A week or so ago during a ride on the log flume at the Mall of America, my Nokia n900 stopped working. Slipping from my pocket into a puddle of water behind me inside the log, it got wet, despite quick action on the part of the rider behind me to pull it from the deadly liquid. Upon returning to a warm,dry house revival was attempted inside a zip-lock bag of rice with a couple of packets of desiccant thrown in for good measure. To no avail. It is now being readied for shipment to Nokia repair for internal surgery and a final attempt to save it.
Meanwhile, I have returned to a device I bought, almost as an impulse purchase, a few months ago. The HTC Hd2. The Windows Mobile device is a solid enough device but has one very valuable trick up it’s sleeve that could keep it running as your primary device for many years. The hardware – basically, it’s a common Android set and almost identical to the HTC HD7 as well. This makes it a hackers delight, at least to the extent it can run both Windows Phone 7 and Android (you can even use it as dual boot, though I haven’t tried that yet), as well as Ubuntu and MeeGo (maybe). I have had a chance to look at both Android (Gingerbread) and Windows Phone 7 (NoDo and Mango beta) platforms and will post a review(ish) piece on each in the coming weeks.
RomWorld really is the xdadevelopers forum although I have downloaded rom’s from another website too. I’m fairly new to this so I may also have made some basic errors on the way. Incidentally, this article doesn’t claim to be any sort of tutorial – I am certainly not qualified to write one and the process will vary between devices.
There are a huge array of Android variants available, which really show the versatility of the platform. These range from ones which are fairly clean, to others which have been customized with lots of geeky features, to some that would rather look like iOS than Android. On the Windows Phone front, it’s a case of just trying out which one of a few is most stable, as Windows Phone is far less customizable, and then there is the small matter of contacting Microsoft to get your Windows Live activation and reveal the full functionality of the device. Oh, and be willing to lose an SD card as Windows Phone incorporates it into the OS. There are also roms for Android tablets (including the Barnes and Noble nook e-reader – yes, this can run Android for a fraction of the cost of a Xoom), as well as Bada and WebOS devices.
Getting stuff running isn’t exactly straight forward, but is easily repeatable once you know how. You also need to make sure the rom is a match for you hardware variant. Then it’s a case of a combination of SD cards, pc software and a bootloader called MAGLDR (plus an addition second bootloader for most Android roms) to get the roms’s installed and running. If you like what you see, great, if not, download another rom, copy it to the SD card, wipe the phone memory and install the new rom.
Why do this – why not just get an Android device or Windows Phone 7 device?
There are several reasons you would want to do this. First, if you have a HD2, this gives it a new lease of life after the death of Windows Mobile. If you have a device like the HD2 which can support multiple OS’s it also gives yo a chance to try something out without investing in a new handset.
If you have an android device, it could be a way to get an enhanced version of Android on, or get away from waiting for carrier approved updates. A co-worker has an LG G2X and says the stock Android it sghipped with was slow, not at all optimized and was buggy. He uses it it get a updated, faster running and more stable version of Android then the one his phone shipped with.
If you have a Windows Phone, you could use this to get Mango beta today, or if you have the right device, the final RTM version and bring to your phone the multitasking and twitter integration that you have been waiting for, nicely ahead of time, and again, a way to break out of the carrier controlled update cycle and ditch the bloatware.
In addition, most roms are unlocked for developers to sideload apps they are creating. With Windows Phone this would allow a developer to write apps for the phone and test them (to some extent – real testing should be done on a official release) without having to pay for membership of the Microsoft developer community, though you will still need to do this to get you app uploaded to the marketplace. In this respect,it’s useful to experiment with developing for the platform.
What are the dangers?
As with anything like this, this will more than likely void your warranty. If it breaks or some feature doesn’t work, the handset maker, OS vendor or the guys creating these roms will not take responsibility or give you a refund. So proceed with caution at your own risk.
Roms are available for many devices but a HTC HD2 should set you back less than $200, if you want to try this kind of thing out. However, if you know you are only interested in Android or Windows Phone, get an Android or Windows Phone device as it will mean that if you do try and get any roms for OS variants, preview/beta versions or other things which are not available yet through official means, there is at least a greater chance of a reliable experience-for example. Don’t forget to get an SD card or two and if you are using Windows Phone 7, make sure they are class 4 cards before you begin.
The initial set up takes several parts to complete, if you are interested in having a go. The instructions are for newbies, but expect there to be quite a learning curve including a lot of new phrases and acronyms in the pages liked here. Instructions on how to do this for the HD2 are here (radios and hardspl) and here (maglrd and some roms), with additional Android instructions here (clockwork mod and rom) and Windows Phone here (rom). There is a toolkit to help with this here. For other devices, you need to look up your device on the xdadevelopers front page and then proceed through the devices “Development” sub forum.
There is a huge amount I haven’t covered here, largely because I am not knowledgeable enough or experienced enough to do it justice. XdaDevelopers and other rom and hacking websites do have the answers, for those willing to take the time to look for them (it’s not always that easy to find stuff). Good luck.