Installing a Custom Android ROM on my defunct phone

Okay, this post isn’t really radio related, but…

I have had an Orange San Francisco Android phone for a while now, and have found it very useful for tracking satellites. Then late last year I lost my temper and this was the result.

A new screen (thanks Ebay) and I repaired it with no problems. Until several weeks ago when I noticed what looked like damage in the bottom right corner of the screen and started having problems with an unresponsive touch screen. Taking it apart I discovered it was moisture that had got in, a quick clean seemed to fix the issue until I realised the microphone wasn’t working either (I don’t use the actual phone very much) and the microphone is situated in the same area of the phone so I assume it is has also been damaged by the water that had got in.

Well I decided it was time for an updated phone and purchased a rather nice unbranded HTC Desire C for the princely sum of £79, it is much more responsive and has a newer version of the Android operating system.

I hate to throw anything out and the old San Francisco is fully functional apart from the microphone and works without a SIM via WiFi but what to do with it? The phone, which is in fact a Orange badged ZTE Blade and was full of uninstallable bloatware, hideous branding and the rather ancient Android Eclair 2.1 operating system.

I decided I would try to update it with new firmware. To be honest the whole experience has been a bit perilous and confusing. At one point thinking I had completely bricked it. I started my voyage by visiting http://sanfranciscoandroid.co.uk/ and followed the ‘easy’ instructions for updating it using ClockworkMod Recovery and then I came a cropper, the recommended ROM file link no longer worked, no worries the site lists plenty of others, I downloaded several of these and despite the update saying successful the phone would simply refused to boot.

Much Googling later I discovered a post on a forum that said installing the ClockworkMode update the phone from a GEN1 to GEN2 which means you needed a GEN2 rom. However the ones I were trying (Japanese JellyFish etc) were actually for GEN1 – told you it was confusing. I quickly found a link to a valid Swedish Snow RLS7 rom image and hey presto it works. 

From initial impressions it is like having a new phone (be it one without a working microphone!)

Just a disclaimer, despite it working for me anyone attempting to do something similar is warned you could end up making your phone non functional. All links to websites and files, programs are used at your own risk I don’t endorse anyone or anything and the usual caveats apply about the risks of downloading any software from unknown sources. 

Satellite Tracking using AR on my Android

In my quest to get better reception of the Russian navigation satellites I have installed the Satellite AR application on my Orange San Francisco Android phone. Up to now I have used a simple compass and a pass prediction to work out where the satellite will appear and how I think it will travel across the sky. Then after having acquired the signal fettling the antenna to get the best signal. While it has given me good results I wasn’t convinced I was getting the best signal I could.

The serious method of doing satellite tracking is to use a motorised azimuth antenna rotor connected to a PC running some prediction software. The commercial solutions are hideous expensive and while there are plenty of home-brew solutions available it would still mean a lot of expense in terms of time and money, so I looked for an alternative method.

Then I discovered this brilliant Android app! I used it for the first time late last Sunday evening when it was dark and was suitably impressed, so had a proper attempt in the fading daylight today and was able to take a few photos.

The AR stands for augmented reality and what you get is a view of the sky through the phones camera and overlaid are the positions of any satellites in view. The application uses the phones GPS, compass and accelerometers  to work out where the camera is pointing, so you get to see the satellite as if it were visible in the sky. It is really quite spooky!.

I selected the Russian LEO Satellites option for a pass this afternoon and using a couple of elastic bands to lash the phone on to the antenna post I could then point the antenna directly at where the satellite was supposed to be. The satellite today being COSMOS 2429 on 150.030MHz. The main thing I seem to have been doing wrong was while I had the antenna point in the correct bearing I had the elevation far too low. I needed to be pointing it much higher up in the sky.

I was able to got some excellent audio, with the signal still booming in when it had disappeared off the display. I have enclosed a small extract below, note some of the signal fading is because I was trying to take the photos while holding the antenna in my other arm… it gets quite heavy!

Cosmos 2429 10122011 by nerdsville

I brought my phone back in January for the pricey sum of £80. While not the most powerful Android around, only having version 2.1 of the operating system and is prone to crashes and resets it is probably one of the best purchases I have ever made, it is even better now I can use it to chase down signals!