This week in Mobile News Manor #21: Unrooting the EVO 4G

This is a peek into a technology writer’s home office, aka Mobile News Manor, discussing gadgets, apps, best practices using same, and ebooks. This week I unrooted my smartphone, a scary process.

One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair amount of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.

This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.

Unrooting the smartphone

My attention was turned unexpectedly this week to my faithful HTC EVO 4G. The EVO is still serving me wonderfully, and a year after its release it can still compete well against newer smartphones. I admit I have been running my EVO with a custom ROM for most of the time, which means it was rooted early on. This week information was leaked that HTC and Sprint were about to release the official Gingerbread update over-the-air (OTA), and as we know rooted phones don't get those updates. This sent me on the path of unrooting the phone to get ready for the update.

For those unfamiliar with the process, rooting a phone is necessary to gain superuser status. This is required to allow access to system functions, which is needed to apply custom ROMs to replace the one the phone ships with. There are a number of reasons folks do that, in my case it was to get faster performance than was possible with the stock ROM originally.

For most phones, and the EVO was no different, rooting a phone is fairly easy. The trick comes when you want to unroot the phone, which sets it back to factory condition. Most OTA updates check for this and fail if a rooted phone is detected, so unrooting is necessary to get official updates. My adventure in unrooting the EVO had some scary moments, as these things sometimes do.

Getting ready for the official update consisted of four steps:

  1. Flash the ROM with an unroot utility
  2. Check the ROM to make sure it really unrooted, an important step as it turns out
  3. Flash the ROM with a pure stock version to put it back into factory condition
  4. Apply any official OTA updates that have been issued since the stock ROM was created

These steps vary for each model of phone, so if you are running a rooted phone and wish to undo it you should Google "unroot <your phone model>" and you'll find detailed instructions, along with any files you need to download to perform the process.

Step one seemed to go perfectly in my case, but I got in a hurry and failed to perform step two to verify that the EVO was in fact unrooted. I assumed it was unrooted and moved on to step three and flashed the stock ROM. That worked fine but my EVO hung up while applying the first official OTA update. I was stuck with an unresponsive EVO that showed a big exclamation mark inside a triangle. The EVO was dead at that point and wouldn't boot.

I yanked the battery to force a reboot, and then started all over again as I realized that the hang-up was due to applying the OTA update to a phone that apparently hadn't really unrooted. That's what happens when you try to get an OTA update and the phone is rooted, it bricks.

The second time I carefully unrooted the phone and then verified it was in fact unrooted. I don't know why the first unrooting step failed, but the second time it worked OK. The rest of the steps then worked properly, and I am now in possession of a completely stock, unrooted EVO 4G. I have to admit the stock Sense interface is actually pretty good, and the phone is really snappy. I am now anxiously awaiting the Gingerbread update to come my way, as it should be a nice update to the EVO.

The HTC Flyer I am testing is using Gingerbread and the latest HTC Sense interface, and I really like it a lot. I am thus anxious to see the same setup on the EVO, which will be like getting a brand new phone. The update should be rolling out in a day or two according to sources, so I won't have long to wait.

A fair question is why don't I just go with a Gingerbread custom ROM on the EVO and not use the official one? I could easily do that, or I could have before unrooting the phone. I decided I wanted to roll back to the official HTC/Sprint ROM for two reasons: I want to see how the EVO works with the system software that is supplied officially, and I am concerned about the services that are now getting shut off on rooted phones. This way I can try everything possible on the EVO without getting shut down arbitrarily.

App of the week

My app of the week is not one you can buy or download, it is the Lenovo ThinkVantage Power Manager utility that is supplied with ThinkPad laptops. The Power Manager as evolved to become an outstanding method to get the most out of ThinkPad batteries on the fly.

While the app offers the ability to manually set the dozens of settings that Windows 7 provides, the basic mode presents a simple slider that allows dynamically changing all settings based on need. Pull the slider towards more battery and all settings are optimized to make the battery last longer. Drag the slider the other way and instantly get more performance when needed. The utility shows the hit on the battery in real-time, so you get instant feedback from your changes to the settings.

The ThinkPad Power Manager makes it simple to get every last drop out of the battery no matter what you are doing. You can even toggle on the Battery Stretch setting when the battery is almost dead yet you need to get that last bit of work done. It intelligently shuts down hardware components based on what you are doing in real-time, and can add 30 minutes of life to even the driest battery.

Ebook of the week

The past few weeks I have been enjoying the Laura Cardinal series from J. Carson Black, and this week I started The Shop by Black. It is not part of the Cardinal series, but I'm liking it better. The story is a fast-paced thriller with lots of twists and turns, and I am enjoying it a great deal.


That's the week in Mobile News Manor: unrooting the phone and appreciating good power management. I hope you got something to take away from the column, and I will be back next week with the next installment.