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Custom ROM Installation on an Android Phone

RT Cunningham | July 25, 2020 (UTC) | Phones

custom ROMLet’s forget the fact that a custom ROM for a cell phone isn’t a ROM at all. ROM is an acronym for “read-only memory”. It’s not even a ROM image because it isn’t a copy of a ROM computer chip. More on that later.

Until sometime in 2020, I used the Samsung Galaxy S4 my younger son, Jon, gave me in 2015. The SIM card inside was no longer active — it was from a provider in the Philippines — I only used the Wi-Fi connection. In 2019, Jon and his wife, Cathy, bought my wife, Josie, a much newer Samsung Galaxy S10e as part of an S10 promotion for Mother’s Day.

What I’m telling you about is how I updated the ROM in the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2018 and 2019. It’s now in a balikbayan box destined for a relative in the Philippines.

The Decision to Install a Custom ROM

I would never have thought of replacing the stock version of Android on my phone if not for multiple occurrences of one message from the Google Play Store: Your device isn’t compatible with this version. That was the nail in the coffin for Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) as far as I was concerned.

My phone was a T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S4, model number SGH-M919. I received software updates from T-Mobile until sometime in 2016. I decided to install a custom ROM with a newer version of Android, for the very first time, in 2018.

Preparing to Install a Custom ROM

There are tons of instructions on the web, most of them telling me to use a regular computer to install all the necessary software on the phone. I only needed my laptop to root the phone.

My previous experience in rooting another phone with KingoRoot led me back to their site. I rooted my phone by USB but I could have downloaded the APK file to my phone and done it that way.

The Android version of ClockworkMod is called “ROM Manager” at the Google Play Store. I needed it to install the recovery software. After installing it and fiddling with it for a while, I installed the Android version of TWRP called “Official TWRP App” at the store. I used the ROM manager to install TWRP, if that makes any sense to you.

Once everything was in place, I needed one more thing. A custom ROM. I searched for hours to find a copy of the now defunct CyanogenMod custom ROM for my particular phone. That was a time-consuming mistake.

Installing a Custom ROM

I found the custom ROM I was looking for but I should have kept looking. What I found was CyanogenMod 13, which was for Android 6.0.1 - Marshmallow. When I searched for “custom ROM for Samsung Galaxy S4 SGH-M919”, I also found a link to LineageOS Downloads and mistakenly overlooked the custom ROM for my phone.

I installed the CyanogenMod custom ROM and then installed the Google Apps custom ROM from The Open Gapps Project (Gapps), once I found the right one. My phone has a 32-bit ARM processor. I picked the pico variant because I didn’t want all the cruft that comes along with the Google Play Store. When I finished with everything, the only problem I faced was Bluetooth. I couldn’t get it to stay on.

I revisited the LineageOS page the next day and found the custom ROM for my phone. After I installed it, and a different Gapps file, I found I was working with Android 7.1.2 (Nougat). I wasn’t too far behind anymore. I had everything installed and Bluetooth worked right away.

Choosing Apps for My Custom ROM

Some apps came preinstalled and I didn’t have to worry about them. Apps like:

The “Browser” app was actually Chromium.

A Custom ROM isn’t a ROM

This all started way back when Commodore 64 games were saved as “.t64” (for tape) and “.d64” (for diskette) files on other computer platforms. Those files were designed for emulators. People kept calling them ROMs when they were obviously nothing of the sort. But we can’t change people.

So… my custom ROM is actually a collection of software programs that have nothing to do with the actual ROM on the phone. Anyway… it was December 2018, and I was starting out 2019 with a phone that seemed completely new to me.

Upgrading LineageOS

I ignored the updates to LineageOS that were available after I installed the custom ROM. That is, until a year later My custom ROM was Android 7. The newer LineageOS 16 used Android 9, which seemed much cleaner and smoother than version 14. Although LineageOS 17 now exists, I didn’t feel the need to upgrade again, especially since I wasn’t going to be using it anymore.

Your old smartphone may have an older version than Android 9 and there’s a good chance you can find a custom ROM where I did. I seriously recommend LineageOS and Open GApps over other choices. It doesn’t make sense to buy a new phone to replace your old one when it’s only suffering from planned obsolescence.

The Samsung Galaxy S10e

It’s not as big as the S10 or S10 Plus, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m satisfied that it’s bigger than the S4. The SIM card belongs to Verizon and as long as they provide their Android updates, I won’t have to worry about using a custom ROM. I don’t plan to replace the phone until absolutely necessary. I’m keeping the phone, with the SIM card in it, even when I’m out of the country.

Joseph, our older son, and his wife, Diann, gave Josie a Samsung Galaxy J7 Star for her birthday in 2018. She plans to use it with a SIM card from the Philippines whenever we’re there.

Photo Attribution: Simon from Pixabay

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