The Droid Saga, Episode III: Rescue Of the ROMs

The Droid Saga

Episode III: Rescue Of the ROMs

It is a period of uncertainty on Bill’s Droid. Having been tempted by the power of Android 2.2, he manually installed Verizon’s pushed build of Android 2.2 FRG01B.

The networking stack was buggy and Verizon ceased the push immediately — but the damage was done:  the Droid was crippled. The Droid was eventually flashed back to Android 2.1 and then a “factory build” of Android 2.2 FRG22 was installed.

Peace returned to Bill’s Droid, but rumblings of discord continued. The Droid was now rooted, and the enormous power this represented could not be ignored …

Wireless Tether

I can’t adequately stress the sheer utility of Wireless Tether on the Droid. Now, no matter where I go, I can get on the Internet via any device capable of WiFi.

I also can’t stress just how well this works. If the Droid is itself connected to WiFi, tethered devices use WiFi; connected to 3G, tethered devices use 3G. Bandwidth is limited by the Droid’s upstream connection and/or the bandwidth limitations of WiFi.

This really works, something I had occasion to discover in a very concrete way.

As I mentioned previously, WiFi seemed a bit flaky under FRG22. It was better than craptastic FRG01B, but not as good as Android 2.1. It seemed possible that the networking stack was still buggy. To know for sure, the Droid would need a different networking stack.

ROM Manager

Enter ROM Manager, a program that makes installing different custom ROMs on rooted Droids a dream.

I’ve flashed ROMs on other devices. It generally goes well, but on the occasions when it goes badly, it usually goes very badly. I’ve bricked a phone doing it, and I’ve no desire to brick a second. I certainly couldn’t afford a new one right now.

Consequently, I’ve not flashed ROMs on my Droid. However, I’m now confident enough to at least bring it back to FRG22 that I decided to see if ROM Manager was as good as the Market description says.

It is. In fact, it entirely exceeds my expectations about what ROM management software can do. In fact, I’m not even going to post instructions for using it. They would be: download it from the market to your rooted Android device. Follow the instructions. It will reboot a few times when you make changes, usually warning you when it will do so.

Otherwise, just watch the text streaming past as ROMs install.

In a few minutes, the Droid was running the most recent release candidate of Cyanogen: version 6.0.0 RC2.

The utility involved in this ROM is fantastic. I have no idea how it stacks up against other ROMs, and I’m not likely to find out soon.

I might have, but after going to this ROM, WiFi was considerably better, but still not as good as Android 2.1. Furthermore, the 3G connection was really fast. Not HD video streaming fast, but much faster than under 2.1 or FRG22.

As I mulled over the possibility of a different ROM, there was another in a series of massive thunderstorms in central Iowa, USA. It was during this that I found the real culprit.

On two occasions, I’ve accidentally fallen behind far enough on my cable payment that the cable company cut my Internet connectivity. Because of how the network operates, this isn’t immediately apparent unless you power-cycle your router.

The router (and everything else in the house) power-cycled repeatedly during the thunderstorm as power blinked or was lost for a period of several minutes. When it seemed stable again and I started powering on my computing equipment, nothing would connect to the Internet. A quick check of the router revealed I was now on the cable company’s private network, which had only occurred before when they’d turned me off.

A quick check of my cable company’s Web site (via my Droid-tethered laptop) revealed that yes, I’d allowed my bill to go unpaid that long. A quick check of my bank’s Web site (also via tether) revealed what I already knew: that my unemployment-era bank account wouldn’t have the money to pay for reconnection and the back balance until Friday morning.

The reality is that my home network was stuck without bandwidth for at least a week. I could survive if everything except my laptop has no bandwidth. However, as an IT professional, my work and employability is badly impacted without a near-constant Internet connection.

Leave it to the Droid to save the day.

With the newfound 3G speeds combined with WiFi tethering, my laptop now had access to the 3G network. It’s not the 20MB of my cable connection, but it’s good enough to do work.

In fact, it’s so good that I’ve started to look at the feasibility of adding a second Android device to my Verizon account and dedicating it solely to WiFi tethering. With an Android device dedicated to WiFi tethering, I could eliminate the cable and its bill.

Technically, the drawback is significantly-decreased bandwidth. This has a drawback for me personally:

For more than two years, I’ve not turned on my TV except to use it as a monitor for a computer or game console. The only time it’s used as a TV are when my daughters visit, and summer visitation just ceased. They won’t be back in the house for months, so it’s just me.

(I’m unclear:  how disconnected with the TV culture does it make me that I was unaware that several channels considered important by teenage girls had really bad reception?  Furthermore, that when I looked at it and realized the cause was physical connectivity upstream, that my first thought was that it was probably decreasing my bandwidth?)

All my entertainment is via the Internet. I watch YouTube and Hulu a lot. If I find something I particularly like, I typically acquire it. When the BBC airs new episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood, or The Sarah Jane Adventures, I have new HD episodes within a couple of hours of transmission thanks to BitTorrent.

(I’ve even kept up on the K-9 TV series, but I’ve yet to force myself to watch all the episodes. It’s not bad, just a bit too much of a children’s show. The Whoniverse will work with a children’s show like The Sarah Jane Adventures, but K-9 just feels forced.)

In any case, a decision to go 100% wireless means my sole entertainment source would be curtailed. I’m not sure I want to pull that trigger.

It’s technically feasible, however — possibly even financially so. If one purchased a newer, fastier, sexier Android device for personal use (Droid X, I’m thinking of you!), then the Droid could be flashed with a very simple, stripped-down ROM with only the WiFi tether app constantly running.

Oh, did I mention that the Droid can also do firewalling with DroidWall?

It’s true that Verizon is basically giving away a wireless tether device, the MiFi 2200. Unfortunately, it’s attached to their idiotic limited data plans. The smartphone data plan is unlimited.

The fact that this is so eminently possible proves the general utility of the Android platform. There’s no technical reason that one couldn’t produce a WiFi router using it.

In fact, if some bright cookie really thought about it, they’d mass-produce an Android device to do just that, only with one or more wired network connections.

At present, I’m crunching numbers. I probably won’t go through with it, particularly if I find a job that will easily pay my cable bill. I prefer 20MB/s on a largely empty spur of a cable modem infrastructure. Short of a job, this is a high-utility, low-cost way for an individual have high-speed Internet connectivity at the cost of a Verizon unlimited data plan.

Would that my power company was so eminently exploitable in terms of reducing one’s bill — though I’m also crunching numbers for converting most of the appliances and lighting in the house to USB