Amlogic Nougat small review and thoughts

General

I’d just like to make it clear that all mentioned here is my opinion and mine only. This post will be combined technical and user perspective review of Amlogic Nougat 7.1.1 SDK release 2017-02-22.

Few technical details about this SDK:

  • Original Amlogic source is based on AOSP Nougat branch android-7.1.1_r6 (NMF26Q) which I bumped to android-7.1.1_r26 (NOF27C).
  • Kernel used with this SDK is still version 3.14.29
  • Compared to Marshmallow SDKs, Nougat can be built with as 64 bit Android OS
  • Mali T820 kernel and userspace libraries are still r11p0
  • Internal storage partitions are changed in size, so in 99% of cases I am pretty sure current devices that are on market will not receive Nougat update (at least not 64 bit version). For example, system partition (where Android is actually installed) is now 2 GB in size by default (defined in kernel) while on previous versions (I am sure for Lollipop and Marshmallow was 1 GB). 64 bit version of Nougat running on my test device takes approximately 1.5 GB of space on system partition.
  • There is work to be done and some ‘crazy’ stuff to be sorted out, especially one in particular which I noticed today and it’s connected to IR remote support (more about that at end of post)

UI, design flaws, bugs

Launcher

Nothing new here. It’s not changed since Lollipop release as far as I can remember. Each tile opens it’s own section, you can add or remove apps on bottom… Usual stuff

Settings (new)

I don’t have any notes what to write here but I believe I will spent most of my time writing about Settings. You will see why in what’s following.

So, on screenshot above you can see that settings are now Nougat style (some of you might be familiar with it if you were using Nexus Player with Nougat or similar device). You open this right hand settings view by clicking on Settings tile in Amlogic launcher. Keep in mind that this is only place from where you can open this. If you are using 3rd party launcher or stock Android launcher or whatever, you will not be able to open settings because there is no icon in app drawer which you can click to open it (like you had in Marshmallow, 2 Settings apps, one with tiles and one normal Android Settings app which you can see on phones or tablets).

From my perspective it can and should be done differently.

Settings (new) design failures

As I said, this my opinion. I will put few more screenshots of settings then I will write something about it.

    

    

    

So, from first three images we can see some consistency in following new design of settings app. Another 3 are just almost copy/paste from Marshmallow and just made to work. I am not designer, but this looks just wrong…

Settings (new) – bluetoothremote

I will put it here just to show how it looks. What it does – beats me. Maybe someone in comments will be able to demystify this for me.

    

I did not get any documentation on this feature. When you select Upgrade bluetoothremote from settings you get 2nd screen. Before I paired my BT headset this list was empty. And when I tried to pair my OnePlus 3 phone with box it could not see it. So, what it does – I don’t know 🙂

Settings (normal)

First, pictures:

    

There is not much to say here. Normal Android settings app opens, but as soon as you click on one of items (in this case About media box) app crashes which is visible on 2nd image. And yes, this normal settings app you can start from app drawer (list).

Web browser

Picture again:

Also, not much to say here. However this is not Amlogic’s fault. As I understand, Nougat does not come with default Browser app like we knew it before. Instead it comes with Browser2 which is basically WebView component tester. So if you want to browse on this, you will most probably have to install either Chrome or Firefox or whatever to normally browse web 🙂

Media playback

I am not much of tester when it comes to media, codec testing, but I can say that I did not come to any issues with video playback. If you want some extensive tests on that you’ll have to wait CNX to get one of boxes with Nougat installed 🙂

Crazy stuff to be sorted out – IR remote

I came across very interesting issue. I prepared my Nougat build with my IR remote codes (I took short way – I copied it from Marshmallow tree). It’s simple, Amlogic always used remote.conf which is placed inside /system/etc folder.

And that didn’t work. So two reasons crossed my mind:

  • I built Android as 64 bit OS which means remotecfg binary is also built as 64 bit binary. During my earlier work with 64 bit Linux based OS on S905 I had issue with that binary causing segmentation fault and fixed that issue on Linux. So even before building Nougat I checked remotecfg source to see if Amlogic fixed issue they had and I saw they did not, so I applied my patch there.
    Conclusion – remotecfg binary is not issue, it does not crash
  • Another thing that crossed my mind is that maybe Amlogic changed structure of remote.conf file (which they did in Marshmallow I think, to support multiple remotes). That check also came back as not causing issue.

So, I went back to check on debug port (UART) what is going on and on each press of button on remote I would get output:

And no, it is not typo 🙂

After that, I tried to find cur_custom string in remotecfg sources without luck. Then I went to check kernel side (IR remote driver). Indeed, kernel was throwing that error.

Digging little deeper I ended in looking at kernel device trees for Amlogic boards. What I found was… horrible is the word?

If you are familiar with kernel structure, device trees and stuff this will make sense to you. If not, well…. they blew it.

Kernel device tree is basically DTS file which includes some other platform related DTSI files. And in THAT DTSI files I found HARDCODED key mappings for exactly 3 remotes. Here is how it looks like:

Honestly, I’m pretty shocked by that. To include something like that in device tree for particular board (eg. gxm_q200_2g.dts) – well, ok. Not ok, but at least it’s not hardcoded to all device trees which include eg. mesongxm.dtsi.

If some of things will be fixed/changed from Amlogic side I don’t know. I hope if someone from Amlogic reads this post things may change to better.

As for me and my work, I’m not relying on all Amlogic changes they make and as I said in beginning – I made my private GIT server with my repositories and I bumped Android version. Btw, bumping Android version has nothing to do with bugs or issues mentioned here.

Slack on openSUSE Leap 42.2

Some time ago I ditched Debian based distros and switched to openSUSE. One of newer required software for it was Slack desktop client which on it’s linux download page does not have openSUSE package, but Fedora 64bit package works just fine. Only dependency you need is libXss1. Install that with zypper or YaST. Then download rpm for Fedora and install it. You will run in issue of missing dependency which you can ignore, Slack will work just fine.

Now, all above was just kind of copy/paste from flanaras blog post. I would not just copy/paste it if there was an issue with it. While Slack installs it’s repository into system for update checking, it does not import GPG key of it’s repository which breaks software updates. To fix that issue, simply import GPG key by opening terminal and typing:

Thanx to flanaras for his original post and hope this helped someone.

Some thoughts on Amlogic

It’s been a while from my last post here. Today I saw they released new version of Buildroot. More info about it here. They managed to file size of 1.3 GB with this. In their release notes which you can see here they mentioned few things that comes with Linux SDK release 1.5:

Merge kernel 3.10&3.14 into one src code

Now, within this 1.3 GB you don’t get GIT history, no no. To be able to download their version of Buildroot from their GIT server, here is what they say:

You should have the permission to download the git, you can contact with the FAE for help.

That means basically that you cannot get access to it unless you are manufacturer who is utilizing their SoC-s.

So, from my perspective and content of tarball with provided we have this:

  • Buildroot itself which is v2016.11 (in time of writing this post there are versions 2016.11.1, 2016.11.2 and 2017.02 available)
  • Hardware folder with separate drivers for 3.10 and 3.14 kernel that includes Mali GPU, WiFi modules, touch drivers, NAND/eMMC drivers and TVIN drivers which I assume that are used by both 3.10 and 3.14 kernel
  • Kernel folder which contains 3.10.33 and 3.14.29 versions
  • Multimedia folder which includes some alsa plugins, gstreamer plugins, libplayer (part of libplayer is so called amffmpeg which is Amlogic’s version of ffmpeg and it seems to be stuck at version 0.8 – at least that’s what is written in version.h:
  • And finally toolchain folder which contains toolchains 😀

When it comes to whole package, it nicely says which are supported boards:

  • S905: p200 and p201
  • S905X: p212
  • S905D: p230
  • S802: k200b
  • S805: m201 and m200
  • S812: n200

In release notes (PDF document I linked above) they also wrote instructions on how to download whole package using their GIT server to which you don’t have access.

There is also written how to potentially make your system unstable by downloading, building and installing GNU MPC version 0.9 because their old modified U-Boot for Meson 8 platforms can’t see libmpc other than libmpc.so.2

More safe way to do this would be maybe to symlink existing libmpc.so.* to libmpc.so.2. In my case on Ubuntu 14.04:

And guess what, it works just fine. On Ubuntu 14.04, Debian, openSUSE Leap 42.2… I would characterize Amlogic’s approach as laziness.

Laziness is not just that. If you’re developer and you look a bit into their sources (kernel for example, doesn’t really matter which one), you will find something like this:

You will also find commented code all over their kernel drivers. There are also cases where void function returns integer for example and stuff like that. It’s just something that I cannot understand

Now, enough of laziness… Let’s see what else we have in that PDF:

They have listed all configurations they support by their build system (I said build system because in the end with all of their changes and structure of it, it doesn’t look like Buildroot as you know it). These configurations are:

After this we have some instructions on how to install built system to sdcard or Nand/eMMC and how to boot it.

We also have nice instructions on how to enable WiFi and how to test LibPlayer and GStreamer1.

Most interesting part for me is Appendix D in this PDF.

It contains few commands on how to enable display output and test OpenGL ES acceleration. Just to clarify here, Amlogic SoCs have Mali GPUs (Mali 450 on S802, S805, S812, S905, S905X, S905D and Mali T820 on S912).

What is interesting here is that you cannot perform any tests from Appendix D on Amlogic S912. Why? Because there are no Mali T820 userspace libraries (framebuffer or X11) available. From what I found out, fact is that Amlogic did not license Linux userspace libraries for Midgard Mali GPUs and they do not have any intentions to to that. I think S912 SoC is good chip, especially if implementation is right (and I’m fortunate to have ODM which makes great hardware) but fact is, when it comes to Linux you can make headless Linux server for…. something. NAS…. I don’t think so, they are still using USB 2.0 controller in their SoC-s. They don’t have native SATA interface, or any kind of expansion like mini PCIe.

And finally there are few notes I keep in my head…

  • After S912 which was available in Q2 2016, there are no new SoC-s announced or any rumors about it
  • Did they finally realized that they are far behind with their 28nm process and that they have to invent something new and are working on it
  • They do have Android 7.1.1 Nougat SDK for their S905X and S912 SoC-s, so if they don’t have new SoC to show up, they will try to survive on old ‘fame’ with ODMs buying 1 or 2 year old SoC-s but with Nougat preinstalled?
  • Xiaomi released their own SoC recently (and rumors were that Xiaomi and Amlogic are tightly connected). Coincidence? Maybe…

Well, if you reached that far in reading this post, congratulations, you just read 864 words 🙂