Custom ringtones on a Motorola phone, from Linux (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 22 Jun 2008

Custom ringtones on a Motorola phone, from Linux

I decided to stick a tentative toe into the current millennium and get myself a cellphone.

I sense your shock and amazement -- from people who know me, that I would do such a thing, and from everybody else at the concept that there's anybody in 2008 who didn't already have one.

I really don't think cellphones are evil, honest! (Except in the hands of someone driving a car -- wouldja please just put the phone down and pay attention to the friggin' road?) The truth is that I just don't much like talking on the phone, and generally manage fine with email. The land-line phone works fine for the scant time I spend on the phone, and I have to have the land line anyway (as part of the DSL package) so why pay another monthly bill for a second phone?

Prepaid plans looked like just the ticket, and that's what I got. With a cute little Motorola V195s. New toy! Rock! It can take custom MP3 ringtones and Java games ... but of course I don't want theirs, I want to make my own. So I wanted to talk to the phone from Linux.

The charger plug was a familiar shape -- looked a lot like a standard mini USB connector. Could the hardware be that easy? Sure enough, it's a standard mini USB. Kudos to Motorola for making that so easy! Now what about software?

My initial web searches led me down a false trail paved with programs like wammu and gnokii. I learned that I needed to enable ACM in my kernel (that's the modem protocol most cellphones use over USB), so as long as I was building a new kernel anyway, I grabbed the latest tarball from ( With that done, I was able to talk to the phone with gnokii, but the heavily Nokia-oriented program didn't show me much that looked useful.

Moto4lin is the answer

I set the project aside for a while. But half a week later while looking for something else, I stumbled across moto4lin, which turned out to be exactly what I needed. I had to run as root, or else when I try to connect, it prints on stderr:

sendControl Error:[error sending control message: Operation not permitted]
) but I'm sure that can be solved somehow.

So run as root, click Connect, click File Manager if you're not already in that mode, then click Update List and it reads the files. Once they're there, you can click around in the folder list on the left looking for the audio files (on my phone, they're in a directory called audio somewhere under C, not A). Excellent!

Creating a ringtone leads to a kernel debugging digression

Okay, now I needed a ringtone. I wanted to use a bit of birdsong, so I loaded one of the tracks I use for tweet into Audacity and fiddled semi-randomly until I figured out how to cut and save a short clip. It would only save as WAV, but lame clip.wav clip.mp3 solved that just fine.

(Update: the easiest way is to select the clip you want, then do File->Export Selection...)

Except ... somewhere along the way, the clips stopped playing. I couldn't even play the original ogg track from tweet. It *looked* like it was playing ... it found the track, printed information about it, showed a running time-counter for the appropriate amount of time ... but made no sound.

It eventually turned out that the problem was that shiny new kernel I'd downloaded. A bug introduced in 2.6.24 to the ymfpci sound card driver makes Yamaha sound cards unable to play anything with a bitrate of 44100 (which happens to be the typical CD bitrate). After a lot of debugging I eventually filed bug 10963 with a patch that reverts the old, working code from

Ringtone success

Okay, a typical open source digression. But while I was still trying to track down the kernel bug, I meanwhile found this Razr page that tipped me off that I might need a different bitrate for ringtones anyway. So I converted it with:

lame -b 40 mock.wav mock.mp3
(which also made it playable on the new kernel.) I also found some useful information in the lengthy Ubuntu forums discussion of moto4lin.

In the end, I was able to transfer the file easily to the motorola phone, and to use it as my nifty new ringtone. Success! Too bad nobody ever calls me and this phone is mostly for outgoing calls ...

Now to look for some fun Java apps.

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[ 20:27 Jun 22, 2008    More linux | permalink to this entry | ]

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