I’m not really a “phone” person — successfully resisted getting a cell phone until 2007 — but when the screen of my last (and first, and at that point only) phone mysteriously broke, it had been long enough that I was eligible for an upgrade for agreeing to extend my contract. So I naturally selected the best phone that was free at the time. It turned out to be the Motorola Cliq XT, a mid-low end smartphone running Android 1.5 and full of Motorola’s “Motoblur” software on top of that.
For a year, Motorola strung the XT users along with promises of an upgrade to Android 2.1 coming “soon”. But the promised upgrade never seemed to materialize and eventually, in June 2011, they admitted that it wasn’t going to happen. Now, as I paid $0 for the phone itself I wasn’t as outraged as some, but I was still pretty ticked: 1.5 was already pretty out of date when the phone was released, and many of the more useful apps had minimum requirements of Android 1.6. To leave the phone on 1.5 was going to severely limit its potential lifespan.
I began doing a little research into alternatives. There’s a large community of Android enthusiasts and programmers who have turned out some amazing stuff, including unauthorized upgrades for a number of devices. There were some available for Cliq XT, but still, I was nervous. It’s possible to accidentally render a phone unusable (“bricking”) and to replace the phone would be annoying and also expensive. Plus, it still worked even if I couldn’t always install every app I wanted to try.
I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon the Cyanogenmod page for the first time. Wil Wheaton? An article on wired or gizmodo? Who knows. But I was excited: here we had a system that would soon work with the Cliq XT. It wasn’t just one guy; a community had formed, and it felt like there was momentum to make sure it wasn’t just ‘okay’ or ‘good’. I was still nervous, so I decided I would wait until release 7.1, which was to officially include support for my phone, was out of beta.
Then, suddenly, last weekend, 7.1 was released!
Tuesday night I sat down to root my phone and get Cyanogenmod installed.
I had read the posted instructions several times, and thought I had a good handle on what I needed to do. The first step to all of this is to root the phone, meaning to gain administrator/superuser access so you can wipe out and replace system level files. But after following the instructions step by step more than once, I was getting nowhere; the phone remained unrooted and I was always returned to the $ prompt after my efforts.
While I was doing this, I noticed that at various points in the process, the phone would make beeping noises. I figured this indicated some kind of connection being created and then broken, but I wasn’t sure what it might mean beyond that. The instructions didn’t mention anything about beeps. At any rate, it was going nowhere fast, so I turned to google and found a number of forum posts where people had encountered similar issues — posted instructions which people swore up and down had worked fine for them were definitely not working for everyone. Eventually I found where someone had suggested that timing might be the issue: certain commands needed to be issued at exactly the right moment, probably in between the beeps. The idea made as much sense as anything else, so I tried it, but unfortunately my link to the phone just wouldn’t permit me to finish the string of necessary commands before the next beep sounded.
Frustrated, I resumed googling, and eventually ended up at The Unlockr. I had been here before, the first time I’d considered upgrading my phone on my own, but when I decided against it, I hadn’t bothered to even try their instructions, which varied slightly from the ones given at Cyanogenmod. This time the commands would need to be typed directly into the phone through a terminal emulator (I used the app ConnectBOT, which I already had installed). It still took a couple of tries, but this time the instructions worked! Root access was gained and stayed available, even after restarting the phone.
The next step was to install ClockworkMod Recovery. When you first venture into the world of tinkering with Android phones, the first thing that sticks out is the jargon. Everywhere there are people talking about flashing and custom recoveries and doing things that don’t make any sense if you don’t understand the vocabulary. Which I didn’t. It’s possible to just slog through without really understanding what’s happening, but I’ve found that’s rarely a good idea — if you don’t know what it is you’re actually trying to do, it’s difficult to figure out what steps to take when something goes wrong. But it’s not hard to find some good explanations of the process. Since Android 1.5 doesn’t allow for the “easy” method, I used the second set of instructions to manually push ClockworkMod onto the phone.
From there, the instructions worked exactly as written, with one minor little detail — I had to rename both the zip files I had downloaded from Cyanogenmod, because their original names were too long for ClockworkMod Recovery to see. Once I renamed them to something shorter (update.zip and Gupdate.zip) the program was able to see the files were there.
Then, I rebooted, and ta-da, my phone was running Android 2.3. And contrary to Motorola’s excuses for cancelling their planned upgrade, the phone’s hardware seems to handle the newer version just fine.