For many years, the XDA-Developers community had been committed to helping Windows Mobile users make the most out of their unit, by providing lots of free software, giving tips and tricks to enhance the functionality of the phones and letting users have a peek at upcoming developments for Windows Mobile. But by far the best thing you can get there are the custom ROMs that can be installed in any WM unit. If you think that sounds rather unappealing, imagine what it can do to a WM handset: OS upgrades.
The latest WM handsets runs on WM6.1, and the next wave of WM units appearing in the next few months will be using WM6.5. This doesn’t mean that old WM phones that use older versions of WinMo aren’t eligible to run the latest version of WM. (Check the OS version by going to Settings > About or anything remotely similar to that.)
Installing a custom ROM has several advantages. It improves the usability and stability of the system, it removes the crapware and limitations that OEM manufacturers normally slap into the unit and it lets user run software that is otherwise not runnable on an old version (Manila 2D can’t be run on anything below WM6, and the smartphone version of Office Mobile can’t be installed on anything below WM5).
Convinced? Here comes the hard part. These ROMs are installed via a process called flashing. Flashing isn’t a 1,2 step method wherein all the user had to do is to connect the unit to a computer, run the program and then hum along while the program does its job. It wasn’t as easy as that. Before the actual flashing, there are several tasks that need to be accomplished first. Also, just to clarify things, flashing is not the same as firmware updates. The phone’s prebuilt OS is completely wiped out, replaced with a wholly new one. It’s like a computer that has been fully reformatted and installed with a fresh new OS. FWU, on the other hand, was basically like installing SP2 to XP.
The initial step in the entire flashing process is to determine the model of the handset. My XPhone IIm is an Amadeus model (Mozart’s “middle” name FYI), a derivative of the Typhoon. The XDA II Mini is a Magician, while the XDA IIi and IIs are Blue Angels. To get the right model for the unit, search for the device on the the Device Database wiki in the XDA-Dev site. Once the phone model had been determined, go to the relevant thread and download the appropriate ROM for the phone. A piece of warning, MAKE SURE it’s the right model. It would be wise to double or triple-check the unit by inquiring about it in the forums. Flashing the wrong ROM into a phone (such as installing the Blue Angel ROM into the Mini) will brick the unit, and there’s no way to undo the damage. In other words, the unit will become nothing more than an expensive paperweight. Permanently.
The next step is to upgrade the radio ROM, which is a separate download. Once more, choose the appropriate radio for the model, as well as the proper version needed by the ROM. Once this was done, it’s time to get to work. Make sure all of the required equipments are in tiptop condition (the PC, the USB port and the USB cord) and the phone has ample power (more than 60%, but it’s best if the battery is full). You certainly don’t want to have a fatal crash while doing the flashing, a power failure (though that happens at random), an overheating laptop, or a cable that loses connectivity for no apparent reason. Extract the contents of the radio ROM file into any folder and then set the phone to bootloader mode by simultaneously pressing the Camera, Power and Reset button. Connect the phone to the PC and follow more instructions from the included README and within the program. The upgrade process takes time, and it should happen uninterfered. You can twiddle your thumbs while waiting for the thing to finish LOLX. Upgrading the radio was generally a one-time process. ROMs (usually) require the same version of radio, so when the phone needs to be reflashed, this process can be safely skipped.
The same methodology is used in flashing the unit’s actual ROM: extract the contents of the downloaded file, set up the phone in bootloader mode and finally, run the upgrade program. If the previous process is long, it’s nothing compared to this. A typical flashing will take around 20-30 minutes. Again, make sure the whole thing happens uninterfered.
If no errors were encountered the whole time, consider yourself lucky. (LOL just kidding). I don’t mean to discourage users, but errors do happen sometimes. When this happens, the first thing to do is to calm down. Here’s the thing, for as long as the phone isn’t bricked (it wasn’t if it still turns on, it displays the splash or any other screen, or it can still be set in bootloader mode), then the phone is safe. Anyway, when something went wrong, there’s always the best solution: asking other experienced users for help. Hell, that’s what the forum is for.
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I did my first flashing in 2005, when I installed WM5 on my XPhone IIm. Flashing is slightly different for smartphones, which was the de facto term for WinMo handsets without a touch-screen at the time (a few years later, other mobile OS’s began adapting the term, and the PPC and SP versions of WM were renamed Professional and Standard, respectively, to avoid confusion). There are minor differences between the two. To put the phone into bootloader mode, while the phone is turned off, hold down the camera button and then press the power button. When the white screen appears, press 0 within a limited time, otherwise you need to do the whole thing all over again.
My first flashing didn’t go seamlessly at all. For some reason, flashing took more than an hour, and halfway thru the flashing, the phone just turned off. I figured out later on that the battery was drained. I recharged my phone. I tried reflashing, but my PC won’t accept the device anymore. Good thing I have a spare computer. This time, the operation finished successfully. In less than 5 minutes, surprisingly.
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For many years, most of the models received steady updates for their OS’s. Others had been quite unlucky. One of those was the Magician. I don’t really understand the whole reason for this, something to do with the fact that there’s no base OS to work on for the said model. I can only speak in terms of analogy: it’s like having a very advanced photocopier, but nothing to copy on. It appears that all the XDA Mini’s and iMate Jam’s in the world will be stuck forever on WM2k3. Then something miraculous happened last April. After so many years, out of nowhere, Cotulla had released a ROM for Magician containing WM6.1! How he managed to do it was a mystery. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters most is that it breathes new life into my XDA Mini.
WWE_04 was released a few days ago, and I installed the ROM yesterday. There was one major hurdle. Flashing can only be done on XP, never on the Vista. I don’t have any XP computers anymore (my XP desktop died last month 😦 ). As usual, I searched the web for a work-around and found this page, and despite the heavy warnings, I took the risk and tried installing this ROM from Vista. The operation finished successfully.