Installing custom ROMs may not be as popular today as when Android was still in childhood. After all, a lot of the extra features originally offered by custom ROMs like LineageOS are today part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) repository.
That being said, there are still reasons to unlock your Android phone’s bootloader (and immediately lock it back in the case of GrapheneOS). Improving Android’s privacy and security features are arguable among the most important of these, and that is where GrapheneOS shines. The team is even partnering with an unnamed OEM to bring a Google-less phone to the market.
This guide assumes you have already made up your mind about installing GrapheneOS on your mobile device. If you’re not familiar with the operating system, you’ll want to read our GrapheneOS guide first. It is also worth mentioning here that there are two official methods to install GrapheneOS: a WebUSB-based installer, and a command-line installation guide. This article will focus on the former.
GrapheneOS: preparatory checklist
Before starting the installation process, make sure you have enough space on your desktop and mobile devices, as well as a compatible operating system on your PC. To install GrapheneOS you will need:
- A compatible Android device. Currently, GrapheneOS only supports Google Pixel phones starting from the Pixel 4.
- Enough storage space and memory: 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Please note that while these requirements refer to your mobile device, you will still need a few free GB on your PC to download the temporary files necessary for installation.
- The USB-C cable. This should be connected directly to a rear port on a desktop or the ports on a laptop, and not a hub. The GrapheneOS also says that if your computer doesn’t have any USB-C ports, you should use a high-quality USB-C to USB-A cable.
- An officially supported OS on your desktop/laptop. The GrapheneOS installer is compatible with Windows 10 and 11, macOS Catalina, Big Sur, and Monterey, and all major Linux distributions. It also supports ChromeOS, GrapheneOS itself, and stock Pixel OS.
- A compatible browser. The installer works on Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Brave, Chromium (outside Ubuntu), Bromite, and Vanadium (in GrapheneOS).
Update your browser to the latest version before starting, and do not use Incognito or other private browsing modes.
Getting the environment ready
Having all the tools ready and updated, there are a few necessary steps in this section. These are aimed at enabling the installation of non-original software on your Android phone. The first thing to do here is to enable OEM unlocking on your Android phone. To do so:
- Enable the developer options menu. You can do this by going to Settings ⇾ About phone and tapping the ‘build number’ menu entry a few times and until developer mode is unlocked.
- Enable OEM unlocking. You can then go to Settings ⇾ System ⇾ Developer options and turn on the ‘OEM unlocking’ toggle.
Next, make sure you have the correct drivers for your PC to recognize the phone in bootloader mode.
- on Linux systemsinstall the android-sdk-platform-tools-common package (Debian and Ubuntu) or the android-udev package (Arch Linux) using apt.
- on Windows systems, open Windows Update, run a check for updates, and then to “View optional updates”. From here, you can install the driver for the ‘Android bootloader interface’.
If Windows Update cannot find the bootloader drivers, you can get them from Google and then manually install them with the Windows Device Manager.
Flashing GrapheneOS on your Android phone
Once your PC is ready to connect, go back to your phone, it’s now time to put it into bootloader mode. To do so, hold the volume down button while the phone boots/restarts. At this point, connect the smartphone to your PC, open your preferred browser, and go to this web page.
The following four steps are quite self-explanatory on the GrapheneOS site, and you can complete each of them simply by clicking on the respective button. We’re including them here to give a complete overview of the installation process.
- unlock the bootloader. After clicking on the button on the browser, go to your phone to confirm the command. You can use the volume keys to switch the selection and the power button to confirm.
- Download GrapheneOS factory images. This will obtain the files from the GrapheneOS repository and temporarily store them on your machine.
- Flash GrapheneOS. The installation will wipe all existing data and install a fresh GrapheneOS ROM.
- Lock the bootloader. This may sound strange to you if you’re used to installing alternative Android ROMs, but locking the bootloader is necessary to enable full verified boot. It also prevents using fastboot to modify or erase partitions for extra security. Just like the unlocking process, you’ll have to confirm the prompt to re-lock the bootloader from your phone.
GrapheneOS: next steps
That’s it. After re-locking the bootloader, just restart and your phone will automatically boot into a shiny new installation of GrapheneOS. A couple of post-installation tips:
- You should now disable OEM unlocking (unless you’re a developer). This will increase your device security further.
- you can verify your GrapheneOS installation using the team’s Auditor app. GrapheneOS has a separate, dedicated guide for that, and you can find it here.
- GrapheneOS comes with on Google apps installed. If you feel like you need them to use other apps that rely on Google Play Services, installation is simple. Open the “Apps” app (pre-installed in GrapheneOS) and tap install next to “Google Play Services”, “Google Services Framework,” and “Google Play Store.”
And if you want to remove GrapheneOS and revert to the stock OS, all you have to do is remove the non-stock key using the button at the bottom of the GrapheneOS installation guide and then use Google’s web flashing tool.
Did you manage to install GrapheneOS on your Google Pixel phone using this guide? What are your favorite settings and why? Let us know your initial thoughts about it in the comments. And since you’re riding the privacy and security train, you may be interested in untangling the labyrinth of targeted ads behind Facebook.