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That’ll teach me not to use an experimental ROM

Every alpha or beta release of software comes with a disclaimer of sorts—basically that you shouldn’t expect the software to be stable and you shouldn’t trust it for your main productivity. But it’s hard to know how seriously to take such disclaimers.

GMail was in beta testing for years before finally being released. And almost the whole time it was in beta, plenty of users were using it as their main email account.

In the past, I’ve used alpha and beta releases of Ubuntu Linux and have had only minor problems (an application crashing every now and then)—actually nothing that I didn’t also occasionally experience with so-called “stable” official releases.

Then again, ReactOS comes with a disclaimer that it’s alpha software, and that disclaimer should be taken seriously. I tried to use ReactOS, and it basically just froze up after every reboot. It was virtually unusable. Anyone interested in ReactOS for serious productivity would be better off using Wine in Linux.

Very shortly after I got my MyTouch 3G Android phone (also known as the HTC Magic), I installed a custom ROM on it called Cyanogen. It’s a very popular rooted ROM to install. I’d used that for months, and it was great. Recently, out of curiosity, I tried out the latest “experimental” (not “stable”) ROM from Cyanogen. For a couple of hours, it seemed good. Then I plugged it in to charge it for the night. In the morning, the screen was dead. There was a light on at the top. But any button I pressed appeared to do nothing. I was in a minor panic. Had I bricked my phone? Did I totally destroy it?

So I took out the battery, put it back in, powered up my phone in recovery mode and flashed back the latest Nandroid backup, and everything was good. I’m back on stable Cyanogen, and I think that’s where I’m going to stay!

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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.