A new, powerful phone sits in your hand. It’s running a recent version of Android and you’re opening Google Play to install a useful new app – only to find that it is apparently not compatible with your device. How could this be?
It probably has something to do with your phone and how it is identified by Google Play. Perhaps the app is limited to a handful of devices because the developer doesn’t have the resources to provide wider support.
Whatever the case, there is a way that you can fool Google Play into thinking that your phone is compatible by editing the build.prop file. The process here is simple, but doesn’t come without risks. Accessing build.prop is not something you should choose to do without consideration of the impact to your phone’s stability. Essentially this is a high-risk edit, one that can brick your device, so care is needed. If you want to edit the file manually you should take a full Nandroid backup of your device storage. You’ll also need your phone to be rooted.
Manually editing build.prop can be successful as long as you stick to the plan and don’t start randomly altering other lines. Treat it like you would the Windows Registry – with care. Here we show you how…
For more expert tutorials, make sure to check out the latest issue of Android Magazine.
Ensure Android is rooted
In order to access the build.prop file, you’ll need to root your Android phone or tablet. The method for doing this differs depending on the manufacturer. For instance, HTC provides tools to help you root, while most others do not. Get up-to-date help at XDA-Developers.com.
Download Tasker from the Play store and launch the app. Read the onscreen information, and tap the checkmark until you reach the main Profiles/Tasks/Scenes screen. To create your first profile, ensure the Profiles tab is selected, and then tap the + at the bottom of the screen.
Take precautions: back up data!
You should have already backed up your data with a Nandroid full ROM backup in recovery. If you’re not backing up, make a copy of build.prop and save it to your SD card or favourite cloud storage. This way, should the worst happen, you have a quick fix.
Open build.prop for editing
To edit the build.prop file you will need a text editor installed. Tap the file in ES File Explorer to open it – a collection of suitable apps will be displayed. For the best results, choose the ES Note Editor app, installed on your system as part of ES File Explorer.
Build.prop is essentially an ID card for your device, outlining the model and other ‘fingerprint’ info for Google Play and your apps. These details can be used to adjust how an app will run. Split into sections, you’ll find your device model listed against ro.product.model.
To fool Google Play into enabling you to install an app that has been marked as incompatible, you’ll need to adjust some fields in the build.prop. Along with ro.product.model=, change ro.build.version.release= which specifies the Android build version, and ro.product.brand= to ‘rebrand’ your handset.
If the initial changes don’t work, take a look at ro.product.name=, ro.product.device=, ro.product.manufacturer=, and ro.build.fingerprint=. Changing build.prop settings will probably require a reference, a screen dump from a build.prop file from another device. Check XDA-Developers.com.
Save build.prop, install the app
With your changes made, use the back button on your device to prompt the text editor to save the adjusted build.prop file. Agree to the prompts, then restart Android. You should be able to browse Google Play for the app you want and install it without any problems.
Help – boot loop!
As mentioned already, tweaking build.prop is potentially risky. If you have made any errors, you will likely find that the device cannot boot correctly. In this instance you will need to restore your Nandroid backup or find a way to restore the build.prop backup from your SD card.
Apps are marked as incompatible for a reason. There is a chance that the apps or games you attempt to install on your Android after tweaking build.prop could damage your device. As such, don’t install anything unless you can confirm that it will run successfully on your hardware.