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SECURITY

Hack Your Phone (Part 1) - Launcher or ROM

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... To longer battery life, faster performance and better apps

How to start hacking your Android phone, and which ROMs you need to install

For the tech enthusiast the ability to   install custom ROMs is one of the great bonuses that come with owning an Android phone. You buy your phone, use it   for a while as the manufacturer intended, then, and after the newness factor has worn off, you start hacking it to make it work exactly how you want it to. Most manufacturers now even acknowledge this fact, with companies like HTC, Sony and Asus providing tools to aid this process.

Description: Hack Your Phone
Hack your phone

When you flash a new ROM to your phone   you are replacing all of the software that was on it with something new. The entire OS is wiped and a new version installed. Sometimes this might be a similar version to what you had before, but tweaked to make it faster or introduce a few new features. Sometimes the new ROM might remove the customizations that the manufacturer added to help differentiate its product from the rest of the market. And sometimes a new ROM can bring you a new OS altogether. The rollout of new versions of the Android OS to older handsets is notoriously slow, and the custom ROM route is very often the quickest way to keep your phone up to date.

Taking the custom ROM route does not come without a few implications. The main was being the effect on your warranty. If you flash a custom ROM to your phone then it goes without saying that you won't be able to get support from the manufacturer or your network should you encounter software problems, or hardware problems caused by software issues, such as problems with the camera app. Likewise, if your phone fails to boot during the flashing process you'll need to fix it yourself (but there is excellent community support that will help you),

Description: In order to flash a custom ROM you will need to have done two things on your phone. First you need to have rooted it.

In order to flash a custom ROM you will need to have done two things on your phone. First you need to have rooted it.

The warranty issue with regard to hardware issues is less clear. Physical problems with your phone that have no connection to software, such as the USB port coming loose, ought not to be affected by routing and flashing. As a general rule if you can return your phone to its locked, unbooted state, then you should do so before you make a claim on the warranty.

Description: Second, you will need to have unlocked the device's boot loader

Second, you will need to have unlocked the device's boot loader

In order to flash a custom ROM you will need to have done two things on your phone. First you need to have rooted it. This is the process that gives you 'root access' to your phone's OS, meaning you can access or replace important OS files themselves, something that is always prevented in devices as they're sold mostly for security reasons. Second, you will need to have unlocked the device's boot loader. The boot loader controls what happens when the phone boots up. If it is locked when it encounters 'unauthorized' software, such as a custom ROM, it will prevent the phone from booting. If it is unlocked then it will allow this software to run.

Launcher or ROM

Do you need to flash a ROM, or will a launcher work?

Flashing a ROM is a pretty straightforward process, although once you’ve been using your device for a while the whole backup and restore procedure for your data can be a pain. If you only want to freshen up the look and feel of your phone then installing a new launcher represents a good compromise. Launchers like Apex and Nova replicate the look of a plain ICS installation, and are fast and easy to use. They run as apps, so make no permanent changes to your system, making it a breeze to try out several before you settle on one. Launchers still give you access to the device-specific apps that your phone came packaged with, but not the widgets from HTC Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz.

Description: Flashing a ROM is a pretty straightforward process, although once you’ve been using your device for a while the whole backup and restore procedure for your data can be a pain.

Flashing a ROM is a pretty straightforward process, although once you’ve been using your device for a while the whole backup and restore procedure for your data can be a pain.

Most rooting procedures - and they differ from one handset to the next - normally encompass unlocking the boot loader at the same time, where required. Some phones, like the Galaxy S III, have an unlocked boot loader by default, and where they are locked manufacturers are increasingly providing tools to correct this (htcdev.com and unlockbootloader.sonymobile.com are two such examples, although in both cases they come with warnings about how the process may invalidate your warranty). There's a lot of discussion about these official solutions within the Android madding community, with many suggesting that even if you revert your phone back to its original state should you ever need to send your phone in for repair, the manufacturer will have a record of you having previously unlocked the boot loader (via the IMEI number that you need to supply during the unlocking process! and could theoretically take a hard line on warranty claims. Of course, if you have insurance for your phone then you'll be covered regardless.

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