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Why people get Nexus phones: I rooted my MyTouch 4G after less than one day

Ditching the MyTouch 3G for the MyTouch 4G
My first smartphone was the second Android phone released—the original MyTouch 3G. Not the Fender. Not the 3.5mm headphone jack. The original. From the beginning, it was a pretty crappy phone. I mean it did basic smartphone things but the touch responsiveness was poor (you really had to press into the screen to get it to respond), and the 192 MB of RAM meant it took an extra couple of seconds to do anything. Angry Birds is basically unusable on that phone. So after a year and a half, I’ve been dying to upgrade.

For a while I was considering the MyTouch 4G, the Nexus S, and the (at the time upcoming) Samsung Galaxy S 4G. The Nexus S definitely appealed to me for being pure Google Android. No Zip Whiz bang my head non-Sense overlay. At the same time, it did, in fact, feel like cheap plastic. Its screen was a fingerprint magnet. And it was still 3G speeds, which is not that big a deal now, but as the T-Mobile network keeps growing, (what they call) 4G will be something I want to take advantage of. The Samsung Galaxy S 4G had potential but it also felt a bit light, and it had no flash on the camera and less internal storage than the original Samsung Vibrant.

I had heard quite a few bad things about the MyTouch 4G, too, though. It’s ugly. The speakerphone sucks. The battery life sucks. There’s too much bloatware and trialware. After futzing around, I finally went with the MyTouch 4G. Yes, I know there are crazy dual-core phones right around the corner, but Angry Birds was calling me, and I had to answer. Besides, the MyTouch has 768 MB of RAM. That’s four times what my old phone had.

HTC Sense on the MyTouch 4G: unbearable
I’d tried Swype before on the MyTouch 3G, and I was not enamored with it. It takes too long to drag my finger over every letter. I can use the Android regular autocomplete suggestions after two or three pecked letters, and it’s much faster and takes less concentration. I thought I could just select the regular Android keyboard instead of Swype. I thought Sense may be heavy but I can use ADW Launcher instead. I thought the bloatware is there but I can just not use it. I don’t need to actually remove it. I was wrong on all counts. The version of Android the MyTouch 4G comes with is terrible. I couldn’t stand it.

First of all, the choices of keyboard are Swype, Touch Input, and Dragon Dictation. If you change the keyboard from Swype to Touch Input, you don’t get the regular Android keyboard. Instead you get basically the same Swype keyboard but with no Swype. This keyboard is annoying because the autocomplete suggestions either are not there at all or are selected for you automatically. I don’t want the keyboard telling me which of the suggestions I want. They are suggestions only. I’ll decide for myself which suggestion is best. I tried to install the stock Android keyboard manually, but it would force close every time I tried to actually type something. After Googling, I found that force-close was a common problem.

ADW Launcher allowed my home screen to look relatively normal, but the app drawer and all the system settings interfaces still looked overly bubbly and cartoony.

And the bloatware was extremely excessive, to the point where I would have to basically have an iPhone-like home screen littered with all my app icons, since sifting through all the app icons in the drawer and skipping over the bloatware would take too much scrolling. Never mind that it was difficult to scroll left or right without accidentally activating one of the icons I was trying to scroll past.

Also, the so-called “Genius button” is basically useless and slow. I just wanted my normal search button back.

If I didn’t know anything about rooting, I’d have just returned the phone for a refund. This OS was godawful.

The rooting process: harder than before
When I rooted the MyTouch 3G, it was easy to find instructions that worked, and the instructions weren’t that intimidating. Not so this time. I spent a good chunk of the night and then the next morning doing trial and error and a lot of Google searching to figure out what really worked. The instructions on the Cyanogen wiki left me trying to adb and being told permission was denied. The Android SDK didn’t include adb at all initially. Some rooting instructions said to use Visionary to temproot. Others said specifically not to.

For the curious among you, here’s what actually worked for me. I’m using Ubuntu Linux, but similar instructions probably apply for Windows and Mac OS X.

Download the Android SDK and make sure adb is installed
Go to the Android SDK website and download the appropriate SDK. I’m using Ubuntu so I downloaded the Linux one. There is one for Windows and one for Mac. I also installed Java. Specifically, I installed the sun-java6-plugin package, but I’m not sure if one of its dependencies was all I needed.

Then I right-clicked the SDK download and selected Extract here. Using the terminal, I changed to the tools subdirectory and did ./android and chose to update all and that installed adb. Once I did that, I was able to ./adb whatever commands I needed.

Prepare your phone
Install Android Terminal Emulator, ROM Manager, and VISIONary.

Make sure USB debugging is on. Turn off the fastboot option in settings.

Download gfree and extract its contents into the android-sdk-***/platform-tools/ directory.

Doing the actual rooting
The full instructions (including a whole bunch of disclaimers and instructions for unrooting later) are on Xda Developers. Here are the highlights, though.

  1. Plug your phone into your computer.
  2. Using the Android SDK and adb, run the command
    adb push gfree /data/local

    (I had to actually run

    ./adb push gfree /data/local

    to get it to work).

  3. Unplug your phone.
  4. On your phone, run VISIONary to gain temporary root. To verify this worked, scroll through your list of apps. The SuperUser app should be in that list.
  5. On your phone, open the Android Terminal Emulator application and type
    su

    to get root privileges.

  6. After confirming root privileges is okay, type
    cd /data/local

    and then

    chmod 777 gfree

    and finally

    ./gfree -f
  7. After a bunch of terminal output, it should be done.
  8. Turn off your phone. Then while holding the volume down button, power up again. Double-check that s=off and the bootloader version is 0.86.0000. If so, it worked! You’re rooted.
  9. Reboot and run VISIONary with temporary root but check to set the system to r/w afterwards. If that works, then run VISIONary to set permanent root.

Install the Cyanogen rooted ROM

  1. Download the latest Cyanogen ROM (for me, that was Cyanogen 7.0.0 RC 1). Optionally, also download the corresponding Google proprietary apps. Put these in the top-level directory of your phone’s MicroSD card.
  2. Launch up the ROM Manager application.
  3. Click to install the ClockworkMod Recovery.
  4. Once that’s successfully installed, click to reboot into ClockworkMod Recovery.
  5. Once booted into recovery mode, select Wipe data/factory reset. Then select Wipe cache partition. Then Install zip from sdcard and select the Cyanogen ROM. Then Install zip from sdcard and select the Google Apps if you want them.
  6. Finally, select Reboot system now to boot into the Cyanogen rooted ROM.

Gingerbread is sweet
Now I get the appeal of the Nexus phones. Maybe the Nexus S doesn’t have cutting edge hardware specs. Maybe the plastic feels a little cheap. Maybe it’s tough to see the screen in the sunlight. Maybe it’s a fingerprint magnet. But the vanilla Android is much easier to use than HTC Sense + Swype + bloatware. I’ve got my normal keyboard back. I’ve got not too many extra applications. The “Genius button” has changed back to a normal search button.

Thank you, Cyanogen team! I donated to you only once, but I’ve gotten more than my money’s worth back.

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T-Mobile MyTouch 3G with Android… Four months later

I already wrote T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions and A month with the MyTouch 3G and Android, but someone requested I write yet another follow-up post after having used the phone for a while.

Well, it’s been almost four months, and I have to say that my general impression hasn’t changed much. I can sum it up as generally positive with a few annoying glitches. If you are a part of the Apple ecosystem already, the iPhone is a better choice. But if you are a Linux user or already caught up in the Google ecosystem, an Android phone is a much better choice. A lot of other Android phones have had more hype (Hero, Droid). The MyTouch is a good phone, though. If I actually liked Sprint, I would have waited for the Hero. And if I actually wanted a boxy-looking phone with a “real” keyboard, I’d have waited for the Droid.

Here are the annoying glitches that have bugged me the most:

  • Every web browser for Android has a serious flaw. Ultimately, I’m willing to settle for the flaws in Browser over the flaws in the other ones (Steel, Dolphin, Opera, etc.).
  • The Facebook app is basically good, but when you click on a picture thumbnail, it doesn’t enlarge the picture within the Facebook app. Instead, it launches the Browser app to view the picture. Lame.
  • After the whole cease-and-desist fiasco, I wanted to support Cyanogen for making a Google-compliant fully legal rooted (i.e., jailbroken) ROM, so I’ve been using Cyanogen recently. Unfortunately, the performance has been spotty. Sometimes it’s super-speedy, and sometimes it’s super-laggy. I may end up giving DWang’s ROM a go again, even though it’s not technically legal (it’s in the spirit of the law but not the letter—apparently Google cares very much about the letter, though).
  • Google Voice is a great service. The Google Voice Android app, however, is buggy as all hell. Sometimes it crashes. Sometimes it’ll randomly duplicate SMS messages if I write the message in landscape (instead of portrait) mode.
  • This doesn’t really bother me any more. If you are thinking of getting a MyTouch, though, you should know this: the touchscreen interface takes getting used to. Unlike the iPhone, light swipes are not recognized. You need to press your finger on the screen when you swipe.
  • With the latest versions of Android, there is no way to disable the camera sound (which is extremely loud). I had to install an app called Sound Manager in order to silence it.

That’s about it.

What has been the good stuff?

  • Opening links in background windows (except the Google recently changed its Google News website so that you cannot open links in background windows—other sites work fine with it, though).
  • Good Google Voice integration.
  • Ability to turn any song into a ringtone without special software is great. Right now the Noisettes’ “Wild Young Hearts” is my ringtone.
  • Ability to send unwanted calls straight to voicemail through the phone and to just block them altogether with Google Voice is invaluable.
  • USB tethering is even better than Wifi tethering. You just plug it in and Ubuntu automatically starts using the connection. No need to select anything or change a setting.

In the end, though, a phone is a phone. It makes calls. It receives calls. I can check my email and look up something quick on the web. There are subtle nuances that will differentiate Symbian from WebOS and Windows Mobile from the iPhone OS X and all that from Android. SmartPhones all pretty much do the same thing, though.

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Linux

Installing a rooted version of Android is easier than I thought it’d be

When a commenter suggested I “root” Android on my MyTouch 3G phone, I was hesitant to go ahead with it, because it sounded as if it might be complicated and result in a bricked phone. Then I saw this story in Google News: Five Great Reasons to Root Your Android Phone

More importantly, I came across the YouTube video How to root a T-Mobile myTouch 3G or G1 in 6 minutes and flash Cyanogen rom with Donut crumbs and the article Android Hacking For The Masses. Seeing how easy the process was made me more comfortable going ahead with it.

Before you begin

  1. Even though this process is often called “rooting,” you aren’t actually gaining root access to an existing Android installation. You are replacing an unrooted old Android installation with a rooted new Android installation.
  2. This means everything on your phone will be erased, so make proper backups. For me, that meant taking notes on my email settings, compiling a list of applications I had installed, and (just to be extra safe, though it didn’t end up being necessary) jotting down all the T-Mobile account information in the phone.
  3. I considered this process easy, but ease is relative. What may be easy for someone else I may consider difficult. What may be easy for me may be difficult for you. Read the aforementioned links and, most importantly, watch the YouTube video in full (do not fast-forward, no matter how boring parts of it are) to see if that’s the kind of process that will seem easy for you.
  4. Everything you read about this process will have heavy disclaimers of the “It may brick your phone. Don’t hold us responsible for what happens” variety. I think you should take those disclaimers to heart (if you don’t follow the directions well, you may very well render your phone useless). At the same time, it is a simple procedure. If you are careful with the steps, the likelihood of bricking your phone is pretty low.

Step 1: Back up important stuff

  • If you have contacts, make sure they’re synced to your GMail account or backed up somewhere else. Same deal with your calendar.
  • If you have pictures, back them up to your hard drive or to your Picasa web album. These should not be erased during the process, since they live on your Micro SD card and not the phone itself. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to back them up just to be safe.
  • If you aren’t familiar with configuring email accounts, go into each email account and copy to a piece of paper or an electronic text document all the information you’d need to replicate the set-ups there.
  • Make a comprehensive list of all the Android Market applications you have installed so you can reinstall them after the rooting process.

Step 2: Download the appropriate files
You need two files. One allows you to backup existing Android roms and image new ones on to your phone. The other is the rom itself (the rooted Android to replace the unrooted Android that came with your phone).

  1. The rom I used was the Cyanogen mod version 4.0.1 (stable). You can find it here as a .zip file. Download that (through your computer and not your phone) to your Micro SD card.
  2. Then download (through your computer and not your phone) the Recovery Flasher application from one of these locations:
    http://g1files.webs.com/Zinx/flashrec-20090815.apk
    http://zenthought.org/system/files/asset/2/flashrec-20090815.apk

    Put that on your phone’s Micro SD card as well.

  3. Then in your application settings on the phone, allow non-Market applications to be installed. (Settings > Applications > Unknown sources > Check the box.)

  4. Use a file browser application (I like OI File Manager) to navigate to the Recovery Flasher .apk file on your Micro SD card and install it.
  5. After it’s installed, run it. First, click Back up recovery image and then click Flash Cyanogen Recovery 1.4
  6. Turn off your phone.

Step 3: Flash the rom

  1. Hold down the Home button while you press the Power button to turn the phone back on. This will boot your phone into recovery mode, and you’ll see several menu options.

  2. Select nandroid v2.2 backup
  3. Once that’s completed, select wipe data/factory reset. This will erase everything on your phone!
  4. Click on apply sdcard:update.zip and select the .zip file you downloaded earlier.
  5. Finally, select reboot system now (it may take slightly longer than a normal reboot.)

That’s it! You’re done! You now have a rooted Android installed.
If you used the version I used, you should now have multi-touch on your web browser (that pinching and parting to zoom in and out on web pages), five parts to your desktop instead of three, the ability to install and use a wifi tethering application, and a lot of other little improvements taken from the next build of Android.

Disclaimers
I can’t offer support for this. I just know what worked for me. This is supposed to work on the G1 as well (also known as the HTC Dream), but I did it only on the MyTouch 3G (also known as the HTC Magic).

One of the links I listed before said it makes Android faster and that there is a better keyboard. I never found Android to be slow to begin with, but the new rooted version doesn’t seem to be any faster. I also have not been able to enable the “better” keyboard (had no problems with the original keyboard—still, always up for trying something new if it’s easy).

If you are a Linux user (or a Windows/Mac user with a GParted live CD), you can optionally create an Ext3 or Ext4 partition on your Micro SD card. Then reboot your phone and it should automatically move your installed applications to the SD card and install new applications there as well. This will allow you to install a lot more applications by saving the space used on the phone itself.

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Linux

MyTouch 3G, Round Two

Second impressions
I’ve had a few more days to use this phone, and I’ve found out a few more things:

  1. Initially, it seemed the volume for the rings was too soft. Then I realized there was a plastic (dust-repellent?) cover over the camera and speaker that needed to be removed. I removed it, and it’s much louder now. A bit confused as to why the speaker is on the back of the phone, though.
  2. If you hold down the Home key, a list of recently opened applications will appear.
  3. There doesn’t appear to be a way in the browser to force links to open in the same window. I don’t really like having to wait for a new window to open for externally launched links or for links coded by websites to open in a new window. The default browser doesn’t have tabs—only windows.
  4. There is a little light next to the hearing part of the phone that indicates if the battery is low, if the battery is charging, or if the battery is full. Also, if you are charging the phone and it locks, when you press the menu key, it’ll tell you what percentage the battery is charged. The battery charges very quickly. I didn’t do an actual timing on it, but it seemed to take only about ten minutes to charge from about 50%.
  5. The Android Market reviews are totally useless. Basically if you want to know if an app is worth your time or not, you have to install it yourself and try it out. (I’ll probably do a separate post on Android apps I think are actually worth installing.)
  6. Even though you can make shortcuts on the desktop to your favorite applications, the applications tab itself is not customizable. It’d be neat to be able to rearrange the apps so that the most frequently used are at the top (less scrolling needed).

Thanks to the folks who commented on my MyTouch first impressions post. I’ve have some responses for a lot of the comments:

Mounting/unmounting the SD card

You don’t actually need to manually mount the SD card on the phone once you unmount it. They way you’re saying it gives the impression it’s really complicated (and it’s not). Click once on the phone to mount. Once you’re done, do it again to unmount. The phone should mount the SD automatically.

This is what happens with your T-Mobile MyTouch? That’s not what happens with mine. After I plug it into my computer, it will not automatically mount until I manually unmount it through the phone. And once I eject it from my computer, I have to again manually remount it through the phone in order for the phone to acknowledge the SD card data as accessible.

Modding

i have a G1 and there are modded releases of firmware you can install on your phone, at least for the g1. It gives you root access, tethering so you can hook up your wireless devices to use your 3g internet off your phone, and allows for multitouch zoom in the browser (no map though due to a locked down api). just be careful you don’t brick your phone. Do a search for jesusfreke.

I’m probably the only Linux user who isn’t into modding, and I have absolutely no interest in doing anything that may brick my phone. Thanks, though.

Flash

Most if not all blackberry’s have flash in the browser. They are not alone in this ability.

I didn’t know that. Since I don’t see any Blackberries with Android, I don’t really regret my purchase.

Default applications

I would add to the gripe-list that you cannot remove some of the apps that came with the phone (ie. Amazon MP3). These things are minor to me, however.

That’s a minor gripe I have now, too, after a few more days of using it. I can understand apps that are essential to the functioning of the phone (the Android operating system, the settings manager), but Amazon MP3? Really?

Flash again

The main reason that flash is largely unsupported is that nobody seems to have an ARM based version of flash on any OS platform right at the moment, save Nokia with their N770/N8×0 web tablets- and it’s pretty old in what it supports (Flash 7…)

Thanks for the explanation. It’s not a really big deal. I don’t even like Flash. It’s just that a lot of websites these days do use Flash heavily.

Turning off keyboard

To get rid of the onscreen keyboard you need merely press the ‘back’ key once.

That’s a great tip. I’m now using that instead of holding down the Menu key. Thanks.

iPhone v. other phones

In my opinion the iPod touch/iPhone unlock is superior to the method on MyTouch simply because the screen for iPod or iPhones are only sensitive to human touch (along with a few other things, but, its a very limited field).

In theory, yes, but in practice I haven’t really experienced any accidentally double-pressings of the Menu key in the past few days. Only time will tell if it’s a real issue or not.

Any touch screen phones are usually bad knock offs of the iPhone.

Fully agree.

This is simply because of cheapness of the cell phone business. The touch screens are never multi touch screens. Most of the touch screens need recalibration after a week or two of use, which is awful because I have a DS which never requires calibration.

I don’t know what recalibration is, but doesn’t the Palm Pre have multi-touch? I don’t have it on my MyTouch phone, but I don’t really miss it. Pinching photos and webpages is definitely one of those “Isn’t this cool?” but not very useful features of the iPhone. I’ve actually found the Android default web browser to be pretty good at fitting webpages to the width of the screen so that zooming in and out isn’t that necessary. And if you double-click the rolly ball, you get a little zoom box you can quickly move up and down the page to a particular section. Not elegant. Very practical, though.

The software on the MyTouch sounds like it definitely needs improvement. USB mount by phone software? Yuck.

In some ways, that’s a good thing. If my main gripes with the phone were hardware-related, there wouldn’t be much I could do besides get a new phone. With Donut and Eclair (the newer versions of Android) around the corner, maybe some of the usability problems in Android will be addressed in future updates.

One more thing: If you wanted an iPhone, why not virtualize Windows XP, install iTunes, and make a USB filter for your iPhone? It’s the way I do it with my iPod Touch. I put my iTunes music library in a shared folder between host and client so Banshee can play anything I purchased and so the VM hdd size does not balloon. Genius? :)

Maybe you didn’t read carefully, but I don’t want Windows. That means no virtualized XP for functionality. No dual-booted XP. No XP. No Vista. No Windows 7. Until iTunes is native in Linux, I’m not going to use a product that relies on iTunes to work.

Unlocking

Not many people seem to care on how easy to unlock an iPhone is. Easy as in “insecure”. To me, swipping a finger left to right and having access to the data stored in a device like this is simply unacceptable (although I think there’s an option to use a numeric pad, too).

Actually, the swiping for the iPhone is not for security. It’s just to prevent you from accidentally dialing a number while it’s in your pocket. You can set up an unlocking pin if you would like. Really, though, I think if your iPhone is stolen, it’s stolen, and a clever thief can get to your data anyway (and is probably mainly after the hardware and not your personal info). I’m a fan of the “Don’t let your phone get stolen” philosophy and not the “Leave my phone around and hope no one takes it since I have a password to guard it” approach.

Smart phones v. dumb phones

So from someone who doesn’t own a smart phone, and isn’t likely to get one for his birthday, what is it about one of any make that makes ownership so great? Is it the fascination of a new toy, being able to impress your friends, or is there something that they do which makes your life significantly better? I would find the answers to those questions really helpful in any future reviews.

Well, first of all, I’ve had a dumb phone for many years. A dumb cell phone can certainly suit all your needs. In fact, some people might even argue you don’t need a cell phone at all… or a phone. With technology it’s usually more about convenience and fun than it is about need. Do I need a car? Actually, I’m fine without it. I take public transportation, and every now and then I rent a car through ZipCar. Do I need a TV? There were about four years I didn’t watch any TV, and I got along in life just fine for those years. Now I watch TV a lot and enjoy many quality (and not-so-quality) shows.

It’s really the same with a smart phone. You don’t need anything the phone has to offer, but sometimes it’s nice. Here are a few things that my wife and I have found handy with her iPhone (and which I will probably find handy with my new MyTouch):

  • Sometimes when you’re out (away from your computer), something will come up in conversation that you’re just curious to look up. It’s not life or death, but if you wait until you get home to look it up, you probably will have forgotten about it completely by then. “Oh, yeah. What movie was that guy in?” “What’s an aprium? Is that like a pluot?”
  • If you’re in a rental car (which those of us who are not car owners sometimes are in), the GPS and turn-by-turn directions you can get on your phone come in handy, especially if you’re driving to some place you’ve never been before.
  • Likewise, if you’re in an unfamiliar area and really want to find a gas station or a place to eat (and read reviews of the restaurant), a smart phone comes in handy.
  • If you’re out at a bus stop, you can check online to see how long you have to wait for the next bus to come.
  • When you’re on vacation, you often bring a camera with you. But when you’re just out on your own or with your friends at some non-event, you don’t always have a camera on you. A smart phone is handy for taken impromptu low-res photos to capture a moment.
  • Visual voicemail is way better than calling up a voicemail service and going through menus to skip, repeat, delete, or save messages.
  • If you’re traveling and don’t want to lug your laptop around or have to find an internet cafe, a smart phone can be handy for checking your email.

There are probably other neat things. Again, nothing pressing or necessary. Just convenience and fun—like most gadgets.