Android Version

In this segment of Ask AC, we tackle what you need to know before you decide to downgrade Android on your phone

Most of us here are update junkies. When a new version of Android (or anything, for that matter) is announced, we start bouncing off the walls and worrying about when we get a chance to have it and enjoy the changes. When it's a new version of our operating system, things get even more frantic. We look for leaks, we try custom ROMs based on the new stuff, and we're ready to sideload the minute the right files appear. It's half the fun of owning an Android, and we just love the fluid state of software and the constant changes.

But not everyone feels this way.

Some of us need to stay on an old version — or think we need to stay on an old version. Maybe you've read about some bugs that you don't want to encounter. Or maybe the new version breaks support for something you want or need. Or battery life issues and reports have you skittish. There are any number of reasons to want to go back, but it's not as simple as it sounds in most cases.

Let's discuss both the reasons for needing to downgrade your Android, as well as the feasibility of doing the deed.

Make sure you want to downgrade your Android

Apps updating

Moving backward and installing an old version of Android is not without its own set of headaches. First you'll have to figure out how to downgrade, which we'll talk more about later. After that, you may find that some of the things you really like just won't work with an older version.

Google introduces new APIs for developers with every iteration of Android, and folks like Samsung or HTC add their own on top when they customize Android. Many times, these are not backward-compatible. Some of the changes you won't get to use may be minor and seemingly unimportant, but there's always a chance that something you really need or love isn't going to work with an older version. There's no real way to fix this, and if you find yourself bouncing back and forth because of features, look into a custom ROM or two. Our Android forums are your friend here.

The easy stuff first

Nexus Bootloader

Nexus devices, or any device that has a standard factory image and unlockable bootloader, are the outliers. If you want to go back a step or two with the OS the method is simple.

  • Back up everything you can to the cloud
  • Download the factory image of the version you want to run
  • Flash it

There is a lot of stuff you're not going to be able to back up without having root access. Know that things like game progress, message histories, photos and videos — as well as the data for all your applications — may be gone forever, because a downgrade of the OS always requires a full device wipe. Check into the various backup and restore apps, get your photos and videos into Google+ or other online storage, and be sure to talk to your friends and fellow users in the forums before you click any buttons. Likewise for the right way to flash an image, which usually requires parts of the Android SDK and a few commands at the terminal. Let the folks who do this sort of thing for fun be your guide.

For those who want to roll back to an earlier version of an app, the good news is that this is really easy. You need to be prepared though, because you'll need to find an old version of the apk file. The good news is that those are really easy to get. Install one of the many file browsers that can backup apk files. They will place an installable version of the app right on your device storage, which you can install anytime you like. You'll need to uninstall the newer version, which deletes all the app data, so know going in that you are starting fresh. If you're the type who isn't afraid to go back to what's more comfortable, build your apk library (and keep it updated with the versions you like) so you're prepared. I use Clean File Manager to back up my apk files, if you're looking for a recommendation.

The hard stuff

Odin

The thing is, most folks us aren't using a unlockable device with factory images all packed up and ready to flash. Companies like Samsung or LG and the rest usually don't like to share an installable version of the OS, and tracking down something you can flash for your Android may prove very difficult.

Oftentimes, finding it actually is the easy part. There are other hurdles to overcome. Normally, an OS update also updates the device's bootloader. It's not uncommon for a specific version of an OS to require a specific version of a bootloader, and bootloaders are not one of those things you can just jump in and change on a whim. You're going to have to do some serious research, and then procure the files, and then sort out the method to flash them. More often than not — again, we're not talking "Nexus-like" devices here — this involves some serious warranty-voiding hackery. And be warned, doing things like erasing or overwriting a bootloader or radio file is one of the few ways to truly brick your phone.

I'm not trying to talk you out of it, but I do want you to know that the 5 minutes it takes to flash your phone back to an older version has hours and hours of reading as a prerequisite.

Custom ROMs

cyanogenmod

If you're serious, and don't mind losing your warranty, a custom ROM is usually a better choice than actually downgrading. You'll have the newest version, and there is a small army of volunteers working to fix the bugs and annoyances. As an example, many custom KitKat ROMs for the Note 3 look and act just like the factory version, but have all those AT&T or Verizon apps pulled out, and Jelly Bean-style support for the SD card baked in. The only way you would know you're running a custom ROM is that it's visually faster, and your file manager can copy files all over the SD card. Custom ROMs are an option everyone looking to downgrade needs to consider. The best place to find out information about what is available for your particular device is the forums. Ask the Android geeks who love to tinker — and use the same phone as you — where to begin.

 
There are 70 comments

Marco Giunta says:

As always, nexus FTW
Posted via Android Central App on my Nexus 7 2013

VAVA Mk2 says:

+1

Sent from my Nexus 5 :-D

Deke218 says:

Yeah until I want expanded memory. Then it's Nexus FTL!

Stuman1 says:

+1

Posted via Note 3 AC App

STiK says:

Or until your sdcard corrupts then it's expanded memory FTL!

Um, that's one of the points of there being a Nexus line.
This isn't an FTW, this is a DUH.

Marco Giunta says:

Messing with nexuses is really easy. For me, it's a game-changer, ftw, point

Posted via my CM11 Nexus 4

NoNexus says:

Depending on the carrier, so is Samsung. And I have a great camera, easier repairs, and... Features

Set and match

-------------------------------------------
You really should see the crap I don't post. Sorry if honesty offends you

nbell978 says:

*Bloat. Fixed your typo for you.

NoNexus says:

*feature

You just either don't know how to use them or won't.

-------------------------------------------
You really should see the crap I don't post. Sorry if honesty offends you

No

mao mao says:

Cupcake here I come!

-Posted from Nexus 5

jlanik4 says:

Screw that, Android 1.5 is too mainstream. 1.0 ftw

Posted via Android Central App

cammykool says:

.01 ftw

Bolt473 says:

Has anyone ever made a ROM of an older version of Android than a device shipped with? I've been following ROMs since the Nexus One days (I really wish HTC would make a Nexus with Google again) and have always wanted to see something like that.

Zig261 says:

4.4.2 sucks on my Moto X. I'm definitely using this.

Posted via Android Central App

VAVA Mk2 says:

How does it suck?

Sent from my Nexus 5 :-D

froyoman says:

It broke FoxFi, for one thing. I'd consider rolling back just for that alone.

318sugarhill says:

If Foxfi is all you want.... Then rooting is your option. There are ways to get wireless tethering without unlocking the bootloader. You don't have to unlock and rollback for this. Just root and find a wireless tethering app. Just rooting alone may allow Foxfi to work. That's the easy solution. But if you want to unlock and flash.... Read read read.... And read some more. It's not hard... But you should know the terminology and the insurance and outs.

someguy01234 says:

Depend on which Moto X version you have if you downgrade it and then receive OTA, you may hard brick your device. Not all devices can downgrade easily like the Nexus.

android central app

briankurtz79 says:

I just bought an LG tone Bluetooth headset and the mic will randomly cut out during phone calls. What I've read from research is that it's a bug in 4.3. But I'm on 4.4.2. Moto x. Just want these headphones to work. It's essential for my job. Wonder if ROMing will work????

Posted via Android Central App

Lantesh says:

In my 4 years of using Android phones I have never had a reason to want to downgrade the OS. The is always a hack, or custom ROM available at XDA that will help you accomplish what you need without going backwards.

Posted via Android Central App

Viper says:

I thought the same thing, until I bought a radio for my car that used AVRCP Bluetooth. On my Galaxy Nexus, 4.1 had AVRCP cooked into it by Samsung, but Android didn't natively support it. When they upgraded to 4.2, I lost that AVRCP . I was forced to downgrade if I wanted to use my on-deck controls to skip tracks, play, pause, etc. and also to see my track information. It wasn't until 4.3 that Android natively supported it and I could re-upgrade.

Impulses says:

Huh, that's pretty messed up, my Nexus 5 was my first Nexus (well, second to the N7 but I rarely use that for music playback) so I guess I dodged a bullet. That's a huge omission tho, my first three HTC smartphones had an AVRCP profile, heck, the Sony Ericsson dumb phone I had before those had AVRCP!

They were all on 1.0 tho, so none of them ever displayed track info... I think the EVO LTE might've after JB, can't remember.

At least Google jumped straight to 1.3 or 1.4, as my Nexus 5 will display track info very nicely on my Sony Ericsson Bluetooth receiver and I'm pretty sure it does absolute volume control too. Also works fine with the Kensington BT car kit with playback remote I've been using for four years now.

BT in the car is sooo convenient, the ability to: get in, hit play without even taking the phone out, and play whatever you may have just downloaded is just great. Using Google Now to queue up a particular artist is pretty cool too.

dalex7777 says:

I have worked in technology for over 20 years, and was an enthusiast before that. One thing I've learned is that companies do what is in there OWN best interest and that often means leaving useful or even must-have features behind or even sun-setting a favorite product, software or service.

Thankfully Android is more open and has an active (rabid?) development community. But even with that some "upgrades" are bug-ridden messes that should have never seen the light of day.

At those times, if you are fortunate to have a backup or access to source, regressing versions is the only tolerable way forward.

Zig261 says:

4.4.2 sucks on my Moto X. I'm definitely using this.

Posted via Android Central App

Howard Sylve says:

What's wrong with it?

Posted via Android Central App

I just had commenters Deja Vu. I could swear I read the same comment before on this story.

nikon120 says:

You would have to typically modify the build.prop file and put the most recent official version # for your device to prevent OTA push alerts.

bingols says:

It is a smart phone that any technology people want to always promised it , I like

Yeah. I like bikes too.

LG G2 on 4.4. Kit-Kat

eahinrichsen says:

This is useful information.

Sent from my Nexus 5, kickin' it old school on 1.6 Donut

LeroyRJR says:

Was very useful, also want a copy of that 1.6 Doughnut,, my 5.2 Beer n Skittles is a little flaky at times

Posted via my outdated Droid RAZR Maxx HD using the Android Central App

FifthElement says:

I wish I could do this on my Note 3 on T-Mobile to go back to JellyBean as KitKat blows!

I agree. Too many little bugs that drive me crazy. Wonder if that is kit kat or touchwiz?

Posted via Android Central App

That's touchwiz. Has nothing to do with kit Kat. It has to do with the way Samsung implements their version of android with googles. And the marriage between them is the losing factor when you have problems.

kelayz says:

Uhhh I'm pretty sure you could do that on your note 3

Posted via Android Central App

cirrob says:

I feel you. I literally just called to bike and told them to send me a new phone that has not been updated or I'd walk. Got it last night (1 day).

I know this site is filled with people who like to tell me how to use my phone, and that I have more than enough memory and that the cloud will cover the gaps, but I like my sd card access the way it was. The bs about it being a huge security hole was never an issue. The work around people tote about the developers needing to update their apps won't fix it either. That simply makes it so each app can make a copy of the file that they own and can use. I don't need 30 different copies of a picture, so thirty different apps can modify it. One file, open to any app that wants to mess with it perfectly happy with that security hole.

So yeah, call tmobile and have them send you a new phone. Then don't update the o's.

Synycalwon says:

I don't buy into the update game (OS or apps) as it too frequently breaks stuff and/or causes problems. Need to see a justifiable reason first to take the risk and update. Otherwise, I prefer the axiom "If it ain't broke....". :)

LeroyRJR says:

Don't need an update, this phone does what I need when I need and does it fast, if and when I purchase a new device, I might play with custom ROMs on this one

Posted via my outdated Droid RAZR Maxx HD using the Android Central App

JanPierewiet says:

I'm one of those who hate kitkat, and while it's fairly easy to downgrade on a Nexus device, it's a pain to stop it from upgrading again.

nikon120 says:

@JanPierewiet: Just modify the build.prop file after the downgrade as I mentioned above.

JanPierewiet says:

Thanks, will look into that as I want to downgrade my Nexus 7 to 4.3

Posted via Android Central App

JanPierewiet says:

I eventually went the FotoKill.apk route. Much easier than trying to find out what to modify in build.prop. The biggest pain I had was the whole backup issue - without root you can't do a decent backup, and if you root a Nexus device it gets wiped... I tried adb backup but that didn't work, so now back to square one with a clean Nexus 7 on 4.3, except for the stuff I copied off the 'sd card'.

Love having back the non-Goth status/notification bar which shows network activity!

Posted via Android Central App

Lane Jasper1 says:

It's much easier to fix something or wait for an updated app than downgrade for most people. It's rarely the correct solution.

Lane Jasper1 says:

Everyone saying KitKat sucks probably has an app or something not yest compatible most likely but it certainly doesn't suck. KIT KAT is one of the best and fastest Android OSes to date. It's probably something you've installed that's causing the issue.

Either that or its Samsung users complaining that kit Kat sucks. When in turn it isn't kit Kat that sucks. Its the update that Samsung pushed out that sucks. I agree, kit Kat did a much better job with smoothing things out.

rampage1979 says:

This , kitkat is fine people just like to complain about nothing there all coming down with Yarell syndrome.

Posted via Android Central App

Marco Giunta says:

+9000

Posted via my CM11 Nexus 4

Tony Romano1 says:

My nexus 7 auto rotate has been messed up since kit Kat. factory reset last night and still the same. Wonder if I should try this.

Posted via Android Central App

valmorel says:

It's not only the operating system. I hate the creep we get with apps. They go from small lights programs that do something really well and fast into bloatware full of bugs over time. I hate that!

Posted via Android Central App

tech_head says:

Let's not forget with KNOX and Samsung you can no longer downgrade a device.
in some cases you brick the device on an attempt, at best you get downgraded but you trip the KNOX warranty flag and your device no longer has any warranty and Samsung won't touch it.

No more Samsung devices.

kelayz says:

I'm not sure if I'm correct on this but once you unlock the bootloader I think it shows its unlocked and if you relock it it says relock which indicates you've messed with it so. Knox isn't the problem.

Posted via Android Central App

markbc says:

Chainfire's "triangle away" app worked for me to eliminate the Samsung unlocked indicator on my i337 (S4).
Also, Best Buy stores with Samsung support centers often DO help even when the phone has been obviously tampered with or flashed, etc.

tmiller679 says:

Maybe we can start bumping up those Gingerbread numbers again.. ;)

Posted via Galaxy Tab 3 on Sprint

I'm not sure why anyone would want to go back. Android keeps getting better and better. Its not as if an earlier version of Android was better than Kitkat 4.4.2. I have it on my Galaxy S4 and love it. Of course, I did kick TouchWiz to the curb in favor of Nova Launcher Prime, but with the Kitkat icon set.

If you have a business reason to be on an earlier version, thats one thing. Otherwise, stick with either the latest stock rom your phone allows or flash a custom rom of a later version.

K White1 says:

I don't want to downgrade from KitKat, but it turns out the Adobe Flash Player is being used on more of my favorite sites than I initially thought. I did read some instructions on how to get the Flash Player plugin back working using the Dolphin Browser, though.

Posted via AC App on HTC One

Sachmojo says:

Recently downgraded an old SGS2 from jellybean back to gingerbread. Best thing I ever did for that phone, was a lot smoother and battery life almost literally doubled. Sometimes in our lust for updates we forget some phones are better off on the version they shipped with.

someguy01234 says:

You should install CyanogenMod11 to it and see it flies.

android central app

Sachmojo says:

Battery ok? I can't stress enough how much better battery life is on gingerbread than jellybean on this thing. Keep in mind it's an international version with the exynos chip.

drazum77 says:

Watch out on Cyanogenmod 11. It made my in call volume so low I couldn't hear the person on the other end. After numerous posts by me and many others, CM acts deaf. No fix in sight. Beware

Posted via Android Central App

yet this is their "army"

jerry: you are fooling no one.

Gearu says:

The best android version for your phone will be the one it comes with out of the box, 99% of the time. If you update or go cyanogen or anything else you are straight up gambling. Official updates do not have the same amount of effort and testing time put into them as the original software that comes on it. Nuff said.

Niki ID says:

Yes, I was encountered lag, it was very bad lag on Galaxy Ace 2 (I8160) upgraded to Jelly Bean 4.1.2 official. The very lag was happen when I streamed YouTube, it almost wouldn't be stopped and bad lag when I browsed using Chrome. That's why I chose downgrade to Gingerbread (2013). So I conclude, upgrade OS version is not always make the device perform better or faster, if you use custom rom maybe yes. I think the vendor should think twice before give an update and user as customer should know the consequences. For example, users are yelling why they don't get update OS version on their device, say that vendor hear their request give an update. When users try their device, and in fact they experienced bad lag and hang, they do complaint to vendor why their devices perform worse compared before. Vendor can think if users have known because of their hardware devices are not good for upgrading OS version, why do they yell need update.

markbc says:

Good Article thanks.

Having upgraded and downgraded countless times until I found a pair of really stable, reliable Kitkat 4.4.2 roms for my phone, I have to say that this article makes so many good points, especially:
"I'm not trying to talk you out of it, but I do want you to know that the 5 minutes it takes to flash your phone back to an older version has hours and hours of reading as a prerequisite."

This is the hardest lesson to teach or learn, and while the Android Central fora do have much good discussion, this "rule" it's practically a daily mantra on XDA, where so many Android resources are located.

it's not a good article, it like many others, contains just mis information. This is just a fanboy site, and shouldn't be taken more seriously than apple insider.

"You'll have the newest version, and there is a small army of volunteers working to fix the bugs and annoyances"

such a joke. You'll have 1, maybe 2 guys working on your carrier specific devices; and you won't even get official CM on flagships more than 1 year old. Or you'll have 3 rom's by 3 dudes who kinda know what they are doing.

I prefer xposed in general, On day, Jerry will find out what smartphones are all about. Also, ROMs on a note 3 with locked bootloaders? Safestrap isn't cool.

dina MA says:

Yes, this tutorial made simple:
www.Browseandmakemoney.blogspot.com/

dina MA says:

Actually its better to use the factory made rom while downgrading from a higher version and then try the custom rom for better results.

awolfman says:

If you really believe that being able to freely write to removable storage OF ANY TYPE is a "security issue", you are a moron and know nothing about security. There's one, and only one reason for the very existence of removable storage. That is to freely write and move files around to ANY area of the storage, as well as read, using absolutely any app and any device or machine.

If you really believe that an app being able to write to an SD card is a security issue, then you have to also go without USB or networked or external storage of ANY KIND. The WHOLE POINT of external storage is to be able to easily work with files on multiple machines without having to deal with permissions etc. Disabling write access to SD cards is nothing short of insane.

No one who is defending this insanity can possibly be anyone who actually uses even a tiny percentage of the power of their device, and can know nothing whatsoever about "security". KitKat has broken nearly everything I want to do on my device, from offline navigation to my S4's remote control IR blaster to organizing downloaded files. As someone has said, I feel like my right arm has been cut off.

As for security, the only way disabling access to SD would actually be a security improvement would be to disable READ access. It's an app's ability to read your data and transmit it somewhere else that is a security issue. After all, if they write to storage ANYWHERE, that's extremely simple to catch and deal with because it's changing things. Simply reading and transmitting data off the device without your knowledge, WHICH IS STILL JUST AS EASY AS EVER, is much less obvious and harder to detect. And apps can still write and execute malicious code on your SD card. The fact is that only apps that "play by the rules" are completely prevented from writing to other areas of the card.

If Google had any consideration at all for security, they wouldn't allow apps to ask for permission to things like location, contacts, etc. that have no non-nefarious reason whatsoever to demand those permissions.

The bottom line is that any "security improvement" in KitKat is so incredibly tiny that the negatives so overwhelm it that it is not even remotely worth the trade-offs. So give the lame "it's a security issue" a break, okay? It's a lie!

I don't believe in conspiracies, but I do believe that corporations act in their own best interest, not yours. It's in Google's (and the manufacturers' and carriers') interest to keep selling you new phones every couple of years by making sure you run out of storage and can't replace the battery when it craps out.

So yeah, we've all been betrayed by Google.