Custom Android ROMs: Prologue.

My dream for smartphones is that one day the hardware, like desktop and laptop computers of today, will become a commodity item, leaving users free to install their mobile OS of choice, even test drive it via a live microSD — same as they can with Linux distributions right now.

Such things are still a ways off, but custom ROMs for Android devices represent a huge leap towards that realizing that goal.

Much has been written on this by folks way smarter than me. Best I can do is walk you through the steps I took with my Nexus One, running v2.33 of Google’s “Gingerbread” OS. Had I upgraded to 2.34 I’d have even more hoops to jump through.


I’m a big believer that smartphones should be autonomous. Thus, though the Android SDK is installed on my desktop computer (for other reasons) I’ve chosen on-device tools for the procedures that follow…


This is the app I chose to root my N1. It’s freely available from the XDA Devs Forum (login required) — just download the .apk to your computer, transfer to a microSD card and install to your phone from there.

Here’s what it looks like.

When you’re ready, Gingerbreak will ask you to ensure that USB debugging mode is enabled and that a microSD card is installed — um, how else did the app get there? Then the magic happens, and all you have to do is sit back and watch.

A quick reboot later and you’ve got yourself a rooted Nexus One!

ROM Manager

Here things get a bit confusing, or at least they did for me. I would think that a custom recovery image would be a backup of the stuff already on your phone, but apparently it’s not.

Fortunately ROM Manager is another on-device app that will sort through all this for you… And as a bonus it’s available for download right from the Android Market.

Wise words, these… The stuff before Google Analytics, I mean.

Now to back up your existing ROM. If you miss this step, ROM Manager will nag you again before wiping everything for a new install.

Crossing fingers…

And my file browser says… Success! That folder contains separate disk images for boot, data, recovery, system and so on. Should be good to go (back to).

Here’s the backup nag I was telling you about…

Eagle-eyed readers will have already spotted the first custom ROM I’ll be trying; everyone else will have to wait until next week. 😉


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