If the Eclair won't come to the Jaypo

... then the Jaypo must go to the Eclair. Just this once I'm not talking about the succulent treat that pleases sweet toothes and widens waistlines, but version 2.1 of Google's Android.

I'm sure that everybody's heard by now that there are some interesting things going on in the world of smartphones. With RIM's upcoming Playbook (which is a good deal of fun to develop for, btw), Microsoft's launch of Windows Phone 7 and pretty much everybody playing with smartphones suing everybody else, it's hard to stay on top of things let alone find time to wander down an alley every now and then. Coming off of a good day at work, I thought that tonight I'd find the time.

The alley of choice this evening was the Xperia X10 Android Development forum over on the infamous xda-developers.com and was quite pleased to find a thread called Decrypted x10 roms - latest Android 2.1 SHIPPED GLOBAL ROM. Right beneath a piece of administrivia was pure gold: A pair of ROMs purporting to be the Nordic and generic versions of Android 2.1 for the Xperia X10. The downloads were a couple hundred megs and hosted on one of those pay or wait sites but I decided to take a gamble. Besides, the dog needed walking.

Back It Up

In case anybody's going to be playing along at home, before you can mess with your X10's ROM you need to take care of a couple things:

First, you need to have the Sony Ericsson Update Service installed and working otherwise you probably won't have the low level USB drivers the flashing tool needs. Note that this isn't the PC Companion your phone pimps every time you connect it to something, although that's useful to have around as well. I'm too lazy to dig up a download link, but I've heard the installer's on your phone. Often.

Second, you need to have Sunoracle's JRE installed and working. I'm running Windows 7 Professional on a 64-bit processor which is supposedly supported, but I distrust the 64-bit JRE so I set my path to find the 32 bit runtime first (PATH=C:\Program Files (x86)\Java\jre6\bin;%PATH% in the command window you're going to use) and lied to it.

Third, backup your phone (the Backup and Restore application will do).

Fourth, backup your phone.

On With The Show

I had to flash my X10 a few months ago when I decided it needed to be rooted and unbranded, so I was already familiar with the process (hence the second point above) and wasted no time extracting the ZIP containing the generic ROM image. After opening a command window I set about the most difficult part: typing x10flash and pressing enter. Putting the X10 in flash mode is as simple as connecting the USB cable, pressing and holding the back button then connecting it to a computer. As I recall you had to do the same thing when Sony shipped the screen update a little while ago.

Text will fly by as the ROM is written to your phone and at one point it'll say finished and sit there for a bit. Be warned it's not actually finished yet, when it's done it'll prompt you to press any key. The batch file gave me an error right at the very end, but it didn't look like it was anything of consequence so I hurriedly rebooted my phone. After staring at a camera shooting lightning arrows at a tablet for a bit, the phone booted up and away she went.

Some people on the forums were complaining about choppiness and the phone being laggy for up to an hour after the flashing, but since we're essentially doing a fresh install of the phone's operating system, that's to be expected. Also, for those keeping score at home, this is where you'd use the Backup & Restore app. It won't reinstall your applications, but that's nothing a quick trip to the market can't fix. Downloads might not contain your free apps, but the ones you've bought should be there. Mine were.

The Verdict?

Mikey likes it. Compared to 1.6 (at least Sony's re-imagining) the GUI doesn't feel as clunky and the animations while navigating through menus and home screens are much smoother and peppier than before. I haven't ventured much beyond Twidroyd Pro, the Android Market and a few settings screens yet, but the text strikes me as being much smoother and more legible and Eclair seems to do the X10's big, beautiful screen justice. I'd imagine being able to use the display's full 16.8 million colours helps out in that regard.

There are quite a few additions to 2.1 from a functionality standpoint (which might have been present previously but buried too deeply to find) such as slide to unlock screen which has the added benefit of being able to turn off the phone's sound and, thankfully, a button to open the applications instead of that damn slider that would go halfway then rocket back down.

Another welcome addition is being able to record 720p video. I tried a couple test recordings (one around 20 seconds, the other around a minute and a half) and the video is much the same quality as the 800x480 the X10 recorded when I first got it, only bigger. It falls apart similarly with fast motion and the CCD noise tends to make itself very known in lower lighting conditions, but so far as video shot with a cell phone goes I'd put it towards the front of the pack.

The most amazing thing is that I've been tinkering with it for hours and I haven't had any problems with it misinterpreting my gestures. There's still no multitouch though as it's not supported by the X10's hardware but, let's face it folks, even phones as large as the X10 don't have enough real estate for that to be used effectively. It's okay, no, they really aren't. Calm down.

All in all, I'd say the 2.1 update really brings the X10 to life. On paper this is a pretty powerful phone and it's kind of a relief to know that the holdup wasn't the hardware. That being said, I still haven't ventured in to Mediascape. If you've used (or tried to would be more accurate, I suppose) the version that shipped with the X10, you know what I mean.