Xposed - a guide to Android customization extravaganza
Xposed is like a software version of Google's Project Ara. It's a framework which lets you install "modules" with added functionality on top of Android. Many of them replicate functionality you'll only find inside custom Android ROMs, such as the ability to set a screen unlock pattern with a 4x4, 5x5, or even 6x6 grid, for example. Now this feature is just a few taps and a reboot away. No flashing necessary, but you will have to root your device. If you haven't done that already, by the end of this article, you will surely know whether it's worth it. You will need a device that runs either Android Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich, and we recommend at least 1GB RAM, as all of Xposed's active modules consume small amounts of additional memory.
Before proceeding, we suggest you back up your device just in case. Use Titanium Backup or whatever your preferred method is to get a snapshot of how your gadget was before we tinkered with it. We also demand that you carefully read each downloadable module's description and don't install it if something about it looks sketchy. As the modules feature tweaks that require many Android permissions, there is some potential for ending up with unwanted malware on your phone. But if that was the case, Xposed wouldn't have been as popular as it is now.
Backed up or not, let's get Xposed. As framework isn't available from Google Play, you will have to sideload the APK file from this link. It will automatically download the framework's latest version http://dl.xposed.info/latest.apk. Moving on, open the APK file and install it. The Xposed Installer will appear in your app drawer. Open it, tap Framework, and press "Install/Update". Reboot your phone, and that's it. That was quick, wasn't it?
Here's where the fun begins. Open Xposed Installer again, and tap Download. You will be greeted by an extensive list of modules waiting to be explored. Simply tap on one you like and hit Download to get it. When you get all the modules you're interested in, go back to Xposed Installer's Modules menu. You will see a list of installed modules with checkmarks to the left. These activate and de-activate them. Note that these actions require you to reboot before you can see the changes. So it might be best to activate all the modules you want to toy with at once, reboot your device, and start exploring.
We went through the list, picked a bunch of them that made sense to us, tried them out, and demonstrated how they work on a stock Nexus 5 - our beloved "guinea pig" of a smartphone. Along with random tweaks, we tested two very feature-rich customization tools - Gravity Box and GEL Settings. They offer extensive options for changing how various details in the Android interface look and work. Needless to say, we had a blast exploring them, so without further ado, here they are.
Immerse Me and Immersive Mode, Don't Panic! - these two modules work in tandem to provide a quick and dirty way to get rid of the omnipresent Android software control keys. when you don't need them. It's not like you always want them stealing screen space, right? For some reason, Google realised this only when Android 4.4 KitKat came around, and enabled the so-called Immersive Mode for games and multimedia. With these two modules, Immersive Mode goes system-wide. The obtrusive keys and upper navigation bar automatically disappear when not in use, and to get them back, you simply tap or slide upwards. It's the kind of elegant solution that should have been included in Android in the first place.
CyanLockScreen - an excellent solution to change the grid for the lock-screen unlock pattern to a 4x4, 5x5, or 6x6 grid and really get creative with your patterns. We tested it and had no problems so far.
Overflow Mod - this simple tweak replaces the three squares overflow menu icon with a version made of three circles. It's a small change, but the circles definitely look more sophisticated.
Smooth System Progress Bar - this module lets you give the Android system progress bars (visible when installing an app, for example) a complete makeover according to your wishes. You can adjust the speed, the bar width, the length of separation between the bars' sections, and the section count. And you can select a different color, of course - what's the purpose if you couldn't paint the progress bar a lovingly nerdy CRT green?
YouTube AdAway - this module deals with annoying YouTube ads once for all.. until you update the YouTube app, that is. But fear not, because AdAway's developer has no problems with updating his creation along the way. It works really well, although whether you'll choose that, or the ubiquitous AdBlock is entirely up to you.
Gravity Box - this customization module is worthy of an article of its own, but we'd rather keep you busy with awesome new smartphones and tablets instead. Anyway, here are some of the highlights we discovered inside its many menus. The Lockscreen tweaks part lets you decorate the unlock ring with a battery indicator arc, fire up the flashlight with a long press on it, and even make minute adjustments to its horizontal and vertical offset.
Xposed GEL Settings. This is one of the sleekest power-tweaking apps/modules we've had the pleasure of using, and we owe it to the background which is ripped straight of Ubuntu to an extent. Anyway, let's see what this puppy can do.
Mind you, all of the stuff we demonstrated is just obvious tweaks that we felt like checking out. As long as Android stays true to its open nature and continues to evolve, Xposed's potential is vast and limitless. And since it's a developer-driven community effort, it's practically guaranteed that if you ever feel like something else in Android needs to be changed, some developer has already felt the same and whipped up an Xposed module. The beauty of Android, indeed!