I recently sold my old Nokia 5800 on eBay (netting £60) and thanks to an Orange (UK) Pay As You Go customer in my family, was able to get my hands on a brand new ZTE Blade (reviewed here), which Orange sells as the San Francisco for just £85, contract-free, and covered by warranty (which had expired on the old Nokia). In itself, that’s a huge upgrade for hardly any money, but I had no intention of being stuck with Orange, so this post is designed to walk you through getting the deal, liberating the phone from Orange’s clutches, and then really improving the featureset, freedom and reliability of the phone by flashing it (with a new ‘ROM’) to the latest Android version.
1. Getting the offer
You simply get an existing Orange PAYG customer to call up (150 or 0800 079 2000) and say they want the PAYG San Francisco deal. Orange will send the phone and a SIM with £10 (I’ll be using my existing contract on 3UK with the phone; the Orange £10 will be used for Orange Wednesdays 2for1 film or pizza promotions).
2. Unlocking the phone so you can use it on any network
The next step is to unlock it. You can do this for free and easily on the ZTE Blade, thankfully. Just head to http://arrtoo.x10.mx/unlockBlade.php , enter your IMEI (which you can get by turning the phone on, ignoring as much of the messages as possible, getting to the dialer, and dialing *#06#) and input the unlocking code when asked for it (after turning your phone off, inserting a SIM from a non-Orange provider, and turning it on again); you’ll get prompted for the code given out at the link above.
3. Flashing the ROM to update the phone
Once unlocked, it’s time to get rid of the Orange pre-loaded crap and update the phone to the very cutting edge. Orange sells these phones with Android 2.1 or 2.2. You can get it to 2.3.4 (plus a few additional fixes) through any number of the tutorials here: http://android.modaco.com/category/453/zte-blade-blade-modaco-com/ ; usual caveats apply: you’re not doing a standard operation, there’s a risk you’ll brick it, void your warranty, etc. Follow any instructions to the letter, read around the topic before you launch into it without understanding what each step does, and search for people asking the same questions you have, either on Google on in the Modaco forums linked to above. And back things up from your old phone, obviously; save your numbers somewhere safe, and save them to your SIM card so you easily move them over to your new phone.
Here’s what I recommend doing:
- determine whether the phone you were supplied with is ‘Gen 1′ or ‘Gen 2′ by installing a tiny app called Mr Pigfish: http://www.appbrain.com/app/ask-mr-pigfish/com.apedroid.pigfish
- if Gen 1, then download this (or another ROM; newer alternatives come up all the time, you just have to read around the Modaco forums linked to above): http://hotfile.com/dl/124709138/1d6efab/gsf-blade-b15-tpt.zip.html; place it on the SD Card (if you downloaded the file to a computer, not to the phone, then move it over by USB or Bluetooth). This is an all-in-one image for first converting your phone to Gen 2, and then flashing it up to Android 2.3.4. Here are the install instructions courtesy of the maker:
“To install: Unzip the file to the root of your SD card, it will create an ‘image’ folder. Check the integrity of the files you created using AFV (available from android market) to find the nandroid.md5 file in the image directory, then long press on it & verify nandroid backup. Turn off your phone, leave it for at least 30 seconds, then hold menu & volume (up) when you power it on. You should see some green text (may be just a blank screen) then it should reboot & you should see a big android while it is performing it’s first boot (this will take a while). Once it has successfully started up don’t forget to delete the image folder on your SD card, to prevent any accidents.”
- if Gen 2, then this is the file to download: http://www.filesonic.com/file/1500072091/gsf-blade-b15.zip (or another ROM; newer alternatives come up all the time, you just have to read around the Modaco forums linked to above); this file will be installed through a clever program called ClockworkMod: this can be launched before your phone boots up into the normal phone mode, for doing things like backing up, flashing new ROMs, etc.
The best instructions I’ve seen for installing ClockworkMod and then flashing the file you just downloaded onto the phone, are the instructions here: http://android.modaco.com/content/zte-blade-roms-rom-customisation/329864/22-may-guide-how-to-install-a-custom-rom-on-the-zte-blade-gen1/ - you should read it all, but the instructions you’ll need are in subsections 1 and 2. Section 2 refers to an out of date ROM file; where it says “r12-update-modacocustomrom-blade-kitchen-unsigned.zip” you should instead read “gsf-blade-b9.zip”; and where it says “cb1718841318a63775b020e6c544edfa” you should instead look for an MD5Sum reading of “174ba19a85ec96258727d12177befa66″.
And there you have it. A cutting edge, high performance phone, covered by warranty, nicely unrestricted, and it’ll cost you about £85, minus whatever you sell your old phone for.