$70 can’t get you as much these days as it used to. A tank of gas or maybe two? A dinner with a cheap bottle of wine? Pay your electric bill?
What if I told you that 70 greenbacks could get you a quality phone, Ice Cream Sandwich, and a no-contract plan on Big Red (Verizon for those outside of the States)? Well, to my surprise, it can. However, it’s not without a bit of homework, eBay browsing, and some technical obstacles. But with a bit of effort, you can turn that chump change into a serious return.
I would be remiss if I didn’t first give a tremendous pat on the back to the developer community that has given many of our phones and tablets a second wind. In this particular instance, that kudos is directed to the fine developers at the AOKP team (aokp.co).
AOKP stands for Android Open Kang Project. It’s a custom ROM distribution tailored for many Android devices. According to their site, AOKP is a play on the word “kang” and Android Open Source Project. What originally began as a joke, stuck.
For those who aren’t familiar with the terminology, “kang” refers to work stolen from another developer and republished as one’s own.
There are many choices outside of AOKP. Many of you are already familiar with Cyanogenmod and MIUI, both of whom have developed their own variations of Ice Cream Sandwich. Beyond these three, there is are countless variations and ROMs available through device-specific forums on XDA and Rootzwiki. In my case, I chose AOKP because it seemed to be the most active in legacy devices, at least in the manner of having stable releases.
Having decided on a ROM, I began compiling a list of compatible older devices. This list in tow, I took to eBay to find what phones I could find. Unsurprisingly, I discovered that many of the phones on my list were still $200 or above. Considering that I wanted something off-contract, I didn’t want to pay anything above $100. With my experience in flashing ROMs, I felt comfortable seeking out a different sort of phone. I would find a phone that wasn’t working.
I must admit that I was disappointed at the lack of phones on eBay under the “for parts” section that didn’t feature shattered screens or water damage, or have missing parts. After unsuccessfully sifting through hundreds of phones with variations of physical damage, I tried another approach. Instead of digging through the various classifications of broke, I entered the search term “software” in the Cell Phones section. This narrowed the query considerably.
I knew that I wanted Verizon and my best luck flashing has primarily been with Samsung devices. Yes, the Download Mode has saved me more than a dozen or so times. After dealing with Motorola’s affinity for locking bootloaders and HTC’s confusing locked bootloader/S-OFF combo, I knew exactly what I wanted. After a few days of searching, I stumbled upon a Samsung Fascinate.
For those of you unfamiliar with this particular model, you may know more than you realize. The Fascinate was Verizon’s branding for the wildly popular Galaxy S series of phones. At the time of its release, it touted some impressive specs: Super AMOLED screen, a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, and one of the better GPUs of the day.
The one I found was being auctioned off with no starting bid. It was listed as having a software error. After further examination of the photos listed, I felt comfortable I could bring the phone back to life. I placed a bid of $70 and a few days later, I was the proud owner of a new (old) phone.
When I first booted up the phone, it didn’t load up into the operating system. Rather, it posted a long list of errors that only the most loyal Unix developers could decode. Knowing I’d need to go back to square one (stock), I took to the forums for answers. I found a simple little writeup that led me to the first steps.
Get into Download Mode by removing the battery from your phone and holding volume-down as you connect it to the USB (already plugged into the computer). I recommend popping the battery back in after this to improve stability during the flashing process.
The process is spelled out pretty well in that post. You can grab the files there and be on your way. A word of warning: any modifications, flashing, or unapproved techniques of modding your phone will void warranties and potentially brick your phone. However, since we are talking about cheap devices on eBay, this isn’t of major concern. Just don’t be upset and come yelling at me if you wasted a few bucks.
You can only imagine my relief when I saw the phone boot up like the day it was first exposed to the world. Having succeeded in rescuing the derelict device, I wanted to proceed with my plans of ICS domination. We now have our work cut out for us. In order to flash the newest version of ICS, we first have to flash an earlier build that will handle the kernel installation, repartitioning, and a few other house-keeping duties. Follow the comprehensive guide below.
In the instructions, look at where it says, “Your ICS ROM of Choice.” This is where you need to decide which version you wish to try. I opted for AOKP after a bit of research and using it on a few other devices. You may prefer MIUI or CM9. Browse around and find your best fit. For the sake of this article, I will stick with AOKP. You can find the most recent builds below.
To the right of the page, you’ll see a list of builds. At the time of writing this, Build 39 was the newest. If you click through the link, it’ll bring up a list of all the devices under that build. For the Fascinate, seek out the “fascinatemtd” and pick a mirror. Download it to your SD Card before starting your ICS flashing adventure laid out in the directions above.
Booting up the first time can take several minutes. Be patient. I promise, it will boot. If not, Samsung’s Download Mode makes recovering a seemingly bricked device easy. You can always repeat the “Stock Gingerbread” procedure.
There you have it: ICS! I ran both Froyo and Gingerbread on the Fascinate for a while to give myself an indication of how they performed. Gingerbread was a noticeable improvement from Froyo. Ice Cream Sandwich blew the lid off of Gingerbread. As far as responsiveness and use, I would gladly take my 2010 Fascinate over any newer Gingerbread phone, even the dual-core monsters stuck on 2.3. For $70, I got a phone off contract, am rocking the newest stable version of Android, and have the best experience with a phone I’ve had to date (yes, that beats out the X2 and EVO 3D).
So get your auction on and head over to eBay. Just do your research beforehand and feel confident before you go buying every broken phone you find. If it doesn’t work, then you may be stuck with an expensive paperweight. However, if it does work, you may be turning that old scrap Android into a piece of ICS heaven.