How To Root (and Pimp) Your Google Nexus 4

By Chris Mills on at

So you've finally managed to weasel a Nexus 4 out of Google's grubby paws; now what? Rather than living with stock Android (wonderful though it is), let's harness the full power of the device sitting on your desk. Here's the complete, step-by-step guide to the best Nexus 4 tweaks, hacks and tune-ups around.

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!

Google's stock Nexus experience is pretty fantastic to start with, but the beauty of the Nexus devices is that stock Android is just the beginning. In this guide, we'll be walking through rooting; flashing (in my opinion) the best custom ROM out there; fiddling with a few system-level apps; and messing with settings to get the very best performance for your £239.

It's worth noting that rooting your phone and flashing a custom ROM may void your warranty; if you have to send your phone back, for any reason, you'll need to undo all the changes, and even then, there's no guarantee that the manufacturer will fix your handset.


Step 1: Root Your Device

Before doing any of the seriously useful tweaks, you're going to need to be in complete control of your N4. And that means rooting.

- First-up, for Windows users, you'll want to download the Nexus Root Toolkit, a neat all-in-one rooting set. Once you've got that done, there's a few steps to root your device (no, this isn't going to be an iOS-style push-a-button-and-you're-done root; you'll want to set aside an hour or two for this).

- While the Root Toolkit is downloading, head into your Nexus 4 -- 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. This lets the Nexus Root Toolkit talk to your device.

- Once you've downloaded the Root Toolkit, first off the bat is to set your device and Android build. Obviously, we want the Nexus 4 for device (duh!); choose the Android build that your phone is running (if you're not sure, go settings-->about-->build at the bottom).

- Next up is to install the Windows drivers. This can be a wee bit fiddly, but there's a set of instructions in the Root Toolkit that walks you through the process step-by-step. Be warned, there's a reboot involved. To get going, run Nexus Root Toolkit, and select "Full Driver Installation Guide - Automatic + Manual" from the top.

- Before we do anything to the phone, we first want to set up a backup, so go ahead and hit that "Backup" button. In the options, you want "Create Android Backup File", with the shared data box ticked and the system apps + data box un-ticked. Select a location for the backup file (default location is fine), and hit backup. The phone will reboot, and when it boots back up, you'll get a pop-up on your computer; follow the directions, and unlock the screen on your device. Set a password for the backup (probably wise), and hit go. Once the backup is done, you'll get a success! notification on your computer.

- Now that you're safely backed up, hit "Root", and let the magic begin. NRT will prompt you to download some files -- just agree to whatever it wants. Eventually, it'll start rooting your device -- just sit back and let it do its thing. Don't worry about pressing anything on the screens that will flash up on your device.

TWRP bootloader

One error I ran into a few times was that it got stuck on the TWRP bootloader (image above). If this happens, reboot into system, and try the root procedure again. (Reboot-->system)

- You should now be successfully rooted (yay!). To check, ensure SuperSU and BusyBox now appear under your list of apps. Assuming that they do, go into BusyBox and hit install -- it'll be helpful later on.



Step 2: Flashing ROMs

- Before going any further, we're going to create a proper backup -- one of the advantages of rooting. Download the Titanium Backup app from the Play Store, and use it to make a decent backup. Make sure you make a copy of the Titanium Backup file and store it on your computer. 

- Next, you'll want to install ROM Manager from the Play Store. Again, this'll make your life easier. Once it's installed, head in and click "Recovery Setup". Go through the steps to install ClockWorkMod Recovery.

- It's time for the big step. Flashing a ROM means that we're moving away from stock Android, and putting a custom version on there. The particular version I've gone with is the most popular of custom Android ROMs, CyanogenMod. You can download the .zip file of the ROM from here. Go for the latest version. CyanogenMod (or CM 10.1, as it's known), is like stock Android, but with more options and tweaks. By my testing and anecdotal evidence from XDA forums, it also seems to offer better battery life than stock Android.

- Once you've downloaded the .zip file, you need to copy it onto your device. Copy it into somewhere you'll remember, like the downloads folder.

ROM Manager screengrab

- 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 reboot and install.

- Once it's done, you should see the CyanogenMod boot screen.



Step 3: Restoring Everything

- Custom ROMs like CM don't typically come with Google apps installed, so we're going to have to do that first. Download the Google Apps from here, making sure you get a version that's compatible with your build.

- Once you have the download, copy the .zip onto your Nexus 4. Power down your device, and boot it up into the bootloader (hold down power and volume down). Select "Recovery"; then, install zip from SD card. Navigate to the Google apps zip you just copied over, and hit go. Once the install is complete, reboot.

- At this point, if you want to restore all your old apps and settings, download Titanium Backup and use it to restore the backup you made earlier (you did make one, didn't you?).



Step 4: Tweak Like Hell

Congratulations! You're now running a custom build of Android, so you've got far more options at your disposal now. Some changes to be made will be a matter of personal taste (like the design of your homescreen); others are more technical tweaks, which are the ones we're going to cover here.

Nexus 4 power modifications

- Unlock developer mode again (the tapping on the About option thing). As well as the developer options (remember to re-enable USB debugging, by the way), you've now got access to a new menu, right down the bottom of settings: "Performance".  There are two changes I would recommend you make to get better performance out of your Nexus 4. Go into "Performance-->Memory management", and tick the "allow purging of assets" box. Then, select zRam, and set it to 18 per cent. This will effectively increase the amount of memory available, making hardcore multitasking a lot easier.

- 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 -- at last!

- 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.

- If you, like me, get annoyed by the soft-buttons at the bottom of the page staying there far too much, there is a way to get rid of them. Download and install Button Saviour, then grab the FullScreenToggle apk from this thread, sideload using the same method in NRT we used to sideload the Google Apps, and Bob's your slightly-better-endowed-with-screen-real-estate uncle.

- Download Light Manager to manage the notification LED. My advice is to set the LED to colours that match the app (so blue for Facebook, red for Gmail etc), but it's your choice.

- AdFree works like an ad-blocking extension in a browser. Simples.

Those are my standard recommendations -- but of course, there's 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 bloody battery percentage.

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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