I Am a Phone Hacker

It looked nice in the shop

A few months ago I got myself a new mobile phone — a fancy Motorola v710 from Telus. I paid full price because I did not want to be locked into a contract (I will discuss the economic justification of that choice in a later post).

What a disappointment. The v710 is full of bells and whistles like Bluetooth, MP3 ringtone capability, a still and video camera, a web browser, and mobile television. Unfortunately, none of those features — and I do mean none of them — work very well.

Part of the problem is that many of the touted features have been crippled or disabled for various stupid reasons, most having to do with digital rights management issues. The Bluetooth crippling is so bad that Verizon, a U.S. mobile carrier, has lost a class-action lawsuit for having described the v710 as a “Bluetooth” phone when those capabilities had been so severely disabled. (The Telus phones are equally crippled.)

Below is a list of the problems I identified within the first week of ownership of the phone. Despite these issues, I refused to return it for a refund. Items marked “Hackable” indicate the capability exists in the phone but has been disabled via firmware — with the right tools and knowledge, they can be fixed via phone hacks.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth connectivity has been disabled almost completely. You can connect one of those stupid wireless ear/mic thingies, but that’s all. No Bluetooth connectivity to PDAs is permitted, nor to PCs or anything else. I could not upload or download MP3s via Bluetooth, nor synchronize my datebook or phonebook. (Hackable.)

Transflash cards are really tiny!

File Transfer: The v710 comes with 10 MB of internal memory, and a slot for a TransFlash memory card. Those cards are virtually impossible to find in Montreal — Telus doesn’t even have any. I got mine on eBay. However, the ability to move files onto the TransFlash card via Bluetooth is disabled (see above). Also, the ability to move files from the TransFlash card to the phone’s internal memory has also been disabled. Note that in order to use an MP3 as a ringtone, it has to be in the phone’s internal memory. (Hackable.)

Camera Shutter Sound: Apparently there are concerns about people taking surreptitious photos in locker rooms and such, so for many phones (including the v710) the “no shutter sound” function on the camera has been disabled. I can change the sound from “click” to “boing” and some other very silly sounds, but the option of “no sound” is gone. I have no interest in locker room photos, but I do like to be discreet when I take photos. The v710’s “click” sound is very loud, and I don’t need to have everyone on the bus jump if I happen to take a quick photo of something as I’m looking out the window. 99% of the time I’m not even photographing people — I just hate advertising to everyone within a 100-foot radius that I JUST TOOK A PHOTO! (Hackable.)

Stock Images and Ringtones: The v710 comes with about a dozen boring stock images and a handful of annoying ringtones to choose from. Unfortunately, you cannot delete the stock images and ring tones. There is no known or reasonable excuse for this. I hate the fact that when I’m flipping through my images, I have to surf past all those stupid stock images, with no option to simply delete them. And with only 10 MB of internal memory, they are wasting valuable storage space. (Hackable.)

Mobile TV. Notice how small the picture is, unlike the way it looks in the Telus ads. And the picture quality is awful.

Mobile Television: For the first two months that I owned the phone, Mobile TV simply wouldn’t work. The phone would crap out and not let me download the Mobile TV software. Many calls to Telus Customer Support were fruitless. During one such call, the support person admitted that, even after two months of trying, they had no idea why it wasn’t working and they had 300 other tickets open for the same problem. Fortunately, it has finally been fixed, although no one bothered to tell me. I found out when I tried it again for the 99th time, and bang, it worked! Unfortunately, Mobile TV is really awful. The sound is bad, the picture quality is terrible, and the frame rate is something like two frames per second.

Ringtones: The only legitimate way to get a ringtone into the phone is to buy it (and I think you have to buy it through Telus). I had an MP3 I wanted to use, but I couldn’t get it into the phone because I had no TransFlash card. After I finally got a card, I couldn’t get the file from the card into the phone’s internal memory (see “File Transfer,” above). I found a tricky workaround (involving sending the file in an email attachment, which puts it in the phone’s “out” box and thus in its internal memory), but then I couldn’t apply it as a ringtone — the stock MP3s all had “apply as ringtone” in their menus, but not the one that I put on the phone myself. Somehow, the phone simply knows that it’s my own file and not one I bought from Telus, and it would not let me apply it as a ringtone. (Hackable.)

The Good News

With a lot of research, I was able to find information on how to hack all those hackable problems. It involved buying a data cable and downloading not-particularly-legal versions of Motorola’s Mobile Phone Tools and the hard-to-find Phone Support Tools (the software that Motorola technicians use to program phones). I also needed something called BitPim, and some special drivers.

More importantly, I needed the cajones to plug the phone in and do the hacks (most of which are referred to as “SEEM edits”) because hacking your phone instantly voids the warranty. I paid $400 for that sucker and I didn’t want to hose it.

I did the hacks. They all worked beautifully. My v710 now talks to my Palm Zire 72 via Bluetooth, I can transfer files from my Transflash card to the phone’s memory, I can use whatever MP3 I want as a ringtone (I’m particularly fond of the CTU ring from 24), and I got rid of the annoying stock images and a few unwanted ringtones. And my camera’s shutter is silent.

Still, it steams me that I had to void my phone’s warranty in order to make it work properly.

Unfortunately there is no hack that can make the quality of Mobile Television any better, nor one to fix the the camera’s poor quality in low light. Regardless, for the first time since I bought it, I am finally happy with my v710 — no thanks to Telus.

26 thoughts on “I Am a Phone Hacker

  1. heheheh Phone Hacking is called “Phreaking”.

    If you are to buy such phone at full price, I suggest you look over the Internet for “Sim free” mobile phones. Usually you can get a better price elsewhere, and it will not come with any restriction whatsoever. More so, they work with most local carriers, to the expense of a warranty and having to configure all the services yourself.

    If I ever get a new phone, it’ll probably be a Sony-Ericsson P910i, or a (UK-only) W900i or a (UK-only soon-to-be-released) P990i, that will have the advantage of be compatible with 3G service when it’ll be here. But you can be 100% certain my P910i will not be bought here if I ever buy one, I want the full features, not only the ones my provider wants to give me.

  2. In this case it’s not really phreaking, as that usually refers to hacking the phone system, or hacking phones so they will manipulated the phone system — which is illegal. In this case I did nothing illegal, I just hacked the phone itself. More accurately, I UN-hacked the phone. Telus hacked it so as to disable features. I just brought it back to it’s intended functioning.

  3. Hi I’m Mark from Telus Customer Relations department. We’re sooo sorry to hear you had to go through all these troubles unlocking your phone and voiding your warranty. Unfortunately I have to inform you we now have to disconnect your phone from accessing our network. Your phone in it’s current state might cause unreparable damage to our top-of-the-line wireless phone- and data network and that could seriously affect our shareholders’ bottom line. It’s also a breach of your contract with Telus, (article 13, item iii, sub d)
    That contract is now nil and void. Of course you still have to pay your monthly installments and the network fee of $6.99. Yada yada yada.

    TELUS in the future we’ll be friendly.

  4. That’s why I’m with rogers. Buy the phone you want, from whoever you want, with the features you want, put your sim into the phone.

    POOF. Done.

    GSM rocks. Too bad there isn’t any competition anymore in the canadian GSM market.

  5. Wow!

    Unbelievably mind-boggling stuff! You must get phone-calls all day long from those that would be interested in discussing this stuff!

    …We are talking about phones, right?

  6. Bloink. In the world created by Microsoft very little works and thus we are forced to search the internet for ways to fix that. There soon will be a helpdesk for your life with solutions for everything and everyone.

  7. Tbit: I totally agree. Computers are getting in cars too now. I mean: real computers, with interactions with external gitzmos.
    It’s going to be the same mess.

    Personnaly, I do not see the point of paying 400$ for something so complicated to work!!!
    What the point of selling something so limited???
    Why is that so complicated?
    The market seems full and the competition harsh, but there is still room for a simple model that simply works as intended…

    To be honest Blork, I think I’d be ashamed of having been through all this (the research, etc. but at least you solved it). But I have my own shamefull&useless hobbies too.

  8. Raoul, quite to the contrary, I’m rather proud of having found a way to get what I wanted.

  9. Raoul, The market might seem like it’s full of competition, but you’d be amazed at what cell companies won’t let you do. Or the rates they charge for some things. Here in canada we are quite behind most other countries in cell tech. Unlike most other technology, we don’t get a lot of choice in terms of phone models, and we have to wait longer and longer for them to be available. The phone I have in my pocket right now is a european phone because it wasn’t available from my provider at the time that I wanted to buy it.

  10. I know we are late compared to Europe. I can understand that a person interested in those gitzmos would want more from their provider and models. I guess it’s really the used technology (and so the providers) that is not up to your expectations.
    I do not have a cell, we have one at home, which we could use in emergencies while out of the city, but that’s all. It may sound retarded. But when I read how complicated it gets to use or to access the promised extra functions. It sounds so dumb to me. ( I am not targeting you Blork or others, being a guy, I like to do that kind of things too). But think of me as a potential new customer for his new need (cell phone), but I am not really convinced I need it and the more I look at the industry, the more I think they are “evil”: they screw people so bad, whether it’s not fulfilled promises (such as your will-do-it-all-but-in-the-end-do-nothing phone at 400$!!!), whether it’s the service/charges. I only looked at providers/services/charges because I do not care about the phone itself, all those gadgets are useless to me anyway, but when I read your post, it sounds even worse than I thought!
    When I think of all the energies and efforts los , and that’s for phones that will be to date for a year or so, multiplied by the number of people….
    2 conclusions:
    1)We really make ourselve slave of the technology!
    2) the tech seems so fragile, complicated and last so few! What an inefficient sector!

  11. Hey there! I also have the same phone from telus and I am really steaming at the non working features. Have you made a site that houses the hacks/programs. I’m a newbie to this but willing to learn! Any thing you are willing to share I would be greatful as I am not sure how to go about it. I bought motorola phone tools and what a rip off. It said I could transfer photos and mp3’s…grrrrrr not a chance…mind you I now have a cable to communicate laptop to phone …

    anyways if you are able to point me in the right direction I would be greatful!

    Thanks in advance

    Chickie :)

  12. Hi!!!
    it is very very nice that you have done, after all the companies DO NOT have the right to superimpose the rights that they want you do and get more money for the use of “extended rights”, I knew a “company” that send a $15.00 dollar bill only to activate the automatic antivirus tool that this “company” was offering as “FREE” in their advertizes, I thing this is that verizon and other are doing with the mobile phones.

    by the way if you or somebody knows what happen with my phone please help me, I was in chicago, driving at 2:00 in the night and suddenly I must stop at a police stop line and the phone bounces under the passenger seat, after that, the phone show no video even in the external display, sometimes the external display try to say something but this is all, I have made two or three calls from it but the sound is really bad, if you or somebody may help me, I really will appreciate this.
    I am using another phone (Motorola C155 from tracfone) but I must continue paying the V710 phone “from Verizon” because if I return the phone before two years I must pay some money to Verizon.

    May somebody help me???

    thanks in advance.

  13. Octavio, it sounds like you have a hardware problem, that something got knocked loose inside the phone.

  14. I would like to hack my mp3 phone ~ my problem is that I cannot apply my mp3 files that are stored in the phone as ringtones. How would you hack this, and how did you hack it for yours?

  15. Babali, there are many factors involved, including the type of phone, the firmware, etc. I suggest you check out the CDMA Forums web site and dig around there.

  16. Hey ED ,good job unhacking the phone !!! today i’ve run into same problem with telus , 1 question – blocking the phone functions by telus isnt that monopoly? in US verizon lost law suit , how about if we sue telus for that matter ? would it work?
    and thanks for your BLOG .

  17. Thanks dude. I’m pretty proud of my little hack. But when I think of all the things I could spend time on, a class action suit against Telus (for what? $100 back?) isn’t one of them! If somebody else did the work, I’d be supportive, but I don’t have the personal bandwidth to lead the charge.

  18. i have a problem with my v710 also … i can’t find a way to make the bluetooth works properly, when someone with other cellphone activates the option my cellphone appears in his/her cellphone, but when i turn my bluetooth on i can’t find sh.t … my cellphone has no restrictions of any kind, i always could change configuration, add/delete ringtones/pics, everything … the only thing that bothers me is the bluetooth,

    please help

  19. Yup same boat as Blork, I even went at great length to get a cheap 2GB card for all my MP3 music and spent an hour editing some nice ringtones and then WHAM, can’t load it to the phone’s internal memory or from my card as my own ringtones. I swear they put the most annoying sounds they could as defaults so you pay their outrageous prices to download theirs. Well, I’m in process of voiding my warranty as well, will get the cable and do the dirty and configure it the way I WANT. WHat I did manage was coerce the Telus Mobility folks (not the dealer as they can’t) to foist a 250 credit on a one year as I told them I think I’ll go with Cantel this time. They also lowered the price on my one year package 12/month on a deal that was 6 months old at Cantel and managed to fanagle part of my credit for use towards a case. I think I did okay, but I’m still only using the vibrate function in public. Oh yeah the 2GB card is handy as it makes a great MP3 player input on my boat and car.

  20. hey, I’m glad you had success!!! something I was wondering, telus didnt lock my bluetooth on my phone, but when i transfer music to my nokia 6265i I have the same issue you had. Now since I can transfer with bluetooth, should I be able to hack my phone without a cord? or is the cord required for another reason???

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