Rooting my SmartPhone

Most Android smartphone users have abandoned the 3G platforms in favor of newer platforms but many people, like me are staying with 3G for the foreseeable future. In my case, I use an unlocked HTC Droid Incredible 2 with Verizon 3G service through NET10Wireless, a MVNO. I activated the phone using NET10byop.  I’ll hereafter identify the phone as a “Inc2”.

I like the Inc2’s size and, with an optional OEM extended battery, its long battery life.

Ok, so why do I use a 2011 vintage smartphone and 3G service while everyone else seems compelled to have the latest 4G phone? The answer is really pretty simple. I use my smartphone to talk, text, be reminded of appointments, do occasional short web browsing, mostly to look something up as well as a few specialty apps. What I DO NOT do is play games, listen to music or watch movies – just not my thing. As a result, a 2011 phone and 3G service does what I need and does it quite well. By using Verizon 3G via NET10Wireless my cost is $45, for unlimited everything service,while getting service directly from Verizon is more than twice that amount. By the way – AT&T reception is poor where I live and Sprint and T-Mobile are nonexistent, so Verizon is my only choice. Anyway, for now at least, the Inc2 IS my phone of choice.

My Inc2 was purchased off of eBay a year+ ago for around $50. It was a stock Verizon phone although the previous owner had the foresight to have Verizon do a SIM UNLOCK before he/she removed it from service. The Inc2 is a Global phone that uses Verizon CDMA in the USA and GSM elsewhere in the world. Verizon locks their 3G global phones (4G phones are not locked) such that only their Vodophone SIM cards can be used, locking the phone to Verizon contracts. A SIM UNLOCK removes that lock, permitting the phone’s use of any SIM card, anywhere. I need this when I travel as I use a eKit global SIM when overseas. If I was stationary in one country for a reasonable time I would just purchase a prepaid sim of that country but when moving around a lot, such as on a cruise, the eKit SIM works better for me. For 99.8% of the time I only use it for text messages. Verizon will do a SIM at your request once you have fulfilled the term of your service contract providing that the phone is still active.

Recently, my Inc2 started misbehaving with frequent annoying pop-ups saying that I hadn’t logged into Google. The messages were a bug as I was logged in and re-logging in didn’t stop the messages. After much hair pulling I narrowed the culprit to one of Verizon’s non-removable bloatware apps – “Backup Assistant” and its associated “Sync Service” By clearing their cache and deleting their data the problem went away – oddly it faded away rather than stopping immediately upon data deletion.

Even though my loyal Inc2 was again functioning flawlessly I decided that I would obtain a maintenance spare. Furthermore, I decided to root the maintenance spare so as to delete all of the useless Verizon non-removable bloatware that added no value yet consumed storage and CPU cycles. I purchased, again from eBay, a pristine condition Inc2 for about $50. I immediately set about rooting it.

NOTICE: Should you choose to root your phone be advised that I do not endorse or recommend that you do so because you may possibly damage your phone and even render it permanently inoperable. Consequentially, the entire risk in rooting your phone lies wholly with you.

I had previously rooted only one other phone – an HTC nexus one GSM global phone. I had purchased it for the exact same reason, namely international travel. I used it for a few international trips but it went into retirement once I purchased my first Inc2. Rooting the HTC nexus one and replacing its ROM (Android operating system) with a CyanogenMod ROM was very easy by simply following CyanogenMod’s instructions. GSM phones, in general, are easier to root than are Verizon CDMA phones and the HTC nexus one is particularly easy. Verizon phones are less easy but by carefully following the work of others it is not really very difficult.

The first step was to unlock the bootloader and obtain S-OFF. The bootloader is a piece of low level code that is always present, even if you erase everything in the phone. It boots, or starts up the phone. It also does other useful things if started in a special but arcane way. Anyway, unlocking the bootloader if an HTC phone is easy using HTC’s on-line unlocking service. This is what I did by simply following the instructions at that website. I later learned that using HTC’s unlocking website is not the optimal way to unlock the bootloader because if leaves it in the S-ON state. S-OFF is a persistent flag withing the phone that if set to “ON” The default setting for HTC’s devices is S-ON, which means that neither can you access certain areas of the system nor can you guarantee a permanent root. Having S-OFF is VERY desirable. There is a reasonably good YouTube video on the entire process (on a Windows machine) at THIS-LINK.

My biggest headaches with this process was the serial usb communications between the phone and my Linux desktop. Naturally all of the documentation was written for Micro$oft Windows and Apple users. After a lot of exasperation I discovered that the communications needed to be conducted as root, for example “sudo fastboot …”

To obtain S-OFF I used a tool named “Revolutionary”. The Revolutionary tool enables you to get S-OFF on your phone and optionally to flash a custom recovery image to your Android phone. A custom recovery image is VERY important as it allows you to perform advanced tasks on the system partition, such as flashing custom ROMs and taking a full backup of your phone (a “nandroid” backup). I installed the ClockworkMod Recovery Image using Revolutionary. Fortunately, Revolutionary is very Linux friendly.

Once the new Inc2 was bootloader unlocked, S-OFF’ed and had ClockworkMod Recovery installed, I could have simply stopped there and just removed the Verizon bloatware but I decided that I wanted to try installing a newer, more feature-rich ROM, such as those by CyanogenMod.

First I loaded CyanogenMod’s final official ROM for the HTC Incredible 2 – “cm-7-20130301-NIGHTLY-vivow.zip”. The installation instructions are provided by CyanogenMod on a link on the same page as the ROMs for the Inc2. I opted to install from the SD card using Recovery – what CyanogenMod calls the “Sideload method”. It is just easier for me not to fool with the serial port – I forget to “sudo” too often.

The cm-7-20130301-NIGHTLY ROM performed nicely but then I found several ROMs that put newer versions of Android on the Inc2 platform. I installed and tested (using WiFi for data) about a half-dozen different ROMs one even running version 4.4.4 Kit-Kat. In every case ROM one, there was something that didn’t work right – things like video not working, etc. The one ROM in which everything worked was Zoe-Rom by LeoPosas, which ran Android v4.2.2 Jelly Bean. The Global GSM working wasn’t working correctly on Zoe-Rom but I eventually fixed by addressing two issues” (1) the new Inc2 was not SIM UNLOCKED. I solved this by purchasing an unlock code for $1.99 from an India-based company via eBay – “kalyanharry2011“, and; (2) that by relocking my eKit SIM. Even though it was already locked, Zoe-Rom refused to work with it until “IT” had locked it.

Zoe-Rom looked so promising that I actually switched my NET10wireless to it and tested it live – Verizon 3G data in addition to the WiFi. I tested it for about four hours and while everything ran, some apps were noticeably slower than I was used to with the stock Verizon ROM. Also, the limited Inc2’s 1GB RAM was just about full. I came to the realization that the Inc2 platform just didn’t have the horsepower to run Android v4.2.2 in a satisfying way. I switched my NET10wireless back to my original, stock Inc2.

So, now that my maintenance spare Inc2 is just that, a spare, I decided to load a ROM that was really designed for the platform and would provide good performance. I installed the final ROM – CyanogenMod’s STABLE release “cm-7.2.0-vivow.zip” with the 1.09.01.0722 radio and gapps-gb-20110828-signed Google apps. I have done a lot of testing via WiFi and it performs great – very snappy performance. Also, the Global GSM mode works correctly. This is how the phone will stay – in the closet awaiting activation should my original Inc2 fail.

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