There’s no doubt Android is the most customisable mobile OS on the planet – the tidal wave of custom ROMs available for the ocean of Android devices is testament to that. But with device-specific closed-source drivers still a necessity for most phones and tablets, custom ROMs are only as good as the device drivers they include – no matter how good the tweaks and features on offer.
We looked at the Xposed Framework a few months ago, but it is quickly becoming an indispensable tool for customising your Android device. Rather than having to bake your custom mods into a new ROM every time a new flavour of Android is released, Xposed allows you to implement them in an existing ROM at run-time.
It’s a cleverly executed system with plenty of promise – for developers, mods are no longer tied to a particular ROM, or depending on the mod, even to a particular device. That instantly opens up a bigger audience to your mod wares. For users, mods are now as easy to install as side-loading or even straight downloading an app from Google Play. And best of all, you get to keep your existing ROM with all of its lovely hardware-specific device drivers. The fact that Xposed allows you to install and remove, turn on and off any number of mods at-will is why it’s a killer addition to Android.
How it works
As its name suggests, Xposed works by exposing an entry point or ‘vector’ through a small java archive (jar) file called ‘XposedBridge’ that runs alongside part of Android’s Dalvic run-time engine called Zygote. Through this vector, you can run almost any type of mod you wish. Yep, it increases the security risk of someone doing something nasty with your device, but you basically punched a 100-metre wide hole into the Android security wall when you rooted your Android phone anyway.
What’s important is that Xposed now has a rapidly growing community of developers and users, so provided you stick to well-known, popular Xposed modules, your chances of things going pear-shaped are greatly reduced. In fact, the community is growing so rapidly that it’s now been spun off into its own forum on the XDA-Developers.com website. You can also search through the latest modules on this forum page.
Xposed just needs Android 4.0.3/Ice Cream Sandwich or later and either an ARM or Intel x86 processor, which covers just about every Android device ever built. The only tricky thing you’ll need is root access. We’ve covered this numerous times so we won’t do it now. Once root access is confirmed, you can download the latest version of the Xposed Framework. Don’t forget to enable app installation from ‘unknown sources’ in Android Settings/Security. The Xposed framework itself is not device-dependent, so you should be able to install it on just about anything – it’s the modules where you may find some OS or device specific requirements. Just check before you download.
The Xposed Framework is just that – a framework. It doesn’t do anything on its own. You have to install Xposed modules into the framework before you’ll see any change. Some of the more popular modules are now available on Google Play – you just install them in the usual way, except you must grant them root access via SuperSU or SuperUser when requested.
Once they’re installed, you head into the Xposed Installer app’s Modules list and check the boxes next to the modules you want to run – this also provides a very simple way of turning modules off, too. After a quick reboot, your modules will run as expected.
The best Xposed modules
Xposed has gained in popularity over the last six months and the number of modules now available is climbing. Since writing modules isn’t any more complex than writing a standard Android app, you’ll find modules of all sizes and types – from single function to full user interface customisation options. These are some we recommend you take a look at:
Modules – Samsung
Wanam Xposed: If ever you want to customise Samsung’s TouchWiz interface (among other things), Wanam Xposed is just about the best way to do it. It’s jam-packed with a busload of mods – 72 at time of writing – that cover a surprisingly wide function area. Apart from the user interface itself, you can enable screen recording or call recording, disable the camera shutter sound or the boot sound and much more.
As with most large ‘mod pack’ style modules, chances are you may find something that doesn’t work as advertised. That said, we had no trouble with everything we tested using a GT-I9300 Galaxy S3 phone with Android 4.3/Jelly Bean. The only slightly frustrating thing (and this is the case for all modules) is that need to reboot before you mods will be enabled – but that’s a damn sight easier than having to flash a custom ROM or mod an app. If you have a Samsung device and you want to give Xposed a try, this is the first module you should consider.
Requirements: essentially any Samsung device with a stock ROM based on at least Android 4.2/Jelly Bean should be able to use this. As usual, you still need root access to enable the framework to begin with, but nothing else. Available on Google Play.
NOTE: Nexus owners with KitKat/4.4+ stock ROM on board can try the very similar Wanam Kit available on Google Play.
Modules – HTC
Sense 6 Toolbox: This is the latest release in the popular Sense Toolbox range. It’s one of the best ways to customise your HTC device in general and your HTC One M7 and M8 phones in particular. Similar to Wanam Xposed, Sense Toolbox allows you to customise various user interface controls from colour themes to hiding icons, adding transparency to user interface elements as well as providing a more advanced power menu.
Requirements: While it should work with stock ROMs, it was designed using the popular Android Revolution HD ROM, a custom effort built on top of the stock KitKat/4.4.2 ROM from HTC.
Modules – All
NetworkSpeedIndicator: So who doesn’t want to know how fast their phone data transfers are clocking in? This excellent little module will monitor your data traffic – either Wi-Fi, mobile network or both – and display both upload and download speeds on the status bar. If your status bar is already crowded, you can switch it so that it only provides notification when you’re actually sending or receiving data. Combine it with WiFi Analyzer on Google Play and find your best download locations.
Requirements: None really – works on any device the Xposed Framework will run (even the Android 2.3 beta version of Xposed).
Xposed Torch: Okay, I know. There must be a thousand of these apps on Google Play and I should be made to hold my breath until I count every last blessed one of them! The problem with these torch apps though is you have to turn your phone on, find the app icon, launch it and then tap the soft switch. This Xposed Torch module maps to the device’s hardware buttons, so your phone can be in sleep mode, you long-press the home button or volume-up button (you choose) and bingo, on comes the device’s LED. If you’ve struggled for your keys at night in the dark, you’ll appreciate this easy-to-use alternative. It’s written by the same guy who brings you Wanam Xposed and it’s available on Google Play.
Requirements: any device that can run Xposed and has a LED flash.
Intelli3G: We all know that 3G/4G network connectivity sucks hard on your phone’s battery – even when you’re not using it. That’s why this module is a cracker of an idea. Rather than have the phone hitting those 4G high-notes all day long, you can use this to set the phone to auto-switch down to 2G, say, when in sleep mode or when you’re using Wi-Fi. You can also set it to maintain network connections when downloading files. The bottom line is that all these tweaks can help improve your phone/tablet’s battery life without having to significantly impact your usage pattern. It’s definitely a clever way to use the Xposed framework. You’ll find this one on Google play as well.
Requirements: Only Nexus 4/5, Galaxy S2/S4 and Note 3 are confirmed working, but should work on Android 4.1+ devices.
Note: Xorware 2G/3G/4G Switcher is an alternative option.
XPrivacy: Despite plenty of protestations, the general prevailing view from internet titans about privacy seems to be ‘privacy? What privacy?’. And with countless apps all wanting to share your personal details, location and anything else they can, it’s no wonder one of the most popular Xposed modules is XPrivacy. It restricts the type and amount of data an app can have access to – and you can set it on a per-app basis, such as limiting access to your contact list or location, for example. The default option is to automatically prevent app access to any data type as soon as its installed, providing an added layer of data protection. But, it also keeps a log of data access per app so if you still have a problem, the log will tell you which app(s) are the culprit.
Requirements: You need at least Android 4.0.3/Ice Cream Sandwich and there is a noted issue with the app causing camera lag on the Galaxy Note II.
YouTube AdAway: We looked at this one last time, but it’s so darn useful, it needs to be included again. We don’t know about you but we hate those pre-start ads that turn up when you just want to watch your vid – even worse when they’re 30 seconds long with no skip option. Yuk. With YouTube AdAway, they’re just gone. As with other modules, this one doesn’t replace your YouTube app – it simply hacks into it using the XposedBridge vector. The only quibble here is that you’ll need to update this module each time Google updates the YouTube app, due to code obfuscation by Google’s ProGuard feature. YouTube AdAway not only removes the ads, it gets rid of the Channel logo, video suggestions and information card teasers. If you use an Android device to watch YouTube on your media centre setup, this would be a must-have module in our mind.
GravityBox: If you use a vanilla ROM based on Google’s Android Open Source Project (AOSP), GravityBox is for you. It’s to AOSP what Wanam Xposed is to Samsung devices, providing a world of user interface customisation tweaks from changing the status bar brightness and colour to one-touch clear-all-recent-tasks, full-screen caller photo and a bucketload more.
GravityBox was originally designed for devices using MediaTek’s MTK6589 ARM processor and in that regard, GravityBox actually aims to also fix a few bugs including date/time settings crash and caller ID mismatching. But these days, it claims to support any device running an AOSP ROM.
Requirements: You need an AOSP(or close to it) ROM for Android Jelly Bean starting from 4.1.
The Big Index
Also, all-in-one tweak module packs like GravityBox and Wanam Xposed/Kit are great, but just beware of running more than one of the same type of module at the same time. If you don’t, you may find you have multiple modules fighting over the same features, trying to take control, slowing down your device and sucking up battery life. Our tip – try them one at a time.