Upgrading Huawei u8100 Android

My smartphone is a low-end Android device, a Huawei u8100.  It came with the Android version known as Eclair, 2.1.  But I have started to see applications come out that I cannot install because – as Android has improved to Froyo 2.2, Gingerbread 2.3, and Honeycomb – the operating system on the phone has fallen behind.

There is a lot of information on how to do this but I was reluctant in case I bricked my phone.  I primarily use it as an information tool and for music, but I do like to have the ability to make a phone call occasionally.  I have a handful of apps that I use but it’s a pretty basic, Wi-fi-enabled phone.

Rooting the Android Phone

The first thing was to root the phone, or to take over control of the operating system.  This language will be familiar to Linux users, since root is a term of art for the person who can do anything on a machine.  There were a number of tools discussed on the Web but I hit pay dirt with this anonymous author’s post on how to upgraded an Android Huawei u8100!  He recommended a tool called Clockworkmod and his instructions on how to install it worked perfectly.    Download and unzip the file to create a folder.  Boot your phone following the instructions and then run the update file.

You should watch out for viruses.  I ran into a few files that had legitimate content but that my anti-virus found had hitchhiking malware.  No big deal once they were cleaned from the .zip files.

Then I expanded the file into a folder so that I could run the upgrade program.  I followed the recommendations to wipe data and cache.  This means you will lose everything you have on the phone (not your SD card), so back up your information and write down whatever apps you need.

Choosing Your Upgrade

His initial instructions explain how to upgrade to the Cyanogen mod.  That is a dated link.  In fact, by the time you read this, probably all links to any particular mod will be dated.  He links to this extensive set of possible mods for the u8100, which I visited as well.  The mods by anryl seem to be pretty solid and I looked at the 14-10 version, which you can download here.  I upgraded my phone to 14-10 but found that the navigation didn’t work (the small house, the Menu option, and the back button).  I went back to the list of ROMS and, after reading through some threads, ended up selecting CM7 by VladRamm.

I was a bit stuck here.  Because of the problems with 14-10, I couldn’t access my SD card.  Windows 7 also didn’t recognize it, so I couldn’t mount it as a USB drive.  I ended up popping the SD card out and, using an adapter, plugging it directly into the Windows PC as a USB drive.  I could then drop the CM7 zip file onto the SD card, and place it back in the phone.  I repeated the steps to install from an SD card and rebooted.

The CM7 mod appears to be a bit more polished.  My experience with it on the u8100 has been very smooth.  Everything works as expected and my challenges have mostly been to finding where the functions have moved within Gingerbread (2.3.7).  The OS seems slightly slower but not significantly so.  The battery and wi-fi functions seem about the same.   One weird side affect with this mod is that your phone now says its a Huawei u8120.

Successful Upgrade, Benefits

The whole process took about 30 minutes, including upgrading two separate mods.  Then I spent another hour or so reinstalling apps and reconfiguring.  Another healthy sign of using the CM7 mod was that it went through the normal Google setup screens on the first boot.

One benefit of upgrading and having root access is that I can access additional functions on the phone.  For example, I have the ability to access tools to overclock the phone, and there is a Root explorer that provides a file manager that looks just like browsing a Linux file system.  Which helped, because you can use it to access your SD card by going into the /mnt folder and seeing  the contents of your memory card, just as you would see a mounted drive in Linux.

Other nice benefits of updating:

  • shift to a PIN for lock screen security rather than a pattern;
  • ability to take a screenshot is built-in;
  • the u8100’s weak camera functionality is enhanced with the ability to zoom;
  • the option to place any app on either your internal memory or on your SD card (under the Settings > Application area);

It also meant I could use some of the improved apps that have come out for later versions of Android, including Google Voice Search and Microsoft’s OneNote Mobile app.  The only apps that I have not gotten to work are bar code apps – any of them.  They hang as they try to connect to the camera, and I’m not sure why.  This isn’t a big deal to me since they didn’t work well before because of the lack of focus on the basic camera.  I was glad to see that the Dolphin Companion battery saver worked after the upgrade.  It was a great way to extend battery life under 2.1 and I’d like to see what the difference is with it installed on 2.3.7.

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