Hack Your Android Phone

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Part of the appeal of the Android mobile platform is its hackability. Most Android users don’t actually hack their phones, but a lot of us like the fact that we could if we wanted to. For all the times I brought up Android’s openness when sassing my boyfriend about his iPhone I never actually got around to taking advantage of it myself.

Last week I realized my HTC Hero was still running OS 1.5, despite the latest stable version being 2.1 for most phones (with 2.2 hitting a lot of phones this month). My terrible carrier, Telus, informed me that my reward for being an early adopter and buying their first Android phone a mere 6 months ago was the choice of spending another $600+ on a new phone or living with an antiquated OS.

So I opted for secret option #3: root my phone and install the OS that Telus should be upgrading me to. It was actually a lot simpler than I’d expected, and got me wondering why I didn’t do it sooner. If you have an Android phone you should most definitely consider rooting it. Why? Well let’s talk about that.

Functionality and Features

In addition to being able to install the stock version of Android you can choose from a variety of customized ROMs, many of which are designed to optimize performance for a specific model of phone. You can also add features that may be lacking from your phone’s version of the OS. My Hero’s sad little processor isn’t ideal for handling the 3D Gallery that works wonderfully on newer Android phones. Never fear, though, since some industrious hacker has already modified it to be less of a strain on my CPU and released the modded version specifically for the Hero. Presto, new feature working better than if HTC had just dumped it into their Hero OS.

Better Backups

Sure there are some backup programs on the Android Market, but the data they save is limited in comparison to the backups you get if you boot your rooted phone in recovery mode and run the backup tool from there. You can play around with new ROMs without worrying about losing your previous perfect setup.

Geek Cred

Let’s be honest, a lot of us who opt for Android are proud to be geeks. So when the douchebag at the next table is loudly talking at (yes, talking at rather than to) his date about how pro he is for using anti-spyware software it feels great to casually angle your phone with the boot screen up. Nothing says “I’m geekier than you” like green, monospace font on a black screen. “You may have heard of Ad-Aware, but I modded my Linux-based phone to gain root access and then had my way with it… ain’t no thang…”

Ready To Try It?

First and probably most importantly remember this: do not do anything to interrupt your phone while you are flashing a new ROM. This means make sure it’s connected to a power source (even if your battery is fully charged, no sense taking a chance). Read everything twice, be certain the ROM you chose is for your exact phone (for example, I have a GSM Hero, a CDMA Hero ROM would have toasted my phone). Feel free to post questions to the various Android modding forums; the community is friendly, helpful and active. If you’re unlucky enough to have a phone that requires the goldcard method (as I did) have several micro SD cards (by all accounts Kingston SD cards work best) and something to punch.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I used the goldcard method (tricking the phone into rolling back to a previous OS version,) Amen Ra recovery tool and a ROM of the official HTC version of 2.1, rolled out a couple of weeks ago to Taiwan.

Helpful Resources

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