Thursday, August 16, 2012

Android 4.0 on older hardware

Unlike a PC, cell phone hardware is very proprietary and differs widely between handsets. While it's possible to install Windows 7 or Fedora Linux on any PC, it's not possible to simply download and install Android Jelly Bean on an arbitrary handset. You're relying on the kindness of both the manufacturer and your carrier to provide updates specific to your handset. Yet traditionally, manufacturers and carriers refuse to release Android updates for existing handsets. There's usually no technical limitation for this; they just prefer that you buy a new handset and renew your contract, while blaming each other for the lack of support.

One of Virgin Mobile's top-tier Android handsets is the Motorola Triumph. (It's the first time I've seen the ™ character in a URL.) It's the phone I use. This phone was released in June 2011—a bit over a year ago. They still offer it online and in stores; today it's listed online for $229, after a $50 rebate. (These days you can snag it on eBay for just about $70.) It came with Android 2.2 (Froyo), and that's the official version to this day! Motorola+Virgin ignored Android 2.3, Android 4.0, and now Android 4.1.

However, thanks to the hard work of the developer community, I now run Android 4.0.4 on it. This is a volunteer effort to integrate the new releases of the open source Android operating system with existing hardware. These developers breathe new life into existing hardware; this deserves my admiration and support. (I donated to the project.)

The phone's hardware remains powerful enough to run this version quickly and smoothly. The only downside that affects me is that the camera doesn't work yet. Supposedly HDMI doesn't work either. But everything else appears to work!

This is one of the reasons that I went with and remain with Android, rather than iOS or Windows Phone. All three are very capable mobile operating systems, but Android is unique in that it's open source and very well supported both by Google and by outside developers. It reminds me of the developer friendliness of WebOS. (Does anyone still remember it?)

If you have a Motorola Triumph, I recommend the MT-DEV CM9 ROM, which gives you Android 4.0.4. Flashing the ROM is very straightforward; I've already flashed a new version of Android onto my phone no fewer than three times without any issues.

For $70 one time plus $30/mo, you can end up with a great phone running Android Ice Cream Sandwich (or Gingerbread with a working camera; take your pick), 300 voice minutes per month, unlimited texting, and 2.5 GB/mo of Sprint's 3G data—all with no contract.