New HTC handset reverses Android changes on reboot

New T-Mobile G2 locks users out of ‘root’

Owners of T-Mobile’s new HTC-made G2 handset have got a nasty surprise when trying to update the Android operating system.

According to BoingBoing, the G2, which was launched yesterday, has built-in hardware that detects if the phone has been ‘rooted’. It then reinstalls the original stock firmware, undoing any changes the user might have performed, such as installing a stock Google Android.

Exploration of the issue by Android enthusiasts at XDA Developers points to a form of virtual file system where modifications to the system partition are not persistent when the smartphone is rebooted.

Previously HTC devices had been relatively easy for owners to gain control so they could customise the smartphone software.

The move comes amid mounting criticism of handset manufacturers and mobile operators installing heavily modified versions of the free Android operating system, often incumbered with non removable branding and applications such as front ends to the carriers content portals.

These custom firmwares need to be updated by the carrier when a new version of Android becomes available which in the past has lead to long delays before some handsets have gained access to the latest Android. Five months after the release of Android 2.2 "Froyo" which brings significant new features and performance improvements, many operator customised handsets are stuck on Android 2.1.

While most users will be content to leave their phone in the condition they received it, the ability to replace the operating system with modified often feature enhanced versions is an attractive features for a core number of technically-minded smartphone enthusiasts. As expected, previously hacker-friendly HTC incorporating hardware to foil such customisation is not being received well in these circles.

The addition of hardware to protect against such modification has likely been carried out at the request of the carrier although it’s not clear exactly what concerns the carriers have.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt on being pressed about the possibility of requiring Android to be able to be restored to a ‘stock’ state said that such a move violated the principals of open source software. The debate is currently raging on whether attempts to halt all modifications to the open source software by enthusiasts is also acting within the principals of open source software.

The HSPDA+ and QWERTY-equipped T-Mobile G2 is being called the US version of the HTC Desire Z without HTC’s distinctive Sense skin. It’s available for $199.99 on a two year contract in the US market.

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