I can haz Android root! And it was easy!

This morning I finally rooted my Droid Incredible! One-handed, even! (Dislocated finger hidden by massive splint.)

This morning, before I even had my tea, I finally jumped off a cliff I’d been avoiding: I rooted my Android phone (Droid Incredible).

I’ve had this phone for a year. Generally I like it, but the things I don’t like about it mostly seemed to be fixable if I rooted my phone.

Rooting means undoing the controls that the carrier and manufacturer place on how my phone operates…

Some of that is done to reduce the risk that I might accidentally damage my phone — but much of this is so they can make more money by loading my phone with bloatware (some of which I couldn’t uninstall or even turn off!) or charging me for tethering. Both of which, IMHO, are bullshit unethical business practices.

Why was this scary?  And why did I do it?

I rely heavily on my cell phone. It’s my only phone, and it’s a pretty sophisticated and potentially fragile device.

If you root your Android phone and it breaks or bricks (I had a traumatic bricking experience in 2008 with a Nokia N95), you may violate its warranty — which means the carrier or manufacturer may not replace it. Which means I’d have to shell out big bucks for a new smartphone, since I need to have a phone.

But I’d finally had enough…

Four about the fourth time in a year, my phone malfunctioned due to being “low on space” — despite that I’d purchased a much larger SD storage card and used Apps2SD to move everything possible onto it, freeing up the phone’s built-in memory. The culprit is a known bug in many HTC phones that inflates my phone’s Contacts Storage to gargantuan proportions (over 53 MB for me yesterday).

Every HTC phone forum is filled with people complaining about this bug. It can be fixed — for a while — by exporting your contacts to the SD card as a backup, deleting your Contacts Storage data, and then reimporting. That process takes me over an hour, during which I can’t use my phone for anything else or it halts the restore and I have to start over.

Annoying. And after a year, it seems HTC doesn’t care to get around to fixing it.

It seems one way to fix it, for good, is to root the phone and then install a custom ROM (modified version of the Android OS, which would replace the “HTC Sense” flavor of Android that came with my phone) such as CyanogenMod. I’ve now made substantial progress down that path.

How I rooted my Droid Incredible using Unrevoked3

Following guidance from Lifehacker, I learned yesterday that there’s a simple and now well-established way to root the Droid Incredible and several other popular HTC phones: Unrevoked3. It’s a free download. I Googled around and saw many people singing its praises, so it seemed reputable and about as safe as a rooting tool can be.

So I slept on this decision, and I followed the steps suggested by Stever Robbins in his recent podcast, How to face your fears. (Really, it’s good. Give it a listen.)

First thing this morning I went for it: I used Unrevoked3 to root my Droid Incredible.

The phone process took about 15 minutes, and I didn’t have to do much — just hook up my phone to my laptop in charge-only mode with USB debugging turned on, and let it do its thing.

The process quit partway on first try, which concerned me. But I carefully disconnected and then reconnected my phone, relaunched Unrevoked3, and started over. It worked seamlessly on the second try. Whew!

What I did after rooting my phone

Safety first! Immediately after my phone was rooted, I downloaded Titanium backup, widely considered to be a must-have’ for every rooted Android user. I also sprang for the $6.88 to get my Pro Key for it. I used Titanium to back up absolutely everything on my phone, so if through further monkeying I broke my phone, I could restore it to a condition that worked.

Titanium also lets you delete, uninstall, or freeze any app or service on your phone. One really annoying thing about much HTC/Verizon bloatware is that these programs not only can’t be uninstalled, but some of them (like Stocks, CityID, and Skype Mobile) keep auto-launching even if I turn them off! How obnoxious is that????

Generally I think it’s safer to uninstall programs rather than delete them, because you never know how they really interact with other stuff, and finding and downloading the right stuff to reinstall if necessary can be a hassle.

I uninstalled these bloatware apps:

  • Car panel 1.0
  • City ID 1.0.23
  • Facebook for htc sense 1.0
  • Flashlight 1.0
  • Friend stream 1.0
  • Friend stream 1.0 widget
  • HTC Sense live wallpapers 1.00
  • live wallpaper picker 2.2
  • Magic smoke wallpapers 2.2
  • Mail widget 1.00
  • Music visualization wallpapers 2.2
  • News 1.0
  • Peep 2.0
  • Slacker 2.1.14
  • Stocks 2.00
  • Stocks widget 1.00
  • Teeter 1.00
  • V cast apps 1.0.14
  • Visual VM 1.13
  • 3G mobile hotspot 1.0
I also uninstalled the HTC services for checkin, mail, and stocks

In addition I “froze” these apps and widgets, so they can’t be launched:

  • Mail 2.00
  • Skype mobile
  • Footprints 1.10
  • Footprints widget 1.00
  • FM radio 1.00
  • FM radio widget 1.00

When I got this far, for good measure I powered down and restarted my phone, just to make sure everything was working — and to see which apps and services would automatically launch. I was pleased to see that no more bloatware was auto-launching!

I can haz tethering, too! (so far)

“Tethering” is when you use your phone as a wireless modem to supply a data connection for a laptop or other device using your wireless carrier’s data network. Google includes this function with the plain vanilla (“stock”) version of Android.

Unfortunately U.S. carriers disable tethering, so they can force you to pay them a monthly fee ($20 or more) for tethering as if it’s some kind of “extra” service — not something they crippled.

This is unreasonable, rapacious bullshit. If I’m paying for a data plan, why should they care which device is the end user of that data?

There have been several Android apps to supply wireless tethering on unrooted phones, but recently carriers have started cracking down on wireless tethering apps.

So I downloaded and installed the free Wifi Tether app for rooted Android phones, and enabled access control in the settings (so I could control which devices connect to my phone).

Then I shut down my home wifi router and looked under the Airport wifi modem menu on my Macbook Pro. There was my phone! I connected to my phone’s wifi from my laptop, then approved that device on the app on my phone, and ta-da! There my laptop was connected to the internet! I repeated the process with my Macbook Air.

In neither case did my phone pop up a warning from Verizon that they wanted to charge me for tethering — something that did happen to ReadWriteWeb. So, as far as I can tell at this point, I can do free tethering from my phone.

I don’t expect to need tethering very often, but I think it’s an important option to have. I have to do a lot of work when I’m traveling, or running around town, and free or reliable wifi isn’t always available. Also, my VPN service Witopia sometimes doesn’t work on soe wifi connections, and connecting via my carrier’s data network is more secure than being on open wifi.

What’s next

I’m still investigating which custom ROM would be best for my phone. I’ll probably do that at some point, since that will probably fix that Contact Storage bug once and for all.

But so far, for now, I’m a much happier Android user now that I’ve gone root.

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