Let’s talk about phones. Yes that massive hunk of expensive junk that lives in your pocket that probably isn’t going to last long before you savagely replace it with a “fantastic shiny new model”.
Now I’m a fine one to talk
In fact you could probably call me a hypocrite because I bought a Google Pixel XL 128GB on pre-order day. Very recently, it had to go back to them due to shockingly poor battery performance, so I’m back to using my Cubot Note S which I bought for approximately 92.7% less.
I’ve always been under the impression of you get what you pay for
If it’s cheap there’s a reason for it, that’s a common sense fact ingrained into our brains from a very young age. For me, I would never spend under £400 on a laptop because anything lower than that is what I would view as cheap rubbish. Android though is an open source project, so while the devices may not be free, the software is!
I think it’s ludicrous that the likes of Google and Apple are charging £1,000 when I can build a computer or a high-end spec laptop which would both be much more powerful for that at the same price. It would kind of be acceptable to charge that price if IU was buying something just as powerful, but I’m not so it’s not…
£500 would be what I would deem as a reasonable price for most phones these days given top-end specs of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 128GB of storage space and at least 4GB of RAM. I’m pretty sure most people would agree with me. The Oneplus 5T (pictured right) delivers these specs for £449 and will have the latest version of Android too. It is however out of stock at the moment, suggesting the launch of the oneplus 6 is iniment.
With great power comes great responsibility
Android has a special feature, it’s called rooting and it’s ridiculously powerful! With a rooted device you can overclock the processor to make it faster, flash a custom ROM if you don’t like the operating system, improve battery performance by undervolting and truly customise your device the way you like.
Rooting can however be risky if you don’t follow the instructions correctly. You could end up bricking your device, this is when the device refuses to turn on leaving you with essentially a brick, hence the term of course. If you’re stupid enough to not make a backup, you could also end up bricking it as well. To put it simply, you have the power to break your phone, so be careful because your warranty can’t and most certainly won’t save you now!
I would like to point out that the following steps that I am about to highlight are purely things that I have done to my phone. it is not a guide to improve your own device nor a recommendation on what you should do if you do not like your device. I cannot accept responsibility or be held liable if you also decide to proceed or recreate any steps in this blog post. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
So can I make a rubbish phone good?
The Cubot Note S is by definition a decent device if you don’t mind the lack of fingerprint scanner, storage space, NFC and 4G connectivity… When I bought it back in August 2016, it cost me a mere £60. Its purpose was to serve as a temporary device after my Sony Xperia M2 died before the Pixel launched. Using it was bearable, if not a little bit annoying.
Okay I lied, it was rubbish. The software was dreadful and full of bloatware, the camera produced sub-par pictures with poor colour reproduction and blurriness and also it was just really really slow! I of course didn’t mind this so much considering its cheap price tag and the fact that I didn’t have to use it that long, however if I’d had to use it in its current state for any longer, then I’d probably want to chuck it out of a window or smash it with a rather large hammer.
The first thing I did was install TWRP
TWRP is a custom recovery operating system. It allows you to take backups of your device, recover these and even flash operating systems to your phone. It’s in my opinion a much better alternative to ABD which allows you to flash directly from the command line of your computer. Sure you have to flash TWRP and still go through the delightful process of unlocking your bootloader, but after that, the process is super simple. Of course on the Cubot Note S, there are absolutely no consequences of unlocking your bootloader apart from voiding your warranty.
Then I backed up my current installation
Which surprisingly didn’t take as long as I thought it would. Within 300 seconds, I had a complete backup of my phone minus of course the SD card, which I had already backed up earlier that day.
I then tried to flash a ROM
And it failed spectacularly. My phone got stuck in a bootloop because the ROM was all wrong. I was however able to restore my device because I wasn’t stupid enough not to make a backup. The next time I downloaded AOKP, which is short for the Android Open Kang Project. AOKP is of course a play on words of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and Kang which is slang for stolen code. Needless to say it worked absolutely perfectly, apart from the fact that it took ages to boot up, but that was only the first time that I booted the phone up of course. To my surprise, the operating system was almost exactly the same as what I had on my pixel when I first received it.
Next I had to get rid of those God damn awful blob emojis
The blob emojis, for those who are uninitiated in legacy Android, are by far the worst emojis ever… Okay I did kind of like them in Android N, but they were improved so vastly in Oreo. I want to hurl now every time I see one of their blobby little faces… Thankfully there is a solution and you guessed it, it’s another zip file. Honestly what would we do without the XDA forum?
But with a TWRP enabled device, you could use non-native emojis like IOS emojis or the discord ones if you so wish.
Finally I rooted it
After verifying that I hadn’t installed a ROM that was absolute garbage and sorting out the stupid emojis, I decided to root my phone to increase processor speed. Again I launched back into TWRP recovery and installed the SuperSU.zip file, cleared the cache and rebooted. It took quite a while to reboot, so I pulled the battery and started the phone normally, which to my seemed to work.
So to answer the question…
Yes, well at least I can make it semi-decent software wise at least. I must admit, there wasn’t much I could do about the lack of 4G and NFC connectivity without ripping out the motherboard and fitting it with another one. The phone will probably burn a hole in my pocket due to the heat that it’s running at too. Saying that I have been impressed that I could install Android 7.1.2 on a pretty low-end device and furthermore have all the software features of my pixel for 92.7% less of the price!
Maybe if I had a phone with a bit more processing power and more storage space, I’d have been able to upgrade the ROM to a 8.1 Oreo, but Nougat is a good enough anyway! The phone would probably run a bit cooler too as I wouldn’t have needed to clock the processor speed quite so high. A higher spec phone would also have NFC meaning I could use Google Pay like I did with my pixel.
So next time you look at the snazzy new models with an eye-watering prices, think about buying a cheaper one and installing the latest version of android yourself.