Android devices, esp. phones, are a marvel of engineering, and it is surprisingly open to modifications and customizations that leaves other devices in the dust. Modifications can be as simple as modifying the look and feel, all the way to true hardware modification to do things you never thought possible with a phone.
This guide is about how to truly customize your Android device (primarily phones, though some tablet mods will be discussed), everything from boot animation to ROMs and themes, and even hardware mods like battery, case, and more.
For organization, this guide will be in two parts: hardware, and software. This is part 1: software mods, and it will have the following sections:
- custom ROMs and overclocking kernels
- boot animation
- home launcher
- icons and folders in home launcher
- wallpaper and live wallpaper
- dialer, call log, and SMS alternatives
- camera alternatives
- web browser alternatives
- keyboard and input alternatives
WARNING: MAKE A BACKUP FIRST!
Before you attempt major root-required modifications, such as Custom ROM, Boot Animation, ROM Themes, and so on, please root your device first, then install Clockwork Recovery (or install ROM Manager, which also installs Clockwork Recovery), then make a Nandroid Backup, before you actually attempt any such modification!
If you manage to royally mess up the system, you can recover using your Nandroid Backup. Otherwise, you will have a VERY hard time restoring the phone!
What is Rooting? How do I do it?
Rooting means unlocking the phone's system area so you can write to anywhere in the system. The term is borrowed from Linux, where "root" means gain "superuser" permissions and control of all portions of Linux system.
To give an example, pretend your phone is a car. In ideal conditions, you never have to open the engine compartment, just fill it with fuel periodically and it will work fine. So the "hood" is locked.
Rooting unlocks the hood and lets you tweak inside the engine compartment, where the manufacturer never wanted you to go. However, rooting by itself doesn't do anything. You have to actually change things to have effects on your device.
What is ROM Manager, Clockwork Recovery, and Nandroid Backup?
From the top... Clockwork Recovery is an app from Koush's company ClockWorkMod. When installed on a rooted Android device, it allow you to bypass the normal bootup process, and instead go into this simplified "recovery menu". Obviously, you need to root the device before you can install Clockwork Recovery.
In this recovery menu, you can make full backup of every bit of app storage and system partitions. This is known as a Nandroid backup. It's a "snapshot" of your system. If you restore the backup, it'd be as if your system went back in time.
So what is ROM Manager? ROM Manager is an app that will trigger the recovery mode instead of you using a specific keystroke to bring it up.
Custom ROMs and Kernels (root required)
Danger: High (if you do it wrong, you have a chance of bricking your phone, go into boot loop, and so on)
If you root your phone, you can load custom ROMs, which replaces your "factory ROMs" with special customized versions with more features.
Due to the way Android OS is open to all, different developers can take the source code provided by Google Android and customize it. Many of these developers choose to freely share the fruits of their labor with the rest of us.
Custom ROMs can provide a variety of benefits, from a pure / lean version of the OS free of any carrier customizations such as Bugless Beast, to feature-laden ROMS that change the way Android looks and feels, such as Cyanogen Mod and MIUI, and anything in between.
Custom ROMs are specific to the hardware, and is heavily dependent on manufacturer participation. If they release the source code of their ROM, the "modders" have a much easier time creating custom versions. If not, most functions must be reverse engineered, and that will take time. Even different revisions of the same hardware must have different ROMs.
If you are interesting in rooting your phone, and loading a custom ROM, please check XDA-Developers for instructions on your specific device. Please do NOT try "close enough", but must find instructions for your EXACT device. If you do not follow instructions, you will likely damage your phone to the point where it became a dead brick (i.e. "you bricked your phone"). And that will be VERY hard to undo.
If you want simplified process to try new ROMs, one of the best investments you can do is ROM Manager (if you have a compatible device). The app will filter the ROM list to only those compatible to your device so you don't have to search for them. It is an app frontend to Clockword Recovery, which generates Nandroid backups (have I confused you yet?) Don't worry. All you need to know is you can save full backups of your phone, and restore it at any time. This makes trying new ROMs virtually painless.
Another thing you can do after you root your device is overclock the CPU.
The original Motorola Droid CPU is factory rated at 600 MHz, but is clocked at 550 Mhz by Motorola for energy conservation. However, the factory provided "kernel" is capable of 800 MHz without tweaking, if you change a few ROM parameters.
Later, tweakers have managed to push up the speed possible. Some OG Droids can be clocked as high as 1.25 GHz (though it becomes a bit unstable, depending on the exact device). I have mine set to 1.2 GHz and it is quite usable.
Kernels are more universal than ROMs, but you should still only seek out specific kernels known to be compatible with your device. You can also download Kernel Manager to do that for you, or ROM manager can do that too, just not as pretty.