Hardware Specifications

       CPU: 550 MHz TI OMAP 3430
       GPU: PowerVR SGX 530
       DSP: 430MHz TMS320 C64x
       RAM: 256 MB
       ROM: 512 MB
       OS: Android 2.x
       Storage: 512 MB onboard, removable microSD
       Display: 854 x 480 TFT LCD (16:9)
       Battery: 1400 mAh Lithium-ion polymer
       Dimensions: 115.8 mm x 60 mm x 13.7 mm
       Weight: 169 g

Droid Does

       The Motorola Droid, released on November 6th, 2009 is arguably one of the most important pieces of consumer electronics ever released. It marked the transition of Google's Android mobile operating system into it's second generation (greatly improving upon the already impressive 1.x series), it was the first Android phone on the US's largest mobile carrier Verizon Wireless, and singlehandedly brought Motorola's mobile phone division back from the brink of extinction. On release, the Droid was so incredibly popular that many analysts believe this single phone (backed by the unprecedented "Droid Does" advertising campaign by Verizon) kicked off Android's explosive growth in 2010.

Not to say the device is perfect. There were some complaints about it's keyboard being less responsive and harder to use than it should have been, and the phone's hard and almost military look combined with the admittedly odd choice of gold accents was not as universally acceptable as the smooth and neutral design of the iPhone. Still, the Droid showed the world what a high-end Android phone could do, and the market responded.

It's no wonder than that, aside from being exceptionally popular with the general public, the Droid garnered a considerable following in the hacking and modification scene. Leveraging the open nature of Android with the Droid's considerable power, it wasn't long until unofficial builds of Android were made available for the device, adding new features along the way like WiFi tethering and overclocking.

This page serves as a small tribute to an incredible piece of technology, and a collection of information I have gathered while modifying my own Droid.


       The easiest and quickest way to get into rooting your Droid and installing custom ROMs is to use SPRecovery, which is a replacement for the default Droid bootloader. It adds a number of new options such as being able to create and restore system backups, read system partitions over USB, and most importantly, install unofficial system images. By using SPRecovery you will not only be able to safely install custom ROMs, but fix your phone in the event that something goes wrong.

In the following sections, I will cover how to install SPRecovery under both Windows and Linux. Both methods will get you the same result, so use whatever OS you are more comfortable with. For Mac OS users, I am not currently aware of a way to flash an SPF file under your operating system, so until I hear otherwise you will have to ask a friend running Windows/Linux for help.

As of the Droid 2.2 OTA upgrade (FRG01B and beyond), SPRecovery is no longer compatible with official firmware images. You can still use SPRecovery to flash a custom ROM of your choice, but it will not work properly with the stock firmware; there is an incompatibility with the baseband software so you will have no signal and the phone will reboot constantly. This means that you must immediately flash a custom ROM after installing SPRecovery. Don't even bother trying to boot back into the stock firmware if your Droid is running 2.2 or later.

Installing on Windows

       Unfortunately, as with the Nokia 6555, modifying the phone's firmware under Windows requires proprietary software (though you only need it once, after that, you won't need to use any software at all). The software in question is known as "RSD Lite", which has been a standard in the Motorola modding and hacking scene since the RAZR days. Truth be told, I am not sure (and a few quick Google searches didn't clear the issue up for me either) if it is legal to redistribute RSD Lite. For that reason I won't host it or give any direct links, but you will have absolutely no trouble finding it online as it is exceptionally well spread for apparently pirated software.

To properly detect the Droid and flash the SBF file, you will need RSD Lite Version 4.6 or above. Older versions will fail to identify the Droid's hardware and will refuse to flash the file

Once you have RSD Lite, you will need to install the Motorola drivers for the Droid. There are two versions of the Motorola drivers, one for 32 bit Windows systems and the other for 64 bit systems. Download the appropriate ZIP archive and extract it. Inside the archive you will find a single executable file, which you need to run. You should see the following screen:

Driver Install

This is a very straight-forward process, just click "Next", agree to the license, and let it run though. Once it has installed, you will have the drivers necessary to handle the Motorola specific diagnostic capabilities of the phone rather than just using it as a USB storage device (though these drivers will not interfere with using your phone normally either).

Now that the drivers are installed, plug the Droid into the computer and power off the phone. Powering off the phone and then plugging it in won't work as the phone just turns itself on once USB is connected. With the phone turned off, start "RSD Lite" and leave it running.

With the phone off and RSD waiting, open up the Droid's slide, press and hold the "Up" button on the directional pad (the direction facing the screen), and then press and hold the power button until the screen lights up. After a few seconds the stock bootloader screen will appear which should look like this:

Bootloader 2C.6C

Battery OK
OK to Program
Transfer Mode:
Once you see this screen on the phone, RSD should say "Connected" on port 1. You are now ready to flash the actual SPRecovery image to the phone. Click the button on RSD marked "..." and then select the .sbf file. You should see the top right pane of RSD fill in with some information like the following image shows:

RSD Lite

If everything looks good, click the "Start" button. In a few seconds your phone should show the following message on the screen:

Hacking your phone -mbm
During this time, Windows will probably be making a lot of noise about devices being detected and removed from the system as the phone reboots a few times and changes modes. The percent complete in RSD should steadily be going up this whole time, so make sure you don't touch anything and let it go through the whole process.

Eventually, RSD should show "Executed: 100%". By this time, your phone will have likely booted back up all the way and is now sitting at the lock screen (in fact, this process takes long enough that the phone has probably gone into sleep and the screen will be off). At this point it is safe to disconnect the phone and close RSD, but you may get the following message when you exit out of RSD:

RSD Error

The process has already been completed, so I am not sure if this message is a bug or perhaps just a warning to be safe, but having personally performed this operation on multiple Droids, I can tell you that it is harmless. With that frightening message out of the way, your phone has now been updated with SPRecovery!

Installing on Linux

       Originally, using RSD Lite on Windows as the only way to get SPRecovery installed on your Droid (and the method I had to use), but since then a Linux tool has been written that will allow you to flash an SPF file to your phone, sbf_flash. Personally, I find this tool much quicker and easier to use than RSD Lite, plus it has the nice advantage of not being illegal to download. Unfortunately, the source has not been released for this tool, nor has the author stated what license it is released under, so you will need to do to his own site to download it: OPTICALDELUSION

To start the installation process, we first download the sbf_flash tool from the author's site and make it executable:

bash:~# wget http://dl.opticaldelusion.org/sbf_flash
Saving to: `sbf_flash'
100%[=========================================================>] 11,392 in 0.02s
bash:~# chmod +x ./sbf_flash
Once you have sbf_flash downloaded and executable, put your phone into the bootloader as described above in the Windows installation section. With the phone waiting at the bootloader, install the SBF file you downloaded previously like so:
bash:~# ./sbf_flash ./SPRecovery_ESE81.sbf
SBF FLASH 1.08 (mbm)

=== SPRecovery_ESE81.sbf ===
00: RDL03 0x80500000-0x8054CFFF FE66 AP
01:  CG35 0xC0680000-0xC08E37FF ABCB AP
02:  CG47 0xC0A00000-0xC0D5C7FF 02C0 AP

waiting for phone: Droid found.
 >> uploading RDL03
Uploading: 100% OK
 >> verifying ramloader
 -- OK
 >> executing ramloader
Droid (ramloader) found.
 >> sending erase
 >> uploading CG35
Uploading: 100% OK
 >> uploading CG47
Uploading: 100% OK
 >> verifying CG35
 -- OK
 >> verifying CG47
 -- OK
 >> rebooting

Using SPRecovery

       It is important to realize that installing SPRecovery does NOT mean you have rooted your phone. In fact, you have made absolutely no changes at all to the Android OS, and you will notice nothing at at all has changed while the phone is running normally. To actually use SPRecovery, you need to boot up the phone with a special key combination during boot up.

To start, turn your phone back off and open the slide. With the phone off, press and hold "X" and then press and hold the power button until the screen lights up. This time, after a few seconds the normal Motorola boot logo will appear, followed by the main screen of SPRecovery:


From here you will be able to access all the functions of SPRecovery, such as creating and restoring system backups, mounting different system partitions for recovery operations, and installing new ROM images. You navigate though SPRecovery with the volume, camera, and power buttons, so at this point you can close the slide and just hold the phone in portrait mode.

Installing a Custom ROM

       Now that SPRecovery is installed and you are able to boot into it, you are ready to install a custom rooted ROM and really unlock the potential of the Droid. There are many ROMs out there for the Droid, so I won't even begin to tackle which one you should use. For what it's worth, I have been using "Bugless Beast" by Peter Alfonso and have been very happy so far, but you should do some research and see what works best for you.

Backing up your currently installed OS to SD and installing a new system image is fairly processor and storage intensive. Whenever backing up or installing ROMs, it is a good idea to keep the Droid plugged in to prevent the possibility of the battery dieing midway through.

The first step to installing a custom ROM is technically optional, but is highly recommended: making a full system backup to SD. This will allow you to restore to the state your Droid was in before you installed the new ROM, which you may want to do if installation doesn't go well or you simply don't like the new ROM. To start the backup, navigate to the "backup/restore" option, and then select "Advanced Nandroid backup". You will be presented with the following display:

SPRecovery Backup

On this screen the first thing you will want to do is enter in a name for your backup using the hardware keyboard (note: the orientation of the display won't change when you open the slide to use the keyboard). Next, go down the list and select each entry on the list with the camera button so they all have an asterisk next to them. This will make sure every part of the system is backed up. Finally, go back up and select "Perform backup"...and wait. There will be a loading bar on the bottom of the screen as well as some textual information showing what part of the system is currently being backed up. This process takes a few minutes, so go get a drink or start looking up what custom ROMs you want to try out while it is working.

The next step is, again, technically optional but highly recommended. Once your system is backed up, it is suggested that you perform a complete system wipe to get you back to the factory defaults. This prevents the possibility of your old software or settings causing a compatibility issue with the new firmware. It should be noted that this is suggested mainly when moving between very different firmware versions (like stock Android 2.1 to a rooted 2.2 custom), but if you are moving between relatively similar builds (like different custom 2.2 ROMs), then you can probably go ahead without the wipe. To perform a factory reset, you simply select "Wipe data/factory reset", wait for it to complete, and then select "Wipe cache partition". At this point, your phone is now completely backed up and restored to the state it was went if left the factory, which is the perfect condition to begin experimenting with other ROMs.

Custom ROMs are generally distributed in a ZIP archive which you need to rename to "update.zip" and place on the root of your SD card. The easiest way to do this is by going to the "mount options" screen of SPRecovery and selecting "Enable USB Mass Storage", then mounting it and copying the ROM ZIP to the card and renaming it, something like this:

bash:~# dmesg | tail
usb-storage: device found at 28
usb-storage: waiting for device to settle before scanning
usb-storage: device scan complete
scsi 24:0:0:0: Direct-Access     Motorola A853             0001 PQ: 0 ANSI: 2
sd 24:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg2 type 0
sd 24:0:0:0: [sdb] Attached SCSI removable disk
sd 24:0:0:0: [sdb] 31116288 512-byte logical blocks: (15.9 GB/14.8 GiB)
sd 24:0:0:0: [sdb] Assuming drive cache: write through
sd 24:0:0:0: [sdb] Assuming drive cache: write through
  sdb: sdb1
bash:~# mkdir /mnt/droid
bash:~# mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/droid
bash:~# cp customrom.zip /mnt/droid/update.zip
bash:~# umount /mnt/droid
Then navigate back to the main screen and select "install", followed by "Allow update.zip", and finally "Install /sdcard/update.zip (depreciated)". After the installation process is complete, reboot your phone and you will be running your new custom ROM!

Baseband Update

       The firmware for a phone's radio hardware is known as the "baseband". It operates below the Android OS and is in direct control over the phone's hardware. Occasionally, baseband updates are released, and running the latest baseband is always recommended as it can potentially improve things like your 3G signal and battery life.

Unfortunately, if you are using custom ROMs your baseband is not getting updated like it would be if you were running the over the air (OTA) firmware upgrades. This is due to the fact that baseband updates require reactivating your phone, which is simply too much of a hassle when dealing with custom ROMs (many people switch between different ROMs, try out different versions, etc) so it isn't included. Luckily, upgrading your baseband is as easy as downloading the appropriate ZIP file and applying it to your phone with SPRecovery.

To get the latest baseband file, I would direct you once again to the personal site of Peter Alfonso, specifically the Downloads section. You may find baseband files floating around on different forums, but personally I would stick with a trusted authority in the community with this sort of thing.

Once downloaded, move the file to your phone as /sdcard/update.zip as you would with a custom ROM image, then reboot the phone into SPRecovery. Something like the following should get you going (if you don't have the Android SDK, you can use the method mentioned previously for installing custom ROMs):

bash:~# wget http://androidoverdrive.com/pete/OEM/C_01.43.01P.zip
Saving to: `C_01.43.01P.zip'
100%[============================================>] 4,965,122 1.16M/s in 4.4s
bash:~# adb push ./C_01.43.01P.zip /sdcard/update.zip
1915 KB/s (4965122 bytes in 2.531s)
bash:~# adb reboot recovery

After the phone boots into SPRecovery, select "install", followed by "Allow update.zip", and finally "Install /sdcard/update.zip (depreciated)". After SPRecovery says that installation has been completed, back out of the "install" screen using the power button and select "reboot system now". Once your Droid has booted back up, you need to reactivate it and update the Preferred Roaming List (PRL). Luckily, this sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. All you need to do is dial *22899 and then wait a few minutes while the phone reprograms itself. That's it!

Wether or not you actually see a benefit from updating the baseband is debatable, but as there is no reason not to run the latest version, you might as well do it. Personally, when going from the initial baseband the Droid shipped with to C_01.43.01P, I noticed an immediate bump in signal quality. On the other hand, if you were making a smaller version jump or if you already had strong signal where you live, you might not notice anything at all.

Now what?

       At this point your phone is running a custom ROM, almost certainly with root enabled. This gives you exceptional control over your phone and the software it runs. Getting root on your Android phone is just the beginning, head over to the Android research page to learn about installing the Android SDK, changing components of the OS, and even developing your own programs for Android.