Theme Chooser

One of my favorite things to do on Android is use the T-Mobile Theme Chooser to change the look of my phone. With a few simple clicks you can alter things like the notification pulldown bar, toast notifications, check boxes, and button colors.

Because this is something so powerful (and empowering to the user), I want to clear up any misconceptions anyone had about the Theme Chooser, so join me after the break for a primer on what it is, when you can use it, and why you should.

Not just for T-Mobile

This might sound kind of ridiculous, but the T-Mobile Theme Chooser doesn't only work on T-Mobile phones. The app gained it's moniker because T-Mobile actually designed the app. Fortunately, they did it openly and for the community, not to gain leverage for their own phones.

It gained popularity because it got packaged in a little custom ROM you might have heard of called CyanogenMod. With open code and wide distribution in a popular ROM, themers got right to work and have created oodles of themes that work in conjunction with the Theme Chooser.

Root-only access

Speaking of CyanogenMod, well, it's something you need to be rooted to flash. The Theme Chooser is actually no different and requires that you have root, too.

If that sounds redundant, it probably is. But when you get to talking about theming things on your phone, the first assumptions might be that we're doing something in ADW or LauncherPro Plus.

However, the parts of your phone that'll be themed using a Theme Chooser theme are far outside the realm of what ADW or LauncherPro Plus can do. Because we're not limited to simple icons and can actually theme parts of the whole system, Theme Chooser themes go much deeper and thus, are root-only.

Theme Chooser ≠ ADW Themes

When you use something like an ADW or LauncherPro Plus theme, changing your icons is probably the extent of what you'll get. You'll probably also get something like an included custom wallpaper, and maybe something for the main dock (and in the case of ADW, the hidden dock, too).

Themes written for the Theme Chooser can change (or theme) icons, but there's much more to it than that.

The biggest appeal of the Theme Chooser is that it can change things on your phone like system colors throughout the entire experience. For example, the Tangerine theme I'm using right now makes the colors of everything orange, especially evident in the notification pulldown bar icons.

The Theme Chooser at work

Themes that use the Theme Chooser also lend their colors to every other part of your phone, too, from buttons you can press to check marks you can check, to the rotating circle you see as you wait for a YouTube video to load.

Basically, ADW or LauncherPro Plus themes do icons. Theme Chooser themes can do everything, even system widgets, like the analog clock.

Why should I use it?

Prior to the Theme Engine being introduced, the only real way to theme your phone was through flashable zip files that you had to download and could only flash in recovery. (This was a root-only deal, too.) It was kind of a pain, especially if the theme wasn't well-done, because you either didn't like it or it caused a bootloop.

The Theme Chooser handles everything while the phone is still turned on, so there's no rebooting necessary (just kill the launcher app and when it reopens, your theme should be loaded). It also keeps all of your themes together in a nice, album view-esque kind of library, with a screenshot of the theme to remind you of how it looks.

Theme Chooser libraryTheme Chooser libraryTheme Chooser library

If you don't like it, picking a new theme is just a few taps away, and you can begin the whole sequence again.

Wrapping it up

The T-Mobile Theme Chooser embodies the best parts of openness, which is what Android is all about. It's flexible, powerful, and there's a huge selection of themes to choose from, especially if you know where to look. (Hint: the Android Market.)

As awesome as it is, though, make sure you take away this knowledge about it:

  • It doesn't only work on T-Mobile phones
  • It requires root access
  • You need to be running CyanogenMod an AOSP ROM with it included to use it
  • It themes a lot more than just icons (unlike ADW or LauncherPro Plus)

Hopefully this has cleared up any confusion about themes and theming, and what I'm talking about when I review a theme. Remember, if things like the notification bar and buttons are different colors, we're talking a theme like this (and root). If not, then ADW and LPP are what you're looking for.

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Reader comments

Android Primer: T-Mobile Theme Chooser

36 Comments

"It's flexible, powerful, and there's a huge selection of themes to choose from, especially if you know where to look. (Hint: the Android Market.)"

You don't have to download the Theme Chooser app, it comes pre-installed on CM7.

As far as themes go, you can download them via the Marketplace or you can also check out XDA. One of my favorite themes on my Captivate was from XDA.

Thanks for the replies I did a quick search and the Google results refer to CyanogenMod. Since I'm have an Atrix and the CYM ROM does not support all the hardware on the phone I was hoping for a stand alone app I could install. I'll keep looking though

Actually, I know somebody who is currently running the CM7 Pre-Beta (or maybe it's at Beta stage now) on his Atrix and is loving it. I don't feel the need to flash my Atrix, unlike my Captivate which practically REQUIRED flashing a ROM.

The atrix has a fingerprint scanner and the webtop feature. Those are the two things that keep it in beta (at least, the big things that I am aware of).
Not having a finger print scanner or webtop kills about any appeal that the atrix has to power users of the phone. I love my fingerprint scanner!

Thanks for this article to clarify themes.

Now Google please add this to Android. It could potentially solve alot of the problems with OEMs wanting to custmoize. The L&F is factored out and should not prolong updates. Everything else can be done at the app level.

Seems like there is always some level of confusion as to what needs ROOT and what doesn't. Oftentimes it is mentioned early on in the article, other times not or not at all (e.g. as in assumed to be mass knowledge).

Maybe AndroidCentral will find a way to put tags or flags at the start of their posts (e.g. the article header/title) to let readers know if ROOT is required as well as any other information that may be useful as one peruses the ever-increasing number of blogs and forums out there. Or if TAGS isn't an option, including ROOT as a keyword in the "Filed Under" section. Just a suggestion. :-)

Example: http://imgur.com/yCkzb
Example:

"You need to be running CyanogenMod to use it"

Actually, this is untrue. Right now I'm running the Liquid 3.0 ROM on my Incredible 2, and Theme Chooser is included in this ROM as well. So cyanogenmod is not necessarily your only choice if you want to use Theme Chooser.

Deck's is built from CM source, so it's only 'partially' right.

You guys don't know how many of these AOSP ROMs are kang's of CM.

More like perfected from CM source...I do see what you;re saying though. Unfortunately if we believed it all started with 1's and 0's (just going back a little farther) then it is actually Microsoft who deserves credit...You should re-read my response. Nowhere in there did I say Deck's was or wasn't built using base CM coding. I merely said you were right, but didn't know how right. Many ROM's have the Theme Chooser. I was in agreement with your claim of CM7, and was pointing out it wasn't the only ROM like the other guy said.

I don't need to reread anything, you said -

"You're right...You just don't know HOW right...lol Deck's ROM has had this since at LEAST 1.3d, also."

in response to -

"You need to be running CyanogenMod to use it"

Actually, this is untrue."

Deck's didn't have this before CM7, as Deck's is built off of CM7. And I don't know what you're talking about binary / 1's and 0's when that isn't the point, nor is it relevant.

The ROMs with the Theme Chooser built in are most likely derived from CM source, as you RARELY see AOSP ROMs built straight from source, alone. Why? Because CM7 is an entirely more productive base to build from.

I suppose you didn't necessarily say it was or wasn't based off of it, but you were playing into his comment about "You don't need CM as my AOSP ROM has it," which isn't entirely true. You can't build this into MIUI (just to use another AOSP example) which wouldn't really matter as it has it's own theme-friendly-app.

Apologies if you weren't necessarily suggesting as much, it just gets old seeing people talk about these other AOSP ROMs like they're not really CM7 at the base with icons in the settings menu added, CM settings renamed to something else, language packs removed and maybe a couple surface changes. They're nearly always a CM7 kang. That's all I was saying.

So just because the ROM carries a different name doesn't mean the app works outside of CM. A ROM built from CM but called - for example, Deck's - is still CM7. So the app works. That's all I meant.*

*Reminds me of AC reviewing a ROM that would be a perfect example of this, without acknowledging the source. It's nothing more than acknowledging, admitting the real deal.

=D

The APP was developed by T-Mobile and RELEASED as OPEN SOURCE. CM took it and added it to THEIR ROM. They didn't design it. Using your argument, you could claim CM invented the GMail Icon since it comes with every Android ROM that uses CM base code. Just because someone else included an open-source app with their ROM doesn't mean it came from CM7, even IF the base code of said ROM is from CyanogenMod group. That's what I meant in my original comment. In reality, CM is using Google code to write their ROM's. They didn't create it. Regardless, Open Source and Rooted ROM's are the best thing to ever come to phones. I wish Microsoft was open source...

Sorry, but I was referring to his comment about the ROM, about how his ROM (not CM7 - which the article stated you needed) has it working.

Again, I was saying it appears to be an AOSP ROM built from CM source. I'm not saying CM holds the right. I think you're trying too hard with that analogy.

Alright, I will say (as I think I am either coming off the wrong way, or something along those lines.)

I read the article, I get that they developed and released. Yes, open source, but you don't find this in other ROMs. You don't see HTC taking advantage of such easy theme-a-bility.

I have yet to see this app outside of a CM7 build, either CM7 itself or a kang'd ROM that built from it. My response to his comment was about his ROM appearing to be another one of these kangs. That's all.

I'm not saying anything about open source this or that, or that CM has the right to this app. I was trying to explain why his ROM has a working app of this. He stated "it works outside of CM, it works on my ROM." Well, his ROM appears to be built from that source, so that would explain it.

It really is that simple. There is nothing else to it.

HTC Themes are way more complex and professional looking than the ROM's available in the market for the T-Mobile themer. You say you've never seen this theme chooser anywhere other than a CM ROM? T-Mobile created it as Open Source and put it on THEIR phones first! Then along comes CM who "kanged" it and threw it in their ROM. What else do you think CM "Created"?

Man , I got so excited at first when I started reading
then , you mentioned Root & I was like okay

Then you said, CM7 & I was like Forget it

With all do respect to CM7, I wont flash a custom ROM in my phone

Great write up , Joshua
It should help clear the confusion

I won't flash CM7 either. Every time I have it had more bugs than I cared to deal with. People say it's good to go now, but so is Decks. Hell, Decks was g2g from the first iteration when CM was still putting out nightlies. That's why I laugh when people say Decks is CM7 code...It is. It's CM7 base code...perfected. CM7 base code is Google code that's been tweaked. Google code is Linux shell, based off of 0 and 1. (Microsoft Binary)

So then what the hell do you consider Deck's? Deck's is CM7, CM is built from Android source.
Deck's has things removed and a few various things added. That's why I laugh when people say "ZOMG Deck's is so much faster, smoother, better! They removed teh launguage packs!" It's all hype at the end of the day. For the most part, it is CM7. There is nothing drastically different that is added / removed that makes or breaks anything. And please tell me what was "perfected," since you seem to have such a drastically deeper insight into the two.

I've run one of the altest Deck's after coming from CM7 and one wasn't buggier than the other. I don't know about you, or if maybe your devices build was just rocky. Deck's was "G2G" when it was because it was based off a stable and solid CM7 build.

I think people don't understand this.

Ummm...I CLEARLY stated that Decks is built off of CM7...Actually I said it was PERFECTED off of CM code, but you are coming off (at least it appears that way until your comment below this one) like CM created everything, when they would have "Kanged" their ROM from Google. I KNOW Deck's is based off of CM7. I never denied it, but CM is most definitely not the product of intelligent design. CM kanged their ROM off of Google. That's my point. CM fans are CM fans. I can't help that, but until someone gets rid of CM bugs, (ala Deck's) I think CM gives themselves and gets too much credit for their efforts.

No, no, no.

First, I'm not acting like anything that isn't relevant. CM didn't "kang" their ROM from Google in the sense that the term Kang derives from. I think the word, these days, is used more loosely ... and even a ROM giving credit to CM is still "kanging" it per-se. CM takes Google source and BUILDS upon it. IT adds, tweaks, optimizes. Until the day that we have Deck's not sharing similar bugs / issues that CM does, apart from those included with features / etc that they have straight removed, then it's a different story.

And, no, I'm not acting like CM has "created" anything. I don't suggest that just because something is packaged within CM means they created it, hell, look at the included apps ... and i am not even talking about GAPPS.

You're missing the point. Yeah, created my TMOB but where else do you find it? Who else is doing it? CM has integrated it because it's a great feature, yes. Deck's is essentially CM, so naturally it has the app coupled with it.

IT's not that hard to understand. And I'm not suggesting that CM has created more than they have, as they utilize a bunch of shit which many don't seem to understand.

I think you took my comment, initially, the wrong way ... and are now grasping at straws, or whatever you americans say. Chill. I didn't suggest that CM created this, or anything else, and have previously acknowledged that.

"Derp derp this works outside of CM on my AOSP CM kang"

So, yeah, because it's built from CM. It's just like those bugs that "Deck" can't squash because they are native to CM7, either the bugs are present or he handles it by removing that particular group by itself. Deck's won't be rocking ICS until CM8 builds it, I gau-ran-fucking-tee. You may see some crude builds, but nothing until "jesus " himself does anything.

THat's the point I was trying to make, I Wasn't suggesting that dude created / creates / deserves credit for everything CM. So much goes into CM because of the open nature of it all. IT's so open people can steal it. So long as they give credit to it.
pro-tip:credit doesn't negate a kang

No, actually YOU are missing the point. Here's how this all lays out.

Someone wrote and article for AC and said (very clearly) that T-Mob wrote an open source app that is available and on T-Mob phones.

You chimed in saying CM has had it since the command of "Let there be Light".

Several people chimed in and said their ROM's have it too.

You claim (basically) that any ROM that has it is a kang off of CM.

When people tell you that using your definition of kang, CM kanged Google, Linux and Microsoft, you claim we (I, specifically) am grasping at straws.

It sounds to me, like YOU are the one grasping at straws.

While I'm sure CM appreciates your rabid loyalty to their product and efforts, you are embarrassing yourself.

Then, in your last post, you grab all the comments everyone made, compiled them into a single post, seemingly attributing all the other comments to me?

Google writes an OPEN SOURCE code called Android. CM gets hold of it and makes some changes they want to make. (They haven't written the code, they tweaked it) They release it and say "This is good" or some other biblical shit according to you. Someone else takes it and says "Man, this shit is buggy as all hell. I can fix it". They fix it, and you say they kanged it? Gimme' a break.

As far as all the ROM's not being much different than CM, what the hell do you expect? There are basically 2 ROM's of choice. Sense, and AOSP. AOSP is always going to be Froyo, GB, ICS, or JB since that is what gets KANGED from Google.

If anything, you can claim CM is FIRSTIES with releasing a buggy as hell program. That's why they're still on nightlies. You want to discredit Deck's? At least his WiMax and GPS were working before CM's was so there is more to it than removing a language pack as you claim. Dunno' about your country, but America is pretty damn big, so GPS is pretty important to a lot of us.

Back when CM was releasing their first GB (CM7) nightlies and I was on Froyo still (like everyone else) I flashed one and neither the 4G or the GPS worked. WTF kinda' ROM is that? I have a 4G phone, and now it's like a big-screen Hero? All the fans are like OMFG, CM is King, CM is King, and the rest of us have that look of irony that Stan from South Park is so adept at displaying. You're right; We just don't GET IT.

As for the original T-Mob Theme Chooser? It's amateurish at best. There are many icon changer packs that will change the color of the status and taskbars on the fly, along with changing the style. CM simply scarfed it up and threw it in their ROM, even though bloatware detests them...

I've never understood the appeal of theming, and can't help but think that if you're favorite thing to do on you're phone is change themes, you're grossly under utilizing your phone.

Yeah, apparently you don't understand. LOL
It's not like most of us just "change teh themez" on our phones. It's just another way to tweak / change / jazz up our phones to our liking. A lot of the theme chooser themes are just color themes. Ever wanted your status / noti bar / etc red, yellow, or blue? Well, there you go. Quick and easy.

I'm sure most of the people that are rooting are doing so for larger reasons than just themeing.

"You guys don't know how many of these AOSP ROMs are kang's of CM"

It's hard to call it a kang when the developer gives credit where credit is due. The Liquid acknowledgement page explicitly lists cyanogenmod. You might as well say that CM itself is a "kang" of stock android, or that android is a Linux "kang".

Everyone stands atop the shoulders of giants, that's what is so great about the open source community. Building off someone else's work is the whole idea. As long as proper acknowledgement is given, I can't imagine what the problem is.