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Posted on September 3rd, 2010 by Darien Graham-Smith

How I got Android 2.2 by de-branding my phone

smashI’ve lost patience with O2. I’ve been waiting like a good boy for two and a half months for it to pass on the Android 2.2 update to O2-branded HTC Desire handsets (such as mine). Now I’ve had enough of waiting, and I’ve taken matters into my own hands.

What’s frustrated me isn’t the wait as such – obviously I’d rather get the upgrade sooner rather than later, but I’m old and jaded enough to take these things philosophically. And yes, I understand that O2 needs to test the update fully before it can roll it out to customers and take responsibility for supporting it.

But it does seem to be taking an unaccountably long time, especially when you note that (as reader Alan Robertson pointed out in a recent email) Android 2.2 has been running on unbranded handsets without issue since the day of release.

And in the meantime, those of us with branded phones are barred from trying it out independently: though the software is freely available, my phone is restricted to installing only O2-approved firmware, as and when the company sees fit to make it available. Hmm, why did I ditch the iPhone again?

De-branding the phone

Happily, there’s a solution. Cast around the internet and you’ll find plenty of resources telling you how to flash your Android phone with generic firmware, which removes all customisations made by O2 — or by Vodafone, Rogers, Bharti Airtel or whoever your provider may be. Once it’s done you can install OS upgrades as soon as Google releases them, without having to wait for your provider to perform its own testing (and slap on its own branding). And this morning, having decided to wait no longer for an official O2 upgrade, I performed the procedure on my phone.

There’s a certain amount of hackery involved in the process, and once you start off down that road you’re on your own.

It’s worth noting that there’s a certain amount of hackery involved in the process, and once you start off down that road you’re on your own. Good luck getting support if you run into difficulties while trying to install an unsupported OS. And even if the installation goes perfectly, you may hit problems down the line if, for any reason, you need to send your phone back for repairs: de-branding your phone shouldn’t affect its operation in any significant way, but companies like to find excuses to void warranties.

But to me that’s the joy of technology. It’s taking ownership of your device, and making it work for you in ways that weren’t previously possible, even if — no, especially if that means creatively sidestepping technical and practical obstructions. Once I’d got the generic firmware onto my phone, it immediately picked up the Android 2.2 update, and though I’d done nothing cleverer than finding and following some instructions, it felt like both an achievement and a reward.

Getting away with it

And the thing about Android is that, so far as the OS and network are concerned, my device is still a perfectly regular handset, just like you might buy SIM-free from an online retailer. Unlike users of a certain other phone, I’ve no need to fear that future updates will seek to punish my audacity in tweaking my own phone, by deliberately breaking it or disabling features.

For me, though, that’s not the best part. That came a few hours ago, just as I was preparing to flash my phone with the generic firmware. I’d used the USB debug tools to get the CID from my phone, generated a custom boot sector and was just about to dump it onto my microSD card to create a key device for firmware updates when I realised that – at that precise moment in time – I had never been happier to be an Android user.

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17 Responses to “ How I got Android 2.2 by de-branding my phone ”

  1. nodule Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    With tools such as unrEVOked, debranding should now be a few button presses, so no real hackery required (but always fun to do for some anyway, including myself). You’re spot on the money re the benefit of debranding, not only from the network but also from HTC. Take a look at the xda developer forum (http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=628) for a tonne of different ROMs with little different tweaks that are now open to you (use ROMManager for painless, safe installation – and always remember the nandroid backup).

     
  2. Jee Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Congratulation for such achievement.
    It is even more frustrating for us Sony X10 users…we are still running on Android v1.6 OS!
    Any help?

     
  3. M Viracca Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    I admire your effort and applaud your success.

    Thing is, I can’t be a**ed with all this hacking anymore, even on computers. Time was I’d love to find a hack to improve some software, a tweak for the OS or, lately, a CSS mod for a website. But now I’d rather just plug my phone into my laptop, and install the latest patch from the fruity company. Not a fanboi, but turns out I don’t really need all the features that a jailbreak would get me, and I’ve got other things to do with my time than scour the internet for hacks.
    PS. I came to this realisation when I discovered I don’t actually miss reading Lifehacker for the past six months.

     
  4. John Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    I take it ‘de-branding’ one’s phone is distinct from unlocking it?

    So if I de-brand can I will still not be able to use a SIM card from another network?

     
  5. Bunny Wuffles Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Interesting story that perfectly illustrates the problem and current state of affairs with the Android platform. iPhone users must be laughing at us!

    Google created a wild-wild west where there is OS fragmentation and user experience varies from phone to phone. No wonder many developers find the Android a chore to work with.

    Leaving OS updates to the manufactures and allowing the manufacturers to build in proprietary code shows poor judgment. Of course there is little to no incentive for HTC, et al to ever bother releasing OS updates. Or when they do, the updates are usually months behind.

    iPhone? All owners receive updates the day they are released. This is possible with Android, if Google bothers to assert more control who is allowed to use the Android OS and make the hardware developers obligated to release all hardware code as open source, in addition to updating the OS immediately (if hardware is compatible).

     
  6. Sihaz Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    quite agree about enjoying the challenge… i’m running froyo on my hd2 winmo phone and never been happier too :-)

     
  7. toby Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    i did this to my phone and a friends phone about 2 weeks ago and it worked a treat.

    it is especially useful for people like myself who live in countries with providers who don’t currently support the desire, e.g. the middle east.

    I highly recommend it, its not hard, doesn’t take to long and there are tons of online resources to assist.

     
  8. Vik Says:
    September 4th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    The best thing I’ve done as far as smartphones are concerned, was to ‘invest’ an initial £400-£500 and buy a sim free one. Then after a year, or in my case sooner, I sell the phone on ebay, get around 75% of the money back and ‘reinvest’ in the newer model. I am on a Sim only contract so get loads of text and minutes and web access for £20 a month and can cancel whenever I like, as long as that whenever comes after a 30 day notice!

    This way I have no issues with branding, firmware updates, OTA updates etc, and because of this the Froyo update was available for my Desire from the get go.

     
  9. Rowan Parker Says:
    September 4th, 2010 at 11:35 am

    You said: “Hmm, why did I ditch the iPhone again?”.

    Then later you said: “Unlike users of a certain other phone, I’ve no need to fear that future updates will seek to punish my audacity in tweaking my own phone, by deliberately breaking it or disabling features.”

    Seems like you answered your own question.

     
  10. tekie Says:
    September 4th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Is there any chance of doing the same with Xperia X10. We lot are stuck in 1.6..its really frustrating. Any help with updating this monster will be appreciated.

     
  11. craig Says:
    September 4th, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I took the plunge a few weeks ago and debranded my Desire, it really did feel like an achievement, something for nothing, a word of warning a few guys I know have the new SLCD version rather than the AMOLED, if you flash the wrong ROM for your display you’ll reboot into a black screen, not pleasant!

     
  12. Ed Says:
    September 5th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    You do know O2 have now released 2.2 for their Desire handsets, it’s been available on XDA as the RUU file since last week. Having said that, this is why I don’t get operator locked phones anymore – had 2.2 on my Desire since it was released end of July

     
  13. tomble Says:
    September 6th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Dunno if I missed something but when I checked for system updates on my Desire it said there was a standard upgrade available from HTC to 2.2.

    I accepted the update, it warned me that Vodafone s/ware would be removed then went ahead with no problems.

    Now, it’s unbranded and working better than it was before. Did I miss something or are Vodafone handsets just not protected so much?

     
  14. Ian Hawkins Says:
    September 7th, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Inspired by this article I thought I would give this a try. It was a little scary, but I found that using unrevoked3 and then rommanager pretty much automated the process. The first Rom I tried was a vanilla Android OS, yuk! The second is neophyte’s version of froyo with sense, which was better. This morning it auto-updated to neophyte’s latest version and it’s terrific. I’m glad I took the plunge and am no longer dependent on t-mobile. Thanks.

     
  15. Mario Says:
    September 7th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Good for you, well done.
    I have been looking forward to Dell’s Streak for a while now but O2 has no idea when Android will be upgraded. ‘Soon’ is the best I can get out of them. I quite like Dell’s Streak. Imho, it takes 5′ screen at a minimum to do any serious regular surfing/emailing so Streak would be perfect but until they roll out Android upgrade and have Flash up and running I just see no point which is exactly what your review on pg. 36 says.

     
  16. James Bassett Says:
    September 7th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Strange thought processes going on there. The compare and contrast between Apple and Android seems entirely arse about faced. Apple make you wait until they have fully tested the updated and then push it out to you – exactly the same as O2. The only difference with Google/Android is that the option is there – at the owners risk – to update the handset straight away. Note the use of the word “owner”. O2 and Apple regard the device as theirs and won’t let you update their device until they are ready. A broken or open Android handset is yours to do with as you wish – at your own risk.

     
  17. JaitcH Says:
    September 7th, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    @James Bassett said: “Apple make you wait until they have fully tested the updated and then push it out to you …”

    Obviously Apple doesn’t “fully test” much what with Death_Grip; poor Bluetooth; etc.

    You might as well skip the testing and simply download it.

     

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