Ask LH: Can I Upgrade My Old Phone To Android 4.0?

Ask LH: Can I Upgrade My Old Phone To Android 4.0?

Hey Lifehacker, I have an old HTC Explorer which I have re-purposed as my MP3 player. I would really love to get the Zombies, Run! app on it, but this app only works on Andriod 4 or above and my phone is on version 2. As this is an old model I highly doubt they will be releasing any updates for it. Is there any way I can update the OS myself? Thanks, Zombie Cheapskate

Dear ZC,

As you speculate, it is highly unlikely that HTC will release the latest Android update for its Explorer handset: it simply isn’t popular or high-end enough to make it worth the vendor’s time and effort. However, it’s still possible to upgrade the OS yourself using an unofficial build.

The first thing you’ll need to do is root your phone, which will give you the required permissions to begin tinkering with the OS. If you’re new to the world of rooting, be sure to check out our complete guide to rooting any Android phone; you’ll fine plenty of useful tips in this article including a glossary of rooting terms (handy for following forum advice) and how to root older, less popular phones.

Below is a guide on how to root the HTC Explorer and update its firmware to Android 4.0.4 courtesy of engineering blogger Sheladiya Gautam:

The unofficial build of CyanogenMod 9 is available for HTC Explorer. CyanogenMod 9 is based on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and it brings all ICS and other CM goodness to HTC Explorer. Officially you won’t get Android 4.0 ICS update for HTC Explorer but if you want to taste ICS, you can try this ROM. Right now ROM is suitable for daily use but problem may occur as it yet to hit stable version.
[clear] [clear]

  • Phone must be Rooted and CWM Installed on it.
  • Make sure that your phone is charged at least 70%.
  • Backup all your personal data, because this method will wipe everything from your phone (No need to backup SD Card)

[clear] [clear]
Download ROM zip & Google Apps (Optional) zip file from here. Download any one from first five. (around 109 mb)
[clear] [clear]
Instructions to Install CyanogenMod 9 ICS ROM on HTC Explorer:

      I assume you downloaded ROM zip file and Google Apps zip file from above link.
  1. Create folder with name of “Root” and Copy both the files which you download to Root of your SD Card.
  2. Now Disconnect phone from PC and Boot it into Recovery mode ( Press Volume Up + Home button + Power buttons ) Now recovery mode is open and select.
  3. From Main menu, Select ‘Wipe data/factory reset’ and then select ‘Yes’
  4. Select ‘Wipe data & cache’ and then select ‘Yes’
  5. Now go to ‘select zip from SD Card’ option and then select ‘Choose zip from sdcard’. Go on Root folder and select the CM9 ROM zip file you copied in SD card.
  6. Wait for process to complete, After the installation is finished, now flash Google Apps in a similar way (No need to clear cache).
  7. Go back to main menu and select ‘Reboot now’ to reboot your phone in normal mode.

[clear] [clear]
You’ve successfully installed CyanogenMod 9 ROM on HTC Explorer.

One caveat to remember is that rooting your phone tends to void the warranty, although in your case this shouldn’t be much of an issue as the phone is already past its use-by date.

If any readers have alternative solutions of their own, let Zombie Cheapskate know in the comments section below.


Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


  • Might also need to unlock the bootloader.
    and try to do it on a machine running a 32 bit OS.. 64 bit is generally sketchy when it comes to rooting phones.

  • I’ve tried to root the HTC Desire HD but a lot of the links that the tutorials mention no longer exist.

    @stevothedevo, I’ll have to try the 32 bit. Maybe that’s the problem.

    • I’ve rooted a bunch of Adroid phones. The Desire HD was by far the hardest one and I have no idea how I pulled it off, but somehow I did. The phone died not long after, so I didn’t get to reap the benefits for long.

  • Hrmm.. I didn’t need to root or using Cyanogen to get up to 4.1.2 for my Galaxy S2.. did it over the weekend.. just grabbed the stock Australian rom.. Odin.. and flashed the phone.. now I have a completely unbranded 4.1.2 Jellybean phone without any rooting/bootloader nonsense.. some people like to have a rooted phone.. but I couldn’t care less to be honest.

    • Different vendors have different ways to flash ROMs. With all of the HTC’s you will need to at a minimum unlock the bootloader in order to flash a custom recovery.

      SO while the S2 might have been an easier, straight forward method, the process differs greatly with other vendors.

    • Rooting and unlocking the bootloader are two entirely separate things (…which often go hand in hand).

      In your case Samsung had released an updated image for the Galaxy S2 – which can be flashed on via the bootloader.

      In ZC’s case HTC haven’t released any software after Gingerbread – so unless he’s going to compile from source (no small task); a third party ROM is going to be his best bet – and CM needs to be flashed on via a third party recovery.

      Each to their own regarding having root privileges too. I personally can’t imagine having my phone without. Yes gaining root access can be a horrible experience on some handsets (my HTC One was far from straight forward, and going back a few generations my HTC Legend was ludicrously difficult), some phones (anything with a Nexus branding) can be child’s play. In either case, once you’ve got root access it’s fairly risk free, provided you make sure you follow any instructions given carefully. Ignoring swapping and changing ROMs; having root access on my phone allows me to:
      – Run a modified hosts file to block in-app and HTML based ads with AdAway
      – Control background processes for apps which continue to run when they really don’t need to (I’m looking at you NRL Live 2013) with Greenify
      – Better automate phone functions using Tasker and Secure Settings
      – Improve responsiveness with Seeder

  • The XDA forums is the place to go. Especially if you want to see what custom roms have been released for your phone. I’m currently running the latest Resurrection rom on my Galaxy S2.
    That being said my old HTC Magic only made it to Froyo 2.2 as it was the vodafone version that has less ram than the standard version. Hence making it harder to flash larger roms. 🙁

  • You should be comfortable with the idea that you will wreck your phone trying to do this. It’s unlikely, but worth considering. I gave up rooting – it has its benefits but sucks up too much time trying to get small bugs and annoyances sorted. In the end, it’s just not for me, I’d rather spend my time using the phone.

  • One thing which hasn’t been said yet – is really consider whether you want ICS running on your phone. Yes, new android versions give you new/more features; but ICS represented a major step forward for Android’s framework and was significantly more resource hungry. I spent months frustrated with lackluster performance of my Nexus S on ICS/CyanogenMod 9 until I replaced the phone and it was downgraded back to Gingerbread/CM7 for the kids to play games on. Immediately I was amazed how suddenly it was so much more responsive in became.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!