Many people think of LineageOS as an option to extend the life of their current phone. It serves as a backup option when their phone stops receiving updates from the manufacturer.
But there are plenty of benefits to using LineageOS on its own. So what if you prefer LineageOS to stock Android but need a new phone? This is the guide for you.
Decide what you want in a phone
You can’t just walk into a store or even go to a website and order a phone that comes with LineageOS. You will need to install the software yourself. This means you need to think about what you need in a phone so you can find a compatible device that meets your needs.
There are also many types of phones these days. Prefer a smaller phone? The bigger the better? Do you want a stylus? Or, in the end, is it simply a matter of cost?
Then there are the specs. Do not follow marketing or even technical advice. If you usually use budget phones and they have always been fast enough for your needs, keep looking at budget phones. A very high resolution screen is nice, but it can also drain your battery faster and requires a faster processor. Have you ever used NFC in your life, and is wireless charging worth paying extra?
This advice applies to buying any phone, but it’s especially important to know what you want in advance when looking for a device to run LineageOS. That’s because LineageOS isn’t available for most hardware, so you can’t just buy any phone and expect there to be support. You are going to have to find what you are looking for in the list of supported devices.
Check the list of supported devices
LineageOS provides a list of devices currently supported by the project, as well as models supported in the past. The list is broken down by manufacturer and the devices are listed in no obvious order.
When you click on a device, you get an image, specifications and exact model numbers. There’s a lot of information here to give you a general idea of which options may work for you. Browse through this information to find phones that match your criteria. Do you want a big battery? Looking for a camera that can capture more megapixels? Want a phone that’s narrower than your current phone? LineageOS provides exact dimensions for each supported device.
As you narrow down your options, here are some of the key sections to look for:
- Published: This lists the release date of a device, which helps you assess whether you can buy a new device or whether you will have to look for a used model.
- Current version: This shows the latest version of LineageOS and Android available for the device. Since the latest version of LineageOS does not roll out to all devices simultaneously, some models may still be stuck on the previous version. An update may take months or not arrive at all. If you’re buying a device to install LineageOS, you might as well buy one that’s already on the latest version.
- Supported models: Technically, LineageOS does not support entire product lines, such as Motorola Edge. Instead, you need the exact phone model number listed on the LineageOS device page (for example, a supported model of the Motorola Edge is XT2063-2). This is because there are often different carrier models or other variants that are not supported.
Once you’ve chosen a device, it’s time to start shopping.
Get ready to buy a phone
Most people just go to the nearest carrier store and see what options are available. But if you’re looking to use a custom ROM, this isn’t the approach to take. These phones are often carrier locked. This introduces headaches that you sometimes cannot overcome.
To avoid such setbacks, here is what you want to do.
1. Buy an unlocked phone
Your best bet is to save yourself the hassle and buy a phone that isn’t locked to a carrier. Buying an unlocked phone is like buying a computer. You are free to DIY the device as you wish. This is a freedom you need to unlock the bootloader (which is different from unlocking a carrier), a necessary step before you can install LineageOS on your device.
This usually means paying full price for a phone, rather than offering a carrier a monthly payment. In the long run, it’s often cheaper even if it means paying more upfront. If financing is an issue, there are other ways to finance your phone purchase than through a carrier.
2. Consider a second-hand phone
You can save even more money by buying a second-hand device. Depending on the phone you are looking for, this may be your only option. On the one hand, that’s the beauty of choosing LineageOS over stock Android. You are freed from the planned obsolescence of each device.
If you prefer the design of older phones, you have the option to continue using them, but not indefinitely, as Google eventually makes changes to Android that LineageOS developers can no longer adapt to older hardware. Still, it could take several years down the road. You could possibly buy a used device and get a longer support period from LineageOS than if you bought a new phone from a carrier.
3. Confirm the model number
Depending on where you shop online, you can often find your phone using the exact model number supported by LineageOS, rather than searching the product name. If that doesn’t work, once you open a phone’s page on the site, see if you can find the model number in the description by tapping Ctrl-F and entering the number.
Sometimes you may need to visit the phone’s page on the manufacturer’s website to find specific information. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t rush this step. If you are able to unlock the bootloader but are unable to install LineageOS because you purchased an unsupported model, you cannot return the device unless you can successfully restore your phone to stock Android.
Follow the installation instructions exactly
Once you have your phone in hand, it’s time to install LineageOS. This process requires some technical knowledge, but since you’ve done your research beforehand, you’re much less likely to run into any issues. Installation instructions on the LineageOS website provide steps that have been verified to work on the models listed. Be sure to follow them to the letter, as any mistake may require you to start over or, much worse, brick your device.
The tricky part can sometimes be installing the necessary tools on your computer to interact with Android devices. You need the Android SDK, especially the ability to run ADB and Fastboot commands.
It’s something you can download and test using your current Android phone. If ADB and Fastboot are running on your computer and you know how they work, you’re much less likely to have trouble following the LineageOS installation instructions.
Should you buy a phone for LineageOS?
Unfortunately, with the substantial changes in newer versions of Android, many older devices are unable to make the switch. Additionally, some manufacturers have opted to further lock down their devices or use hardware that is more difficult for volunteers to support.
This means that your existing phone is less likely to be supported by LineageOS. Likewise, you also can’t assume that your next phone will ever get LineageOS support. If you like custom ROMs, the safe bet is to see what is already supported and go from there.