One advantage Android has over its competitors is that much of the core operating system is open source. This means manufacturers are free to insert it into their products of choice, which explains why there are so many Android devices to choose from and how the platform was able to become the most widely adopted mobile platform currently out there. Yet another benefit is that developers are free not only to view the code, but to modify and redistribute it as they wish. As a result, Android users are able to completely replace most or all of the software that comes pre-installed on their devices by swapping out the ROMs they came with for custom ones. The process isn’t exactly an easy one, but here are some things to know if you’re just raring to give custom ROMs a try.
1. You Will Likely Need Root Access
You may need to root your phone or tablet before getting started. This means you need to have access to the root level of your operating system, otherwise known as having administrator privileges. This is something you would generally achieve on a PC by merely entering the password of the user with primary control. On Android, things are a bit more locked down than that, despite it being open source, due to it being a mobile platform. Manufacturers and carriers generally don’t want you to tamper with the underpinnings of your phone, so you’re largely on your own with finding out how. This will typically consist of searching “how to root <insert device name>” and hoping a method for your device exists. The process varies with each one, and there is no way I could give you an exhaustive how-to guide for every device out there within the span of this post. But you’re welcome to check out one of our previous articles on the matter for more extensive information.
2. You Will Need To Wipe Your Device
Installing a custom ROM requires you to wipe your device. This means that a successful attempt will result in your erasing all of the data from your phone or tablet. On the other hand, a botched attempt may brick the device to the point that it’s unusable. Be careful, and be sure to back up your data before getting started. Here’s a guide on how to do so.
3. Research, Research, Research
The XDA Developers forum is a great place to keep an eye on. In general, new ROMs, how-to guides, and useful resources pop up here for people interested in tinkering with their devices. There is even an in-depth wiki that can guide you through the process of flashing various pieces of software to your device. Not familiar with the term ‘flashing’? The wiki will get you up to speed on the terminology as well.
4. Pick The Right ROM For You And Your Device
One thing that will make the process much easier for you is picking a custom ROM to install. These tend to come with in-depth tutorials that explain how to get them up and running on your device. A few of the more popular or current options include CyanogenMod, AOKP, Paranoid Android, OmniROM, and MIUI. CyanogenMod has gathered the largest number of users, with the project having been successful enough to spawn a new company (named Cyanogen Inc.) late last year.
There are some things you need to remember when installing a custom ROM. These are often developed by enthusiasts, and while they may have the best of intentions, they lack the resources to ensure flawless compatibility with every device out there. Even if you get one up and running on your device just fine, you might find that there’s something wrong with the camera or the GPS can no longer lock your position. Many people who install a custom ROM end up switching back for one reason or another, so I cannot stress this enough – do your research beforehand. Sometimes the right combination of launchers and apps can provide the same functionality with substantially less risk, time, and effort. If you have any additional questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.