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Tips and tricks for upgrading your Android phone

By Howard Wen, Network World
January 30, 2012 07:08 AM ET

Network World - The biggest problem with the Android platform has been how slowly many phone makers release the latest version of the OS for their older models. It's also not unusual for them to never do so. (A company may not want to spend resources on phones they no longer sell; or, they and the carrier for a particular model may not agree on when to provide an update.)

15 free apps for personalizing your Android phone

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If you own such a neglected phone, and don't want to buy a new one, then your best shot is installing unofficial Android firmware on it.

The following is a primer on what you should know about the process of installing unauthorized Android firmware. Each phone can have its own unique steps for doing this, so you should follow instructions for your specific model.

1. INSTALL AT YOUR OWN RISK

Installing unofficial OS firmware on your phone will likely render whatever warranty from its maker you have on it null and void.

Thoroughly read the installation instructions for your specific phone model and then follow them carefully, taking time and patience. Though the odds of bricking your phone -- rendering it inoperable because of something going wrong during the install process -- is fairly low, it can happen and especially so if you rush through things.

Be aware that some features on your phone running its current version of Android may no longer be available after you successfully install a custom Android firmware. Other features could be buggy or have quirks.

2. TWO CHOICES: CYANOGENMOD OR MIUI

In the unofficial Android firmware development community, there are two major choices: CyanogenMod and MIUI. Both are built on the Android source code officially released by Google, and their latest versions are based on Android 2.3 (codenamed Gingerbread). As of this writing, the volunteer development teams of both projects are working to get new versions built on Android 4.0 ("Ice Cream Sandwich").

What's the difference between the two? CyanogenMod sticks with the basic, default components of Android that come with its source code release; its UI is "clean," devoid of unnecessary extras. MIUI completely overhauls the stock Android UI with one that resembles that of Apple's iOS.

If your Android phone is (or was) a popular model, it is probably supported by either the CyanogenMod or MIUI community.

If not, there is still a chance that somebody may be working on a port for your specific phone; search its model name in the official community forums for CyanogenMod or MIUI to see if there is such an on-going effort. (An excellent source to check is Android Forums.) But know that some or several features of your phone may not work if you install such an experimental, work-in-progress build of CyanogenMod or MIUI that is not officially sanctioned by that OS's community.

Read our other tips, from wireless to cloud computing

3. ROOT YOUR PHONE

Before you can start to do anything to your phone, you'll need to root it, which means basically to unlock the security settings put in place in the OS to prevent it from being altered. Check out GingerBreak to help you conveniently root your phone.

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