Rooting, etc. a Kindle Fire w/ 6.2.1+

Amazon recently started pushing a well-publicized update for the Kindle Fire. This update, version 6.2.1, addresses a number of common complaints from many users which have arisen in the first few weeks of the device’s availability. While the update is positive for most, it has one side-effect for a minority of users – it “breaks” root.

Despite what many enthusiastic technologists think, I don’t think the intention of the update was to break root, at all. Rather, from what I can tell, the Fire 6.2.1 update patches the Android (Gingerbread) operating system powering the Fire. Since the popular method for rooting the fire prior to 6.2.1 took advantage of a buffer overflow exploit in Android it’s not surprising it was patched. Since the update is “pushed” over-the-air automatically to Kindle Fire’s many who rooted were left in a tough spot. I was one of them – I worked all night last night and woke to my Fire with an update. The remainder of this post is a guide on how to root the Kindle Fire, install TWRP, CyanogenMod, and the Google applications.

Credit

This process for rooting 6.2.1 is based on this XDA thread started by pokey9000 and the process for installing TWRP and CM7 is based on this XDA thread started by whistlestop.

WARNING

This approach requires hardware modification. If you don’t want to open your Fire (and void your warranty for sure) I recommend you use a safer method, such as waiting for a new exploit or by using a factory cable. If you break your Fire, it’s not my fault.

Update – you can root a 6.2.1 Fire easily with this method but if an update breaks that process again in the future, this method will still work.

WTF: high level overview

This process involves 4 steps.

  1. Downloading the needed tools and resources and getting your computer set up
  2. Opening the case of your Fire
  3. Shorting a pin on your Fire and installing TWRP
  4. Installing CyanogenMod and Google apps

Provisions: what you’ll need

  • Two credit cards OR (the better choice) Plastic Opening Tools from iFixit
  • Micro USB cable
  • Computer
  • Paperclip or copper wire
  • USB drive (2GB+) if you don’t have a Linux PC
  • About 1-2 hours
  • A second person (not required but it helps)

Ready steady go: the detailed process

Downloading the needed tools and resources

First of all, you need a computer running Linux.

If you DO have a Linux machine

Skip this next (IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A LINUX MACHINE)

If you DO NOT have a Linux machine

Honestly, I think most any Linux distribution will do but you will need to have sudo privileges. I only have a Linux machine at work so I needed a solution without having another PC or installing Linux. I’d recommend using the LinuxLive USB Creator (LiLi) with Ubuntu. The LiLi New User Guide has details; you need to create a bootable Linux USB drive. I’d recommend having 1G of persistant free space; I needed about that much in this process. Once the USB drive is ready, restart your computer and boot off of the USB drive.

Now that you have (or had) a Linux machine

Based on the information I had from the XDA forums, my Linux machine needed the Android SDK. I am not 100% sure this is the case; I did not try this process without it.

Installing the Android SDK

  1. Visit the Android SDK download page
  2. Once the SDK is downloaded, extract it and run the “android” application in the tools directory (note: the SDK requires Java; Ubuntu does not have it – follow these directions to install Java on Ubuntu)
  3. In the Android SDK window, install the “platform tools” package
  4. Once the SDK is downloaded, you need open the file ~/.android/adb_usb.ini
  5. In the adb_usb.ini file enter 0x1949 and save/close the file
  6. Plug your Fire into the computer
  7. Go to the directory where you extracted the Android SDK, open the “platform-tools” directory and run sudo ./adb kill-server followed by sudo ./adb start-server and then sudo ./adb devices – you should see one device listed

Getting the files to root your kindle

You need the files described in the first post in this thread. Specifically, you need the “rekindle” zip (which can be downloaded in that thread) and TWRP 2 which is available here. Follow step one of the directions in the
first post in this thread to stage the files appropriately.

Opening the case of your Fire

Speaking from experience, opening the Fire wasn’t that bad. Be aware, however, prying off the back of the case does feel a bit weird. You need to be careful – everything is plastic and easily broken.

I started opening the case by wedging a credit card in the space to the very top-right of the power button. Getting the first card in was the most difficult part; once it was in I worked the card around the corner of the case and up the side towards the top of the device.
open-1

You’re using the card to “push” the tabs holding the case onto the device in a bit so they pop out. If you gently rotate the card slightly while you work it along the seam of the case the tabs will pop out. This picture shows the approximate locations of the tabs on one side of the case.

Photo-Dec-23-12-03-42-AM

I used the second card to do the exact same thing on the left side of the device. The case is hard to separate around the power button and speakers. Take care to gently and slowly work the card around those areas.

All-in-all, the case took about 5 minutes to carefully remove. Once the back of the case is off, be careful not to destroy the “thermal paste” on the case for the Fire’s CPU. The thermal paste is a gray square affixed to the case; it will smudge if you nick it. The paste is indicated below in the red box.

Paste

Shorting a pin on your Fire and installing TWRP

Now comes the part which requires a litte finesse. It really helps to have someone assist you with this section; however, if you’re forever alone’n it, I can assure you it’s possible to solo.

Based on this form thread, you need to “short” a pin on your Fire. While it sounds bad, this process puts the Kindle into a sort of “factory programming” mode. Shorting means you’re allowing electricity to go via an unexpected path. This picture shows you the “pin” you have to short (red arrow) and the area (orange arrow) I’d recommend you short the pin to.
Pin-to-short

Basically, you’re holding one end of the paperclip in the copper circle and the the other end against the silver box. I used a piece of copper wire to do this; you can also use a paperclip. If you are doing this solo, I’d recommend something somewhat hard since you’ll need to plug your kindle in with your second hand. Here’s the copper wire I used.

Untitled

Specifically, the process works like this:

  1. Power off your Kindle Fire, COMPLETELY
  2. Plug one end of your USB cable into your Linux PC
  3. In a terminal go to where you extracted the “rekindle” zip and run sudo ./usbboot aboot.bin u-boot.bin; sudo ./fastboot boot twrp-blaze-2.0.0RC0.img (your PC will say it’s waiting for a connection; this is good)
  4. Use your metal device and CAREFULLY connect the pin and metal box
  5. While holding the metal “clip bridge” in place, plug your USB cable into your Fire
  6. Your terminal should mention transferring two “stages” to your device; once it is complete CAREFULLY remove the metal paperclip (this process takes ~20 seconds)

The steps you just took installed TWRP on your Fire. This will allow you to flash your device and install any ROMs you wish. If you were successful shorting the pins, you will see a hazard-looking icon when your Fire boots.

W1

If you didn’t succeed you can likely try the process again. Honestly, it took me a few tries to short the pin and plug in the USB cable at the same time. One time I thought I had bricked my Fire since the screen was black, even when I pressed the power button. I held down the power button for 20 seconds, then pressed power; the Fire rebooted.

Once TWRP is installed, I’d recommend putting the back of the case back on. To do this, I put my Fire face-down and gently popped the tabs back into the slots. I’d strongly recommend you pop in tabs on all sides of the Fire evenly instead of working around the sides linearly. For instance, I popped in a tab at the top, then one at the bottom, one on the left and so on. Be mindful of the wire bundle running along the right-side of the device. The wires are held in with some plastic clip-like things and had come loose. Make sure they are snug in place before you attempt to re-seat the case. This picture shows the wire bundle in red.

Photo-Dec-23-12-03-25-AM

Installing CyanogenMod and Google apps

With TWRP installed your Fire will display the yellow warning-type icon when you start your Fire but otherwise boot normally. After about 45 seconds you’ll find yourself at the familiar Fire dashboard. Now you can install CyanogenMod (CM) and the Google apps (GMail, Market, etc.)

The first step in this process is to download the latest copy of CM and the Google Apps from this XDA thread. As time progresses you’ll likely be able to install CM 9 instead of CM 7; the former is based on the newer Android 4.0 platform. Make sure to download the CM release for the “stock rom” from that thread.

Next, plug in your Fire and unlock its screen so you can transfer files to it. Rename the CM file “update.zip” and then transfer the CM and Google zip files into the root directory of your Fire.

Now you are ready to install CM. To install, do the following:

  1. Turn your Fire off
  2. Turn your fire back on; when you see the yellow TWRP logo, press and hold the power button for a second
    P1
  3. The light behind the power button will turn orange – when it does, release the power button
    P2
  4. TWRP will now load and you will see a screen like this
    Untitled1
  5. I highly recommend you backup your device before you continue – press “Backup” check all the boxes sans “Skip MD5” and press “Backup Now”
  6. Once the backup is complete, go back to the main TWRP screen (if not already) and press “Install”
  7. This screen shows you files you can “install” or flash – select the “update.zip” file (your renamed CM download) and press “Flash” – this process can take ~30 seconds (you may see errors about being able to mount a directory or two; it’s OK as this is not a problem)
  8. Once the flash is done, press the button to wipe the “Cache/Dalvik” – this takes only a few seconds
  9. Press the “Reboot” button to reboot your Fire

Your Fire will now boot into CM. I noticed the first boot takes about 30 seconds longer than subsequent boots. Once your Fire boots, you’ll see a screen which looks something like this.
Photo-Dec-23-11-23-19-AM1

Good job, your Kindle Fire is now running CM!

*The last step involves installing the “Google Apps” on your device. You don’t *need to do this; I recommend you do it so you have access to things like the Google Market. To install the Google Apps, do the following. Steps 1-2 may not be needed; I have not tried the process omitting them.

  1. Plug your Fire into your computer and set your Fire to be a USB disk so you can see the files on your device
  2. Rename the update.zip file to cm-update.zip and then rename the Google Apps zip to update.zip
  3. Follow steps 1-8 above which you used to install CM; do not wipe the cache; there is no need to do so
  4. Once the zip has been flashed, reboot the device by pressing the reboot button

All done!

That’s the complete process. It really seems like a long process but it isn’t too bad. Just be careful taking your Fire apart. I was extremely hesitant to take my Fire apart and even more nervous about shorting a pin on the circuit board. If you’re careful, however, it should work.

Now that TWRP is installed on your device, you can continue to update (flash) it in the future. This means you can go back to the stock Kindle software or, alternatively, upgrade to a new version of CM at a later date.

A few notes

Once I started playing with CM, I found two things extremely helpful.

  1. If you navigate to Settings and then CyanogenMod Settings then Tablet Tweaks and finally Choose soft-buttons you can enable a button to bump you back to a home screen whenever; it’s very useful
  2. If you enable location services, you can use wifi networks for assisted navigation (without cell/GPS)

Beyond the warnings about taking your device apart and playing Master of Electrons there are a few other things you should keep in mind.

  • The Kindle app for the Kindle OS is different (better) than the base Android version; currently you’ll have to use the generic Kindle app with CM
  • CM is pre-rooted; Amazon Video on Demand DOES NOT work on rooted devices and is unlikely to work in the future
  • By running CM and anything else you install, you’re accepting whatever risks come with having the power of a rooted device

If you have questions, etc. just leave a comment; I’ll try to respond.