note: this isn't really a review of the phone nor is it a proper instructional guide regarding it. moreso just initial thoughts and tweaks with a bunch of rambling because that's how we do things here baby
if you are considering buying this phone or are trying to figure out how to modify it, please read the updates at the bottom of the page before reading the rest of this blog post!
so a subdivision of the ever-so-popular xiaomi brand known as qin makes some pretty interesting niche phones. pictured above is one of these models, the f22 pro. it seems to be tailored more towards students (or just those who want to be on a phone less). i picked one up from some dude on reddit for a good deal because fuck aliexpress shipping. it got here in around 2 days, which was actually a day earlier than expected. what a nice surprise.
it came with one of those flimsy tpu clear cases preinstalled, a plastic screen protector (also preinstalled), the original box, and what i assume is a usb cable in the box which i didn't bother to take out (or oven try to find in the box) because i like to save new cables for a rainy day. or well just a day when i run out of usb c cables or something. keeps it fresh yknow.
JESUS CHRIST THIS THING IS FUCKING HUGE.
i will say, i probably should've seen this coming given the screen is the same size as the iphone 4's screen, but STILL. pictures that compare this to its older and smaller brother, the f21, really undersell the size. this thing is taller than my iphone x!
it's sort of a bummer to me that a device like this is so big. but i think i can live with it. it has enough of a clunkiness to it to where it would be kind of annoying to use on the daily, but still usable, which is what i want.
also god damn this thing is long.
looking around... it seems to have an IR blaster. that'll be fun to mess with.
and NO HEADPHONE JACK?? i mean i probably shouldn't be surprised but it's pretty funny to see an omission like this on a phone like this. and kinda sad tbh. i have adapters for my wired earbuds and use bluetooth earbuds (for the most part) on the go anyway, but still what the hell lmfao.
so the hardware seems good enough...but a phone wouldn't be a phone without good software to use on it. and BOY is the software that comes with this phone a doozy.
the only ways you can buy this phone outside of china are by the various listings on alibaba or aliexpress, OR using an import service but get ready to pay out the ass for that. the person who owned this before me bought it off aliexpress, and apparently the dudes in china who resell these have 3 versions of the phone as far as i (and others) can tell:
- a version with xiaomi/qin's stock software
- a version with xiaomi/qin's stock software, but modded with the google play store (and in consequence, an unlocked bootloader)
- a version with an unlocked bootloader and pure AOSP port (most likely made by the resellers themselves), which is absolutely AWFUL for reasons i'll state in a bit.
mine came with the aosp port and holy fuck i want to throw it out a window it is so infuriating to use. it isn't slow by any means, but...
1) stock aosp looks so out of place on a phone like this
2) THE BUTTONS AREN'T PROPERLY BINDED. pressing the end call button doesn't even end a call, it just turns off the phone. the make call key doesn't do shit either. seriously this thing is so annoying
3) IT DOESN'T EVEN COME WITH A T9 KEYBOARD PREINSTALLED. INSTEAD YOU GET FUCKING GBOARD. THE SAME GBOARD THAT'S MADE FOR SMARTPHONES WITHOUT PHYSICAL KEYBOARDS. WHY???
anyways, i've made my case - this rom has to go. the next best option would be the qin stock rom...right? well...
so admittedly, i am very much a dependent on google guy. a lot of apps i use rely on play services, so i'm going to need to have them installed. i COULD in theory install something like microg to save battery life (which i have considered) but some apps i use bug out a bit with it so i'm going to stick with full play services.
as of writing this (december 2022), this phone doesn't seem to have any sort of custom recovery available. if we want to get anything on here, we'll have to turn to using sketchy modifications of the stock rom or modifying the stock rom ourselves. siiigh.
in my hunt for a rom that wouldn't make me tear my hair out, i found an xda thread that had links to several roms. two of them are the oem stock roms without play services, but another one on this thread is a modded oem stock rom with google play AND multilingual support! perfect, right?
a person in the thread who tried out the google play rom came back with some....interesting discoveries. it seems to be a hack put together by some random dude who has absolutely fucked the rom up. they added bloatware (apparently samsung music is on the rom??), did weird performance tweaks via build.prop modifications (even making it report as a different phone in the process), changed the ringtones and wallpapers to their own, changed the software updater to their own custom version, and plastered their name everywhere.
so that rom is a complete no-go. the person who made this discovery has made a debloated version of the rom, but it seems to have gotten him in some hot water with the original modder.
but honestly does it really matter? i mean, if you're redistributing another company's software you're both in a weird sort of grey area lol.
i would use the debloated google play mod version but i'm not gonna lie i'm a little paranoid about whatever the hell the original modder dude may have slipped into the rom that the other dude who debloated the rom might've missed. so it's time for us to mod the stock rom ourselves!
now i really have no idea what i'm doing (and i'm probably not going to provide any downloads to anything i make), but i had a hunch that i could probably just flash the unmodded stock rom, root the phone, flash google apps, debloat, and then unroot so stuff like my banking apps would work. seems painless enough, right?
github user shuuryou has published a great writeup covering the process of installing and debloating the stock china qin rom. i won't repost the instructions here as his writeup covers everything you'll need, but the basic gist of it (on windows) is to install mediatek drivers, backup the stock rom if you want with mtkclient, and flash the chinese rom with that same software. this'll get you to a pretty clean slate. i personally didn't backup because my computer doesn't have enough space for it plus fuck this rom but if you have this phone with this specific software and you have the space to backup, you probably should anyway lol.
so in typical reon fashion, absolutely nothing worked the first try for me. the syntax for commands ran in mtkclient must either differ on linux or have changed in the past month because the command to flash the super partition didn't work at all for me. i eventually figured it out (you just needed to specify which partition you wanted the image to flash to, e.g. "mtk w partitionname partitionfile.img"), but nope it didn't end there. when it came time to flash the rest of the images in the romdump, i tried using mtkclient to flash those images in the directory i had them extracted to. for some godforsaken reason, mtkclient didn't recognize which img files belonged to which partition. which meant i had to manually type out the commands to flash each image. one by one. siiiiiiiiigh.
i also took some shortcuts during the part of the guide where you extract and flash the rest of the rom (which i assumed includes userdata and the super partition). i ended up skipping the flash of the userdata and the super partition to try and save time and my phone still worked fine.
after the phone's first boot with the stock rom i got thrown straight into a screen with a bunch of chinese text i can't read. translation apps to the rescue!
the out of box setup gives you two choices - one is an unlocked mode that allows for app installation and the other is a student mode which locks down app installation (presumably to keep distractions low) and also allows the phone to be remotely managed and tracked by a parent or guardian (i think). predictably i picked the unlocked mode.
aaaaand we're in!
now here's the part where i struggled for 2 hours trying to root the phone over what was literally just a simple mistake. i tried to flash a boot image that was patched with magisk but it kept causing a bootloop and an error saying something about system verification or something. but then i realized i FORGOT TO UNLOCK THE BOOTLOADER. the ONE THING YOU NEED TO DO to flash custom software without the phone screaming at you and refusing to boot. yeah don't be like me please.
i did end up getting magisk installed though.
honestly, i didnt want to root, but i only did so i could install gapps - there's no custom recoveries yet for this phone, so i have to make do with installing magisk modules. i found one called litegapps that can systemlessly install a barebone version of gapps. it seems to work good enough for the stuff i need it to work with. i did have to manually certify the device for play protect, but that wasn't a big deal at all.
i think later down the line i'm going to try modifying the system partition to be read/write so i can just directly install gapps there and unroot. i might also just try modifying the system images myself to manually add gapps. but that's for another day. hell i don't even know if that would work if i were to unroot after. all else fails and i might end up flashing that really scuffed google play rom by that one dude off xda. but i hope i don't have to go there anytime soon lol.
i purged the vast majority of the xiaomi apps on the phone via the universal android debloater utility, leaving only stuff like the calendar and sound recorder. the github page i linked earlier has a list of safe-to-remove apps in regards to the qin f22's stock rom.
now to install a keyboard. there's plenty of choices available - i tried out "traditional t9", qinboard (fork of traditional t9 for qin phones), k9t9, and "old t9 keyboard". traditional t9 worked fine out of the box but needed some keymap tweaking for a smoother experience. qinboard also worked fine out of the box, as i sort of expected it to, but for some god forsaken reason there was no shortcut to switch between t9 dictionary input and regular abc/123. there's also no option for key remapping, which suuucks. i couldn't figure out how to get k9t9 to work (might've been installing it wrong tbh), and old t9 keyboard...well look for yourself.
i settled on tt9 with keymap tweaks. i have the weird useless qin key (farthest button on the top left of the keypad) mapped to word selection, asterisk set to switch between modes (t9/abc/123), and hash to turn on/off capitalization. i'll probably mess with other keyboards later. i also downloaded a key remapper app so i could make a shortcut mapped to the call key that switches the phone to gboard for voice dictation, and then back to t9. it's pretty convienent.
and with that i'm finally done setting up this phone jesus christ.
so i can finally say i have probably one of the weirdest yet coolest phones ever made in my smartphone collection/hoarder pile. like i stated earlier in this writeup, i hope this actually manages to keep me off my phone - i'm probably going to daily drive it once classes start next semester. the form factor is neat but it's clunky enough to the point where i kinda am less drawn to it then even my unihertz jelly. i just wish the phone had nfc so i could make contactless payments with it, but i can live without that.
i'm really happy with how this has turned out so far, but i definitely want to make a few more quality of life changes once i have more energy to. i'll probably write a more formal review once i've had more time to use this device daily and tweak it more.
was it worth doing all of this? i'd say yeah, but maybe because i'm in a decent mood right now lol. it was a few hours of troubleshooting but i eventually put all the pieces together. i guess if anything this is my one note of caution: actually double check that you've done prerequisites like bootloader unlocking before doing any modding with the software lol
update 1 (8 sep 2023) - i think i'm going to end up selling this phone to a friend - the size of it sort of makes it a joke to use as a proper "dumbphone"/keypad phone replacement and is the main reason i haven't been using it recently. i didn't think it would bother me that much at first but i've grown to dislike it. i'd much rather use my jelly 2, or even my 2016 iphone se - they don't have a keypad form factor since they're just small smartphones (which sucks since i actually like typing with physical keyboards on phones) but they're overall more compact devices i can put away and forget about. i also have other dumbphones (modded tcl flip 2, kyocera 902kc) that i would prefer using as well, but my 902kc is defective and i don't have much of an urge to "go dumber" by using the tcl flip 2, albeit i've considered living with it for a few days for fun (future post?) since it's a much more limiting device than my smartphones or hybrid devices like the qin f21 or f22. don't get me wrong, the qin f22 is a great phone and is fairly compact in terms of width but the rest of the size (height and screen size) is a huge turn off for me personally. i might end up ordering and modifying the qin f21 since i prefer the smaller size - if i do import one i might do another writeup regarding modding it since it has much more community support than the f22.
i've also gotten emails from people asking for help regarding the phone, and while i do sort of know my way around this stuff i feel like i'm a bit unqualified to give out this info. again, this blog post is less of a proper tutorial and more of a "me documenting the experiences i have with modifying technology to my liking" type of thing. i also tend to be busier with academics and other things in my social life at times, so i tend to forget to check my email - you might be waiting a while. there are 2 guides i'd recommend for anyone trying to tinker with the phone - the shuuryou guide i mentioned earlier in this blog post and this guide written by "PM_ME_FLUFFY_SHIBES" and originally posted on the dumbphones subreddit. the shuuryou guide covers flashing the phone from the generic unofficial firmware to the official firmware, while the reddit guide covers rooting the phone, passing safetynet, and installing microg (you could also opt for official gapps/play services by using methods i documented here, but that guide specifically covers microg). the dumbphones subreddit is also a great place to find information on modifying this device along with other dumbphones.