4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

Summary: One of the strengths of the Android platform is the level of customization that owners can use to tailor the user experience in every way. Here are my top customizations for Android devices.

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One of the strengths of the Android platform is the level of customization that owners can use to tailor the user experience in every way. These customizations can be as extensive as installing a custom ROM that completely changes the way the phone works, to the simple method of installing apps and widgets that change the look and feel of the home screens. I admit I am constantly changing the look and feel of my Android devices, not only to customize the appearance of my screens but to add functionality. Here are my top methods to customize Android devices. Note that most of these methods require Froyo (Android 2.2) and above to take full advantage of the methods.

Check out the screen shot tour of Android customizations.


Image Gallery: Check out the tour of Android customizations in screen shots Image Gallery: Android customization

1. Custom ROMs. Almost all Android devices can be rooted to install custom ROMs, and it's up to the individual to decide if this method is the right one. ROMs can be found in many places on the web, with full instructions to apply them properly. Using a custom ROM is not without risk, and it certainly voids the device warranty so proceed with this at your own risk. I use the VaelPak ROM for my HTC EVO, and did a full review of it on this blog. VaelPak is only available for the HTC EVO but other ROMs can be found for most devices.

2. Launcher replacements. The stock Android launcher consists of the dock at the bottom of the home screen, and the application launcher. It is a solid launcher, but there are third party replacements that add quite a lot of functionality to the Android device. Some of the most common launcher apps are ADW, LauncherPro and Spb Shell 3D. Each of these apps brings different things to the device and which app is better is strictly personal preference. I use Spb Shell 3D (see my review here) on my HTC EVO, and LauncherPro on my Galaxy Tab. Both programs add a lot of functionality to the user experience while being totally configurable to personal taste. Since launchers work as typical apps, you can switch among different launchers at whim, with all customizations intact.

More customization options »

3. Widgets. Widgets are mini-apps that can be placed on any Android home screen to provide functionality and personalize the look and feel of using the device. There are lots of widgets in the Android Market, many of them free, that can put information of all types on the screen. There are weather widgets, calendar widgets and all types of messaging widgets to let the user see incoming messages (email, SMS, social networks) at a glance. Most widgets work on any device, independent of screen size or ROM in place.

The three launcher replacements I mentioned come with a slew of widgets that add features to the home screens, so that should be considered when choosing one. My favorite dedicated widget is Beautiful Widgets, which is actually a collection of widgets of all types and sizes. BW consists of clock, weather, and battery widgets to tailor the look of the home screens, and each of those has hundreds of free downloadable skins. You can put any face on your device you desire with Beautiful Widgets. Fancy Widgets is a similar set of widgets that is quite good.

4. Wallpaper. Android extends the age-old wallpaper methods with animated versions named Live Wallpapers. These can be simple screens with waving grass or sophisticated animations of just about anything. The Beautiful Widgets comes with a Live Wallpaper that is one of my favorites, as it depicts an animated sky scene that accurately reflects the weather and the time of day. The sun/ moon rises and sets on the home screen using this wallpaper. It's a great example of what artists can do with Live Wallpapers.

The old school static wallpaper can be used on Android devices, and these can be found in many places on the web. I use the Flikie Wallpaper app on my devices which includes hundreds of great wallpapers that can be previewed and applied in the app. There are wallpapers to appeal to everyone, organized by category and searchable.

These are by no means the only options to customize the Android device. They have worked well for me and my current favorites. Check out the Android Market and you'll find no shortage of apps and widgets that will make your Android device uniquely yours. Share your own favorite apps and widgets in the TalkBack.

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Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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33 comments
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  • ROOT

    Open source OS and you have to 'root'? what if I brick my device?? will you pay for it?

    My Galaxy S series phone sold for 260! I feel sorry for the buyer..
    Hasam1991
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @Hasam1991 I said it carries risk and don't do it if you are not comfortable with it. Guess you skipped that part.
      JamesKendrick
      • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

        @JamesKendrick If that's your position then how can you list it as cool customization #1? You did say "most" (which puts the lame in Android, yet again), but you forgot the part about, "if you have the nerve to risk bricking your $200+ device and sticking yourself with a breach of contract penalty payment with your phone company."

        So... #1 has to come off the list for "real people" users. And #4 needs to come off for folks that need to be concerned with battery life or slow processors or both. (That being, one way or another, most Android device users.)

        I'm an Android user. Owner. More than once. Shame on me.
        XXP
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @Hasam1991

      If you brake you cake! YOU do you take responsibility for YOUR actions...strange response to the article...
      rmacleod9
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @Hasam1991
      I put the OS on an SD, since it is really my Wife's tablet bricking it would have been a bad thing to do. When I use the tablet I use the chip and take it out when I'm done.

      The problem is once I configured the OS the way I wanted it I couldn't think of anything to do with it, ya, I can surf the web and get my e-mail, then what? There are one or two that are phones as well, that will make the tablet turn the corner for me, I'm not carrying a tablet and a phone, one or the other.
      pllamonica9
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @Hasam1991 James did say there were risks involved... [b] Using a custom ROM is not without risk, and it certainly voids the device warranty so proceed with this at your own risk.[/b] from where he goes into detail about custom ROMS. So I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say he won't be paying for your device.
      athynz
      • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

        @athynz "it certainly voids the device warranty" Possibly but rooting it certainly does not as mentioned by another. Nothing is unbrickable unless you fry it anyway.
        blueskip
    • I voided my iPhone warrenty doing the same thing

      @Hasam1991
      I feel sorry for the buyer.. WAIT - that was me!
      Will Farrell
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @Hasam1991 Maybe you could have your Mom root it for you?
      TomDavisSr
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @Hasam1991

      See here http://stryker-tech.blogspot.com/2011/07/customize-android-without-rooting.html
      liam.ibanez
  • Voiding warranty

    Yes, you void the warranty if you install a custom ROM, but if something happens to the phone not related to the software and you need to return it there are always ways to flash back to stock (i.e., return the system software to its original condition), so there's not much actual risk.
    pixbuf
  • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

    I have rooted my Samsung Captivate and have flashed Cognition 4.2.2 and it is runnign great without ATT blocks! I also have Launcher Pro, Beautiful Widgets installed.
    cdempsey
  • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

    you say customization is a strength. Do you have any statistics for how many users (in %) of Android phones are actually interested in such customization. I bet not many are interested in Custom ROM or different Launchers.
    pupkin_z
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @pupkin_z I HAVE ROOTED & INSTALLED A CUSTOM ROM ON MY PHONE THE DAY I BOUGHT IT.
      t5j1sr
      • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

        @t5j1sr ditto
        blueskip
      • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

        @t5j1sr so there are two of you out of how many millions? is that what you are trying to say?
        pupkin_z
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @pupkin_z
      You really think you are going to get any kind of a meaningful number from here?
      Most would love to but are unsure enough that they wont.
      :|
      rhonin
    • ROMS not so much, different launchers & other widgets, a lot!

      @pupkin_z

      L)
      DevJonny
    • RE: 4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

      @pupkin_z

      ROMs are a bit of a geek level task, but replacing a launcher is as easy as installing an app (literally, that's all you do; no rooting or anything required). Check out the numbers of ratings and downloads many of the popular launchers out there have, and you'd discover that they're a pretty popular thing.

      On the topic of Launchers, James, you mention ADW and LauncherPro, but you fail to mention GO Launcher. It hasn't been around anywhere near as long as the other two, but it's become an excellent launcher and its popularity rivals that of both ADW and LauncherPro now.
      NetAdmin1178
    • Percent doesn't matter ...

      @pupkin_z <br><br>The fact that I can gain root access and customize if I choose to do so by itself is a strength. You know that whole freedom thing to do what I want to my device with the hard earned money I used to pay for it. But of course if you beg differ that freedom is not a strength I would love to hear your proposal.
      MisterMiester