Hacking My Android

December 8th, 2011 § 0 comments

As my dear friend Kenzan once said, the internet can get you into trouble, but it can’t get you out of it….this is a tale of how that almost became true.

I had thought about rooting my HTC Incredible for a while…for one, the free WiFi tethering is awesome. The other was just to be geeky about things. Eventually, changing my phone interface became easy. Changing the interface made me pay more attention to the variations, subtleties and possibilities for a mobile interface. All too often, I think we design what we know or what we expect. If everyone on a team is an Apple person there is a tacit assumption about the “right” way to do things. On android, playing with CyanogenMod and MIUI opened my eyes.

The real reason I started, though, was that my phone started to act up…it told me it was running out of space, even though it wasn’t…and made it hard to do basic things. It stopped checking mail, it wouldn’t sync things…it sucked. I threw it back to the factory settings, but it seemed to happen over again. So, as a long-time windows person, I thought I would just reinstall a fresh OS…that usually does the trick. But I realized – if I’m going to loose all my apps again, why not root the phone and have some fun? And a new ROM might resolve the issues. Maybe it was the boggy HTC sense running on my Incredible that was the real problem.

As I was saying…the internet can get you into trouble, but not out. Lifehacker has an awesome, always up to date guide for rooting your android device. Phones run on file systems called ROMs. You flash new ROMs and you have a new phone!

It was pretty straightforward indeed…and in a few hours, I was up and running CyanogenMOD, digging the red-tinged screen mode I could turn on and off for night vision, the better facebook app I could now install, the WiFi tethering.

But at some point, I got bored…and installed MIUI. Sleek, iPhone-esque and very, very customizable, I became enamored of the drop-down drawer that allowed me to turn my WiFi, 3G and sync on and off constantly, to help save battery life. I was also able to replace icons easily, and still had access to apps that others who were unrooted couldn’t – my friend Miles couldn’t seem to get the GoTo Meeting app I downloaded…which made it easy to call in AND see a presentation, all on my phone. sick!

But all was not well…things started to crash unexpectedly. Everything. Gmail. SMS. Maps. Fuck. This was not good. I rebooted, factory-freshed the thing…sometimes it made a difference for a while. Sometimes the app that helped me install new ROMS would crash. That made the process impossible.

I finally decided to wipe the UI again and install a fresh ROM…but I goofed. The version of Cyanogen I installed didn’t have google apps installed – no gmail, no android market. I had downloaded the Google Apps package, but the installer failed. I couldn’t update the app that was supposed to backup my ROMS and install fresh ones. I was dead in the water. My phone was worse than a brick…it was a lame duck. The ROM manager that was supposed to help me go back to a safe system kept crashing or hanging when I tried to install my backups. Why was Clockwork MOD failing? The internet failed to give me a fix!

The Internet got me into this mess. I turned to the internet to get me out of my mess. What about unrooting the phone? It turns out, that is possible, but harder than rooting. I tried this method…you install a zip file on your SD card and reboot into safe mode…but the file wouldn’t unpack. I tried this several times. In anticipation of this working, I had to download a set of Android SDK files, set up a protocol call ADB on my laptop and created a file structure on my laptop that I would flash onto the phone. But no dice.

I had a very painful evening out with no phone numbers and no maps! I went back to the old days of making little post-it maps of streets I was heading to if I didn’t know where they were and dashing down phone numbers to be able to connect to people. Without google apps, my contacts wouldn’t sync, obviously. I even went into the Verizon store, considering a new phone over trying ceaselessly and fruitlessly to revive my phone. I hated all of them. Android phones seem to have gone blobby. Also, I didn’t want to spend $300.

Then I discovered that there was a software solution to the problem of laptop-to-phone flashing that should be easier than the method I was trying. RUU flashing involves a software package that connects to your phone and, in about 10 minutes, returns it to a stock ROM. It seemed straightforward. I breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. The classic conundrum of the semi-technical, I encountered a series of error codes, the first was about USB connectivity. It wouldn’t see the HTC phone. In a shot of insight, I downloaded the HTC sync software package to allow my laptop to see the phone, not as a USB device, but as an HTC phone. Then I got an error code about battery life – it thought I was at 30% when I was at 90%. How to fix that? Restart and pray.

In the end, it worked….10 minutes later, I was watching the droid splash screen and the HTC sense startup. 5 minutes after that, I was surfing the net.

I may wait a few days or weeks…but I will root again. I will soon miss the MIUI tweaks, the tethering, the freedom. I will get myself into more trouble and get out of it again.

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