Ultimate Guide to Android Rooting, Custom ROMs & Apps
The most popular mobile operating systems are Google’s Android and Apple’s Apple iOS. Both have a wide range of apps and settings, but both have a cap on how much you can do with them. Rooting or jailbreaking your phone (or tablet) opens up a world of customization options, including custom skins and new apps.
- Rooting Terms
- ROM Versions
- How to Root
- Android 4.3 Root
- Custom Recovery Mode
- Custom ROMs
- Custom Kernels
- Root Apps
It was first published in March and includes a list of rooting words, an introduction to rooting an Android smartphone, and a few root-specific apps. Based on feedback we’ve received over the last few months, we’ve included additional material to this revised edition.
For those who don’t want to root their Android devices, launchers and lock screen widgets are excellent options. Then you may install a launcher and widgets and further personalise your iPhone by rooting it.
Because it is based on the Google Nexus 4, this guide should be applicable to other Android devices as well. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to root out some plants, but it does take some effort.
Android Rooting Terms You Should Know
In order to avoid any misunderstandings, I’d want to define a few concepts before we begin. Other device-specific guides will be easier to comprehend after reading this. For the sake of time and space, I’ll attempt to keep this brief and avoid getting too specific.
Your phone’s software is built on top of the Bootloader. You can think of it as a PC’s BIOS, which is basically what runs before the operating system begins to function. It is necessary to unlock your phone before you can root or install custom ROMs since many manufacturers do not want you to modify your device’s operating system (explained later).
Your Android device should not be affected by this. When a phone or tablet is “bricked,” it can only be used for decoration or to serve as a paperweight. Bricked devices cannot be repaired and will not function in the future. In the case of faulty ROMs or incorrectly flashed firmwares, this can occur. Checksums (a series of numbers that identify the file) should always be checked before downloading anything.
Because it is based on Linux/Unix, Android only provides a small set of UNIX commands. Some root apps require additional commands, which BusyBox will add.
A custom ROM is an Android operating system that has been altered. Usually, you’ll find a few tweaks, extra features, new themes, or an improved overall performance. Because of limitations imposed by manufacturers and service providers, custom ROMs allow you to run an earlier, unreleased version of Android on your phone.
Fastboot is a diagnostic- and engineering tool which offers you several features such as launching in recovery mode or flashing image files.
System and hardware communicate through the kernel of your phone. As the lowest level of your OS, it handles memory and hardware.
Negated AND or “NOT AND” refers to the hard drive partition that contains all system-related information, such as the bootloader, recovery mode or the kernel.
A NANDroid backup is a complete copy of your Android device’s system files and settings. This backup can be used to restore your phone after a defective ROM or theme has been installed.
The radio is in charge of transmitting and receiving audio and digital data. Improved reception or longer battery life can be achieved by using an optimised radio.
System-level activities such as defragmentation and formatting can be performed in recovery mode. You can even back up your devices or install custom ROMs. The native recovery option for Android devices is somewhat limited. ClockworkMod Recovery, 4EXT Recovery, and TWRP Recovery are more feature-rich and easier to use than their simpler counterparts.
By rooting your device, you’ll get complete control over its settings and functionality. Rooting may also void your device’s warranty, so be careful how you use your smartphone after you’ve completed the process. Flashing a stock ROM (the original ROM installed by your phone’s manufacturer) can always reverse this process. Your warranty will be “restored” as a result of this action.
S-OFF implies that your Android device’s NAND partition has been unlocked. HTC phones are the most likely to be affected.
You’ll get full control over your phone once you’ve rooted it. Several apps and functions rely on a superuser account.
Understanding Custom ROM Versions
Nightly, Milestone, Release Candidate, and Stable are all examples of custom ROMs that are always being improved.
Every 24 hours, a new nightly build is made, and this means that the software is likely to be experimental and unstable. Many flaws and missing functionality can be found in the early stages of a new custom ROM, especially in the early releases. If you’re willing to take a chance on instability in exchange for the latest features, try nightlies!
This is a nightly snapshot of a version that has passed a particular threshold in its development. They can be considered rather stable, but there may be a few glitches and problems. It is unlikely that the nightly versions, which are updated on a weekly or even monthly basis, will have the most up-to-date features. Check out milestone snapshots if you’re seeking for the most up-to-date features while maintaining a reliable system.
When a custom ROM has a release candidate, it’s one of the final builds before it’s published to the public. However, RCs are generally stable, with a few small flaws. Release candidates are the way to go if you want something reliable and usable on a daily basis.
When we talk about stable versions, we’re referring to the ones that have been thoroughly tested and found to be bug-free. Some of the more stable ROMs may still have minor bugs or a few things that don’t operate properly. It may take months until a new stable version is issued with new features or fixes, but stable versions are the safest bet.
How to Fully Backup Your Device Without Root
NANDroid backups cannot be performed on an Android device that has not been rooted. There is always a potential of error, and you don’t want to brick your tablet or phone by rooting it without a proper backup.
Without root access, Simple ADB Backup is the ideal solution for people that need to back up their devices. On top of that, the free programme is compatible with Windows and Linux.
How to Root Your Android Device
In order to give broad instructions on rooting, it is hard to do so here because the rooting procedure is unique to each device. To help you out, I’ve included links to instructions for some of the most popular devices. Rooting should be a lot easier if you use the terms provided earlier. If your phone or tablet is not on the list, you most certainly can find a guide on the XDA-Developers forums.
Google Nexus 4
Samsung Galaxy S3
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy Note 2
Google Nexus 7
To ensure that your phone or tablet can be restored to a functioning state, create regular NANDroid backups of your devices. In order to avoid bricking your device, I also suggest validating checksums and reading the documentation carefully.
Android 4.3 Root on Nexus Devices
With vanilla Android, flashing SuperSU in CWMR or TWRP and wiping the normal and dalvik cache should suffice to root your phone.
For those of you using Android 4.3, here is the.zip file you’ll need to complete the rooting process. With the SuperSU app, updating your root is a breeze.
Custom Recovery Mode
In the typical Android recovery mode, there are few options. That’s where the Team Win Recovery Project (TWRP) and ClockworkMod Recovery (CWRM) come in. You can’t do this with the stock recovery mode, which is why you need a custom recovery. adb shell, Nandroid backups, and a file browser for update.zips are among the other options.
Regardless of whatever replacement recovery you choose, go with the one that works best for you. Only TWRP or CWM can be used to install the root script or a custom ROM in certain situations.
TWRP – Team Win Recovery Project
Using a touch-based user interface, Team Win Recovery Project’s proprietary recovery is easy to use and intuitive. To install custom ROMs, kernels, and other customizations, it has all the usual recovery options. TWRP also allows you to make backups and restores of your device.
CWM – Clockworkmod Recovery
Many people use ClockworkMod Recovery as their custom recovery mode. There is also a backup and restore capability included in this version of the recovery software that allows you to install custom ROMs or other files. The CWM UI can be manipulated using touch or key input.
New functionality, adjustments, and graphic improvements can be found in custom ROMs. The XDA-Developers forum is the best place to find a functioning one for your device. CyanogenMod, AOKP, and Paranoid Android are the three major custom ROM releases on which most ROMs are based. Finding the finest custom ROM for your needs can be as simple as comparing several ROMs and putting them to the test for a few days. To help you get started, I’ve outlined some of the most popular custom ROMs here.
The appearance and feel of CyanogenMod is quite similar to that of vanilla Android, although it has a few more features and customizations. Many interface improvements and integrated features are included in addition to improved system performance and reliability.
- OpenVPN integration
- Lockscreen gestures
- Expanded quick settings
- DSP equalizer
- Theme support
- Wi-Fi, bluetooth, and USB tethering
- CPU over- & underclocking
Latest CyanogenMod Version
Currently there are five versions available:
- CyanogenMod 7 – based on Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- CyanogenMod 9 – based on Androif 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwhich
- CyanogenMod 10 – based on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
- CyanogenMod 10.1 – based on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
- CyanogenMod 10.2 – based on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
The first nightly versions of CyanogenMod 10.2 have been released and are available on the CyanogenMod download page.
CyanogenMod Project Nemesis
The CyanogenMod Team recently introduced Project Nemesis. Project Nemesis seeks to integrate new features to the CyanogenMod ROM that improve stock Android apps.
The first part of Project Nemesis was published on July 26th and is called Focal. Focal replaces the camera app and includes new features like:
- Widgets UI and sidebar
- Timers and burst mode
- Focus and measures light
- Picture review drawer
- Video snapshots
- Offline auto-enhancing
- Enhanced panorama mode
- Improved software HDR
- PhotoSphere for all devices
Focal is part of all CM 10.2 ROMs and integrated into nightlies.
CyanogenMod is available for the majority of popular Android devices. You can find a list of supported devices on the CyanogenMod website.
AOKP It describes itself as “Android infused with magical Unicorn bytes” – that should be awesome, right?
- Added UI features and settings
- LED notification light options
- Performance tweaks
- Custom toggles
- Vibration patterns
- Flip phone to silence ringtone
- AOKP Ribbons
- Silent / Vibrate mode on face down
- New lock screen features
If you’re into customization, AOKP offers tons of features. I especially like the custom vibration patterns: You can simply set a vibration pattern for, say, Emails, Hangouts and WhatsApp messages and can “feel” which type of message you just received (if you carry your phone in your pocket 😉 ).
Latest AOKP Version
There is currently one Milestone release available for 44 devices:
AOKP MR1 Milestone 2 – based on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
The AOKP team is currently working on an Android 4.3 version. You will be able to install nightlies soon.
The AOKP custom ROM is currently available for 44 different devices. You can find a complete list on the AOKP website.
As far as custom ROMs go, ParanoidAndroid stands apart from AOKP and CyanogenMod. What’s so great about PA? You may choose between PhoneUI, Phablet/Nexus7UI, and TabletUI to scale every programme and component of the interface across your devices, making this a genuine hybrid user experience.
- Hybrid user interface
- Floating notifications & multitasking feature called Halo
- UI customization
- Gesture controls
I really like the Halo feature, which allows me to multitask like never before: Switching between apps is as simple as selecting it in the Halo bubble, which is modelled after Facebook’s chat heads. Halo’s bubble displays apps and notifications that have been pre-selected.
Multitasking is made easier by the fact that apps can operate in the background. Battery life and system performance may suffer as a result. There’s always something new and interesting to try!
Latest ParanoidAndroid Version
There are no stable releases of ParanoidAndroid. Android 4.3 is available in various Nightlies, which are updated often. As of August 27th, the most recent nightly release is 3.99.
ParanoidAndroid is currently available for 16 devices. You can find the latest version on XDA-developers or via goo.im.
So you sort of liked all custom ROMs described but can’t really decide which one to choose? Then PAC-man ROM might be the perfect solution as it is a combination of CyanogenMod, AOKP and ParanoidAndroid
PAC-man ROM Features
- All functionalities of CyanogenMod
- AOKP-based ROM controll, ribbons and other aspects
- ParanoidAndroid hybrid mode
Latest PAC-man ROM Version
There is currently one Milestone release available for 60 devices and a nightly version based on Android 4.3 for several devices:
PAC Milestone 1 – based on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
PAC Nightly – based on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
PAC-man ROM Availability
You can download PAC-man ROM on the official website.
Flashing Custom Kernels
Your Android device’s “brain” is the kernel, which connects software and hardware. As a result, they’re in charge of things like CPU and GPU clock speeds, screen sensitivity and colour settings, and even voltages in computers. Battery life and system performance can both be improved with a modified kernel.
It’s common for modified ROMs to have their own kernels already. This is done so that the modified ROM can communicate with the device’s hardware via software, and to assure a higher performance as a result. Nevertheless, flashing modified kernels to custom ROMs is a common occurrence. Flashing a fresh kernel on a rooted version of stock Android can provide you with increased performance while maintaining the convenience of a stock operating system.
Flashing the wrong kernel can result in your phone becoming bricked, so make careful to check for compatibility before proceeding.
Flashing a modified kernel on your device can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including through the use of an app or in recovery mode. The franco.Kernel/CyanogenMod combination works flawlessly on my Nexus 4 thanks to franco.Kernel. It is possible to keep track of kernel upgrades through an app. The same app may also download and flash the latest version to my phone automatically.
franco.service Kernel’s has been excellent so far: The heat concerns have been resolved, the display colours appear more like the AMOLED display on the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the battery life has increased by about 50%.
There are numerous advantages to rooting your Android handset. Apps that need a deep dive into the operating system can also be installed. It’s impossible to use them on a device that hasn’t been rooted. I’ve listed a couple of my favourite and most-used apps below. If you know of any other great apps, please leave a comment!
Titanium Backup is an excellent Android backup solution that has a wide range of options. You can use it to create a copy of your data, preferences, and apps. Backups can be scheduled as well. Backups to cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box are included in the premium pro version.
ClockworkMod’s ROM Manager is a must-have if you frequently move between different ROMs. Additionally, ClockworkMod recovery will assist you in organising and installing custom ROMs and backing up your Android device.. It comes with additional features such as automatic backups, web connection, and incremental ROM downloads for a little fee.
My decision to add AdAway or not was a little difficult because it’s good for users but terrible for app producers and advertisers. On the AdAway website, you may still download the app. The programme alters the hosts file on your Android smartphone in the same way as AdBlock Plus does on your computer to block apps and browsers from displaying adverts. In addition to improving your app’s performance and battery life, this will also reduce mobile traffic. Do what is right and support the creators by purchasing paid apps or donating a little amount to their cause!
Google has recently started removing several apps from Google Play that are in violation of their distribution agreements. Please visit the AdAway website if you’re still interested in installing AdAway.
Cerberus anti theft
Anti-theft app Cerberus anti-theft is one of the best on the market. The Cerberus website, for example, allows you to operate your phone remotely, find and track it, and display messages on the screen. Aside from remote wiping and photographing the burglar, the extensive feature set includes numerous others.
Although the root version provides a key functionality, this app will run on non-rooted smartphones as well: A thief will not be able to delete Cerberus or even discover that it is operating in the background if it is installed wipe-proof.
My Nexus 4 is great, but having to use the physical buttons to unlock the screen irritates me. Gestures are all that’s needed to wake and lock your phone using Touch Control. The display can be brought back to life by simply double-tapping it. When the device is running, a swipe from the right to the left will lock the screen. A fantastic software that greatly improved my Nexus 4 experience.
Apps can be put into hibernation mode with the Greenify app, which improves battery life and overall system efficiency. Faster performance and a better user experience are both enhanced when your Android device is free of unnecessary apps and activities. For additional information, please read the entire review.
Frequently Asked Rooting Questions
1. How can I restore stock Android?
To get back stock Android, simply flash a stock ROM suitable for your device. This way you’ll get an unrooted, stock Android version with restored warranty.
2. What happens to my settings, contacts and apps when I install a custom ROM?
It’s always recommended to wipe your device before installing a custom ROM for the first time. If your Google account is linked to your phone, contacts, emails and apps will automatically be downloaded after launching the custom ROM and logging in to your Google account. You can backup your settings with apps like XYZ.
3. How can I upgrade a custom ROM?
Most custom ROMs offer a update function, some directly integrated to the OS, others using a specific app. You can also use ROM Manager to update certain custom ROMs.
4. Is it possible to just root a phone and not install a custom ROM?
Yes, simply use a stock ROM and root it. If you update it, your root-access will be gone, though.
5. Do I need to go step-by-step to upgrade my Android device or can I directly go to the latest version available?
You can usually simply flash the latest ROM and are good to go. Custom ROM updates usually come in a full package, meaning that you have to download the complete ROM to update it. The downloads are usually about 100-200 MB.
How about rooting, custom ROMs, tweaks or applications? Do you have any recommendations for any worthwhile applications that I may have overlooked? Please do so in the space provided below.