One of the phones I have been testing is a Moto Z2 Play. This device was released in the US as a Verizon exclusive, and followed several months later by unlocked versions. The one I picked up is one of these unlocked ones, but it’s still likely that it was originally sold via a mobile carrier/network shop, and I say this because of it’s Software Update Channel. The software update channel was “lra” which means “LET in Rural America” according to Wikipedia. Why does this all matter? Well, when my device arrived running Android 7 and with the December 2017 security update on it, I initially thought nothing of it as on several of the devices I have tried, my first job has been to run through a long line of updates, and the other Moto Z2 play was on Android 8.0 and fairly up-to-date for it’s security patch. However, this phone told me it was up to date, and there were no updates available for it.
It seems I had two options:
- Return the phone to the eBay seller
- Try to find a different ROM that was more up-to-date.
Unlocking the bootloader, and Lineage OS
I went down the route of looking for a ROM, partly because I otherwise liked the phone and had a good deal on it, partly because the seller was reluctant to take it back, and partly because I remember this sort of thing being fun back in the days when I had a HTC HD2. That phone had a dual boot setup with Windows Phone and Android on it. Also, looking around the web, and in particular, at the XDA Developers and Lineage OS websites, there seemed to be a few options.
The first thing it seemed, that I would have to do is to root the device (not necessarily so for Lineage as it turns out, but ture for other ROMs). And so it began. I downloaded fastboot and ADB drivers, a couple of Motorola utilities that I had seen mentioned in videos, and eventually got to the instructions for fully unlocking the device, that was all fairly straight forwards. Motorola, who provided the unlock key, also had unlocking instructions that were easy to follow.
Once unlocked, now it was a time to get my ROM. There was one that promised to make it behave like a Pixel, some that had different types of extra’s and, some based on Lineage OS. Lineage OS is based on Android Open Source project and is supported for a large range of devices. I had been somewhat interested since seeing Steve Litchfield do a review of it on the ZTE Azon 7. And so it was there that I began, excitedly downloading the ROM, the Google apps package and another package of Motorola apps, as well as software called Team Win Recovery Project (TWRP) that provides a nice interface for backing up and restoring the device as well as installing new ROMs.
Lineage OS installed and rebooting, I was quickly disappointed. I shouldn’t have been. I should have read to the end of the thread about the Lineage OS ROM, but I hadn’t. So was surprised to find the fingerprint sensor didn’t work, and that there were no home buttons. I thought officially supported devices would be better than this.
So I uninstalled and tried again with a couple of different ROM’s. One didn’t install at all, and the other worked, but also had some issues, or lacked some of the apps and functionality that made the line unique, such as Moto Display.
I also discovered some apps wouldn’t work, such as Google Pay. That won’t function properly on rooted devices. So I looked into a different way. What I really wanted, was a stock ROM.
Doing it the right way
After some more searching and watching YouTube videos, and reading several blog posts, I realized I probably hadn’t needed to root the device. I then used instructions I had seen to get a stock ROM, and to flash it using RDS Lite. and It worked first time. It booted to Android 8.0 with September security update. Much better. There were just a couple of problems left:
Rooting had meant I had lost access to Google Pay, something I didn’t realize at the start. It had also put an ugly warning on when first turning on the device. Hmm, can I unroot?
Re-locking the bootloader
The answer is yes, you can re-lock a device, though I’m not 100% certain it’s perfect and there isn’t some flag somewhere set that still might impact things in the future, but the symptoms are all gone. It’s a matter of flashing a signed and encrypted version of the ROM, and to be honest, I’m not 100% certain about how it worked. The steps I followed were here. I do know the steps took me to manually flashing the device via fastboot command line, and the process started and ended with commands to begin and commit to locking the device. During the steps, the main ROM was flashed twice, and encrypted, and a new logo file was also used added.
It all worked out, and I now have a Moto Z2 Play on Android 8, a recent security patch and no sign of it being unlocked. Google Pay works, and the ugly message is gone. Pefect. Almost – I still don’t get automatic over the air updates on it, but I know how to deal with that now.
This was a good experiment, but ultimately a reminder that in the world of custom Android ROM’s, there is a lot of variation, and possibilities too. Decide what the goal is, an how much you want to use and enjoy the phone and it’s unique feature vs experimenting with software. And ultimately read the most recent blog posts before taking significant actions like unlocking the bootloader, or installing a ROM.