Android updates take forever. While that's OK most of the time, it can be a problem when a new, terrible security vulnerability is found. Whether you want to protect your phone, or just can't wait for new updates, here's how to skip the line and update your Nexus phone (and occasionally other devices) manually.
Most Android phones require that you wait for a carrier to roll out an over-the-air (or OTA) update to your phone. Even when you know an update is out, you still have to wait around for it to hit your device, or resort to complicated workarounds to speed up the process. For most phones, you can't do much but wait. If you have a Nexus phone or tablet, chances are good that you can skip the line and update manually.
Of course, this method isn't limited to Nexus devices. Strictly speaking, there's no reason this exact same process can't apply for any phone that gets an OTA update. It all depends on whether someone finds and shares a link to the update package. So, you might not be out of luck if you don't have a Nexus. You just might need to do a little extra hunting to find your update.
What You'll Need
To force an update, you'll need a few special tools. Most of them aren't complicated, but if you're not comfortable with a command line, it might be best to wait it out. Here's what you'll need:
- ADB and fastboot installed on your computer: If you don't already have ADB and fastboot on your computer (or don't know what it is), you can check out our guide here.
- An OTA update file: Every update requires an update package, usually in the form of a .zip file. We'll talk more about how to get one for your specific device later.
- A USB cable: You'll need to connect your device to your computer to send ADB commands, so make sure you've got one handy.
- Know how to reboot your device into recovery: In most cases, holding the Volume Down hardware button while powering a device on will boot into recover, but sometimes a particular device will use a different combo. We'll use the mostly-standard method for this guide, but be sure to check online for your specific combo and adjust where necessary.
While you'll need all of this, you should not need root or an unlocked bootloader. While some methods of updating or flashing ROMs may require that you gain full control of your device, flashing an OTA update should work just fine even on unrooted devices with locked bootloaders. Flashing other things like custom ROMs or factory images, however, will be different.
Unfortunately, not everyone can manually update their devices. We're focusing on Nexus users because finding a link to download an OTA package for Nexus phones and tablets is usually pretty easy. However, this process is not strictly limited to just Nexus phones. If you can find an OTA update from a reliable source, and your phone's manufacturer hasn't altered their recovery to prevent updates, you should be able to do the same thing.
How to Find OTA Updates
OTA updates come from carriers or manufacturers and roll out to your devices over the air. However, in order to do that, your phone needs to know where to get the package. That package, like everything else on the internet, has an address. Sometimes, users can find the link to that OTA package and either point other users to it directly or re-host it somewhere else.
Finding those packages can be tricky (and you shouldn't download updates from untrusted sources). However, here are a few places you can find updates:
- Reputable Android news sites: Whenever a new update rolls out, sites like Android Police collect links to OTA update packages for various devices. For example, you can find all the most recent Stagefright-fixing patches for several Nexus models here.
- Android forums: XDA always has a ton of helpful information. You may be able to find OTA downloads for your device by searching here.
- Community posts: Android communities pop up everywhere from Google+ to Kinja. If you can't find an OTA link from one of the above sources, try asking around in a community for your device.
Once you've found an OTA (and verified it's coming from a trustworthy source), download it to your computer. You're now ready to manually update.
How to Manually Install an OTA Update
For these instructions, we'll assume you have a Nexus device and use the stock recovery. The general process should still work for nearly any device, provided you can find an OTA package. However, if you're not using a Nexus or have installed a custom recovery, you'll need to double check the steps for yourself and modify as needed. First, you'll need to enter the recovery menu:
- Power your device off.
- Reboot your device by holding the Volume Down button while pressing Power.
- Press Volume Up a few times until you see "Recovery". Press Power to enter recovery.
- You should now see an Android with a red exclamation point. Press Volume Up and Power together to enter the recovery menu.
The above process can differ by device — for example, most Nexus devices should work this way, but my older Nexus 10 required holding Volume Up and Volume Down in step 2. For convenience, we'll separate out steps. Once you've entered the recovery menu, continue with these steps:
- Select "apply update from adb" from the recovery menu.
- Connect your device to your computer via USB.
- Open an adb window in the same folder where you saved your OTA package. (Again, you can check our guide here if you need more info on how to do this.)
- Enter the following command, replacing [packagename] with the full, exact name of the .zip file you downloaded earlier: adb sideload [packagename].zip
- Wait for the progress indicator to reach 100 per cent and reboot your device.
Boom! You're done. You've now successfully manually updated your device. It should apply just like any other OTA update that rolls out to your device naturally, so all of your apps and settings should be right where you left them.