Updating my Android tablet on the Mac
There are a couple of things I dislike with the Android platform:
- You almost never know beforehand if you will get a newer firmware for your model, because the manufacturer has to adapt a new Android version for every supported model. And even if a new firmware is made available, you may be out of luck if you don’t own a Windows PC to install the new firmware on your phone. More about this issue below.
- When you don’t want to use the Google cloud to synchronise your contacts or calendars, you may need to jump through hoops.
- I’ve never even tried how to sync my multiple dozens of smart iTunes playlists. I’m told that there exist solutions, but for my music and podcasts I use an iDevice.
To be fair, there are also a similar number of things where iDevices should improve:
- Apple is utterly arrogant in dictating what I’m supposed to do and not do. One of my favourite examples:
- For about 15 years every somewhat capable handset has been able to display delivery reports for text messages.
- With iOS 5 Apple introduced delivery reports, but only for iMessage. And no app that would replace the stock Messages is allowed into the store.
- Another example of Apple’s mysterious way is the decision that German and French keyboards don’t need 11 key rows (with delayless access to ä/ö/ü or à/é/è resp), while Scandinavian users get 11 key rows with æ/ø/å or ä/ö/å. It sounds like a sick joke that during the beta for iOS 5 this very same 11-key keyboard was there!
- I’ve yet to find a good, location aware profile manager in the App Store like Llama for Android!
My Samsung Galaxy Tab shipped with Android 2.2 and I was quite happy with it. If it only didn’t have this nasty bug: whenever I switched off the WLAN hotspot, it would crash. So I wanted to update it to a newer firmware, without using a Windows PC (that leaves OTA or with a Mac).
Note that you must be very careful to follow instructions on any sites references very carefully, or you may end up with a device that won’t boot anymore (a.k.a. Brick). I can’t give any guarantee that what worked for me will do so also for you!
You should be comfortable using a command line.
To download the firmware to your device, use Heimdall. Don’t try to install Samsung Kies in a virtual machine, it wasn’t working with me.
Install the Android SDK to get adb.
Probably the best option is using a Cyanogenmod firmware. There is no officially supported one, but this Gingerbread Beta from November 2011 worked for me.
To get into firmware download mode, you need to switch off your tab and the press Power and Volume Down together until a screen displays “downloading…”, then connect to your Mac. You can use
heimdall detectin Terminal to see if your tablet is ready for new clothes..
Follow the full flash and repartition instructions to flash your new firmware.
After you’ve booted successfully, you may want to add some apps from the market. Some like Google Maps didn’t show up at all, some displayed a banner that they aren’t compatible with this device. This is mainly due to the LCD density checks in the market app. Editing /system/build.prop helped here:
- You must have a rooted device. I believe that a full flash achieves this, but I also played with these instructions.
- Use adb shell to get a root shell on your tablet, then you can mount /system for write access:
mount -o remount,rw /dev/block/stl9 /system
You can check your filesystems with df or mount.
- I recommend you make a backup of build.prop; to edit you can use vi or transfer it to your Mac and copy the changed file back.
- To transfer the file to/from your Mac use:
adb pull /system/build.prop build.prop
adb push build.prop /system/build.prop
- The needed edits are once again documented on the same page.