Until recently, if you wanted to fully customise your Android experience, you had to root your phone and flash a new ROM -- essentially a whole new version of Android -- that included the features you wanted. If you only want to tweak specific parts of Android, you now have another option. It's called the Xposed framework, and you can use it to customise your phone without the need to flash your ROM.
The Xposed Framework is a series of modules that allow you to control different aspects of your Android phone, right down to system level. Instead of just installing apps to get features you want or flashing a ROM, Xposed's modules give you the power to customise your phone and the apps you have installed in numerous small ways. You can make ROM-style changes (such as changing the font size and style, customising the lock screen or launcher, or modifying system text) without actually having to install a whole new ROM to get them.
Imagine it: You can run stock Android, and then craft the perfect OS for you using the Xposed Framework and its modules. That way you get all of the great parts of your favourite ROM without the bloat or other rolled-in apps you don't want. Ready? Here's what you'll need:
- The latest version of the Xposed Framework
- A rooted Android phone running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or later (there is an experimental build for Gingerbread but we won't explore that further here)
You'll also need some Xposed modules once you have the framework installed, but we'll get to those a little later.
How To Install The Xposed Framework And Modules
Before you do anything, make sure to back up your phone first. If everything blows up, you'll have a backup you can revert to. For rooted Android phones, we still think Titanium Backup is your best choice for a backup utility.
- After you're backed up, head over to the Xposed Framework thread at the XDA Developer Forums. The latest version of the Xposed Installer is always posted there. Since Xposed isn't available at Google Play, you'll need to sideload it. You can visit the forum on your phone directly to download the APK, or add it to Dropbox or another storage service that you can access on your phone.
- Open the Xposed Installer APK on your phone, and install it.
- Launch the Xposed Installer, then tap "Framework".
- Tap "Install/Update".
- After the actual framework is installed, reboot your device.
After restarting, the framework will be active, and you're ready to go! Keep the Xposed installer around -- you'll need it to install modules you'll download later, and you can also use it to update the Xposed Framework if there's a new version.
Xposed modules come in the form of APKs, so installing them works the same way as regular apps. Some modules are actually available on Google Play, so you won't need to sideload them. To install a module:
- Download and launch its APK file on your phone (or install it directly from the Play Store).
- Open the Xposed Installer and tap "Modules".
- Check the checkbox next to each module you'd like to enable (you can enable more than one at once, so if you download several, you can turn them all on at the same time).
- Reboot your device. After it restarts, the modules will be active.
As long as your device fits the criteria, installing the framework and adding modules is a quick and simple process, and gives you lots of customisation options.
Seven Useful Xposed Modules To Try
Once you have the Xposed Framework installed, it's time to give some modules a try. Modules can give you an incredible degree of control over your device. The official Xposed module repository is a good place to start looking, as is this thread at XDA forums full of great modules developed by the community.
Remember, modules are like apps: They're individually supported by the developer who wrote them, so you should make sure the developer is accessible if you have problems, especially if it's a module you know you'll come to rely on every day. Here are a few of our favourites you can install to get started:
Wanam Xposed Tweaks Your Phone's Visuals
Wanam Xposed is a module that offers lots of visual tweaks and feature updates. For example, Wanam gives you the ability to record calls, changes your volume buttons into music playback controls (even in apps that don't normally support it), adds reboot options such as recovery and hotboot to the power menu, includes the ability to enable or disable volume-increasing ringtones, and much more.
If it's visual controls you want, Wanam Xposed offers a full colour wheel to change the colours of system text across all apps or statusbar text. You can also tweak text size across the system. For example, you can make the battery display larger, or change the size and font of the lock screen clock to suit you. You can also enable the camera on calls or push Hangout calls to the mobile network rather than Wi-Fi. It's a great starter module, if only because it has a massive number of hacks and tweaks you can play with. If you have a Samsung phone, you can use it to get faster PIN unlock on your device, thanks to this tutorial at WonderHowTo.
XHaloFloatingWindow Brings Paranoid Android's Halo To Any Phone
One of the cool things about the Paranoid Android ROM is its "Halo" pop-up floating launcher that you can use to jump across apps, open contacts or open settings, no matter which app you're in. XHaloFloatingWIndow brings that functionality to any Xposed Framework device. You won't get the whole experience, but you can use it for notifications, shortcuts, and any other apps you have installed that work with Paranoid Android's Halo.
MoDaCo Toolkit Unlocks Location-Restricted Apps
The MoDaCo Toolkit is another all-in-one tweaking toolkit, but it's also designed with some special tweaks in mind for the HTC One. Once installed, MoDaCo can do things such as force Amazon MP3 to behave like it's in the United States (which will get you around pesky location restrictions), disable Google Play app disabling based on location, allow you to rotate your phone in all directions (even if your device doesn't like being upside down), or hide the battery status meter when you don't want to see it.
If you have an HTC One, you'll also get the option to make your status bar transparent, enable ADB with a secure lockscreen, wake your device with the volume keys, add a Blinkfeed icon in the launcher so you can get to it even if you're using a third-party launcher, hide Kid Mode when you long-press the power button, and more.
Flashify Makes Backups A Snap
Once installed, Flashify can make boot and recovery images without having to boot into recovery first. Just fire up the app, take your snapshot, and you're done. You can also flash ZIP files from inside the app, which is useful if you've gotten your hands on something like a ZIP of Google Now and want to install it without hassle. Flashify also supports backups and recovery to and from Dropbox. Flashify is free, but you're limited to three flashes per day in the free version. If you want to unlock as many as you like, you'll need to pony up a few bucks via in-app payment. There's a thread at XDA Developers full of information if you'd like to learn more about it.
XPrivacy Gives You Complete Control Over App Permissions
XPrivacy gives you control over all of the permissions each app on your phone asks for. We've explained why Android apps ask for the permissions they want, but XPrivacy gives you granular control. Once installed, you can view all of your apps and their permissions individually, or filter them based on permissions required. From there, you can approve or deny permissions, or feed an app fake data. If an app wants location, XPrivacy will give it purposefully incorrect location data. If an app wants access to your contacts list, XPrivacy will step in and give it an empty list.
Of course, if the app needs location to give you the weather, or wants your contact list so it can schedule appointments with your friends, that's not a great idea. However, it can be handy for apps that want location data for what seems to be no reason, or force you to hand over contact details just to log in. There's an XPrivacy Installer at Google Play if you don't want to sideload it from the XDA thread (since the app itself has been removed from Google Play). If you really like XPrivacy, you can spend $4.35 on the pro version, which includes crowd-sourced restrictions you can implement automatically. That means if you install an app on the list, XPrivacy will automatically protect your data without stopping the app from working.
Tweakbox Optimises Your Statusbar
Tweakbox is a collection of hacks and customisation options that let you customise the status bar indicator, change the statusbar background colour and appearance, and includes a few other goodies suc as vibrating when there's a call waiting. Tweakbox works best on Samsung devices, and if you have one of the phones the developer has optimised it for, you can add features like call recording. Check the forum thread for more details, and keep in mind that the dev has stopped actively maintaining Tweakbox, so while some of its customisations are useful, if they don't work for you now, they aren't ever going to.
XBlast Tools Gives Your Phone A Personal Touch
XBlast is a collection of personalisation tools that let you control the way you interact with your phone, and how it looks and operates. If you want your phone to say "Good morning, Mr Bond" every time you unlock it, this is the module for you. You can customise the clock size and text, add flavour text to the lock screen or the status bar, add your own fonts for other apps to use, make the notifications bar transparent (or at least translucent), customise specific contacts with colours and fonts so you can pick them out easily, or change all of the colours for battery, Wi-Fi and mobile data signal in the status bar.
Again, these modules are just a few you should check out if you're getting started. If you have a specific device and want modules designed to enhance your type of phone, the XDA collection thread will give you some options to get started. With a little time and some experimentation, you'll have your Android phone looking and working just the way you want, without ever flashing a ROM. Plus, since all of these tweaks are easy to turn on and off, if you get tired of them, you don't have to flash a ROM to get rid of them -- just deactivate the module in question.
That's the real beauty of the Xposed Framework. It's a relatively low-risk and remarkably high-reward method for personalising your device, and you can always back out of your changes if you don't like what you see or find something that works better.