How I upgraded my tablet by installing a custom ROM

Recently I picked up a new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 for a song in a clearance sale. All was well and good until I notitced that the functionality inside the included S-Note app was quite limited after playing around with the thing for a while. After comparing my S-Note with the one running on my friend’s Samsung tablet it became obvious that the version I was running was much older.

At this point I was getting pretty frustrated so I started digging into what was going on.

The version of Android that my tablet was running was 4.1.2. This in and of itself started sounding warning bells. Then I found out that Samsung S-Apps that weren’t even showing up in the Play Store or in Samsung’s equivalent app marketplace because the version of Android was running was so old. It was starting to look like I would need to upgrade my tablet to a newer version of Android to even get a chance at installing anything remotely useful. But Samsung’s website had no official upgrade to a later Android version.

It seems that I had been sold an older model of the device, and was stuck with an outdated lemon.

So I started scouring the net for solutions and finally I found that there’s a custom ROM doing the rounds of the Android community called Gnabo. This ROM was designed to run on my specific model (the N8010) and runs a newer version of Android (Kitkat/4.4). Better yet, the ROM comes preloaded with the updated version of the entire suite of Samsung apps.

The process of installing the custom ROM however looked anything but simple, and most people seemed to be doing the process on a rooted device that gives them access to a whole host of advanced features that aren’t accessible on a stock Android installed without Superuser access.

Installing a Custom Recovery

I soon found out that the first thing you need to break out of the restricted Android environment so you can install a custom ROM is to use the Recovery partition. The Recovery partition is on an Android device is an alternate boot partition that is intended to be used when the main operating system isn’t working and all Android’s come with one by default but you can’t do much in it.

The solution is to override the default Recovery partition with a customized one.

To do this all you need is the USB cable that came with your charger and a PC to connect it to. You use the PC to flash a custom Recovery partition to your device. Since my PC’s running Ubuntu I’ll be specifically referring to the steps I took to do this in Linux although the overrall process seems pretty similar on Windows or Mac.

You’ll need some software on your PC to communicate with your Android device though. The application I used is called Heimdall and can be installed easily in Ubuntu through the terminal:

$ sudo apt-get install heimdall-flash heimdall-flash-frontend

Once you’ve got that installed you’ll need to find an image of a custom Recovery that can run on your device. The version that I found for my device (Samsung N8010) is called Philz touch 5.15 which you can download here.

Now you can launch the Heimdall front-end by typing sudo heimdall-frontend in your terminal.

Heimdall frontend

For Heimdall to communicate with your tablet you’ll need to do one more thing — restart your tablet into Download Mode by shutting it down and starting while holding the holding the Power button and the Volume button at the same time (by Volume button I mean the one closest to the Power button). You should see a boot menu appear with two options, one of which is to enter the Download Mode. Press the further away Volume button to select this option.

Now make sure that your USB cable is hooked up to your PC and click on the Utilities tab in the Heimdall frontend. You should see a Detect Device box at the top of this tab:

Once your tablet is hooked up Heimdall should be able to detect your device

Click on the Detect button inside this box and then check what happens in the Output box. If the coupling is successful then this will show up in the box and you can proceed to download the PIT file. The PIT file is a record of the way that storage partitions are structured on the device and you’ll need to save a copy of this on your PC so that Heimdall can flash the device correctly.

Once you’ve done this go over to the Flash tab and load up the PIT that you just saved in the PIT box. Then under the Partitions box click the Add button and you should see a new Partition added under Partition Details. You’ll need to change the Partition Name to RECOVERY and then point the File selector to the Recovery image file you’ve just downloaded..

Set up Heimdall to flash a custom Recovery partition

At this point you should be ready to go ahead and click the Start button to put the custom recovery partition on your device. One word of warning: after the process has finished the device may reboot automatically which will cause the device to boot back into the main O/S instead of recovery. To prevent this you can tick the No Reboot option so that you have time to get your fingers onto the right buttons and boot into recovery.

Step Two: Installing a custom ROM

Reboot your tablet into recovery mode by holding the Volume Down and Power buttons together and then releasing the Power button as soon as the Samsung logo appears. You should see the snazzy new interface for the Custom recovery that you just installed.

By default in the Android operating system you’re a lowly pion and the king Droid imposes a number of oppressive laws on his subjects, one of which prevents your from loading a custom ROM. Lucky then that’s you’ve just installd a custom Recovery so you can go ahead and root the oppressor to reclaim your Superuser powers!

Files you’re going to load onto your device using ADB:

  1. The latest version of Gnabo custom ROM (at the time of writing this is V8 — downloadable here)

2. SuperSu (download here)

3. Kernel for the N8010 (download here)

4. Remove phone stuff for N801x (download here)

Android Tools

This is a stripped down version of the goodies that are included in the Android SDK. I needed this to use the adb command line tool to send files to the tabled while it’s in Recovery mode. The simplest way to install this in Ubuntu is by opening a Terminal and running the following commands:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nilarimogard/webupd8
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot


Much of the information here I’ve learnt from this thread on xda-developers. Information about using ADB Sideload I got from here and here.

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