Android Primer: T-Mobile 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.

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.

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.

Joshua Munoz