Upcycling a XIAOMI Redmi 9 Note Pro

I have been using a FairPhone2 since more than four years. It works brilliant, since I replaced the original operating system with the e OS. The e.foundation really does a good job in providing a replacement for stock Android with bloatware and Google apps. e ships with microG (to receive push notifications) and a possibility to store your data (addressbook, images) on a nextcloud. The only thing which sucks is the FairPhone2 8 MP camera. Upgrading to the 12MP camera was not an option as it is out of stock since 3 years. But I'd love to fetch more brilliant pictures. So I was looking for smartphone models, that allow to flash an e OS and had a nice camera module. The XIAOMI Redmi 9 Note Pro caught my attention as it has four cameras, a FM receiver and a headphone jack (two essential features I won't miss). When I spent some days in Vienna last month I found an offer of a defect XIAOMI Redmi 9 Note Pro device which did not boot anymore. I bought it quite cheaply and hoped to be able to fix it with a software update. 

When booting the device, it just showed the MIUI logo, nothing eles happened. I was able to boot to fastboot mode, but that did not help, neitehr to boot into recovery mode and wipe all data.  It took me several days to find out that the device was locked and that I can not unlock it to flash a new OS as long as it simply did not boot. To escape my bootloop mode I needed to make it run first. After researching several discussion forums and the XIAOMI redmi 9 telegram group I contacted in the darknet a russian unbricking specialist.  He suggested to remove the back cover and the cameras. What? I assumed it was a software issue! On fixit.com I found a tutorial to disassemble the phone with the boot logo stuck symptom. When removing the back cover be careful at the volume knob when lifting it. The SIM card tray has to be removed as well beforehand. One of the screws is sealed with a MI sticker, don't forget it when lifting the upper inner cover.

Removed battery cable, four camera cables and voilá: it boots without cameras attached! I immediately applied an update and registered the phone at mi.com to apply for unlocking the device. Attached cameras again and put back cover on. It is now boot safe and makes brilliant photos!

The operating system unlocking procedure is a bit cumbersome at XIAOMI as you have to wait 10 days. I guess that should prevent mass re-flashing of MI devices of potential re-sellers. I will then flash the e OS for miatoll based devices. I do not want that Google knows what I search or whom I know. I will use our own fairsuch.net meta-search engine and sync my data with faircloud.eu - two services that we provide at fairkom, which I co-founded.

Flashing another image does not work with the default XIAOMI bootloader / MI Assistant, we need another recovery software. So we download the latest OrangeFox and follow this guide. We unzip it and then enter in a terminal

      fastboot flash recovery recovery.img

Now we boot with VolumeUp OrangeFox and do a factory reset (format all partitions, as I do not have data on this evice). Then I choose ADB & sideload and we can flash with

      adb sideload e-0.18-r-20211017141319-dev-miatoll.zip

After next boot, the e logo appears and we have a de-googled smartphone with all features of an Android 11 phone including security updates. All steps are described in this issue.

I usually do not buy new hardware but try to repair or upcycle it. I hope that the XIAOMI device will now remain stable and replace the FairPhone2 - which I got as some years ago as a present from an open cource colleague, who was not satisfied with the stability it had that time. I wil visit him the next week (he is in ten minutes walking distance) and will be wondering if he wants it back or whether we will donate it. Liked the FairPhone a lot, maybe will keep it as a test device. I did not consider to buy a brand new FairPhone 3 or 4 as that would be causing a worse raw material and energy footprint then saving a phone from being thrown away.