Android Experimentation

08Mar11

When I started my new job I had two choices for mobile device – a company owned BlackBerry or buy my own iPhone and get company email using Good. I didn’t want to go back to having two phones in my pocket, which would have been necessary if I’d gone down the BlackBerry route (as I wouldn’t be able to install apps or get my personal email on it).  I was also pretty sick of the BlackBerry 8900 Curve I’d had for almost two years, so I went down the iPhone route. I’d really quite fancied getting a Nexus S, but with only 16GB on board (and no Micro-SD) it didn’t have the storage I knew I’d need (and although Good runs on Android my new employer has so far only sanctioned the iOS variant).

I still wanted to scratch the Android itch though, and a colleague had suggested getting an Android phone with a data only SIM as an alternative to a MiFi. I already had some suitable SIMs, so all I needed was a handset. For that I wasn’t even tempted by shiny and new; cheap and cheerful was the way to go, and I ordered myself an Orange San Francisco (aka ZTE Blade) – £99.99 new on eBay.

Unlocking

This could not have been easier. I put my IMEI into an online unlock code generator, and followed the remaining instructions that I found here. The Orange SIM that came with it need never have been cracked out of its carrier.

Rooting

I didn’t want the Orange bloatware in my way, and I wanted a newer Android version that supported tethering/hotspot – time to take possession of my phone for some warranty voiding hackery. The first step was to install the Universal Androot app, which also meant downloading Astro File Manager from the Android Market.

When I first ran Universal Androot it said that I already had root, but when I tried to put Recovery Manager on things didn’t go well. When I went back and told Universal Androot to do its thing everything started to work properly.

Recovery Manager and Clockwork

These are the bits that are needed to install new firmware.

First up – recovery manager. I downloaded v0.29 and followed these instructions, though I used it to install Clockwork 3.0.0.6.

With that done I booted the phone into Clockwork by powering on with the volume down button held. I then used Clockwork to wipe the phone and install Android 2.2 (Froyo)

Froyo

There are LOTS of different firmware options out there for the ZTE Blade. When Cynogen Mod (a version of Android 2.3 ‘Gingerbread’) becomes stable on the ZTE Blade I’ll probably move to that, but some research suggested that 2.2 would suit my needs. I went for the FLB-Froyo G2 (version r10b). This involved installing the firmware, an update and then the extras using Clockwork, then rebooting into my shiny new phone OS.

If I was doing it all again…

Which I will be, as I’ve just ordered one for my wife (in White). Then I’d make sure I had all the files that I needed on the Micro-SD before starting. I’d be surprised if it takes me more than a few minutes next time around.

In use

I’m very impressed with the experience. The gmail/calendar/contacts integration is fantastic, and there are certainly features where I think it has the edge over the iPhone 4.

Most importantly it seems to work very well as a 3G-Wifi bridge. I’ll see over the next few days whether it’s any better/worse than the embedded 3G in my laptop that I’m used to using on a daily basis.



4 Responses to “Android Experimentation”

  1. 1 Tim Swan

    I have to say I’m loving my Nexus S – the phone experience is good (which was always the issue with other “smart phones” that I’ve tried before) and the mobile compute experience is brilliant.

    The developer environment is very easy to get set up with, too – I was using Eclipse for my Python noodling anyway, so from scratch I had a “hello, world” app up and running on the phone in about 20 minutes. Quite stunning, when you think about it.

  2. 2 Matt Gillard

    You know iOS 4.3 acts as a wifi hotspot? Depending on carrier I think. Out Friday is the rumour. I have the GM. works well!

    • Yeah, the hotspot feature in iOS 4.3 hadn’t escaped my attention. The snag is that my iPhone is networked locked, and also my data allowance is sufficient rather than generous.


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