cached data.  Perhaps the app is designed to periodically clear out the cache and stored data and for some reason it didn’t on my phone.  Perhaps not.  What I can gather is that this app was caching a ton of data, supposedly to help improve my browsing experience.  But something went wrong somewhere and instead of speeding things up, the app completely destroyed my browsing experience.  I’m assuming that both Chrome and Feedly were trying to access files in the Data Optimizer cache, but because it was so huge, it was having a hard time retrieving those files.  As a result, both Chrome and Feedly were freezing up most of the time.

Anyway, I deleted the cache and all the stored files, then tried opening up Feedly and Chrome.  Both worked perfectly, as if the phone were brand new again.  The Data Optimizer app was the problem!

Again, the above screen capture of the Data Optimizer app is from after I cleared the cache and deleted all the stored files.  I also disabled the app (that’s why there is now an “enable” button in the app) to prevent it from doing this again.  Not sure if I should enable the app now, but I don’t want to run into the same problem in three months when the app’s stored files get huge again.  So, I’m just going to leave it off and see what happens.

Anyway, I’m posting this here in case anyone else runs into the same problem.  It turns out, an app that was supposed to speed up web browsing was what had killed my web browsing, slowing it to a crawl or stopping it altogether.  Sprint’s Data Optimizer app was the problem.  Once I realized this, I was tempted to root my phone just to get rid of that app.  But it appears that the app is now permanently disabled, so I shouldn’t have the same problem again.  At least, I hope not!

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Android: An e-book reader that copies, pastes, and highlights text

As my regular readers know, Debi and I recently bought new cellphones that run the Android operating system. For about three years before that, we were running an old Windows Mobile OS (I think version 5). On our old phones, I had installed an ebook reader that allowed me to copy and paste text from the books I was reading (no DRM, of course) to a word file. The ebooks that would allow that were ebooks I had created myself. This was a necessary feature for me because of how I read books – I copy and paste or highlight text then use that text when I’m done reading the book to write the book review. So, imagine my disappointment when the two most highly rated ebook reading applications in the Android store – Aldiko and Wordplayer – turned out not to have the ability to copy, paste, or highlight an ebook. Wordplayer had the ability to add a bookmark, but that’s as close as I could get. After some lengthy searching, I ended up right back at the application I used to use on my old Windows Mobile phone – eReader.  It turns out the free ebook reading app from eReader.com does have the ability to copy, paste, and highlight text in non-DRM books.  So, here are instructions on how to put an ebook on an Android phone in eReader.

  1. Create an account at eReader.com.  This is free and easy to do.
  2. On your Android phone, click on “Settings” then “Applications”.  At the top of the list should be a checkbox for “Unknown sources: Allow installation of non-Market applications.”  Select that checkbox.  This is necessary because the eReader software is not in the Android Marketplace but downloadable directly from their website.
  3. Using your phone’s browser, go to: ereader.com/android
  4. On that page you’ll see a link to download the software.  Select it.  The software will download.
  5. Once it’s complete, select it and it will try to install and ask for your permission to install.  Give your permission and it should install.
  6. You can now open the application on your phone, but in order to get your custom ebook into the eReader library you need to do a few more things.
  7. Before you can import your ebook, you need to make sure it is in the PDB format (not sure why ebook producers haven’t decided on a universal format at this point, but eReader requires PDB format).
  8. Luckily, there is an amazing piece of software I’ve recently discovered that allows you to convert pretty much any document into any ebook format: Calibre.  I’m really not trying to advertise for either eReader.com or Calibre, but if I were going to advertise for one of them, it would definitely be Calibre.  It’s free and amazing.  It’s a little tricky to use, but basically you can import any ebook format or document (in Word, RTF, PDF, etc.) and convert it into any other ebook format.  It’s really amazing.
  9. So, import your document into Calibre and convert it into the PDB format. (I’m not going to provide directions on how to do this as you can see how on the Calibre website.)
  10. You’ll then need to export your document to a specific location in the PDB format: right-click the book and select “Save to disk” -> “Save single format to disk” -> “PDB”
  11. Calibre will allow you to choose your location.  Once you do, it will export the book to that location.
  12. Now, go back to eReader.com and open your account.  Click on the link at the upper right for “Bookshelf”.
  13. Inside your Bookshelf you’ll see a little box at the upper right that says “Personal Content for iPhone and iPod touch”.  Click on it.  (FYI, this works on the Android, so the “iPhone and iPod touch” line is irrelevant.)
  14. On the new page it will give you directions for uploading a PDB file.  You just have to choose the file that you just exported from Calibre and upload it.  It takes a few minutes, but once it’s uploaded, it is added to your list of files. (This information came from this page.)
  15. Now, how to get these files onto your Android device?  Open up the eReader application.  Select “Menu” then “Online Bookshelf.”  You should see your newly uploaded book on your Online Bookshelf.  Select it and it will download.  Et voila, you now have a custom made ebook on your Android device that you can highlight and copy and paste text from.

For the average user, of course, you’re probably just going to buy books from various online marketplaces, like Amazon (using the Kindle app) or from eReader.com.  So, the above will likely be unnecessary.  But given the specific requirement of someone creating their own ebook that can be annotated, this is the way to do it on Android devices.

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