Saving Money Tip: Manual Upgrades

There has been quite a bit of to-do in the cell phone industry lately, almost all of it because of the iPhone 4s release.  I dont have an iPhone, and I’ve never had one.  I wasnt even planning on getting a smart phone.

That obviously didnt go the way I wanted it, so there I was with all the other nerds financial bloggers at fincon11, tapping away on smart phones during sessions and breaks.  Due to the fact that I dont want to be constantly under a cell phone contract, I probably had one of the oldest smartphones in the building at the time, an android HTC Eris (which a friend informed me is the “3rd oldest” android phone).  Back when I bought this, there was an iPhone, but I couldnt get one in wyoming because AT&T didnt provide service in my state (no joke), so we basically had verizon, sprint or a regional carrier to pick from.  The iPhone didnt appear here until verizon got it recently.

This phone has been pretty good to me, but it has taken a while to upgrade the OS.  For the longest time I ran android 1.8, then verizon upgraded me to 2.1 after quite a while, and I’ve been running that ever since.  The current os version is 2.3 (gingerbread) – but my old phone doesnt have the guts to run it.  I’m still rocking eclair for you android fans.  Lately, I’ve been having crashing problems and wanting an os upgrade, but Verizon won’t give one because my contract is almost up and they just want me to get a new phone with another 2 year contract,  where ill no longer get unlimited data and will be slowed to 2 gb/month.  Obviously, I don’t want that, so I really want to keep this phone as long as possible and was looking for ways to do that.

Disclaimer: Everything past this point that i’m going to talk about will void the warranty for your phone (and could “brick” it).  If you’re unsure, dont try it and if you are sure, try it at your own risk. 

After talking with a programmer buddy of mine and a few others, they convinced me to get “root” access so that I can do an os upgrade on my own.  I hemmed and hawed for a while before I got one, and my final decision was made because if I messed something up and did ruin my phone, my contract was up so I could get a new one at a discount.  I decided to get ready and go ahead with it.

The first thing that I had to do was back up my data (which I unfortunately didnt get all of, but oh well) and save it all on the computer.  That part was easy, and didnt take much but a bit of babysitting time.

After that, I needed to find an updated version of the OS that would run on my phone.  I found this post about how to get this done on my old phone.  After backing up data and finding the correct version, I was off to the races.  I’m not going to tell you that this wasnt slightly nerve racking, but I made it through.  The worst part was having to look up a solution for how to select the proper software because the way the website said to do it did not work at all.

Once I had the new software up and running, I grabbed all my back ups and reloaded them.  All of this was pretty easy, but it was time consuming taking all of the data from my old apps and putting it back on the new apps.  Of course, I could have paid 6 bucks to upgrade the app that I used for backup, but I didnt want to.

After using the new os for a few days, I’ve found a few bugs, but have also found the bug fixes.  Once I get those loaded on to my phone, everything was be fine.  For those curious, I was having problems with the GPS which started going haywire because it was trying to triangulate my location instead of using the built in receiver – a process that earned an inappropriate comment from a friend of mine.  It also had issues where the browser would crash about 2 seconds after it opened, but one bug fix corrected the GPS issues and the browser.  There was also troubles with the camera (it wouldnt work at all) but I downloaded an aftermarket free camera app from the market and that fixed that.  The nice part was that people had done this quite a while ago, so there was plenty of information to be found in the forums.  Honestly, it feels like a totally new phone.  Everything works faster and better and all the screens are different.  I feel like I got an awesome new phone, but I didnt have to pay a thing!

While the manual upgrade process did take quite a while and could have been a total disaster, it was fairly easy and a great way to upgrade the phone.  I’m not in the I need a new phone all the time mindset, and I’m saving quite a bit of money because of it – from not having to upgrade my phone and from not re-signing a contract! Not only is this better on the pocket book, its better for the environment. In a book that I’m reading and will review here shortly, they say Americans throw away 140 million cell phones every year! Doing this is one way to keep mine out of the landfill for a while.

Readers: Have you ever tried to save money by doing a manual phone upgrade? Are you leery of doing something like this (I was) or would you be willing to give it a try?

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18 thoughts on “Saving Money Tip: Manual Upgrades”

  1. I have a BlackBerry. I’ve never done anything to manually upgrade it or anything along those lines. I did do some digging and found how to access some of the high level diagnostics and settings that typically only second or third level engineers have access to. You can potentially screw things up by messing with stuff there, but I was mainly interested in watching some of the performance indicators to find out why my phone was working so hard even when I wasn’t doing anything.

    • Hi Beagle
      I know that I could have really screwed things up, which is why I went very carefully and had a friend who had already done it on the other end of the line. Also – my contract was up so if I messed it up royally, I could have gotten a new phone for cheap, but it would have come with a new contract, which I didnt want.

  2. Typical words associated with Android phones: “crashing” “problems” “babysitting”

    Honestly, if my Android phone would have been good to me, I would have just stuck with Android, but it was a HUGE PIECE OF SH*T. In fact, I might mail it to you, if you’re okay with rocking a bright pink phone.

    I do not know HOW many calls I missed because my Android phone was too damn slow to slide the fricking green slider thing over when I had an incoming calls. I do not know how many times I was trying to open an app or take a picture or send a tweet and everything would lock up, the phone would vibrate sporadically, and a big error message would pop up saying the phone had to force close the app. (Android users, don’t act like you don’t know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.) I do not know how many times my phone became burning hot while running an app and then did one of two things 1) drained the battery to practically nothing or 2) shut down completely.


    Also, these problems happened the night I got my brand-new phone. Sure, they increased and got worse over time, but this started from Day 1. My husband has an Android phone and has had the same problems (he sadly still has his as he was nice enough to let me use our upgrade to get the iphone). Two of my best friends also have Android phones and send me emails constantly about how horrible their phone is. Luckily, one of them has insurnace and has had her phone replaced EIGHT times because it is a such a huge POS.

    I have had my iPhone 4s for a month now and I have NOT ONE complaint about it. I would also like to emphasize that this is my ONLY Apple product that I own. (Well, aside from a 6 year old iPod nano that I received as a gift and I use to work out with.) So, I’m definitely no Apple cult member.

    All I care about is a phone that doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out. I want a phone that is smooth, doesn’t freeze up or lag with my every movement, and that answers incoming calls. I don’t care WHO makes the product either. All I want is a good phone. And (fingers crossed), it looks like I have found it.

    Also, you said something on twitter about how you can upgrade your Android OS without waiting for Steve Jobs to tell you that you can upgrade. That makes absolutely no sense. See, what happens is, a company releases a new version of an OS and then the users upgrade. That happens with Apple and Android. So … no one was waiting for Steve Jobs to “allow” them to upgrade. They were just waiting for a new OS release … and then everyone upgraded.



    • Tell me how you really feel. I do get some of these problems – esp the one about the calls not ringing or answering fast enough. Since the upgrade though, that hasn’t happened to me any more. I’m not trying to say the droid is all roses and sunflowers, but this upgrade helped a lot
      What I meant by the steve jobs comment is that your OS has to work the way he said it did, but with android other users can build in useful features.
      Glad you’ve found a phone that works though. Also, because your husband let you upgrade, you should let him run the tough mudder.

  3. I have been thinking about this lately with the new iphone’s. I like my current contract but I would like the new phone. I am still not sure what I am going to end up doing. Maybe I will just wait for the next iphone and see what plans are like then.

  4. I wrote about my most recent cell phone “upgrade” on my blog (you can find the post here: My plan when needing a new phone (and I really did need a new one, my old one got wet and the batter won’t hold a charge) is to buy one off of eBay. We hate having to renew our contract as we lose a lot of freedom that way. So, we buy used older phones that are still new to us.
    I actually think my last exchange was a downgrade, but since I only use the phone for calls, the only thing I’m sad about is that it isn’t as pretty as my old one.

    • I totally agree with the contract renewal – usually when you walk in and they tell you that plan isnt available anymore is because they made it more restrictive. I hate having to sign new contracts, so ebay may be the way to go for me from here on out (though I did try that once and wasn’t really happy)

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