Hack your Evo 4G into a High End Smart Phone

I was in desperate need of a phone upgrade recently and ran across a nice little deal on an old Evo 4G (not to be confused with the Evo 4G LTE) on craigslist this past weekend, which to my surprise turned into a nice little phone hacking project.  Luckily for me the phone I got was basically in mint condition as it belonged to an older gentlemen who I imagine didn’t get a lot of mileage out of it.  On top of that, it was layered in protective casings.

Sometimes buying phones on craigslist can be scary and turn into a crap shoot but in my own experience I’ve found them to work out more often than not.  The two pieces of advice I can offer when buying a used phone on craigslist are to have the seller send you the ESN number prior to meeting so you can check to make sure it is active (there are many online ESN checkers out there).  The other, simple advice is to look at the phone when you meet and make sure you can turn it on and off and that it can hold a charge.

I also want to take a moment and tell everybody about the provider I use, which is Ting.  Why?  Because they are awesome and super easy to use.  Ting offers a very competitive price and doesn’t require contracts, which I believe are important things to consider when selecting a provider.  Anyway, I could probably write an entire post about how awesome Ting is and why you should use their service but I will forego the details for now.  I just wanted to mention that you can activate your phone entirely on your own in like 5 minutes, which helped me out a lot with this project.  There are detailed instructions on their site about activating new/used phones and porting over numbers, it is easy and Ting even encourages its users to root and unlock their phones.  Long story short, Ting is awesome, it made this project much easier and you should give them a try.

Once you do all the running around and finally get your phone it is time to actually get down to the fun stuff.  I learned that rooting the Evo 4G was a bit tricky since it had all of the newest firmware and protection from HTC.  I have had less issues with rooting some other HTC devices in the past, but I don’t know how that effects the steps if the software and firmware change.  In all reality the additional steps are just a technicality I would say and aren’t too much of a hindrance.  So in the following details I will outline the process of getting your phone from the basic locked version of HTC Android to a fully unlocked phone with the capability of running custom ROMS, namely the MazWoz ROM which is currently the Jelly Bean ROM that I am using for the Evo 4G.

The first step is to get root.  This is essential because without it you will not be able to get S-OFF and be able to flash custom ROM’s.  Rather than go into great detail and post all of the steps here I will instead point you in the right direction on how to get started yourself.  There are a ton of guides out there already on how to do this and there would really be no point to add another to that collection of guides, since there are some really good ones out there that have all the links and resources.  I found this one and this one to be the most relevant and helpful.  The first one is especially nice because it offers some video guidance as well as written.  Basically when I got stuck with one of the guides I would just switch back and forth and reference the other.   I feel that they both definitely compliment each other very well.

The second step is to obtain S-OFF.  Use the links mentioned previously for obtaining root to obtain S-OFF as well, after you root your phone.  This step was very confusing to me at first so I thought I would clarify the process to make things easier for readers to understand.  Once you have root on your phone you can The major issue I ran across with this step was when I reached the step for copying over the flashimage and mtd-eng.img files.  To get this step to work I had to be in Fastboot mode to gain read/write access to the sdcard.  Other than that, everything else worked great.  I should also note that for S-OFF I chose to use to use revolutionary.exe following the instructions from the first site.  I think the steps for flashing S-OFF using the unrevoked method from the second link would work fine, maybe even preferably, I just never tested this myself.

The third step is to flash the custom ROM, along with the other apps and fixes that turn your phone in the Jelly Bean device.  Jelly Bean brings with it a number of features and improvements that make for a much better, much smoother smart phone experience.  It is really leaps and bounds above the stock version of Android OS that is shipped by default on the Evo 4G and the experience is often referred to as “buttery smooth” because it is so nice.  Here is the link for getting the MazWoz Supersonic ROM.  I used the B4 release, which is the most current as of this writing as well as the link to Gapps and the GPS fix.  As of the B4 release the WiMax wasn’t working and the video is a little glitchy and the front camera isn’t working but other than that, this ROM is a fully functioning 4.2.1 Jelly Bean image.  The WiMax isn’t important to me as I don’t have access to it where I live and the video isn’t really a big issue for me either since I don’t shoot a lot of video.

The positives of using this custom ROM immensely outweigh the negatives in my opinion. So all in all, hacking an almost 3 year old phone in about 3 hours time into a usable Jelly Bean device that typically sells for upwards of $300 for the bargain $80 price tag seems like a steal to me, the experience is nearly flawless.  Granted there are a few caveats and you need to be willing to follow the steps for the upgrade but in my opinion this is still a great deal.  You get to a) revive an old piece of hardware that is beginning to show its age, b) save a shitload of money on the cost of a new phone and c) get to tinker with your phone, which to me was the best part out of this project.  Here is a link to some other devices that have been quickly faded in popularity that can potentially be updated and given new life.  My hop is that this post will inspire you or at least give you some ideas to go and check what’s out there and maybe even help breathe some new life into some of your otherwise antiquated and dying android devices.

Josh Reichardt

Josh is the creator of this blog, a system administrator and a contributor to other technology communities such as /r/sysadmin and Ops School. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.