Substratum Brings Theming to Oreo


Reading through some of my recent articles, you’ll notice a theme: I love customising and tinkering with my devices. From something basic like using Nova Launcher, to rooting and roming, if I can adjust something, I will. While rooting and custom ROMs do add a lot of flexibility, I usually leave my main phone on official software. I use my daily driver for banking and payments and those apps do not like modified systems. I’ll enrol in Android betas, but those usually allow Android Pay to keep on working.

The problem, however, is that when I pick up my heavily themed Nexus 6, I long to do the same to my Pixel XL. Thankfully, Android Oreo just made some of that possible. Some years ago, Sony created a theme engine called RRO. They very generously merged it into AOSP (Android Open Source Project) so that custom ROM makers, as well as device manufacturers could use it themselves. It’s been buried in stock Android since Marshmallow, but root access is needed to apply themes. Until now.

The theme engine, now known as Substratum, made a big announcement today. Starting next week, Substratum will support Android Oreo without root. I won’t go into the full technical detail of how all this is done, XDA Developers already did a great job of that. But put simply, changes in Android Oreo make it possible for Substratum to gain the needed permissions from a terminal command executed on a computer. The developers seem to be producing a windows programme that will automate this process, but I’ll likely execute the shell command myself.

There are a few caveats, which is to be expected. Once the adb command has been used, Substratum will work in the same was as on a rooted device. The app will let you install, manage and remove themes. The big issue is that it won’t retain those permissions after a reboot. Soft system user interface reboots won’t make a difference, but full reboots will. But if you only change and update your themes on occasion, that isn’t an issue. XDA Developers also mention that the theme menu from Oreo preview 1 should theoretically be enabled after running that command, and will survive reboots. That would allow you to change between installed themes, but you won’t be able to update or remove them. Also, note that some items, like system font and emoji, still need root to be themed. The theme engine buried into Oreo doesn’t support that yet.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m not overjoyed by this discovery. Theming has some real benefits, especially if you don’t like the new white theme in Oreo. Truly, this is shaping up to be the sweetest version of Android yet! Developers say that it should hopefully be available within a week, but don’t view that as definite. This is uncharted territory and things can always go wrong.

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