Motorola Droid: Four Month Update

The Motorola Droid has been an intresting experiment.  Basically just a small handheld computer, an Android phone loads a very small version of Linux, upon which you load all of your apps.  Part of it reminds me of the old days of DOS, when you had to watch your memory usage and fit as much as you could onto a floppy disk.

Android phones are no different than those old DOS computers I mentioned: you have to be careful to not overload your phone with too many apps, and not to run too many processes that could drag your phone down.  That old excitement of trying different combinations of applications and experimenting has returned!

Read on to share in my adventures with the Droid over the past few months.

One thing that some Android owners are doing is “rooting” their phones.  This is a Linux term for giving yourself “root,” or “superuser,” access to the phone, meaning you have full read/write/execute access to everything on the phone.  You have a lot more control over what you can do in terms of loading apps and the operating system.

Yes, like a computer, you can actually upload different parts of the Android system.  You can change your kernel, which allows you to overclock your phone’s CPU.  You can also load what Android users call a ROM, which is like a new graphical interface on top of the kernel.  There are also some themes out there that let you further change the appearance, and launchers that let you better control and organize your home screens.

I have gone through combinations of different ROMs, kernels and launchers and have settled on a nice combination…for now.  As different builds improve, any of us could jump ship to another ROM in a matter of minutes.  Choosing a ROM is based more on what extra features you like, and with some ROMs, you also get a boost in performance (overclocking) and a new visual theme.  For the most part, ROMs are a personal preference.

My original reason for rooting the Droid and installing a new ROM was to get the new 2.2 version of Android, also called Froyo.  The Froyo upgrade had some performance improvements I was eager to get, improved Google utilities, and other interface upgrades that made it a much-anticipated upgrade by most Droid diehards.  Since the Android OS is open source, anyone can download the source code, improve on it, then compile their own build of it.   With the source files for Froyo available before the wireless carriers decided to push updates out to the phones, the ROM community took advantage of this and released their own versions.

My first adventure was to download RSDLite to flash a new recovery ROM, SPRecovery, onto the phone.  This is like a very simple text-based shell that you can use to load new ROMs onto the phone.  I chose the Bugless Beast v0.4 ROM for my first try at a new ROM, and it worked well.  The ROM itself was very stable (no crashes), and it added a few extra features.  BBv0.4 was slightly overclocked from the stock ~550MHz up to 800MHz.  My next trick was to download one of the low-voltage P3 kernels, which offered seven different speeds (from 125MHz up to 1200MHz).  I have not had the best of luck running at a full bore 1200MHz (and 1250MHz was even more crash-prone), but the phone is stable at 1100MHz.

Since I had heard a lot about the Cyanogenmod ROM, and with CM6.0-RC3 being newly released (based on the FRG01B build of Froyo, which is the “official” Froyo that Verizon pushed out to Droid phones), I decided to try it.   Well…it works fine and appears to be stable, but there are still a couple of unfinished pieces and/or minor bugs.  My favorite feature was the status LED color change.  You could assign a different color to the different types of notifications so, without having to turn the phone on, you could see exactly what kind of message was waiting.  One common problem is that the LED does not flash–it’s a bug, and it’s being worked on.

So, I decided to try Chevy’s Simply Stunning 4.7 ROM.  I am running it right now, and it is very stable.  The theme is sort of a blue-on-black motif, and it adds a few extras.  If it had the multicolor LED modification, it’d be ideal.  Chevy also has kernels, and I’m about to try one of those as well.  (I’m using the low-voltage P3 kernel that runs from 250MHz to 1100MHz, which gives a lot of useful steps in speed between.)

For a launcher, ADW has improved to the point where I like using it over the default Android launcher.  ADW 1.1 gives you more flexiblity than the standard launcher–you can have up to seven home screens, and you can specify the number of icons (in columns and rows) on each screen.  The stock Android screen has room for 16 icons, but I’ve bumped that up to 20 (4 columns, 5 rows).  You can alternately hide or reveal the status bar at the top.  For those seven home screens, you can add/delete/move them around.   There are numerous other enhancements in ADW, and it is well worth a look.

My Droid is a bit more peppy than most out there, and all of it is due to the high-quality ROMs and kernels out there.  I’m glad I made the choice to root the phone and run my own customizations on it.  In another new article coming soon, I’ll outline some of the apps I’ve round in recent weeks, along with some neat tricks and tips I’ve learned.

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