One of the great things about Android is that the operating system isn’t stuck on just one device – you can find it on all sorts of gadgets from multiple manufacturers. Another beautiful feature about Android is that it is extremely customizable, and (usually) so is the hardware. This means that if you’d rather run a custom ROM on your device, the chances of being able to do that is pretty good.
However, since not every device can be hacked into to make such changes – as the manufacturers can still choose to be restrictive if they feel it’s necessary – you’ll need to have a strategy to look for custom ROMs for your device. Also, if you do find a custom ROM you’d like to try out, you’ll need to know what you must do on your device in order to install the ROM.
What’s A Custom ROM & Why Use One?
A custom ROM is simply a version of Android which third-party developers create for your device. They are meant to replace what is known as the stock ROM, or the version of Android that the manufacturer provided on your device. There are many reasons why you may want to try a custom ROM on your device. In most cases, they take away all the bloatware that is usually impossible to remove, they can potentially increase performance and/or improve battery life, and they may bump you up to a newer version of Android that the manufacturer may not offer.
There are potential downsides to running custom ROMs, however, which include invalidated warranties, lack of hardware support for things such as your camera, and potential battery drain. However, if you stick to a custom ROM which comes from a more reputable source, then these downsides except for the invalidated warranties shouldn’t appear.
Where To Find One For Your Device
There’s a handful of different places you can look at to see if there’s a custom ROM for your device, but I highly recommend that the first place you should check out is CyanogenMod. These guys are among the leaders of custom Android ROMs and therefore one of the most reputable. They offer support for a huge variety of phones, so a high percentage of you should be able to find a custom ROM from them.
Their ROMs usually improve performance and battery life, upgrade your device to a newer version of Android than what the manufacturer supports, and includes some other extras such as enthusiast-level performance settings. If your device is quite popular, then CyanogenMod is most likely to offer custom ROMs for it.
However, if your device is pretty unknown or CyanogenMod simply happens to not have a custom ROM for it, then your next best place to look is the XDA Developers Forum. This community is packed with Android hackers who work on every project under the sun. The site is also quite large simply because they have sub-forums for just about every Android device ever released, and many people post their own custom ROMs into these sub-forums.
Be cautious, however, as anyone can post their custom ROMs onto the forums, and as such, offer no guarantees of success or community support. It’s best to read through the threads entirely before making a decision.
For some rough, general guidelines, make sure that:
- The developer has claimed it to be stable and not beta, alpha, etc.
- The developer claims complete hardware support.
- Multiple people have posted in the thread claiming success with the custom ROM.
- The amount of concerns that arise in the thread are at a minimum; any concerns that do appear should not seem critical to the ROM’s functionality or safety.
Of course, try to use common sense while determining whether you should try a custom ROM that you find. This is important because any major hiccups in the flashing process (everything explained below) can cause your device to become bricked, leaving it as functional as a paperweight.
Installing Your Custom ROM
Once you’ve found a custom ROM that’s right for you, you’ll need to go through the process of installing it correctly. It’s important to research the instructions for your device as they can vary from device to device. The general process is the same across devices, so this should give you a good idea of what you’ll need to do.
Replacing The Recovery
The process of flashing a custom ROM onto your device is usually a two-step process. The first step is to flash a different recovery called ClockworkMod Recovery onto your device. The recovery is somewhat like a BIOS found on a computer as it lets you perform administrative tasks on the device without having Android loaded in memory. You’ll need to change the recovery so that you can flash a different ROM much more easily.
The methods of doing so vary, so it’s important to read the provided instructions. Sometimes you’ll use something called fastboot to load the recovery onto your phone, while other times you’ll use a tool called Heimdall. However, in my opinion, installing the new recovery is the hardest part. Once you’re past this step you’ll have an easier time.
Flashing The ROM
The next step is to actually flash the custom ROM onto your device. Once the .zip file for the ROM is downloaded from the Internet and uploaded onto your phone’s storage via USB cable, you’ll need to turn off your phone and then turn it on to boot into the recovery. Booting into recovery takes a different button combination than just the Power button, and this varies among devices as well. To cover all devices, you’ll probably be fine if you simply hold all the physical buttons on your phone while pressing the Power button, such as Power + Volume Down (and Up just to be sure) + Home (if it’s a physical button).
Once the recovery has loaded, you’ll need to navigate its menus to wipe the phone and then flash the .zip file onto the device. For ClockworkMod Recovery, the correct options are wipe data/factory reset and install zip from sdcard. Once this has completed, reboot the device normally and it should load your custom ROM.
If you installed a CyanogenMod custom ROM, it’s also probably a good idea to flash the Google Apps package after flashing the ROM in order to be able to use the Play Store. These are kept separate for legal reasons.
Congratulations! If you did everything according to the provided instructions, you should be running your custom ROM without any problems. Of course, be sure to thoroughly read any attached instructions, and only use this article as a general guideline for what you can expect during the process. However, you should be fine as long as you’re cautious and you’re confident in what you’re doing.
Have you installed a custom ROM on an Android device? What is something people new to ROM flashing should be aware of? Let us know in the comments!