The Android community’s largest aftermarket distribution, LineageOS, is now up and running with Android 11. The new release is called “LineageOS 18.1” and builds for over 60 smartphones come on official servers for brands like OnePlus, Google, Xiaomi, Sony , Motorola , LG and even some old Samsung devices.
New Lineage OS 18.1 naturally includes all the Android 11 features of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), such as a new notification panel with a persistent media player, floating “bubble” notifications, one-time permissions, new emojis, a new autofill system for the keyboard and more. All Lineage apps now support dark mode, and a split of the FOSS “Etar” calendar app replaces what Lineage calls the “standing and largely unmaintained” AOSP calendar. The SeedVault FOSS app has been included as a built-in backup solution, and Lineage’s screen recorder and music apps have been revamped.
Google releases the Android source code as “AOSP”, but Google’s repo is a big pile of code that is not ready for the device. LineageOS takes AOSP code and stores it in shipable form, patches any missing components with its own code, and adds some of its own apps instead of Google’s own (although you can also flash Google’s apps on top of Lineage) and multiple bins customization and mod-friendly features in the operating system. Everything Lineage does is free and open source.
Most importantly, Lineage has an army of volunteer device administrators who port builds from Lineage to any specific device, merge hardware support, and fix compatibility issues so individual model owners can actually use the OS. This year, the entire process took seven months. (And to all the for-profit device manufacturers just beaten by a team of volunteers with only public access to the source code, shame on you!)
Lineage’s biggest barrier to adoption (and one reason you might not be able to install it on your device) is the industry’s affinity for locked-down bootloaders. Many phone manufacturers and carriers don’t want their customers to be able to control the device they own, so they lock down the bootloader, which allows installation of aftermarket operating systems, root access, full NAND flash image backups, and the ability to put the phone in recovery mode. if something goes wrong during an update. However, if you can get a device with an unlocked bootloader (officially or through a security exploit) and official LineageOS support, you’ll be set for years to come. Today, devices from 6 to 7 years old, such as the OnePlus One and Samsung Galaxy S4, are updated to Android 11.
If you’d like to try Lineage, the release blog post has links to device-specific instructions for each supported device. The project also calls, as always, for more device administrators, document writers and translators.