Android Phones: Crack? Chuck, replace, hack. Motorola Atrix 2

I’m writing this post to mostly remind myself of what I want to do with a Motorola Atrix 2 when I get my hands on one. IF YOU FOLLOW THIS POST, YOU ASSUME THE RISK. Not for the faint of heart, so pick a pro or stick with stock software  if you are concerned with voiding warranties or breaking your device.

Also be warned, Straight Talk/Net10 no longer provides AT&T compatible SIM’s, so the cost of a SIM can get high. Better luck with unlocked or T-Mobile devices, but what is really confusing me, is the 850/1900 band for data. That’s supposedly the 3G band for Straight Talk on the unlocked T-Mobile cards, but I’ve not tested it, as T-Mobile is 1700/2100 and I think another band as well. Net10 SIMs for AT&T phones are lots cheaper than the $60 on Straight Talk…

The story goes, my lovely fiance had dropped my old Samsung Galaxy S 4G (SGS4G), which I gave her so that I could introduce (ok, hook her) on how much better Android is, when compared to an AT&T generic smart(duh)phone. Needless to say, it worked.

A word about the SGS4G, and T-Mobile... Avoid T-Mobile.

Ever since I used it as my main phone, the SGS4G had actually been the worst Android device I have ever used. Not because of the hardware, but because of the carrier… I purchased it for $100, with a 2-year contract with T-Mobile. I had purchased this as a compromise, as they sold me an HTC HD7 by claiming it was an Android phone (and it was NOT). As T-Mobile was making the sale, they made promises as to the plan pricing on our recorded contract agreement. I was smart enough to record it. A month or two later, when I noticed my bill was VERY incorrect, I called T-Mobile, and received the standard “customer is always wrong” song. I played the recording to a supervisor, and the supervisor released me from contract.

The fun didn’t end there. I found that the prepaid T-Mobile plans were $65 a month for the same service I was paying $82 a month for. Because it didn’t make sense to pay more for the same service, I jumped to prepaid. As I soon found out, T-Mobile does not know how to enter billing information correctly, so my service was turned off, but somehow the full payment came out of my bank account. It gets worse.

I started receiving collections calls and notices, and my phone stopped working after having the prepaid account for eight months. This whole time, I call them and ask for supervisors like crazy. At this point, they are sitting on $140 of my money, and refuse to refund it. Further, when I ask them to substantiate the debt they are trying to collect on, they say “what debt?” A key part of the US’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires within 30 days of a request, to substantiate the debt. Otherwise, it is deemed as harassment, and is a fineable offence. T-Mobile clearly broke the law.

I was then forwarded to T-Mobile’s Executive Customer Relations representative, Gwen Powers [sp?]. This representative would speak over me, without asking why I called, and had said that T-Mobile does not provide refunds. Further, I asserted the aforementioned law in relation to the collections notice I receive. Guess what? She is unable to substantiate the debt, AND would not stop the collections notices. I asked for a receipt that itemizes the airtime and the tax, or a statement so that I could receive a refund from a third party. She also refused to provide that. I did manage to find my final bill on my post-paid account, which validated I owed T-Mobile nothing. In the end she hung up on me. I called her back, and when she answered, she hung up on me again.

The next day, she calls to advise my case is closed, sends a letter saying we could not meet an amicable resolution. I advise her, that as per the state laws in both the state where her office is located, and Alabama+Missouri, I was recording the calls (legally permissible under all three statutes, so long as the recording person is at least one party to the conversation). She drops the call.

A few days later, I receive a letter from T-Mobile’s Executive Customer Relations Legal team’s Dot Kellogg, who summarily “directs” me to cease and desist from harassment. What harassment? Recording the calls. Again, completely legal to record in all three states. My response, I sent T-Mobile a copy of my last statement on all three of my phone numbers that I ever had with T-Mobile, which had ZERO balances, along with a cease and desist notice of my own. I also advised that continued attempts to collect on a ficticious and unsubstantiated debt will result in me seeking legal actions against T-Mobile. I requested in the letter acknowledgement of receipt, and sent it certified to Dot Kellogg. Oddly enough someone else signed for it, and it was not responded to. Convenient!

I moved to Straight Talk’s Bring-your-own-device plan, popped the SIM card in the phone, and surprise, I was using T-Mobile’s towers, for $15 less than I was paying. Funny thing, my phone worked on Straight Talk, but T-Mobile had my account disabled, though I had been $140 in the positive… Long story short, stay away from T-Mobile.

About the phone: Single core. I had to root it to get a stable Android OS on it. GPS on both stock software, and custom software didn’t like to lock on. The highest OS version was Gingerbread, and there was a nasty habit of the phone soft-rebooting. She was using a Straight Talk AT&T SIM because of where she lives, where I used Straight Talk T-Mobile (and still do). The problem is, 3G/4G bands differ for AT&T and are not completely supported by the phone.  The new phone will be a lot better, as it supports AT&T’s network frequencies.

Step 1 was to order a Motorola Atrix 2 on eBay. The phone was physically bigger than both phones, but about the same weight. Nice rubber feel, and the seller that I picked was awesome. Cost? About $120.

Step 2 was to get root access once I received it. I used a one-click root tool to do this, with Android ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich – 4.0.4 / kernel 3.0.8). Here’s the link, but if any of the links within die, I’m saving a copy on my server (nonpublic for now) just in case… or not. I need to do some code monkeying on the server. To be clear, this does not necessarily work on other versions. You assume all risks by following these steps.

Step 3 was to verify root. To do that, I went to the Google Play store on the phone, downloaded Root Checker, and run the verification. I had to click “allow” on the superuser popup, but once that was done, it verified. Now it’s time to move to installing a recovery image.

Note - Under Revision
The next steps are mostly user preference. I am still experimenting, so I haven’t nailed down what I like yet, but will keep updating this post with more info as I learn it. I’m sure I will nail it down once my Atrix 2 and new SIM for Straight Talk AT&T comes in (yes, it’s that good of a phone, so I wanted one as well).

Step 3B is to download a couple of roms and such to your SD card’s root. Good practice, because you never know when you need it. You can thank me later.

Step 4 is to get a custom recovery image, to assist in loading a custom ROM. I am picking BMM Recovery. Compared to other Android phones and recoveries, this is stupid simple to install. Apparently nothing to flash. :)

Click for instructions that I scraped up from XDA, sorta.

  1. Go to Google Play on your device.
  2. Search for “Boot Menu Manager.” The vendor is Whirleyes.
  3. Install it.
  4. Go get Root Browser from Google Play as well (or your favorite root-capable file manager). My fave is Astro, but it’s a bit of a pain. Open it, agree and stuff, then exit
  5. Go get a text editor from Google Play. I used Jota+.  Open it, agree, and exit.
  6. Once installed, run your file manager, and navigate to /etc/bmm/conf
  7. In Astro, long-press recovery.fstab, then click open as, then Text. Choose your text editor app you want to use. Other file managers will vary.
  8. The last line of the file will look like: /int vfat /dev/block/mmcblk1p25
    Change ‘vfat’ to ‘auto’ and ‘mmcblk1p25′ to ‘userdata’
    Result: /int auto /dev/block/userdata
    (For the geeks, the Atrix 2 does not have an internal storage partition)
  9. Save and close it. If you have to, like with Jota not getting superuser permissions passed, save it as another file somewhere, then copy it in to the proper location, overwriting the old file. Works.
  10. TIPS:FIRST back up your CIQ file. Boot to Recovery by tapping the android, then tap recovery. Let  it load. Tap firmware flashing. Tap backup CID. Hell, while you’re at it, back the whole thing up. Never hurts. I am reminded of the days of “nandroid” backups on the first phone (the G1). Time for a snack… Now reboot when finished.On the first reboot, tap the android, go to Settings, System_2, Partition Setup, and tap ACTIVATE. This formats the CDROM partition to ext2. Go back two steps, then select any other system from 3-6. Pick Partition Setup, then system.img. Tap on create, select the size, create it. Go back and do the same with data.img and cache.img. Once done, go back and select recovery, then switch system. Choose your system that you created the images for, the color will change, and you can install any rom.BMM stores the images in internal memory: /int/clockworkmod/virtual/system_X. Since we don’t have EMMC, doing a factory reset will toast all of your other roms, so be very careful, and keep a good backup.

    Use ONLY systems 3-6 for custom roms. System 2 is “CDROM. You activate it, and don’t touch it.

    Do not install this if you have used A2 Bootstrapper. Bootloops are bad, ok? :)

    Create your system, cache, and data.img under system 3 4 5 or 6…. Assign 300, 300, and 500 or better. I was a little more generous to data, but not sure if system ever needed more. I will have to tinker with it.

Step 5 is the actual custom rom installation, which we downloaded earlier. I am using DirtyUnicorn, or one of the other AOKP roms that work with BMM. Some phones don’t like kexec, but we won’t go into that here. Instructions here:

Also, install Gapps. When done, reboot to System_3, and do some major finger crossing…

Step 6 is to log in to accounts and install miscellaneous apps, and enjoy the phone!

Note: Custom ROMs are by no means bugless, but often they are more stable, and more bugless than the stock phones that the carriers provide. For a CyanogenMod supported device, the performance is almost bulletproof. Rom install was a pain in my butt. You want external storage. The volume rocker lets you select the zip file location to install. The power confirms it on the file selector.

Note 2: After I wrote this, I encountered a problem with the CID. Be sure to store the CID backup image on the root of your SD Card. You may need to dig in /int/Data/Clockworkmod/Backups or …./firmware…. Backups are important, otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to de-brick your device with RSD Lite….