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Affordable Access

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Manually Upgrading your Android

Throughout this resource, we’ve shared the issues that we are aware of in regards to many Android-based devices, particularly the lesser-known or unknown Android smartphones and tablets made in China that can’t easily be upgraded.

However, if you have some technical knowledge and are willing to void your warranty, it is possible to manually upgrade most Android devices. This process would upgrade the accessibility features on your device, even if the manufacturer no longer supports it. You can do this by installing a new version of the operating system by using free tools provided by Google or by installing another version of the operating system created for your device by another user.

As with purchasing products overseas, there are both pluses and minuses relating to the process of manually upgrading your device, so check out our list below.

Manually upgrading Android devices

Benefits Issues
Accessibility: Continuing to upgrade the version of Android on your device, even if the manufacturer no longer supports it, will maximise the accessibility features, as noted in our What’s accessible section. Bricking: Manually upgrading your device is risky, and making a mistake can result in your device turning into a ‘brick’, i.e. no longer working. If you are unsure, we strongly recommended you do not attempt to modify it.
Apps: A device prepared for updating has the ability to install more apps from the Play Store, some of which may be useful in changing the way the operating system works to make it easier to use. Warranty: Most manufacturers indicate that changing the operating system on your device in a way that is not approved by the manufacturer will void your warranty.
Saves money: Upgrading the version of Android on your current smartphone or tablet may mean you don’t have to buy a new device so often, which will save you money. Quality: Given most new operating system versions have been created by an online community rather than manufacturers, the quality may not be as good as the original version, meaning that apps could work erratically or have bugs that weren’t there before.
Community: There’s a large development community that creates new versions of Android for a variety of different devices. So getting involved in the Android development scene can provide you with opportunities to discuss your favourite smartphone or tablet and put forward ideas on how to improve it. Legality: As the Android operating system is freely available, there is nothing that prevents you from creating your own operating system based on Android. However, many files online may include apps or code from other sources which could be illegal to distribute and infringe copyright ownership.
Choice: There’s often more than one Android version available for a device, so if you manually install one version and it doesn’t work well, you can usually install another one. Consistency: Usually a particular version of Android has a particular set of features, yet user-created versions of Android provide complete reign over the interface, and as such important features may be removed or changed.

Unlocking the OS of your device

Super user graphical image on Android logo with pirate hook.

The Android equivalent of unlocking the operating system of your smartphone is called rooting. To manually upgrade an Android device, the first thing that needs to be done is to get root access, which essentially means you have full access to change how the operating system works.

Once root access has been gained and a ‘superuser’ app has been installed, you are then able to install a variety of other apps and tools which can help change your current version of Android or install a new one.

More details can be found in the CNET article How to easily root an Android device.

Building your own ROM

A new version of the Android operating system specifically compiled for a particular device is known as a ROM. If you are interested in building your own custom ROM for your device, XDA-Developers have written a helpful article create your own custom ROM an easy way.

Android development tools can be found on the Google Android developer website.

Finding accessible ROMs

If you do not have the technical ability to create your own ROM, you may be able to find one online that has already been created by another user. To find a ROM available for your device, first confirm the make and model number
of your product in Android by going to the ‘Settings’ section, then going to the ‘About’ section which is likely to be the last option you’ll find on the settings list.

Once you have confirmed the make and model of your device, you can then search for a ROM that matches your device. Two popular resources for ROM development are:

Note: Modifying your device is your own responsibility and is done at your own risk. The Centre for Inclusive Design does not accept any responsibility or liability that could result in damaged or broken devices resulting from the information provided.