Saturday, February 26, 2011

Old phone, new life - donut to froyo

Desire Z and G1 - both on Android 2.2 "froyo"
 I got my G1 phone (also known as an HTC Dream) in early 2009, a few months after it first came out. I recently replaced it with an HTC Desire Z (known as the G2 in the US) which I think is great. But, I really liked my old G1 and was a little sad to let it sit in the corner gathering dust. But, after 2 years, surely it was time for the G1 to retire, I mean, it can't keep up with Android Desires and iPhone 4s?

The truth is that HTC decided not to take the operating system on the G1 beyond Android 1.6 "donut". But could its admittedly meagre CPU clock rate or limited internal memory let it run Android 2.2 "froyo" in a way that in any way compared to my new phone?

To find out I decided to root the phone (gain complete and low level access to it) and install something called the Cyanogen mod. This is a build of the operating system made possible by the fact that Android is an open source project. I've heard people claim Android isn't properly open source, but I think that's just  plain wrong. The google apps (gmail, calendar, maps etc) that usually come with Android are not open source, but they're not part of the operating system; they can easily be replaced.

The installation of the Cyanogen mod is not that straightforward, but it doesn't require anything truly hardcore, such as modifying the hardware or editing source code. Have a read of my detailed account if you'd like to know more. My experience was made more troublesome because my phone was locked to T-Mobile, which means that it will only accept a T-Mobile SIM card. This meant that the phone refused to do anything without a fair bit of hacking right at the start, which I found very frustrating.

Anyway, after a  bit of a fight I got it installed and I was very impressed. My G1 is noticeably snappier running 2.2 than it was with 1.6 and, although not as fast and smooth as my Desire Z, it's not that far off. The browser is quite zippy, the pinch zoom works (perhaps with a slight stutter) and google maps work fine - it's all quite usable. More than that, it looks better too and even has window effects and animations (if you're into that kind of thing).

In fact, I'm left wondering why my Desire Z isn't much faster than it is. That could be because the Sense UI that HTC put on it is inefficient, but I suspect it's the other way around: the specs of our phones haven't increased as much as marketing and anecdotal "look how cool my shiny new phone is" comments have lead us to believe, instead any gains in hardware specs are swallowed up by new features to "sell" the product. Some features are useful, but others like pointless apps and stupidly high screen resolutions are not.

Well, my gratitude to Mr Cyanogen and his merry band and to the open source-ness of Android. I was amused to see that the little robot widget on my G1's new home screen sprouted a speech bubble that contained the few commands needed to extract the latest version of Android from a code repository and build it from source. One day I'll get around to building the Android source code myself.

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