Newbie’s guide to running Cyanogen on a Desire HD

25 May 2011

Warning: This post reflects my experience adding awesomeness to my Desire HD. Your experience might be different. Of course I cannot be held responsible for anything that happens to your phone, or for your toast burning while you play with your new toy.

My Android experience

Android robot

I've had an HTC Desire HD for a while now, and I can say I'm very happy with Android as a whole: I see it as a good balance between user experience and customisation possibilities. Maybe I wouldn't recommend Android to everyone, but for those with a geeky side it's a pretty safe bet!

One thing I've been pretty annoyed with, though, is the heavy UI overhaul from HTC. Is it really necessary? Some features like the new dialer are quite nice, but I can't say I'm a fan of the home screen, strange UI designs (the new notification bar? puzzled), or of the many many bugs introduced over the last upgrades.

Bye bye Sense!

After hearing many good things from a colleague, I finally decided to root my phone and install a custom ROM. The idea was pretty scary at first: after all, all tutorials start by saying they're not responsible if you brick your phone. However, after a lot more reading I realised the process is not that complex, and a lot of tools are here to help.

So here's a quick reference guide for anyone wondering about making the jump. There is extensive documentation available on the internet, but it's a lot to digest at first - especially when you have no clue like I did. So here's my summary, hoping it will make it easier... I strongly recommend reading the links carefully, as they describe the process in very detailled steps and offer guidance as to what can go wrong. All in all it should take about 2 hours, including downloading the tools, making backups etc...

So how does this work?

The process can be described as 3 major steps:

1. Downgrading to an earlier Sense version

The new versions that HTC pushed over the air do not support rooting anymore. The first step is to downgrade your phone to an older version, the one before the November 2010 upgrade. But first things first, backup the content of your SD card. I then proceed to delete most of its contents to leave plenty of space for what follows. You can also backup application settings, but on this one I chose to start fresh and clean. Of course all your contacts, emails, and other cloud-based information will be there on the other side.

This guide should explain all you need to do: [GUIDE] How to downgrade 1.7x/1.8x/2.x to 1.32.405.6. In a nutshell you'll have to download the previous Sense version (a 300MB file) and put it on your SD card. You will then have to download a separate tool, and run a few commands via the Android Debug Bridge to tell the system the version has changed. The downgrade will happen automatically after reboot.

2. Getting root access and S-OFF

The next step is getting full access to your phone. Again the following post on the XDA forums details all the steps you need to take: [TOOL][VIDEO] One click Radio S-OFF, SimUnlock (Easy Root & S-OFF Guide).

This starts with running Visionary, an app that can give you root permissions. Just download the APK and install it on your phone. The first "temp root" attempt failed for me, so I let the screen turn off, and then I turned it back on and clicked the button again.

You then need to make your phone "S-OFF", effectively unlocking its internal memory. Again a tool will do everything for you, literally at a click of a button. This is a Windows executable though - and in my case required to install HTC Sync on my machine.

3. Installing a custom ROM

That's it, you now have full access to your Desire HD! The final step is to download and install a custom ROM. I chose Cyanogen since as it's one of the most common ones, and I'm pretty happy with that choice.

Just hop over to HTC Ace: Recovery, Radio and CyanogenMod and follow the sections called Install a Custom Recovery Image and Flashing CyanogenMod.

You will have to install ROM Manager, which automates almost everything for us. The only tricky part was that the installs did not happen automatically when I rebooted in recovery mode. If that's the case don't panic, here are the options you'll need to select from the menu:

That's it, you should now have a fully operational Desire HD under Cyanogen!

Well... that was easy!

I've been running the custom ROM for a few days and it's all been very smooth. I definitely appreciate the extra speed, stability and battery life. Interestingly, coming from Sense UI, the most visible change was also the return to a stock Android experience with some Cyanogen theming - and I have to say it rocks! I am a big fan of the simple and efficient UI, with Honeycomb-like blue halos and menu selections. Here's a few screenshots of the vanilla install (+ a few widgets) so you can see what I mean:

And now... happy customisation! smile