Despite being a little long in the (blue) tooth, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 is still a pretty nifty Android tablet -- that is, if you ignore the quantity of bloat that Sammy's stuck on top. Thankfully, by rooting and flashing a custom ROM, we can get around that, and unleash the Tab 2's true potential.
Like most other Android devices, we're firmly of the opinion that you've gotta root your tablet if you want to get the very best performance out of it. But, with the Galaxy Tab 2, we're going a step further: we're stripping away Samsung's proprietary TouchWiz skin and whacking a custom version of Android on there, and then adding a few more tweaks to round things out.
As always, rooting is done at your own risk, and will most likely void your warranty. If you do need to send it back to the factory, make sure you restore stock software first. We've tried and verified all the methods below on a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, but computers can be fickle beasties so it's possible, if very unlikely, that you might brick your device.
It's vitally important to find out what model number your device is. You can find out by going to "About Device" in Settings -- for example, our Galaxy Tab 2.0 is the GT-P3110. Once you've found out what version number, make sure you're downloading the right software for your device.
Before you begin, you should make a complete backup of all your data. Although there's lots of different backup tools out there, Helium is my go-to. Download the Android app, the desktop client, plug your Tab 2 in and let it work its magic (if you pony up the cash for the Premium version, you can also have it sync to a cloud storage account).
- Ensure you've got the Samsung drivers installed on your computer — if necessary, download and install them from here.
- Download CF-Auto-Root for your particular Tab 2, and extract the .zip file.
- Put your tablet into 'download' mode. This involves turning it off, then holding the volume down and power buttons simeltaneously. You'll get a warning message, which you have to press the volume up button to get past, and then your Tab 2 is in download mode, its soul bared naked to your PC. Connect it to your computer at this point.
- Run 'Odin' (one of the files extracted from the .zip). Click on the 'PDA' button, and select the CF-Auto-Root-asjf;klasjdf;lkasjdf;alskjdf;.tar.md5 file. Ensure your device is being seen (there'll be a little message saying something like "IDE;00034 added!"), and hit start. Your device will do some Matrix-style scrolling text, and then it'll reboot, fully rooted.
- To check it's successfully rooted, go to your app drawer — there should now be an app called 'SuperSU' in there, which controls which apps are allowed root permission.
Samsung devices come pre-loaded with TouchWiz, which, if Reddit is to be believed, is "worse than Hitler". I wouldn't quite go that far, but the normal Android interface is certainly better. To get that, we're going to install one of the most popular custom ROMs, CyanogenMod.
- On your Tab 2, download ROM Manager from the Play Store.
- Open it, grant root access, and hit the very top option, Recovery Setup. Follow the instructions to flash ClockworkMod Recovery.
- Download the CyanogenMod version that you want from here. You'll want the RC (release candidate) version for your particular device. Copy the .zip onto your device, preferably somewhere you'll remember like download.
- Go into the ROM Manager, and select "Install ROM from SD Card". Select the CM 10.1 file that you copied over to your device earlier, tick Backup Existing ROM and Wipe Data and Cache, and then hit install and reboot.
- Once it's done, you should see the CyanogenMod boot screen.
- Custom ROMs like CyanogenMod don't come with Google Apps like Play Store and GMail by default, so we have to re-download them. You can download the actual apps from here.
- While they're downloading, you need to enable USB debugging again. Go to "Settings –> About –> Build number", and tap "build number" about ten times, until you get a little message saying "you're now a developer". Head back into settings, go to "Developer Mode", and turn on USB debugging.
- Once you have the download, copy the .zip onto your Tab 2. Power down your device, and boot it up into the bootloader (power and volume up, until the Samsung logo shows on screen, then let go). Select "Recovery"; then, install zip from SD card. Navigate to the Google apps zip file you just copied over, and hit go. Once the install is complete, reboot.
- Once you've got past the initial setup, download Helium backup from the Play Store again, set it up (again), and restore from your backup.
- Go to "Settings–>System–>Notification drawer", and enable the Power widget. This'll give you all sorts of handy toggles (customisable in the "Widget Buttons" menu) in the notification drawer. In the same System menu, there's also a "Status bar" menu, which gives you the option to change the battery icon to a percentage.
- Download Tasker from the Play Store. Tasker's a wonderfully neat app that you can program to do just about anything. For some neat ideas and walk-throughs, have a look at this thread on XDA forums, which explains everything pretty well. There are even more ideas on this Lifehacker article.
- Set up profiles. Something that's missing from pretty much every mobile OS nowadays (but was a staple back in the days of Symbian), profiles are basically presets of a bunch of settings, like ring volume, Wi-Fi on/off, etc. I've got one for work, one for home and one for silent, for example. You can quick-change profiles by holding down the power button.
- Download Apex launcher and get to work on your home screen. The stock Android screen is just, well, boring. Apex launcher (or the equally good Nova) provide endless options for customising your homescreen. If you need inspiration, check out Mycolourscreen.
- Download Titanium Backup and make a proper restore file that will get back all your apps and data, if you somehow manage to break this device.
- For more ideas, check out our Essential 'Droid Apps page.
- Have a play with other ROMs.
Those are my standard recommendations — but of course, there are basically limitless possibilities for what you can do with your device now. Not to mention, you should also see better battery life, more frequent updates and a less of that TouchWiz hell.
Have we missed anything out? Let us know in the comments below!
Tweakmodo is Gizmodo’s new guide to getting the very best out of your electronics. Every week, we’ll be doing the magic to a different device. Got a bit of kit you want to see pimped up, or think we’ve missed a vital hack? Let us know in the comments!
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