Android - Don't Panic!

We like to play around with our Android devices. Testing new roms, kernels or other tweaks is, at least in my opinion, part of the whole Android experience. But sometimes things go wrong. First of all: Don’t panic! In contrast to iOS, Android is a rather open operating system which makes fixing a soft-bricked device sometimes really easy. This guide will take you through the standard steps to get your tablet or phone back running. You can revive your device as long as it is only soft-bricked! But beware, depending on your device it can be quite tricky to fix a soft-brick. A rule of thumb is that every device with an unlockable bootloader and accessible stock files (aka Nexus devices). But don’t you worry: This process will hopefully help you with your problems.

What’s the difference between a hard and a soft-brick?

Before we get started I quickly want to discuss the difference between a soft-bricked and a hard-bricked device. It’s actually quite simple. Ask yourself the following question: What can I do with a brick? It’s simple – basically nothing. You can use it as a paperweight or decoration. You can easily identify a (hard-) bricked device based on the following points:

  1. It does not turn on anymore AND
  2. Your computer / Mac does not recognise it anymore

In contrast to that, a soft-bricked device is only half-way dead. In most cases something went wrong while flashing something like a custom ROM, camera mod or app in your custom recovery mode. Because of this, your device is not booting anymore (the so-called bootloop) or is constantly crashing. The basic solution to this problem is flashing a clean & working version of Android to your device. There are different ways for doing this, but most of the time you’ll restore a backup, flash a custom ROM or stock images to your device.

The easiest fix: Use a toolkit for your device

Make sure to check the XDA-Forums if there is a toolkit available for your device which might make the recovering process far easier. Toolkits often install the correct drivers, download the right files and guide you through the process of getting your phone or tablet back running.

If you rather want to do everything by hand, make sure that the latest ADB and fastboot drivers are installed on your computer. There are two ways to do this:

1. Download the Android SDK and extract them from there. Here’s a guide on how to do it.
2. Download this software for Mac or this one for Windows

Write down the location of the drivers (or copy them to a easily accessible folder) – you’ll need them later!

Android device does not boot anymore

If you’re able to turn on your phone or tablet, but it won’t boot, it mean that the device is stuck in the so-called “bootloop”. This happens if you flashed (installed) something that does not work with your device. This is typically a ROM or Kernel, or a combination of both. What happens in this case, is that your device is trying to load something which overloads the system memory, resulting in the device crashing. In the following I’m going to guide you through different steps that you need to follow. This should help you with finding your problem and getting the perfect solution for it.

Step 1. Does your device boot?

  • Yes – Go to step 3
  • No – Go to step 2

Step 2. Try the right button combination for your device to get into recovery mode. It’s usually a combination of the power and volume buttons. DroidViews created a nice list with the right combinations for the most popular devices.

Does it work?

  • Yes – Go to step 3
  • No – It looks like your phone is bricked. Try consulting the XDA-Developer forums for more help

Step 3. Are you able to access the bootloader or recovery mode?

  • Yes – Go to step 4
  • No – Go to step 2

Step 4. Do you have a Nandroid backup?

  • Yes – Go to step 9
  • No – Go to step 5

Step 5. Do you still have a (former) working custom ROM zip-file on your device?

  • Yes – Go to step 6
  • No – Go to step 7

Step 6. Flash the (former) working Custom ROM and reboot. Don’t flash a custom Kernel unless you’re specifically asked to do so by the ROM developer.

Did it work?

  • Yes – Enjoy your working device!
  • No – Go to step 8

Step 7. Try pushing a working ROM to your device. If your device has a SD card slot, simply place the files on it and install the files from there. In the case that your phone or tablet does not have a SD card slot, try pushing the files to the internal storage with ADB. I’ve explained the process here. Go back to step 6

Step 8. Are stock ROM files available?

  • Yes – Try installing them. Most stock files come with instructions how to install them. Follow them. Your device should be working again
  • No – Try consulting the XDA developers forum.

Step 9. Restore your backup. Your device should be working now again.

Custom Recovery is gone

Sometimes flashing a ROM can overwrite your custom recovery. There are two ways to get it back.

1. You have root access

  • Install ROM Manager and use it to flash ClockworkMod Recovery or
  • Install the TWRP app and use it to flash Team Win Recovery Project

Personally, I would recommend to use TWRP. After doing this, your custom recovery should be working again!

2. You don’t have root access

  1. Download the TWRP or CWMR image for your device and save it into the same directory as the ADB / fastboot drivers
  2. Boot into the bootloader. Key-combinations can be found here.
  3. Open the Windows command or Mac terminal and navigate to the direction where the ADB / fastboot drivers are located
  4. Execute the following command: fastboot flash recovery filename.img (with filename.img being the name of the recovery image you downloaded earlier)

Custom recovery should be working again!

You don’t have root access anymore

If your root stops working, there are two ways to get it back:

1. You still have access to a custom recovery

  • Download SuperSU and install the zip file in custom recovery

2. You don’t have access to a custom recovery

  1. Download SuperSU
  2. Follow these steps
  3. Save the file on your devices’ storage
  4. Install the zip file in custom recovery

How to get files to or from a device if you can’t boot to Android

If your Android device does not boot anymore it can be tricky to get files to your device (to install a backup) or from your device (to backup personal files on your computer). Luckily, TWRP and CWMR include ADB drivers.

  • Open the Windows command or Mac terminal and navigate to the direction where the ADB / fastboot drivers are located
  • Use the following command to push files to your device:
    ADB push filename(or folder) directory on your device
  • Example: ADB push /backup/ /sdcard/ – This will transfer the complete folder backup from your computer to the SD card on your device
  • Use the following command to get files from your device:
    ADB get filename(or folder) directory on your computer
  • Example: ADB get /downloads/ /backup – This will transfer the complete folder “downloads” from your device to the /backup/ folder on your computer

The files should now be on your computer or internal storage

Final words

I hope that I was able to offer you a first-aid for your Android emergency. There are many ways to get your Android device back to life. Please comment below or consult the XDA-developers forums if you have any questions!

Are you interested in more Android related guides?
Have a look at our Android knowledge database.

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Philipp Greitsch
Philipp Greitsch is a mobile enthusiast with great interest in the latest trends and developments in mobile, technology and things that make our everyday life awesome.