If you’ve seen some of our other Android-oriented pieces, you might be interested in loading your own Android device with a custom ROM. So…how do you go about doing this? Follow this simple tutorial, and you’ll be running the custom ROM of your choice in 2017.
1. Acquire a rooted Android device
Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help with this step. Before you install a custom ROM, you’re going to need to have a rooted Android device. The steps involved in rooting your device vary pretty drastically from device to device, so you may be better off searching for a different tutorial first. It would take way too long to cover the specifics for every Android device out there.
What is a rooted Android device? For anyone familiar with iOS, it’s similar to jailbreaking your device. By rooting your Android device, you are able to label yourself as a “super user”, and gain access to certain files that normal users aren’t able to access. (The root files!) By rooting your device, you’re able to customize and tweak your device in ways that aren’t possible with a vanilla device.
However, keep in mind that by rooting your Android device, you’re voiding your product’s warranty. If you take a rooted device in for repair or replacement, you’ll probably be turned away. There aren’t many negative consequences that come with rooting, but you should seriously think about it before you pull the trigger. Once you root, there’s not really any going back.
2. Backup your system
As you can probably imagine, completely overhauling your Android device’s operating system will mean having to start with a clean slate. When you install your ROM, you’ll be starting from scratch, and wiping your data clean. That’s no fun. Luckily, as a rooted user, it’s pretty easy to make a backup of your data.
Before you get started, you’re going to want to save an image of your system. This way, if something goes bad during the installation process, you’re able to restore your device to how it was before. Think of it as a save point. If you mess up, you can just respawn to where you were before. It may seem unnecessary, but it’s peace of mind.
To do this, you need to enter recovery mode. Reboot your phone, and enter recovery mode. The exact means of entering recovery mode varies from device to device, so you’ll need to do a little bit of research for whatever you have. Then, navigate to either “Backup” or “Nandroid” from your recovery menu. Confirm that you’re making a backup, and let Android work its magic. You may want to plug in your device to make sure that the battery doesn’t die while the backup is being written.
3. Backup your data
You’re going to want to keep your pictures and stuff, right? Although it isn’t really required, I highly recommend that you perform this step. As I mentioned before, when you install your custom ROM, your device will be wiped clean. Although taking your system image ensures that you’re not going to brick your device, it doesn’t ensure that you’ll be able to save all of your data.
There are plenty of options out there when it comes to backing up your device. Research what you think is best for you, and for your budget. Personally, I recommend using something like Titanium Backup or Ultimate Backup. If you check either of them out and you don’t like them, however, I encourage you to look at other options. The Android community has plenty to offer in terms of backup applications.
Backup instructions vary from app-to-app, but for the most part, the process is pretty straight-forward. Grant any permissions that the backup application may ask for (assuming that you’re using a trusted app) and let it do its thing. Again, you may want to plug your device into a charger to make sure that it doesn’t die while the backup is being made. You can never be too careful.
4. Choose your ROM
This is the fun part. Now, you get to choose exactly which ROM you want to install on your Android device. There are an enormous amount of ROMs out there. Fortunately, that means that you have plenty to choose from! Unfortunately, that means that it can be very easy to get overwhelmed.
When choosing your ROM, you should consider an important question: What do you want out of your device? Do you want something functional? Stylish? Are there any specific widgets or functions that you’d like to get out of your device? Don’t be afraid to do a little bit of research to find your ideal ROM. I’d like to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug another one of my Gazette pieces, on my personal favorite Android ROMs.
I feel like I should also note, if you don’t like how screenshots of a ROM looks, you should still look into the ROM itself. Many ROMs support the CyanogenMod theme library, which makes it pretty easy to reskin your interface. Not all ROMs support the theme library, though. Like I said before, research is definitely your friend here.
5. Install your ROM
Now that you’ve found your ROM soulmate, you’re going to want to (wait for it…) download it. Most ROMs come in the form of .zip files. You’re going to also want to save it to your Android device. Now, the tricky part!
Reboot your device again, and enter recovery mode, just like you did in step 2. This time, you’re going to navigate to an option something like “Install” or “Install from .zip”. Thankfully, Android makes this process pretty easy. Find the .zip file that you downloaded, and hit install! All of the hard work is done for you.
At this point, your Android device may notify you that a factory reset or system wipe is required. If you backed up your data back in step 3, this shouldn’t scare you at all. Although your device will still be wiped clean, you’ll be able to restore the majority of the important stuff from your backup. No skin off your nose! Now, you’re going to reboot your device and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
6. (Optional) Go crazy!
Now that you have your shiny new custom ROM, the opportunities are pretty much endless for you. Tweak your device however you would like. Download a new theme. Download a new Play Store. With a rooted device, you have no restraints, and with a custom ROM, you have easy access to all of your device’s settings.
Not sure exactly where to go? Check out some of our other articles on the best rooted apps and the best CyanogenMod themes to get started. It’s only a matter of time before you get the hang of this custom ROM and it all becomes second nature. Until then, good luck, and try not to turn your device into a paperweight!