Dual Boot on Android: A Power User’s Holy Grail?
Many of you probably dual-boot your personal computers, be it to run Linux alongside Windows or because you have a Mac and hate OS X. On a computer platform, the process can be a life-saver for a variety of reasons, particularly software compatibility/integration. It’s not rare to see computer programmers with Linux partitions or Mac gamers that use bootcamp for their videogames. On computers, the process has gotten relatively simpler over time, with Microsoft and Apple typically supporting the notion. On Android, the story is different.
Android’s motto is “choice”, and its banner is the liberty it provides to achieve such motto. But most Android users have unlimited choice within a choice (that is, the ROM they are running). A simple example would be a user who is running a Samsung ROM on Lollipop and can’t yet use Xposed. Sure, there are AOSP ROMs that are able to run Xposed, but the user might not want to switch over just for those perks. The isolated islands that are fragmented ROMs mean that, while the user has unlimited liberty within that island, the decision space is limited by what’s on it. And an island next to it might have a lot of things the user wishes to have.
That is essentially the problem that Windows and Mac suffer from, but not in such a fierce manner since they are proprietary by nature and not as open as Android. Linux users get a particularly isomorphic experience due to the similarities of the platforms regarding openness. But dual boot is still very much possible on Android, even if not quite as mainstream. Luckily, XDA developers and others too have come up with different ways to get your device to run two Android ROMs – or even different operating systems – at once.
Dual booting makes sense on a computer, but does it on a phone? Not for the general user, perhaps. Even experienced users might call it an answer without a question, and it does come with some annoyances too. But to us at XDA, the additional freedom and choice means that, if used right, dual booting can be a power user’s Holy Grail. Let’s explore why.
MultiROM sits after your bootloader for a GRUB-like experience on Android and allows you to load into different ROMs, and even other operating systems like Ubuntu Touch. MultiROM comes courtesy of XDA Recognized Developer Tasssadar, and it is perhaps one of the best known solutions for dual booting on Android. We covered the installation process in an XDA TV feature, but keep in mind that official support is limited to a handful of devices like the Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and both the 2012 and 2013 Nexus 7 tablets. There’s also unofficial ports and versions in development, so check out compatibility here.
XDA Senior Recognized Developer Hashcode had created an option called Safestrap, which many XDA users with locked bootloaders (thanks to carriers) have come to love. This piece of software is sadly (officially) unsupported by Hashcode at this point, which means official development has ceased. That being said, the lucky ones who can still exploit Safestrap get access to additional ROM slots and a lot of other goodies to boot.
XDA Senior Member chenxiaolong has created DualBoot Patcher which you can use to patch ROMs (and flashables like GApps) and make them available for multi-booting. You can grab the latest snapshot patcher here but keep in mind that some additional steps might be required for your device. For Galaxy Note 4, devices, for example, the guide I used requires a repatcher by XDA Senior Member rlorange. It is also finally used in conjunction with the Swap ROMs APK to hop between ROMs.
There’s also GRUB for Android by developer Michael Zimmermann which is a bootloader alternative for Qualcomm devices that acts like, well, GRUB. You can check the +GRUB4Android community for news and information, as well as links to the sources. There’s also a plethora of other multiboot alternatives, so don’t think these are all of your options. XDA developers, in particular, have managed to get the functionality through various methods to many certain devices, something we love featuring since way back. The best way to find a dual boot solution is to search for one in your device’s specific XDA forum. If you do find a solution you could use, here’s why we at the Editorial Team think that you should go for it:
First of all, the best part about it is having a ROM for work and a ROM for play, or rather, a daily driver and a secondary ROM. I personally run TouchWiz on my Note 4 for its productivity features which are invaluable when on-the-run or doing research, homework or working. For when I am no longer occupied with tasks, I can boot into my CM12.1 ROM (or whatever AOSP ROM I happen to be running) for a sleeker, nicer UX that allows me to decompress better. And there’s also the fact that some ROMs come with exclusive features or have certain strengths and weaknesses:
OEM ROMs like TouchWiz can feature better image processing which results in better camera quality, something that is completely lost when transitioning to an AOSP ROM. Some ROMs also have better sound quality or performance in key areas, or features such as stamina mode or the touted “ultra power saving” functionality. In a pinch, these features can come in handy, and with dual booting you don’t have to sacrifice them for another ROM. If you need a feature from another “island”, the reboot will sail you across in less than a minute.
For flashaholics, dual booting also offers the opportunity to safely try out new ROMs (and things like Firefox OS, too) or test certain mods (usually) without risking your daily driver’s integrity. At the Portal Team we’ve shared stories of wanting to get some tweaks on our phones late at night, but holding up in case something went wrong and we would have to spend extra precious sleep time fixing it for the next morning. If you have additional ROM slots, you can tweak things or try mods without the fear of detrimental consequences throughout the rest of the day. Keep in mind that, for obvious reasons, this doesn’t include all mods, as some can still manage to mess up your other ROM (and more). But with the appropriate criteria, you can alter without many concerns.
There are negatives to this, however. Depending on your solution, the process can be quite “hacked-together” and sometimes risky, meaning you must be very careful in each step and at the least, make backups. Many users complain about the initial setup, as setting up a device is always rather annoying. Luckily, Lollipop ROMs streamline the process and with Google’s data backup, app download scheduling and Titanium Backup, the process isn’t too annoying (we are probably all used to it by now). Depending on your method, duplicate data may become a problem, particularly if you have low internal storage. Some solutions share data between ROMs, though, unlike the closed off nature of partitioned systems on PC. These are all things you should be aware of, but we think that the positives largely outweigh the negatives.
If Android is about openness, dual booting adds a whole dimension to the idea. Dual booting can be beneficial not just to Android on phones, but also Android Wear, something we discussed as a solution to the Wear openness conundrum and wish to see made a reality someday. Ultimately, if you are a power user, dual booting might aid you in your hobby and, at the same time, make your UX more rewarding. I personally love the option to switch ROMs in a minute or less, and it allows me to enjoy the latest software developments as well as the software that’s most useful to my use-cases. If you are willing to try it, search your device’s XDA forum and look at your options!
Do you dual boot on your Android phone? What do you think of dual booting? Discuss below.