The following post was written by Ryne Hager and Corbin Davenport.
The vast majority of Android device buyers don’t know or care what a custom ROM is. And that’s completely fine – a phone or tablet’s stock ROM will be enough for 99.9% of potential users. But for the 0.1% that like to tinker, the development community surrounding a given device can drastically impact the value. Your purchase can become a much better deal if there is a wealth of custom ROM options available, extending its lifespan for possibly years (and nearly a decade for the HD2).
There are quite a few popular custom ROMs in the wild, but LineageOS is probably one of the best overall. It has a huge community of developers, constantly adds new features, and supports a whopping 182 devices (at the time of writing) with official builds. CyanogenMod was the ROM of choice for users just wanting a basic stock experience, and Lineage Project has done a great job of continuing that effort.
So the question becomes this: what are the best phones and tablets for LineageOS? If you’re willing to unlock bootloaders and flash ROMs, which devices suddenly become more useful? That’s what we wanted to find out.
For this guide, we only took into consideration devices with official Lineage support. While there are many more phones and tablets with unofficial builds, they can often be buggier with slower updates.
Installing any custom operating systems on your device will potentially void your warranty, and the process required to do so can result in a dead device if you make any significant mistakes.
Additionally, the security of your device might be more easily compromised, and some developers (like those for mobile banking apps and some games) do their best to block such devices from using their applications.
Unlocking your bootloader, installing a ROM or custom recovery (and rooting, if that’s your preference) are all things that should only be done when you understand the steps involved and the risks associated. Remember: a bricked device isn’t the worst case scenario, the really bad things just start there.
If you ROM a phone, expect mediocre camera performance. There are exceptions, but generally without the closed-source camera binaries most OEMs ship phones with, the quality of photos will be lower.
It’s also important to note that official LineageOS builds can also be buggy or unstable at times, even on the most well-supported devices. If you need your phone or tablet to be as stable/reliable as possible, custom ROMs probably aren’t a good idea. If a phone is still receiving OEM updates, keeping your firmware and bootloader updated may also be more difficult on LineageOS.
No matter how you slice it, Android tablets just aren’t popular anymore. Most of them are terrible generic units, usually available from the bargain bin of your local Walmart. There are a few outliers, like the Galaxy Tab S3 and ZenPad 3S 10, but there haven’t been very many good Android-powered tablets as of late.
Finding the best tablets for LineageOS was a challenge, because there aren’t many recent models with a large enough following for custom ROMs to crop up.
Google Pixel C
The Pixel C is Google’s latest attempt at a tablet, and probably its best. It was originally intended to run Chrome OS, but that operating system wasn’t quite ready for the tablet form factor, so Android was used instead. However, Android wasn’t in much better shape, as this was before stock Android had multi-window support.
Still, the Pixel C was a solid product (you can find our review here), and it became even better once Android 7.0 shipped with multi-window. As you may know, Google tends to support its devices with major updates for two years, and security updates for three. There’s a good chance Android Oreo will be the last major update, because December 2017 will mark two years since the tablet’s release date. As for hardware, the Pixel C is definitely the best-equipped tablet on this list. It has an NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32 or 64GB of storage, and a 2560×1800 IPS display. Google also sells a Folio Keyboard ($149 MSRP) that props up the tablet and allows for easy typing.
Thankfully, Lineage is here to the rescue. The Pixel C’s strange partition system and other issues kept more than a handful of ROMs showing up on the device, but Lineage started officially supporting the Pixel C back in June.
The only real downside to this tablet is the cost. Google originally sold two models, a 32GB unit for $499 and a 64GB model for $599, and prices haven’t changed much since then. On Swappa, the 32GB version hovers around $400-450, and the 64GB one is around $450-$500. It really should be cheaper, but the Pixel C absolutely still holds up in 2017. It’s important to note that some listings will include the folio case as well, which bumps up the price slightly.
Installing Lineage on the Pixel C is a breeze, as you would expect from a Google device. Just unlock the bootloader, flash the TWRP custom recovery, and use TWRP to install Lineage. You can find more details, as well as a complete installation guide, at the links below.
NVIDIA Shield Tablet/Shield Tablet K1
Back in 2014, NVIDIA released a tablet-shaped successor to the original NVIDIA Shield handheld, called the NVIDIA Shield Tablet. It was a pretty great tablet, with a Tegra K1 chip, 2GB of RAM, 16 or 32GB of expandable storage, and an 8″ 1080p display. It was pretty much a successor to the Nexus 7 2013, especially considering that NVIDIA is great with software updates.
Two years later, NVIDIA re-released it as the ‘NVIDIA Shield Tablet K1.’ There were a few minor cosmetic changes (you can see some pictures here), and it didn’t come with a stylus or charger. Those alterations were done to get the price down to $199. But as far as functionality goes, it’s the same tablet – you can even buy the stylus separately and use it with the K1. The original Shield Tablet goes for around $170-240 on Swappa, but they’re rare. The Shield Tablet K1 is around $220-$280, but availability is also limited.
LineageOS supports both versions with a single unified build, so you don’t have to try and guess what model you have if you’re not sure. The process of installing it is identical to Lineage on the Pixel C – just unlock the bootloader, install TWRP recovery, and use that to install Lineage.
Honorable mention: Google Nexus 9
The Nexus 9 was one of the most controversial Google hardware products in recent memory. Released in 2014, it is equipped with a Tegra K1 processor, an 8.9″ 4:3 2048×1553 screen, 2GB of RAM, and 16 or 32GB of storage. But the tablet’s battery life, unpredictable performance, and less-than-stellar build quality made it not a great choice. Google stopped providing Android updates for the Nexus 9 earlier this year, leaving it with only security updates (which will likely end late 2017/early 2018). Thankfully, official nightly Lineage builds are available for both the Wi-Fi and LTE models.
As far as I can tell, Lineage currently doesn’t have most of the software issues initially discussed in our Nexus 9 review. Most of the feedback on XDA has been positive, with a few bug reports here are there (which have been quickly fixed by the maintainer). The random performance slowdowns are due to the Nexus 9’s full-disk encryption, so if you want the absolute best experience, you should flash this custom boot.img that disables encryption before installing Lineage.
If you decide to disable encryption with that method, you will not be able to use Lineage’s built-in updater, because it will re-encrypt the tablet during the update process. Whenever you update, you’ll have to manually download the new zip and install it in TWRP yourself. This isn’t hard by any means, as long as you know what you’re doing, but it’s a bit annoying.
Because of the extra steps required to get encryption disabled, the fact that you can’t use Lineage’s built-in updater once you do, and the tablet’s not-so-great build quality, the Nexus 9 only gets an honorable mention. The Wi-Fi model alone goes for around $130-200 on Swappa (some more expensive listings also include accessories), making it the least-expensive tablet on this list. The unlocked LTE variant is around $150-300, though most listings include accessories.
Nexus 9 (Wi-Fi)
Nexus 9 (LTE)
The Nextbit Robin is perhaps the best smartphone deal on the market. It started off as a flagship device priced for less (much like Nexus and OnePlus) in early 2016, and slowly crept downwards in price. Then Razer bought Nextbit, and the price absolutely plummeted, recently reaching $109.99 on eBay for a brand new unit.
But the price didn’t drop because it was a bad phone – in fact, it’s still a great device. Presumably, Razer has just been trying to clear stock. If you’re not familiar with the Robin, it has a Snapdragon 808, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a 5.2″ IPS 1080p display, and a 2,680mAh battery. Pretty standard specifications for a late-2015/early-2016 flagship.
The Nextbit Robin already has Android 7.1.2, but it probably won’t receive any more major updates. Lineage is one of the many ROMs available for the phone (AOSPA is another good choice), with builds being generated nightly. There are a few reported bugs, like the notification LED staying on, but everything seems to be pretty stable. Installation is pretty simple – just unlock the bootloader, flash the TWRP recovery, and install Lineage with TWRP.
Motorola Moto G4/G4 Plus
As mentioned above, you won’t find a better low-end Android phone right now than the Nextbit Robin. But if you really want a different cheap phone to install LineageOS on, Motorola’s Moto G4 (and to a lesser extent, the G4 Plus) is probably second place. If you read our review, you’ll know that both phones are pretty solid, but neither have water resistance or NFC.
First, let’s go over the specifications. Both phones have a Snapdragon 617 processor, a 5.5″ 1080p LCD, a 3,000 mAh battery, and GSM/CDMA compatibility. The G4 has 2GB of RAM, while the G4 Plus has either 2 or 4GB depending on the exact model. Storage can also vary, with the G4 having either 16 or 32GB, and the G4 Plus having 16 or 64GB. Both models have microSD expansion. Finally, the G4 doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner, while the G4 Plus does.
LineageOS has official combined builds for these phones – meaning the G4 and G4 Plus use the same zip files. The only bug currently reported causes the phone to reboot when connecting a Bluetooth device, which will hopefully be resolved soon.
The unlocked G4 currently goes for around $100-150 on Swappa, and the G4 Plus is around $130-200. Considering that the Nextbit Robin has NFC, USB Type-C, and a fingerprint sensor (albeit a flaky one), it’s definitely the better deal at the moment. But if you really don’t want a Robin for some reason, the G4 and G4 Plus are the next best option in this price category. Before buying, make sure to check if the model you’re buying is supported by Lineage (see the ‘Supported models’ section of this page).
The Nexus 6P is a bit long in the tooth, but it’s still a decent phone. It has been known to have some battery problems as well as the potential for bootloops. But as one of the last Nexus devices, it was guaranteed to have fantastic ROM support, and that includes LineageOS.
Spec-wise, the Nexus 6P is no slouch, even today. It has a Snapdragon 810 processor, a 1440p AMOLED display, 3GB RAM, a fantastic 12MP rear camera, and a 3450mAh battery. At the time of writing, you can pick one up used for $200-370 on Swappa, depending on storage size. If you don’t already have one, that’s not a bad price, but there are other phones on this list you can buy new that pose a better value.
The Nexus 6P is also nearing the end of its mainstream software support, so tossing LineageOS on it might not be a bad idea. Since this is a Nexus device, LineageOS is fairly stable on it. So, while I wouldn’t be sweating the lack of future updates just yet, it’s worth a thought if you own one now and plan on keeping it for a while. Just keep in mind that it does have a history of hardware problems.
Le Pro 3
LeEco might not be doing too well right now, but that doesn’t mean the company’s phones are bad. Or, at least, that doesn’t mean that LeEco’s misfortune can’t be your gain – the Le Pro 3 might be the best value on this list. For just $199 on Amazon (at the time of writing) you can pick up a 2016 flagship. That’s a Snapdragon 821, 64GB storage, 4070mAh battery, and a 1080p IPS display, packaged together in an all aluminum body.
Our review of the phone was quite critical, but almost all our complaints came from the poor software experience. If you’re picking one up with LineageOS in mind, that’s no problem. You can look forward to a long-lasting battery with up to two days of life on a charge. The only real drawbacks are a mediocre camera and no headphone jack, and the latter can certainly be forgiven at the current price.
The biggest drawbacks to flashing LineageOS are a loss of IR blaster support and problems with SafetyNet that even Magisk can’t work around. Some people were able to change the build.prop values to report a certified device and found success, but your mileage may vary, and you’d have to do that with each update.
Given the almost $100 price difference between the two, and the near-identical feature set, the OnePlus 3 presents a better value over the OnePlus 3T in my opinion. In some markets, you can still pick the 3T up new, but in the US you’ll have to make do with used. The OP3 runs around $280ish, while the 3T is closer to $350. The Le Pro 3 is cheaper, available new, and has roughly the same specs, though.
The OnePlus 3 and 3T are about what you’d expect for 2016 flagships. You get a Snapdragon 820/821, 6GB RAM, 64-128GB storage, 5.5″ 1080p OLED display, 3,000/3,400mAh battery, and a 16MP rear shooter. For the full skinny, you’ll want to check both of our reviews.
I can speak from experience when I say that the OP3/T is a lovely device to ROM. It has an easily unlocked bootloader, excellent developer support for multitudes of different ROMs, including LineageOS. Although OnePlus initially promised to release the camera blobs for ROM makers, that never actually happened. While AOSPA came up with their own solution, LinageOS won’t have the same level of camera performance. Dash Charge should work, though.
Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus
We’re often criticized for leaving phones from manufacturers like Xiaomi off these lists. They are popular with the same groups as ROM phones to begin with: people that like to save some money. We usually give these phones a pass because of source availability issues (in the US and other countries, you have to import them), and because they usually have incredibly limited support for frequencies used by carriers outside Asia. But, if you’re determined to pick a phone that can do phone things very well in most countries, the Mi 5s Plus exists.
Specs are comparable to the two above. You get a Snapdragon 821, 5.7″ 1080p IPS panel, 4/6GB RAM, 64/128GB storage, dual 13MP rear camera, and a 3,800mAh battery. Prices vary from $300-400. Again, the Le Pro 3 is probably a better value.
There are some hoops you’ll need to jump through to get all the hardware working, like flashing the global developer ROM from Xiaomi before flashing LineageOS. Random small bugs with things like the camera and intermittent performance problems also pop up more often than they would on other devices. But if you absolutely need to get a Xiaomi phone for LineageOS, it’s an option.
Working here, I (Ryne) get a lot of requests for phone recommendations. Budget providing, I have two answers for every person who asks me that question: buy the latest Galaxy phone or buy the current OnePlus. The latter I recommend to anyone interested in a stock experience, root, ROMs, or a slightly reduced budget. I may have returned my own OnePlus 5 as a result of problems with the display, but I am exceedingly picky, and I found the phone perfect in almost every other way.
On paper, the OnePlus 5 looks good. You get the latest Snapdragon 835, 6/8GB RAM, 64/128GB storage, 1080p OLED display, 16+20MP rear camera, and incredible frequency support. Our review gave it our Most Wanted accolade, too. And you can buy one now for $479-539.
Originally this phone wasn’t going to make the cut because it didn’t have official LineageOS builds, but they were just recently added. Given how new the device (and the Lineage ROM) is, you should expect a few bugs to be present. For example, there’s currently a problem with call volume and calls over Wi-Fi, but I’d expect issues like these to be resolved soon.
Galaxy S7 / edge
Honestly, this phone belongs somewhere between the high and mid-end on this list, but it had to go somewhere. It’s not the latest model, but it still presents an excellent value in both features and performance. And, unlike the newer Galaxy S8, it has official LinageOS builds. Used prices for both the S7 and S7 edge are also reasonable (around $350 for both on Swappa), and if you’re determined to pick one up new, you absolutely can.
The only officially supported hardware variants are ‘herolte’ and ‘herolte2,’ which correspond to the Exynos models. The SM-G930F, SM-G930FD, SM-G935F, and SM-G935FD are the ones you want to keep an eye out for. They have excellent frequency support, so you should be able to use them in most countries, including the US. To be safe, you should check the frequencies supported and your carrier to be sure. There are other Exynos-powered models for other markets that work with LineageOS, too.
Specs for LineageOS-supported models include an Exynos 8890, 4GB RAM, 32/64/128GB storage, 1440×2560 OLED display, microSD expansion, 12MP camera, and a 3,000/3,600mAh battery. Bugs have been intermittently reported for LineageOS on the S7/edge related to things like Bluetooth, hardware navigation keys, and network idle, so keep that in mind.
Most models of the G6 are locked down pretty tightly. For example, even though the T-Mobile H872 model has an unlockable bootloader, there’s no way at present to flash a custom recovery. So, if you want to ROM a G6, your best bet is the US997 unlocked model or the H870.
That’ll get you a Snapdragon 821, 4GB RAM, 32/64GB storage, dual 13MP camera, 5.7″ 1440×2880 IPS display with rounded corners, and a 3,300mAh battery. Compared to other Snapdragon 820 and 821 based devices on this list, it presents quite a poor value, but the 18:9 screen may be worth it to you. At $450 new it comes at a 2X premium compared to the Le Pro 3, which offers similar specifications.
It’s still early days, and there are a lot of bugs for Lineage on this device. There are reports that the mic, camera, and network connectivity on the G6 aren’t working perfectly just yet. It also probably won’t receive the same attention from developers/maintainers that more enthusiast-friendly devices like the OnePlus 5 will. But, the G6 is an option if you want one of the recent bezel-beating flagships on LineageOS.
There are a ton of phones that didn’t make this list, like the Moto Z series, LG V20, and Xiaomi Mi MIX, but we had to draw a line somewhere. Custom ROMs present quite a rabbit hole. We can’t make an exhaustive list and expect anyone to want to read it.
Although we might be a minority, there are a lot of us that buy a phone with ROMs in mind. Some of us buy a phone for the long haul and are prepared to take matters into our own hands when an OEM halts updates. Some of us have built our workflows around the extra features that ROMs like LineageOS provide, or we enjoy the privilege of truly owning our phone via that extra layer of customization. And some of us just want to try the next version of Android a bit early.
Whatever your motivation might be, from novelty to utility, if you are shopping for a phone with LineageOS support in mind, now you’ve got a few good ideas to base your search on.