8 Things You Need to Know Before Modding Your Android Phone

If you have gotten an Android phone and plan to be only a casual user, this article might not be suitable for you. If however, after using your Android phone and you are tempted to mod your phone to achieve better performance, it is best to learn about some of the technical stuffs before you get your hands dirty.

1. What is Android firmware?

Before you start the modding, it is best to first find out the firmware that is running in your current phone. Firmware, in layman term, is referring to the version of the OS running in your phone. The latest Android firmware is 2.2 (codename Froyo) and it is rumored that the next version of firmware – 2.3, codename Gingerbread will arrive soon in this or next month.

android-firmware-picuture

Knowing your firmware is important because it tells you what you can/cannot do on your phone. For example, Internet tethering is only natively available in 2.2 Froyo, so if you are running firmware 2.1 and below, you will have to use third party apps to achieve tethering. In addition, some apps in the marketplace, like Adobe Flash, only support firmware from 2.0 and above. If you are still using the 1.6, Doughnut firmware, you will not able to use the apps.

2. How do I check my firmware?

To check your firmware, on the home screen, tap the menu button and select “Settings”.

Scroll down all the way until you see the option “About Phone”. Tap on it and you will see the Android version.
android-firmware-version

3. What is Root?

If you are actively downloading apps from the marketplace, you will notice that several apps require you to have root access to your phone before you can use it. So what exactly is root?

android-need-root

In short, rooting your Android phone is similar to jailbreaking your iPhone. Rooting gives you the administrator privilege to access the internal settings of the OS. With this privilege, you can perform tweaks like overclocking the CPU, install apps to SD card, remove unwanted apps that come bundled with the phone and many more stuff that you won’t be able to do otherwise.

4. How do I root my phone?

Unlike iPhone, the rooting process will depend on the model of the phone that you are using. Phone such as the Nexus One which come with the stock OS is the easiest to root while phone like the Droid X comes with protection mechanism to prevent the user from rooting.

SuperOneClick and Unrevoked are two great apps that provide a 1-click rooting solution. Unrevoked only support a handful of devices, but SuperOneClick will work with most Android phones. Both software support Windows, Mac and Linux.

android-superoneclick
Image credit: XDA-developers forum

All you need to do is to connect your phone to the computer (via USB cable and enable USB debugging) and run the application. Click the “ROOT” button and it will do all the dirty stuff for you.

Note: While rooting your phone is not illegal, it will definitely void your warranty. Do not root if you value your warranty over the functionality of your phone.

5. What is custom ROM?

Unless you are using Nexus One, your phone is likely to run on a custom ROM. When Google completes the development of each version of Android, they release the source code to the public. Developers and phone vendors will then take the source code, add their own stuff to it and compile it into an installable format. This installable form is known as the ROM.

The most practice among Phone vendors is to create their own UI (HTC Sense, MotoBlur, TouchWiz etc) and add some additional apps (crapware included) so as to create a branding for themselves. Users who bought their phones will have to use the phone as designed by the phone vendors.

android-htc-sense

On the other hand, third party developers such as Cyanogen take the stock OS (some even took the custom ROM created by the phone vendor), remove useless stuff, add useful stuff, improve its performance, and finally release the end result to the public for download. These custom ROMs are highly optimized and are usually very responsive.

Some of the popular custom ROMs are CyanogenMod, ShadowROM etc

Warning: These custom ROMs are highly addictive. Once you have tried them out, you won’t want to use back the same old ROM.

6. How to install Custom ROM?

Before you can install custom ROM, you MUST first root your phone.

The easiest way to install custom ROM is via the ROM Manager app in the market (market link).

android-rom-manager

After you have rooted your phone and installed ROM Manager. Open ROM Manager. Follow the steps below:

1. Flash ClockworkMod Recovery.

2. Backup Current ROM. This will restart your phone.

3. Download ROM.

4. Install ROM from SD Card.

The whole installation process is automated, so you just have to sit back and relax.

7. Backing up your data

To enjoy the new ROM, you have to first wipe all the data in your phone (your data in the SD card will be safe) before you can install the new ROM. While you can reinstall all the apps from the market, all the app’s data and configuration will be lost once you wipe the phone clean. If you don’t want to lost the 45th level of Angry Birds, you got to backup the data.

Titanium Backup (market link) is a backup/restore app available in the market. Once you have rooted your phone and installed Titanium Backup, you can then backup your apps, together with its data and settings.

android-titanium-backup

In the new ROM, you can then easily restore your app’s data and configuration.

8. Backing up your current ROM

Before you attempt to install custom ROM, it is best to backup your current ROM so that you can restore to it if the installation of custom ROM failed, or you don’t like the newly installed ROM.

Install ROM Manager. Run Backup Current ROM from its list of options.

android-backup-rom

Useful Resources

Did I miss out anything? Let me know in the comments what other stuff do you want us to cover.

Image credit: laihiu