How To Install A Custom ROM On Your Android

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custom android romWhether you’ve had your Android phone for a long time, or you’ve just bought a new one, there is no moment quite as sweet as when you finally get around to “rooting” that phone. It’s like a “coming of age” for Android users. Not only can you install a whole family of apps that you couldn’t run on an unrooted phone, but you can also install a whole new ROM to your phone.

What’s a ROM you ask? It stands for Read Only Memory, but what it means within the context of an Android phone is that it is essentially the style, theme and organization of the operating system. Thanks to the Android OS being open source, this is possible. There are a huge number of programmers out there working diligently on creating some of the most impressive custom Android ROMs – far better than the stock ROM that comes with your phone.

If you’re just starting out with an unrooted Android, you’ve got some work to do before you can install a new ROM. First, set up the SDK as described in my USB screenshot article. Next click the link above to learn how you can root your phone with SuperOneClick. Finally, you’re ready to take the next big step and replace your ROM.

Installing A Custom Android ROM

If you’re not sure whether you see the point of installing a custom ROM, consider it like you’ve just purchased a new Honda Civic. Now, a Honda Civic is a great car. Better gas mileage and reliability than most other cars in its class, but that doesn’t stop car enthusiasts from making that great car even better by “tuning” it. Well, ROM programmers are essentially Android “tuners”.

First things first – safety. When you root your phone and install a new ROM, it should go without saying that you run the risk of turning your phone into an expensive paperweight. The popular approach to installing new ROMs to an Android is by installing the ROM Manager off the Android Market. Once you do – and I can’t stress this enough – choose Flash ClickworkMod Recovery from the menu before you do anything else.

custom android rom

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This completely saved me when a couple of ROMs didn’t install correctly. ClockworkMod Recovery lets you make a backup of your current ROM before installing a new one. If you need to, you can reboot into recovery mode (holding down the power button and the “X” key at the same time) to recover your old ROM.

When you’re ready to search for and download a brand new custom ROM for your phone, click on “Download ROM” in the ROM Manager menu.

android rom manager

Now, there are lots of Android users with lots of opinions as to which ROM is best. Favorites seem to be Bugless Beast, Gingerbread and of course CyanogenMod. After a couple of failed attempts with Bugless Beast and Gingerbread, I went with the tried and true CyanogenMod.

When you go to install a ROM, you’ll see the pre-installation pop-up. Always select backup existing ROM. Nine times out of ten you should also wipe data and cache for the installation to work correctly.

android rom manager

Once the installation was done, my Droid rebooted and when it came back up, I had a fresh installation of CyanogenMod running on my rooted phone. I have to say that I really like the layout, but the default background is definitely a bit “bleh.” So that’s the first thing I changed.

android rom manager

One of the coolest things about these ROM’s is that you’ve got live wallpaper available. You can’t see it too well below, but my background now has very cool high-tech lights zooming around. Most of the apps shown below came standard with CM.

cyanogenmod

If static backgrounds are your thing, CM has a pretty decent selection to choose from with some really high-quality artwork. I was impressed – of course I eventually opted for one of the live wallpapers instead.

cyanogenmod

When you go into the menu and view the settings, you’ll see that there are a few unique options from the standard ROM. Obviously, CM settings and options, but you’ll also see ADWLauncher available (if you opted for it during download). This is a very cool tool that lets you download and install some amazing themes from the Android market.

cyanogenmod

Most of these themes aren’t free, but the quality is very good. Ultimately the theme is what creates the “feel” of the interface, which you’ll be dealing with day in and day out, so buying and downloading a theme probably isn’t a waste of money.

Of course, last but not least is the ease with which you can enable or disable your network connections like Wi-Fi, GPS or Bluetooth, straight from the status drop-down. Toggling these networks was always a pet peeve of mine with the standard ROM. With CM it’s just a couple of finger-swipes away.

custom android rom

Whether you choose to go with the popular CyanogenMod, or any one of the other ROMs, just make sure to make a recovery backup of your current ROM so that you’ll have a way out if anything goes wrong. Once that’s aside, you can feel fairly confident installing and test driving the different ROMs available for your device, and you can decide which one is perfect for you.

Did you install a new custom Android ROM? Which one did you choose and what do you like about it? Share your Android insight in the comments section below.

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Comments (13)
  • HTCUserrr.

    Uhm, I’ve rooted my phone, and downloaded ROM manager. I backed up my phone, downloaded the CM rom, attempted to reboot into restore. But, it’s stuck at the HTC screen. I’ve let my phone sit until the battery died, just to make sure it didn’t just take a while to get into recovery mode. And it still won’t go into recovery.
    Help? Please&Thanks.
    Phone : HTC Hero, 2.2. (Sprint). Rooted with Universal Androot.

    • Tina

      I think this is an issue you should take to MakeUseOf Answers

      When you submit a question, please refer to this article and describe exactly what you did, what hardware and/or software versions you used, and what happened.

  • nizbot

    Start here:
    http://forum.cyanogenmod.com/f

    Good luck.

  • Stultz

    in install the CyanogenMod. rom but now all my hts Icrediable does is set there spinning the blue arrow around and around. I feel like i rally messede it up

  • Djangelic

    I agree with nizbot, you should have definitely mentioned XDA forums, as they are a WEALTH of information. I am currently running Cyanogen on my Evo, but I am partial to Cyanogen, because when I was rocking the G1, Cyanogen was the first to support it and port over 2.1. Regardless, if you are coming over from an HTC sense based rom, check out TouchPal Dialer in the marketplace. it gives you a Sense looking dialer, that completes cyanogen for me :)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comments everyone – yes, I agree, I feel bad that I didn’t mention the XDA folks…I personally picked up a lot about the Droid from those forums and should have thrown out a call out to them in this one. I’ll have to do that in a future article.

      I really am loving Cyanogen at the moment. Considering flashing the radio as I heard you can get better reception, but I haven’t learned enough about it yet to determine whether that’s really necessary or true – do you guys know? Has anyone gone that far and was there an improvement in # of bars?

    • Anonymous

      By radio do you mean modem?

    • Anonymous

      The radio is the software part of the ROM that handles telephony functions – a.k.a. receiving the cellular signal. I’ve read that you can actually flash the radio software separately and improve your cellular reception, but I also read it’s one of the easiest ways to brick your phone so I haven’t built up my courage to do it yet. :-)

    • Anonymous

      Yes, modem firmware. From what I understand (cause I’ve not had to do this yet) the modem firmware is specific to your ROM build along with hardware and geographic location. Essentially your mileage may very depending on your specific location, hardware and ROM.

      But to answer your question, yes it is possible to improve the performance of your device by flashing a different modem. Sometime battery life too depending. Usually there are threads dedicated specifically to modems per device on XDA and other forums. Just make sure you research before taking the leap and you should be fine as long as you can get to recovery mode ;)

      Also, as noted above; Just know that technically by rooting and flashing a different ROM you are voiding your warranty. So it’s good practice to have your stock ROM on hand in case the S$%# hits the fan.

    • Anonymous

      Very cool – thanks for the tips. I just might try it out…after doing a bit of studying first. :-)

  • Anonymous

    I like that you mentioned SuperOnceClick. I used it to break the ice in this arena, but it didn’t unlock my bootloader, so ROM Manager, etc. couldn’t apply new ROMs. There are still benefits to be had short of swapping out ROMs, but don’t bang your head on the wall trying to install one until after altering your bootloader (and possibly voiding your warranty).

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.