Upgrade your Android phone for free with CyanogenMod 7
I thought I was going to have to ditch my HTC Wildfire and upgrade expensively to something more powerful, but I found a way to squeeze better performance out of a phone locked by the manufacturer to encourage people to spend more money.
I’m not big on gadgets. I spend most of my time fixing problems caused by technology and my disdain for the arms race the mobile phone marketplace has become means I have only ever owned two mobile phones: one in the ’90s and one in the ’00s (a Panasonic and a Samsung. I couldn’t tell you which models).
So perhaps it was the dawn of a new decade which led me to decide I could no longer live without instant all-day access to e-mail and social computing tools on the move. Having seen the Samsung go through the washing machine, survive and limp on for another 18 months, I’d kept an eye on smartphone developments. The convergence of photography, video and GPS navigation were the main attractions. Vodafone’s Text And Web Freebee meant I could get web access for less than £10 a month – a significant increase on my current use as I’m not a big talker, viewing a phone as a convenience rather than a necessity – and when I saw Phones4U offering the HTC Wildfire for around £120, I picked one up at their Strand shop.
I spent the following weeks getting to know it. With a 600MHz processor, it was slower than the HTC Desires and iPhones sported by friends. The only application, I bought was music player PowerAmp which plays lossless FLAC format music files. Coupled with Last.fm‘s scrobbler, this automatically updates my listening history.
In the beginning, performance was good. Early problems saw PowerAmp locking up when syncing my Yahoo Mail or if Seesmic attempted to update my Twitter stream, necessitating a reboot. Things worsened over the summer after I installed the huge Google+ client application.
Removing as many applications as I could resulted in some improvements and I found myself wondering why I couldn’t get rid of the unused apps in HTC Sense which I found useless: stock price updates, Quick Office… none of which I used.
The release of version 2.3 of the Android operating system, Gingerbread, in the summer also passed me by. It wasn’t until I was marvelling at the interface sported by a friend’s HTC Sensation that it occurred to me I was missing out. Checking the latest HTC phones, I found Gingerbread wasn’t an option for the Wildfire, now replaced by the Wildfire S, which did have Gingerbread. Likewise the original HTC Desire.
Would I be compelled to upgrade a mere six months on? While I didn’t fancy shelling out £400 for the Sensation, even a Wildfire S would leave me around £100 out of pocket, going by the Wildfire’s current resale value.
I soldiered on for a couple of months, but some questions kept bothering me. If Android is an open platform, why can’t I upgrade it? And why can’t I remove applications I don’t need?
Several years ago, I improved the user interface of my Archos FM Recorder by replacing the operating system with RockBox. Perhaps something similar is available for Android phones?
Upon investigation I found all these things were possible. There is a thriving community of dedicated modifiers dedicated to improving user experience. One of the most popular is CyanogenMod, the new stable release 7.1 based on Android 2.3.7 had been made available a few days earlier.
The upgrade process was involved, but the steps are well documented. You cannot omit any of them.
The improvement was instantaneous and way beyond my expectations. Navigation responds more quickly, PowerAmp no longer freezes, applications work better. And I’m not the only one surprised by CyanogenMod7‘s effectiveness.
Further improvements are possible. Repartition your SD cards so you can install applications onto them, which stops your phone filling up and slowing down.
There have been some hiccups – it took me over two weeks to get GPS working again by reflashing the radio component – but there is a vast amount of information on-line and a supportive community who answer questions (as long as they haven’t been asked too many times before).
I’m looking forward to future improvements. After all, the Wildfire has a lot to live up to if it’s going to make it to 2020’s.
joesph · July 22, 2012 at 11:57 pm
I would like to do more with my phone
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