People choose Android over iOS for a number of reasons, but one of the most common ones is that Android offers greater customization over what Apple allows on its mobile OS. The recent release of Android 8.0 Oreo introduced a lot of new features and smaller tweaks to make the operating system more polished than ever before, but thanks to a recent discovery, it looks like you’ll soon be able to use Oreo to take your customization game to an entirely new level.

By default with Android, you already have a few different ways to tweak how your phone looks and feels. You can install third-party launchers to totally revamp your home screen setup, use custom icon packs and add apps and widgets wherever you’d like, and plenty more.  However, among all of these customizations, one of the biggest is that of system-wide themes.

We’ve seen OEMs like OnePlus, Sony, Samsung, and HTC integrate their own custom theming engines in the past, allowing you to adjust the appearance of your notification panel, lock screen, settings, and numerous other parts of Android’s UI. However, with the release of Android 8.0 Oreo, customizing your phone with themes is about to get a lot more interesting.

Substratum is a popular theming engine that’s been around for a little over a year at this point, but it’s previously only been available on Android devices that are either rooted, running custom ROMs, or certain Samsung Galaxy phones.

Thanks to the folks over at XDA and a few hard-working developers, you’ll soon be able to use system-wide Substratum themes on any Android 8.0 Oreo device  — no rooting or custom ROMs required.

A few years back, Google acquired Sony’s Runtime Resource Overlay (RRO) theme engine and integrated it directly into Android with the release of 6.0 Marshmallow. RRO was eventually turned into the Overlay Manager Service (OMS), and this is what Substratum is based on.

OMS was initially accepted into the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) around the time that Android 7.1 was officially released, but even so, Substratum still required at least a custom ROM in order to work properly.

However, following the release of the initial Developer Previews for Android 8.0, the developers for Substratum discovered that OMS was now fully available to use. XDA dug even deeper to discover ADB shell commands that allow for overlays to be enabled or disabled over Android, and one of the lead developers on the Substratum team then confirmed that he’d also discovered these and was actively using Substratum themes on Android 8.0 Oreo without the need for root access or a custom ROM.

In other words, Substratum themes can and do work on a stock Android 8.0 device.

As awesome of an update as this is, there are still a few things to keep in mind.

Perhaps the biggest caveat is that initially enabling Substratum themes for Android 8.0 requires connecting your phone to a computer and then running a lightweight desktop application. However, once you run the app, you’ll then be able to head into the Google Play Store, download the Substratum app, and start installing and applying any of themes that you’d like.

Along with this, completely rebooting your phone after this process will require you to run the desktop app again in order to re-enable Substratum’s functions. A soft reboot of the System UI won’t require you to do this, but shutting your phone all the way off and turning it back on again will. And, lastly, any themes you install will remain installed until you go into the Substratum app and manually uninstall them yourself.

Substratum’s development team says that it’ll be releasing an app for the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P within a week or so that will allow users on these devices running Android 8.0 Oreo to download and apply Substratum themes.

The application won’t be free, but for such a huge breakthrough like this, we’re more than happy to support the development team behind this.

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Joe Maring

Joe has been a writer and occasional video producer for 9to5Google since July 2017. Follow him on Twitter @JoeMaring1 and send all emails to

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