The Android community’s biggest 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 are hitting official servers for brands like OnePlus, Google, Xiaomi, Sony, Motorola, LG, and even some old Samsung devices.
New Lineage OS 18.1 contains, of course, all the Android 11 features from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), like 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 the Lineage apps now support dark mode, and a fork of the FOSS “Etar” calendar app replaces what Lineage calls the “stagnant and largely unmaintained” AOSP calendar. The FOSS app SeedVault 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 isn’t device-ready. LineageOS takes AOSP code and whips it into shippable shape, patching up any missing components with its own code and adding some of its own apps in place of Google’s proprietary apps (though you can flash Google’s apps on top of Lineage, too), and baking several customization and mod-friendly features into the OS. Everything Lineage does is free and open source.
Most importantly, Lineage has an army of volunteer device maintainers who port builds of Lineage to each specific device, merging in hardware support and debugging compatibility problems so that individual model owners can actually use the OS. This year, the whole process took seven months. (And to any for-profit device manufacturers out there that were just beaten to the update punch by a team of volunteers with only public-level access to the source code, shame on you!)
Lineage’s biggest barrier to adoption (and a 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 the bootloader, which blocks the installation of aftermarket OSes, root access, full NAND flash image backups, and the ability to resurrect the phone in recovery mode if something goes wrong during an update. If you can get a device with an unlocked bootloader (either officially or through a security exploit) and official LineageOS support, you’ll be set for years, though. Today, 6- to 7-year-old devices like the OnePlus One and Samsung Galaxy S4 are being updated to Android 11.
If you want to try Lineage, the release blog post contains links to device-specific instructions for every supported device. The project is also, as always, putting out the call for more device maintainers, documentation writers, and translators.