Update: The method described in this article is no longer valid due to recent bootloader updates. I have since removed my code from GitHub. If you have already updated FireOS to the latest version you won’t be able to root it as easily as before. If you have an older FireOS version, your best bet is to install a Cyanogenmod port.
You know that times have changed when you can get an Android tablet that actually works for just 50€. When Amazon launched the 5th generation Fire Tablet I knew that I had to get one.
Tablets are great consuming devices and this was the right time to get rid of a bulky iPad Air, get my Nexus 7 2013 back that I lent to a family member and replace it with a modest tablet that covers the basics and works well enough for her use case.
Me and a bunch of co-workers took the plunge and bought into Amazon’s crazy “get six tablets for 50€ each” discount pack. There you have it: the perfect recipe for a weekend of tinkering.
When I turned it on I was amazed that, while it was definitely not a premium device, the hardware actually felt solid in the hand.
Design-wise and spec-wise it reminded me of a 2012 Nexus 7 made slightly faster by updated hardware and not penalized by the slow-as-molasses eMMC that plagued Asus’ tablets nearly four years ago. There are some differences made in name of price, such as a lower 1024x600 screen instead of a 1280x800 one, but hey, for 50€ what did I expect anyway?
One huge drawback of all Fire devices in general is that they run Amazon’s fork of Android: Fire OS. Being a fork designed to be incompatible with Android compatibility standards, Amazon doesn’t include the Play Store, Play Services or any Google application. They are contractually forbidden from doing so. This means no Gmail, YouTube, Maps, and no Chromecast support. 1
I was faced with a dilemma: how can I get this incredibly cheap piece of hardware to run the incredibly good Google apps?
After a short trip to XDA-Developers’ forums I had the answer: I had to gain root on the device. Thankfully I didn’t have to find an exploit to escalate privileges.
In fact, the device comes with signed boot and recovery partitions, but the boot loader still allows you to upload a recovery image to the device’s RAM and run it from there. Which means that once you get a compatible recovery image you can then mount the system partition in read-write mode and do as you please.
Most automated scripts on XDA-Developers, however, are targeted at Windows users and come with sketchy ADB drivers and unknown binaries. While I have a Windows machine, I didn’t want to let that stuff touch my computer.
Since I’ve been completely out of the Android scene for the last two years, I had to update my knowledge on custom ROMs, recoveries, etc. Then I started to piece out a simple shell script that downloads everything needed from their original places and applies that to the device.
In fact, Amazon is not a member of the Open Handset Alliance and is contractually forbidden from adding Google stuff to its own distribution. OHA members are forbidden from selling devices with incompatible Android forks if they want to ship the Play Store or any Google application to their customer. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. One that conditions which hardware manufacturers Amazon can choose to build its tablets. In this case they had to go to Quanta Computer, since they are not an OHA member. ↩