Most Popular Custom Kernels for Android: ElementalX, blu_spark, and more!
There’s an abundance of options in the Android smartphone market. Thanks to the developer-friendly nature of the Android ecosystem, there are also countless options to customize and modify your phone beyond the options offered by OEMs. Due to the fact Android uses the Linux kernel at its core, kernel sources are one of the cornerstones of a flourishing aftermarket community, allowing developers to build custom kernels, ROMs, and more.
Keep in mind you can’t just take the mainline Linux kernel and expect it to boot on your Android device. Google has a common kernel tree for Android, and the SoC makers such as Qualcomm take that tree and build their patches on top of that. Next come the OEMs who get the trees from the SoC manufacturer and then they work on their specific hardware patches on top of that.
Due to this design, creating a custom Android kernel isn’t a straightforward job. Developers need to take the device-specific sources, clean up all the debug symbols, add additional functionalities, (optionally) backport features from a newer kernel version, and finally wrap everything up in a flashable package.
Since the kernel has complete control over the system, it’s important to choose a suitable custom kernel for your Android device. Below you can find some of the most popular custom kernels in the Android aftermarket development scene for several popular Android phones. Compared to the stock kernel, these custom kernels not only offer improved battery life and performance but are also famous for their stability and security among the community.
If you’ve ever owned one of the first few generations of OnePlus devices and considered tinkering with it, the chances are you might have come across the work of XDA Recognized Developer Sultanxda. While the developer isn’t supporting the current generation flagship devices at this moment, he’s still maintaining his custom kernel named Sultan Kernel for the Google Pixel 4 and the Google Pixel 4 XL.
Unlike typical custom kernels, Sultan Kernel is not meant to be customized by users. Rather, it represents itself as a bona fide replacement to the stock kernel by bringing in several under-the-hood enhancements. A bunch of its features, such as a custom low memory killer named Simple LMK, Devfreq boost driver for improving graphics and overall performance, SafetyNet bootloader unlock check bypass, and many more have found their way to other custom kernel projects through cherry-picking.
Juhyung Park, AKA XDA Recognized Developer arter97 is well-known within the community for his work on custom kernels for a plethora of devices. Named after his forum handle, the arter97 custom kernel brings several improvements over the OEM kernel, including cutting-edge changes from Qualcomm than the regular tag, fully neutralized OEM “optimizations”, better TCP network congestion control, among other things.
If your smartphone is supported by the arter97 Kernel, then you should find the official support thread in the corresponding device sub-forum.
The ElementalX custom kernel project is the brainchild of XDA Recognized Developer flar2. The kernel is not only optimized for delivering a great battery life, but it also offers many customizations to tweak the performance of the device to its fullest. Some of the features which are common over various devices supported by ElementalX are wake gestures, Adrenoboost option, advanced color control, general upstream, and CAF fixes.
There are active support threads on our forums where you can contact the developer himself in case of a bug, or other community members for the best tweaks. The developer also offers a dedicated companion app named “EX Kernel Manager” for customizing the kernel parameters.
Maintained by XDA Senior Member eng.stk, blu_spark is one of the most famous kernels in the OnePlus community for its stability and efficiency. The developer has also ported this kernel to the Google Pixel 4a and brought the same set of optimizations, including advanced color control, WireGuard VPN support, and more.
As mentioned earlier, the blu_spark kernel is available for several OnePlus smartphones. Head over to the developer’s GitHub profile to check whether it’s available for your device or not. Official support threads are also available in device-related forums on XDA. Last but not least, the kernel offers integration with the famous Franco Kernel Manager app, so you can get an automatic updater as well as a great way to tune various kernel parameters.
XDA Recognized Developer Freak07 has come up with the Kirisakura custom kernel with the aim to produce a proper replacement of the stock kernel by keeping most of the subsystems updated. Be it the Kernel Control Flow Integrity (Kernel-CFI) that a security enthusiast would want, or the latest CAF-State GPU driver for all your gaming needs, the Kirisakura kernel has got it covered.
Check your device’s XDA forum to see if this awesome kernel is available for your device and if it is, you can start flashing it and tweaking it.
Honorary mention: Optimus Drunk Kernel
Being an integral part of the Ground Zero Open Source Project, the Optimus Drunk kernel is available for a bunch of devices — both new and old — with a number of optimizations and features. You can get WireGuard VPN, granular color control, support for wakelock blocking, and many more functionalities with this custom kernel.
XDA Recognized Developer GtrCraft is maintaining the Optimus Drunk kernel for various devices and providing support for most of your doubts on their XDA threads. Be sure to check it out for your smartphone.
Installing a custom kernel is usually as simple as downloading the device-specific package and flashing it via a custom recovery like TWRP. Now go and check out our forums to find out the best custom kernel for your device!