September 1, 2012 7:58 PM   Subscribe

What should I do to my Google Nexus S? Replace, root, or restrain myself?

I have a Sprint Google Nexus S with Froyo (Android 4.0.4). I'm not sure what to do. It's a bit slow, and has some limited abilities out of the box. I've been relatively happy with it for the last year and a half. My contract is up for renewal in another 6 months.

My choices are to buy a new (used) phone, root, or just stick with what I have. I don't like that last option too much; it's just so boring.

I purchased an LG Viper 4G LTE on Cowboom. It had a decent screen, dual-core processor, and ran smoothly. However, LA doesn't have LTE service yet on Sprint--and it was LTE. It was also running Gingerbread. It felt like a downgrade, and I returned it after one day.

So rather than just immediately buying a new (or used) phone, I wonder if it'd just be better to keep my current phone and root it. I don't care about the warranty. If I brick the thing, I'll just buy a cheap used phone. And if I root it, what should I do to it?

Should I load the Cyanogenmod? I know pretty much nothing about it, except that it looks pretty and is supposed to be stable.

Should I load a Jelly Bean ROM? Which one? Will it be stable enough to be useful? Sprint hasn't officially released it yet onto this phone; will it be as stable as the official release? Will I be able to switch over to the official release and unroot?

Is the rooting and loading different ROMs easy?
posted by rybreadmed to Technology (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd root it. It's unlikely that you'll mess it up, and it might change your perspective on the phone enough to save you some cash. If it doesn't, then you've not really lost anything, since you were thinking about buying a new one anyhow.

There's a one-click root for the Nexus S here. It's easy--download, connect your phone, click, and you're done. I've never seen a one-click root get messed up, even by people who really have zero idea what they're doing, so I'd say on the easy scale, this is pretty easy.

Loading different ROMs is also easy--you download the file to your phone (either directly or transferring over USB from your computer), reboot into recovery (on my phone, this means rebooting those holding the down-volume key; ymmv), select the file you downloaded, and click go. You should run a nandroid backup before you doing this--many how-to-install guides will walk you through that as part of the install process, but if yours doesn't, google it first. The backup means that if you hate the ROM you install, you can revert back to your old (stock, in this case) ROM without losing all your data.

I use and love Cyanogenmod, so much so that it's a primary factor in the phones I buy--if they're not Cyanogen supported, I don't buy them. My experience has been that it's very pretty, unbelievably functional, and remarkably stable--more so than the stock OS on the HTC phones I've installed it on. I've used a few other ROMs at various points, but always come back to Cyanogen.

Generally speaking, people are pretty up front about how stable their ROMs are, and what does or doesn't work. Since a lot of Android development talk takes place on various Android forums, there'll often be a thread of people saying "Hey, I'm having issue x," and you can read that and sort of judge how it's going for people. There are also some ROMs that have, for example, video reviews on YouTube, so you can get an idea of what they look like and how they work. It's pretty easy to install them, though, and I find it weirdly enjoyable, so you might also have good luck just picking out three or four that seem reasonably common and flashing them, one at a time, then using them for a bit to figure out if they're what you want.

I really can't say enough good things about rooting + Cyanogenmod, especially on older phones--it's made my very outdated HTC Hero a perfectly functional, usable phone for my daughter, and made my EVO a much more enjoyable piece of equipment for me. I'd definitely advise that you try it--the worst-case outcome finds you where you are now, buying a new phone, and the best-case means that you get a phone that does more of what you want and less of what you doesn't, plus saves you the cost of a new one.
posted by MeghanC at 8:35 PM on September 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I rooted my Nexus One and sorely regretted it when the power switch stopped working. With the warranty voided, HTC quoted me $200 for what would have been a free repair. Cyanogenmod is fun to tinker with but it doesn't really get you much on the Nexus phones because they have a genuine Google ROM and tend to get frequent updates.
posted by chrchr at 9:28 PM on September 1, 2012

I am running the latest nightly build of CyanogenMod 10 on my Nexus S. It's based on Jelly Bean and it's super fast and makes it feel like I have a new phone. I tend to flash every few days and with apps like Rom Manager and Titanium Backup (I have the paid versions) it's super simple to flip between different ROMS.

Check out all of the Nexus S threads on XDA - and save a few dollars until your contract is up!
posted by chairish at 12:26 AM on September 2, 2012

For what it's worth, Android 4.0.4 isn't Froyo, it's Ice Cream Sandwich. Froyo is 2.2, so if you switched to a phone with Gingerbread (2.3) then it actually was an upgrade. In general Froyo and Gingerbread are much more solid than ICS, which has been around for less than a year. JB seems to fix a few of the more obvious bugs, but it's only been out for a couple months. The bulk of phones out there are still running Android 2.2 or 2.3. I'd stay with that for now, especially for slower phones.
posted by jeffhoward at 2:30 AM on September 2, 2012

For what it's worth, I have a Nexus S on T-Mobile and got updated to stock Jellybean a couple months ago. I'm not sure what that means with regard to when Sprint will allow it. Jellybean has some nice updates -- I like the camera and Gmail apps better -- and it feels a bit faster at some things (paging through apps and some other UI interactions). But it still feels a bit slow to open apps, and some like Google Voice and Google Play are a bit buggy still. I've only had to restart it maybe twice in the last couple months so it's pretty stable.
posted by losvedir at 5:47 AM on September 2, 2012

chrchr: "I rooted my Nexus One and sorely regretted it when the power switch stopped working. With the warranty voided, HTC quoted me $200 for what would have been a free repair. Cyanogenmod is fun to tinker with but it doesn't really get you much on the Nexus phones because they have a genuine Google ROM and tend to get frequent updates."

By now, the Nexus S is surely out of warranty? (The power switch on the Nexus One seems like it was designed to fail: many people install a third party ROM just so that they can use the trackball to wake it up when they want to use it.)

OP: You say your phone has Android 4.0.4, but it's called Froyo? These two datapoints don't co-incide: Android 4.0.x is Ice Cream Sandwich.
posted by pharm at 6:39 AM on September 2, 2012

If you feel really adventurous, you could try installing Replicant, a fully-free distro of Android. I've been dying to try it, but Replicant only supports four phones, and the Nexus S has the best support. There is even a free-libre software repository called FDroid.

I have not yet attempted something like that, so I can't say how challenging it might be.
posted by helecho at 2:32 PM on September 2, 2012

I adore my Galaxy Nexus. It's going for pretty cheap at the moment (between $50 and $200, depending on plan and status and promotions and whatnot). It is the current "google experience" phone, shipping with google software unsullied by the foul hands of the carriers. It's the logical upgrade from your Nexus S.

Rooting the Galaxy Nexus consists literally of installing the devkit and typing "./adb unlock", then copying in a su binary to the appropriate place. I'm told the Nexus S root process isn't much harder, since it's a developer targeted phone as well.

But, in my experience, the difference between rooted and unrooted is rarely in speed. (Early-model Samsung Galaxy-class phones and their shitty default filesystem notwithstanding.) Sometimes the mod will debloat the phone enough that battery life is slightly improved (thanks to not running background bloatware). But new software isn't going to suddenly unlock some hidden power of the phone. This is especially true with firmware based on the carrier release, which is almost always debloat and cosmetic in nature.

In theory you could patch the open-source baseband software to make it faster before basing a mod on it. In practice, I haven't found that the mod scene can really out-program google's team (especially while maintaining compatibility). Besides that, the mods based on the Android Open Source Project tend to be quite proud of shipping exactly what google shipped.

So, long story short: if I had the money, I'd upgrade. If I didn't have the money, I'd root. But, I wouldn't expect substantial speedups, only increased utility.
posted by Netzapper at 4:58 PM on September 2, 2012

Response by poster: Woops, I got confused with all the food/Android versions. I actually have ICS 4.0.4 right now.
posted by rybreadmed at 7:08 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: I first tried loading Cyanogenmod 9.1, but my calendar wouldn't sync. That made me a bit nervous. I tried downloading CM 10 (Jelly Bean) and not only does the calendar sync, but it seems quite stable and way better than the stock ICS. It seems to have more battery life, more power, and does cooler stuff.

I bought ROM manager--the paid version was worth it. I like it a lot--it was all so easy.
posted by rybreadmed at 11:34 AM on September 7, 2012

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