Android Hacking

Most of us have experienced the frustration of a slow and buggy phone. When we first get the phone it works great, but eventually as technology moves ahead the older models do not keep up with new software requriements. Fortunately, some very bright developers have come up with methods for unlocking the full potential of mobile devices. Essentially, you can replace the OS the came with your device with one that doesn’t have all that extra stuff you don’t want. This process is called “flashing a new ROM” or “replacing the firmware” (thanks cyanogenmod wiki). In addition to cleaning off the phone company bloatware, you can gain root (superuser) access to install apps that improve battery performance, overclock the CPU, change boot animations, and so on. So why doesn’t everyone do this? Well, you can destroy your phone in the process and it voids the warranty. You have been warned, so don’t come crying to me if you try to hack your phone and it becomes a paperweight (brick).

I recommend Cyanogenmod (CM) for a Galaxy S3 (S3) running on the Virgin Mobile (VM) network. You can use this guide to intall. Since VM phones run on the sprint network, they require downloading the Sprint version of CM. The guide explains most things in great detail, so I won’t repeat those things. I will only note a few key points to troubleshoot.

General Tips

  • Start with a fully charged phone.
  • Check the MD5 on ROMs whenever possible. Flashing a corrupt file is bad.
  • Read the directions and crosscheck from different guides. Guides vary slightly.

ClockWorkMod Recovery (CWM)

This is the trickiest part of the process. It typically requires a PC running windows, and software called Odin for installing the custom recovery. Get Odin from a source you trust. Some links may have some bad stuff in them. Key things:

  • Do not check Re-Partition or you will brick your phone
  • Uncheck auto reboot.
  • After seeing “pass”, reboot directly into the custom recovery.

The auto reboot issue is tricky. If I understand correctly, some phones have a sort of fail-safe that reinstalls the stock recovery when you auto rebooted after flashing CWM as described in the guide. To get around this, you must start the CMW before rebooting. I recommend using CWM to make a backup of your system at this point before flashing all sorts of custom ROMs. That way you can always go back to your stock system. You may find that having root access to remove a few things and install mods may be sufficient for your needs without replacing the operating system.

Flashing Mods

I like the “Flashify” app in the Android store. It makes it easy to install mods like L-Speed Mod.

Final Thoughts

Replacing the OS is scary but if you pull it off it is totally worth it.

Written on December 1, 2015