Jan 09 2014

Howto: Custom ROM on Ugoos UT1

Ugoos UT1 Custom ROM

I think that the great and powerful hardware of Ugoos UT1 does not reach its full potential because of slow user interface which also has some usability issues. This in mind I searched for an alternative firmware (ROM) that would be lightweight and easy to use.

Where to Get?

There is a great Freaktab forum that has also a category for Android TV boxes and Ugoos in particular. There are several ROMs with their significant features listed.

RKBatchTool vs. RKAndroidTool

There are two common tools to flash Android devices that have Rockchip processor chipsets: RKBatchTool and RKAndroidTool. Which one you need depends on which ROM you would like to flash.

RKBatchTool

RKBatchTool


RKBatchTool takes just one *.img file and does the job while RKAndroidTool takes separate kernel and system files. Also RKAndroidTool is not very intuitive as you need to know correct memory addresses in hexadecimal values.

RKAndroidTool

RKAndroidTool

Recovery Mode

Connect to PC

Connect to PC

First connect the UT1 to your PC via USB cable. Then shut it down from the power switch on the back. Then find a sharp object (a paper clip) and push the recovery mode button down as shown in the picture. Keep the button pushed down and switch it on from the power switch. It will boot into a special recovery mode.

Pin and Switch On

Pin and Switch On

Windows will install the driver but if you have trouble with the driver, please install Moborobo. After drivers have been installed you may start RKBatchTool or RKAndroidTool.

RKBatchTool Rockusb Device Connected

RKBatchTool Rockusb Device Connected

RKAndroidTool RKAndroid Loader Found

RKAndroidTool RKAndroid Loader Found

RKBatchTool shows green “2-1-2” in “connected devices” while RKAndroidTool says “RKAndroid Loader Found”.
RKBatchTool

With RKBatchTool you choose your *.img file in “FW Path” and press “Restore”.

wasserROM

Based on what is written about the different ROMs and user experience, I decided to try wasserROM v. 1.2.4. Among others, it has the following nice features:

  • Android 4.4 Kitkat application launcher
  • 1080p support with different frame rates
  • Fixes “Device not supported” in Google Play (identifies itself as Galaxy S3)
  • Supports standby mode
  • Rooted
  • Provides an overall performance boost

Also, wasserROM is in one *.img file and it mean it can be installed with RKBatchTool which is way easier to use than RKAndroidTool.

Installation

Installing ROM

Installing ROM

App Verification

App Verification

Rooting is not required so you may go ahead and fire up RKBatchTool and browse to the *.img file and press “Restore”. When RKBatchTool updates the firmware (ROM) the UT1 will reboot itself twice. The first boot screen has the green droid and some text about the progress. This will not show longer than a few seconds and it reboots itself again. This time it will display an animated boot screen and then shows the desktop. First there is a confirmation dialog asking you if Google should check all installed apps for harmful behavior. I answered no but it kept on popping up annoyingly. I rushed to the settings and changed the the security setting to disable it permanently.

Display Settings

Display Settings

About Screen

About Screen

In the display setting you may choose 1080p if your display (or TV) supports it. Mine does not so I chose 720p. You may also choose either 60 Hz or 50 Hz refresh rate, I chose 50 Hz because that is commonly used in Europe. In the About device screen it is shown that the Android version is still 4.2.2 and that the UT1 identifies itself as “GT-I9300” which means Samsung Galaxy S3. The build number says “wasser-firmware v1.2.4”.

One serious drawback is that the great Rockchip remote mobile app does not work with wasserROM v. 1.2.4. However it is possible that it will be fixed in future releases. Also with the physical remote that came with the device, there is no way toggling between a normal mode and the cursor mode. It makes it very difficult to use because some apps require “touch” use.

Desktop and App Drawer

wasserROM Desktop

wasserROM Desktop

The desktop looks simple with only few UI elements. On the top there is Google search bar and at the bottom there is an app drawer button and a black status bar with some functions, such as volume up/down and shut down. The status bar can be hidden to clear up some space and to run apps full screen.

App Drawer

App Drawer

The app drawer looks as above. Nothing special, just a collection of installed apps.

Nova Launcher

I wanted the Google search bar removed from the top of the home screen. It is not possible unless you swap to another launcher. The home screen in Android is in fact an app itself. It determines how the desktop looks and it launches other apps.

Nova Launcher

I wanted to have a very simplified single desktop with all my video streaming apps. Now I am pretty satisfied with my Ugoos UT1.

Please note that a custom launcher, such as the Nova, is possible to install even with the stock firmware. This will address some of the usability issues of the stock ROM.

Incompatible Apps

One of my problems with the stock firmware was to get NBA Game Time app installed and auto-updated because it could not be installed from Google Play. Because wasserROM identifies itself to Google Play as Samsung Galaxy S3, I hoped that the NBA Game Time app could now be found in Google Play as well. Unfortunately this was not the case as you will see below.

NBA Game Time App Not Found

NBA Game Time App Not Found

It remains a mystery to me why Google Play does not show it in the search results. Maybe it is because wasserROM, as well as the stock ROM, say that they are tablets and not phones. So I had to do the same tricks as with the stock ROM to get it installed.

wasserROM: Pros/Cons

Pros:

  • Faster boot time (ca. 40 s)
  • Good support for native HD resolutions
  • Pre-rooted
  • No bloat software

Cons:

  • Rockchip remote mobile app does not work
  • Toggle between normal navigation and cursor mode does not work with the physical remote control
  • Shut down button in the GUI does not work
  • Google Play Store app compatibility not 100%

Conclusion

It takes some computer knowledge to replace the stock firmware with a custom ROM. If you need some of the features they provide (for example native full HD resolution, Dolby Digital S/PDIF pass-through to amplifier), it may be worth the effort. If you just need some usability improvements and a simpler home screen, you would be better off with a custom launcher.

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