I finally did it. I rooted, and took the plunge. This past week, Cyanogen release CM6.0, based on Android 2.2, aka Froyo. What the heck is this rooting business about? One of the nifty things about Android is the open source nature of the beast. Since the source code is all out there, users are free to modify, remix & reload to their heart’s content. Now, I’ll grant you that you’re not likely to find a lot of kernel hackers out there who really want to squeeze the last bit of performance out of their phone. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t users who want to serve up the phone “their way,” be that simply changing the look & feel of the device, swapping out the kernel for one that underclocks the CPU to save battery, or even simply gaining more control over the device (especially true in carrier-subsidized devices).
Right now, CM6 is available for a handful of HTC devices, as well as the original Motorola Droid. For a complete list, check the wiki to see if your phone can use CM6. First up, you’ll need root access to your device, as you’re going to need to flash a custom recovery image onto your phone. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Again, back to the wiki, look at the detailed directions for your device. For some devices, like the Nexus One (what I’m using), you may want to grab the “Universal Androot” package. It works for the N1, as well as a bunch of other devices, and is available from the developer’s site. And yes, Virginia, there is enough of the pages written in English that you’ll be able to figure it out. If you’re a phone that’s not supported by the Universal Androot, you’re not sunk yet. There’s either a manual process, which will be described on the wiki, linked above, OR if you have an HTC Evo, Desire, Incredible, Wildfire, Aria (aka Liberty) or Hero, you can use unrevoked. It’s pretty painless.
Warning: once you root, there may be no going back, especially if you do something like unlock the bootloader. Officially speaking, once you unlock the bootloader (which isn’t always required), your warranty may be void. I’m not responsible if you blow up your phone, start a small war, or your cat runs away.
Another warning: If you’re using a device that uses the HTC Sense UI, flashing CM6 will cause the UI to revert to the standard Android UI.
Got root? Ok, now it’s onto the easy parts. Install ROM Manager from the Android Market. You can use the free version without any troubles. Got that loaded? Go ahead and flash the Clockworkmod Recovery to your phone. ROM Manager should autodetect what type of phone you have, but it will ask for confirmation before it does anything.
Ready to roll? Ok, grab the CM6 ROM image from a mirror. While you’re at it, grab the latest Google Apps zip file for your phone type as well. Stash those on your SD card. Here we go. First up, a full backup. Back into ROM Manager, and “Reboot into Recovery”. In the recovery? Ok, now do a backup. This is also called a “Nandroid Backup”. What the heck is that? Put simply, it’s a full backup of your current ROM image. You want to do this. REALLY.
Once you’re in the recovery menu, just do a backup. Navigating the recovery menu uses the trackball to go up, down & select, and the power button acts as a “back button”. Your backup will take 3-5 minutes, and will require about 300-500 MB on your SD card. Make sure you’ve got the space available! For your reference, my Nexus One’s backup of the stock 2.2 image was 303MB.
All backed up? Ok, let’s go. Do a factory reset/wipe and wipe the cache as well. Next, install a zip file from the SD card, specifically the CM6 ROM. Repeat the steps to install the gapps image as well (if you’re planning on using the gapps, and you probably are). All done? Reboot. Your phone will come up like it’s all brand new.
I’ve take some additional steps, going a bit further than just stock CM6. I also added the HTC_IME Mod keyboard, which replaces the standard Android keyboard with the HTC Sense keyboard. Once you get it installed, selecting it is as simple as doing a long press on a text field, and changing the input method to HTC_IME mod (assuming you’ve already turned the mod on in the system keyboard preferences!).
So back to the review. So, was it all worth it? I’d have to say yes. Absolutely. There was certain a small amount of inconvenience, associated with backup & restore of data, re-creating accounts and sync mappings, as well as the little things like prefs for ringtones, etc. That was far and away outweighed by the good stuff I got – better performance, enhanced feature set – especially the use of ADW.Launcher by default, and the enhanced power control widget.
Ok, so now suppose you want to go back to where you started, how do you undo all of this? Simply boot back into the recovery image, do another factory reset/wipe, wipe the cache and then restore. Reboot, and you’re back.
Android is still in many regards somewhat of a wild west affair with regard to software updates, especially given the open source nature of the OS. Will there be bumps along the way? Probably. Are you the type wants a phone that “just works” and doesn’t like to tinker? CM6 probably isn’t for you, nor is pretty much any custom ROM.