Android is great, but sometimes, the version you get with your phone—whether its vanilla Android or something like Samsung’s TouchWiz—leaves a bit to be desired. Here’s how to install a new version of Android (or ROM) on your device for an even better Android experience.
What’s a ROM?
One of the best things about the openness of the Android platform is that if you’re unhappy with the stock OS, you can install one of many modified versions of Android (called ROMs) on your device. A new ROM can bring you the latest version of Android before your manufacturer does, or it can replace your manufacturer-modded version of Android with a clean, stock version. Or, it can take your existing version and just beef it up with awesome new features—it’s up to you.
If you’re familiar with Linux, it’s sort of similar to installing a different Linux distribution. Each version of the OS has a specific goal in mind, and as such differs quite a bit from the others. Which one you choose is dependent on your priorities and how you use the device. You’ll need to unlock your bootloader and flash a custom recovery , but once you get the hang of it, it’s not too difficult
Step One: Unlock Your Bootloader and Flash a Custom Recovery
First, let’s clear up some confusion: Contrary to popular belief, you do not actually need to root your phone to flash a ROM—you just need to unlock your bootloader and flash a custom recovery. However, this process usually goes hand-in-hand with rooting—and most custom ROMs come with root access—so what you think of as “rooting your phone” is probably what you’re going to have to do first.
Unfortunately, we can’t go through this step in detail here, because it’s different for every phone! So, I highly recommend checking out our everything root guideto learn a bit more about what’s involved, what all the different terms mean, and what to watch out for. Then, search around sites like XDA Developers for instructions on how to unlock the bootloader of your specific phone, which recovery you should use (usually TWRP or ClockworkMod), and how to flash it.
I also recommend rooting your phone during step one, since it’ll make the backup process in step two easier—and save you some hassle along the way. A lot of methods and one-click apps will root your phone anyways, so it might be included in the process. Again, this can vary from phone to phone. (If the instructions require you to flash SuperSU.zip, you can refer to step three of this guide for info on how to do that—ironically, it’s just like flashing a ROM).
NOTE: Unlocking your bootloader will most likely wipe your phone, and without root access, you won’t be able to back up very much. So, save anything you want to keep on your computer—you will have to set up your phone from scratch just this once before continuing.
When you’re done, return here and continue to step two for the rest of the ROMming process.
Step Two: Make a Backup of Your System, Apps, and Data
Now that you’ve got a custom recovery on your phone, the first thing you should do—before you ever make a big change to your system—is back it up. First, we’ll make a Nandroid backup, which is basically a image of your current system. That way, if something goes wrong, you can restore your phone toexactly the way it was before you started tweaking. This will save you a lot of hassle if something goes wonky (which, let’s be honest, can happen often). To do this:
- Reboot your phone and enter recovery mode. This is a bit different on every phone, but usually involves some permutation of pressing the power and volume buttons at the same time.
- Head to the “Backup” or “Nandroid” section of your recovery mode. The default settings should be fine. If given the option, give your backup a name that helps you remember what it is (like “Pre-CyanogenMod Backup 01-17-14”). Confirm your backup and let it run.
- Wait for the backup to finish. This may take awhile.
I also recommend making a second type of backup: your apps and settings. If you just unlocked your bootloader and wiped your phone, you can skip this step, but any time you flash a ROM in the future, you’ll want to back up your apps first, since you may have to wipe your phone before you flash. With a backup, you can easily restore those apps and data after flashing, making the process a lot simpler. We recommend using Titanium Backup.