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How to: Change Your Galaxy Nexus Soft Keys to Customized Colors or Versions

Many of you noticed the sexy new blue soft keys that my Galaxy Nexus was rockin’ and asked for instructions on how to do it. By no means is the process difficult, but it does take a little bit of time the first try. Once you get it down, you can swap out soft keys in minutes and will soon be testing them all to get that perfect fit for your setup.

The instructions I pulled from XDA‘s soft key mod post allows you do this on your device and not have to attach yourself to a computer. There are other sets of instructions for computer-based methods, but this one just seemed the easiest for those of us on the go.

Let’s get to it!  

Instructions:

*Note 1 – To my knowledge, you HAVE to be on a deodexed ROM in order to perform this. This cannot be done on a stock, rooted Nexus. Then again, some in the comments are claiming to have done it, so proceed at your own risk if you aren’t running a custom ROM.

  1. Download and install Root Explorer from the Market.
  2. Make a full nandroid backup in recovery, then reboot your phone. (Safety in case something happens)
  3. Download the soft key mod you like from this XDA thread.
  4. Open Root Explorer and navigate to /system/app/, find SystemUI.apk, long press, and select “Extract.” Go to the folder sdcard/speedsoftware/extracted and make sure you have a folder that’s called SystemUI.
  5. If the folder is there navigate to where you downloaded the chosen softkeymod (usually sdcard/download) and long press it. Select “Extract all.” Go to sdcard/speedsoftware/extracted and there should be a folder with the name of the softkeymod you just extracted.
  6. Click on this folder, and also on the next. Hit the menu key and press ‘Multi Select’. Highlight all the images included in the folder and select ‘Copy’ at the bottom. Navigate back to the SystemUI folder, go to SystemUI/res/drawable-xhdpi and ‘Paste’ here. A command prompt should pop up asking to replace the current images. Select ‘Yes For All’.
  7. In some instances, you may also have to move some icons into SystemUI/res/drawable-hdpi as well. You will know if you finish this, reboot and not all of your soft keys are themed.
  8. Go back to the sdcard/speedsoftware/extracted folder, long press the SystemUI folder and select ‘Create ZIP’
  9. Rename the created SystemUI.zip to SystemUI.apk and move the SystemUI.apk to your /system/app folder. Change permissions of SystemUI.apk to rw-r–r–
  10. Reboot your Galaxy Nexus (pull battery out and reboot, this is an essential step) and your softkeys will be modded!

*Note 2 – During step 9, if you start to see your phone force close before you can change permissions, do not freak out. I was able to battery pull, reboot, and then head back into Root Explorer to adjust permissions. Also, since we created a backup at the beginning, we can always jump back into recovery and revert back to 5 minutes prior if we would like.

Here are a couple of screenshots to help you with the process:

  

  

You can find a variety of soft key mods at this XDA thread.

*Note 3 - For those asking about the text icons I have for Gmail, Gtalk, Phone and Camera, you can download them here. They are simple text icons that I made using Roboto font and a 200×200 transparent background. In order to use custom icons, you need to switch to a launcher that allows for them such as Nova Launcher.

  • vaibhav

    must your phone have to be rooted

  • Japerr01

    I followed the steps verbatim and when I try to ‘Move’ it to system/app I get ” unable to move becuase it is a read only file.” wouldn’t let me change permissions either for systemui.apk …. ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Poya-Moradi/655935491 Poya Moradi

    Whenever I try to extract SystemUI.apk, if I hit “Go to extracted” Root Explorer crashes. If I hit “Stay” and go to the SpeedSoftware folder, there’s nothing in there. Any ideas :(

  • Jroc869, Cool story bro

    some updated methods on there and method one was just like it said easy breezy Im rooted but no rom and it works great. just no search key of course. Im on a GSM Gnexy

  • http://www.twitter.com/nblufire12 Nathan Patel

    Works perfectly. Thanks Kellex!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1120074466 David LaCivita

    I used method 4 and it worked like a charm.  One very small bug is the soft keys remain in the Kindle app.  Since the color is not while anymore it isn’t too big of a deal.  They do turn into grey dots in the camera app though…

  • Floodjlc

    When I extract the SystemUI.apk I do not have a SyrstemUI folder.  Not sure why.  I have tried all these different ways and none of them work.  Grrrrr

    • http://www.twitter.com/nblufire12 Nathan Patel

      create speedsoftware/extracted with root explorer

  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    I would love to see them make some versions W/O the search key. I just like having 3 buttons I actually use instead of a fourth I’ll hardly touch. 

    • taxes for fun

      Search key only appears if you have a search key mod already in place

      • Anonymous

        Like on CM9? I think it can be disabled after all.

  • http://twitter.com/Ike_Farmer Chris Franzen

    this method didn’t change ANYTHING. Deodexed rootzboat. All it did was HELLA slow my phone down. ugh.

  • Jcm2384

    How do you enable the search soft key??

  • Anonymous

    someone make an APP make things easier!!!

    • http://twitter.com/Ike_Farmer Chris Franzen

      ok seriously. Maybe you shouldn’t be modding your phone…

      • Anonymous

        If statements like that were true than all colleges would be teaching assembly way before java or c++.

        • balls

          hes right though, its not that hard to learn the filesytem at all

  • Marnett2005

    Same thing should work on any ICS with softkeys. Just did the same mod on my Xoom, and now the keys match the color. Thanks for the guide!

  • Anton Post

    Thanks alot for the link to my thread at xda, much appreciated! I will add a MetaMorph method today!

  • zach taylor

    getting stuck on step 4 go to the folder sdcard/speedsoftware/extracted when i try to go to it it says no such file exists

    • Anthony White

      Reboot the phone. That’s what I had to do.

    • zach taylor

      JUst had to use the easy way out with rom tool box pro thanks anyway

  • Elliott HillJennings

    Rocking the blue stock ics keys. Installed using Jrummy’s theme manager in Rom Toolbox Pro running stock rooted 4.02. took less than 30 seconds

  • Anonymous

    If anyone wants to be lazy, then you can use this to change the softkeys.  http://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=21000376&postcount=154

    It’s a batch file I made to automate the creation and transfer of two (one’s modded and one’s a backup/original) flashable zips.  Just use one of the softkey images from the XDA thread in the article and follow the instructions in the zip.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1120074466 David LaCivita

      Thanks from a lazy modder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/treswaters Tres Nugget Waters

    How do you get the search key to the far right?

  • Jeremy Morrison

    Thanks Kellex! The way this worked for me is I had to mount RW in /sytem/app in order to overwrite System.apk. Also could you post a System.apk (original) that we could download and swap out if we ever want to go back to factory on that? 

  • http://twitter.com/_beardly Parker Yates

    Kellex would you make more text icons for browser, contacts (or people) and text (or messages)?

  • Jrummy16

    Added the themes to ROM Toolbox Pro Theme Manager. Install them w/ a single click of a button. If you don’t want the pro version and don’t want to purchase Root Explorer you can always do the same thing with the free version of Root Browser ;) 
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?p=19180964

    • Skyskioc

      This worked like a champ ! Way easier than all the BS you have to do in root explorer. I would advise anyone that wants to do this to purchace rom toolbox pro and use it to install the themes. Thanks JRummy. Props from Ptown (Placentia)

    • Anonymous

      Once again switched back to LibertyX3 after messing with 2nd-init roms, I just can’t get away! Thanks!

    • Chrisriner84

      Hey man, have loved your stuff since you helped me oc my droid x, lol. Love your rom toolbox, thanks for the marvel boot animation. Keep it up, brutha!

    • Jason

      Thanks Jrummy! I just bought the pro version of your app and it’s great, really easy, love that I can preview all the softkeys!!! Is there a way through your app to be able to get the search button with only being stock root?

      • Jason

        one more question to anyone out there, I did the stock blue and the soft keys are always there now instead of hiding unless needed? Is this the same for all these or maybe just the one I used?

        • Anonymous

          bump

    • 11knives

      Hey… I have Rom Toolbox Pro on my DX running EncounterICS with Button Launcher Mod. I can access Theme Manager, but not seeing this option. Any thoughts? btw I also run Liberty3 V2

    • http://twitter.com/Craigboy Craig Boyte

      I just bought the app, it works great!   Even on a stock rooted device it installed the new soft keys – thank you so much for the tip. 

    • Anonymous

      Thank you so much Jrummy! Your work is always appreciated!!!

    • Xxlawlerxx

      I bought toolbox pro for my galaxy nexus and when I open the toolbox up it says “root check failed, we failed to obtain root access”

      what do i do?

    • http://twitter.com/myermenson Michael Yermenson

      Used ROM Toolbox Pro Theme Manager on stock rooted rom, works fine, took 30 secs.  Great work!!  Thank you!!

    • Ryoung1036

      BEST 5 DOLLARS I’VE EVER SPENT!!! its pretty awesome makings customizing stupid easy :) thank you!

    • rlorenz

      Jrummy, you’re awesome. Love your products.  Keep up the good work–I’m glad to support a dev like you. Although I recommend all tinkerers know their way around adb and root explorer, your stuff makes everything so much faster and practical.

  • SteveTango

    Anyone else running into problems around step 4? I try to extract SystemUI and it extracts it to /mnt/sdcard/speedsoftware/extracted, also, when I try to go to the folder, it’s not there.

    • mm777

      yeah i get a error that says file not found after trying to go to that folder.

    • SteveTango

       Nvm, I got it…loving it!

      • Clark

        What did you do? I have the same.

        • SteveTango

          Not sure if you’re having the same problem with it saving to /mnt/sdcard instead of /sdcard, and I dont know if it really makes a difference, but either way I went to menu>preferences, scroll down to “archive extract folder” and change it to /sdcard/SpeedSoftware/Extracted. After that, go into /sdcard and create a new folder called “speedsoftware”. Now, go back into /system/app/ and try extracting the systemui file again. That worked for me, hopefully it helps you.

          • Clark

            Yep, that worked for me.  Wouldn’t work any other way.  Thanks!

        • SteveTango

           I also ran into the same problem when trying to extract the softkey zip file you download. Instead of long pressing on the zip itself, go into the zip and extract each file individually. Then continue on w/ the multi-select/copy step. Kind of tedious, but if you run into the same problem I did, that’s your way around it.

  • mm777

    i can’t seem to get root explorer to extract correctly. file can’t be found wtf.

  • Guest

    Is Root Explorer worth paying for over something free like ES File Explorer?  I don’t mind paying for a good app, but want to make sure it’s worth the extra.  Does it do things other file explorer apps can’t do?

  • Anonymous

    I followed these instructions (stock, rooted) and I got the three stock buttons to turn blue but no search button added.

    • Anonymous

      which one did you use???

      • Anonymous

        The ones listed above. I believe it was option three.

        I also used photoshop to make pink buttons for my wife’s Nexus.

        • Anonymous

          no, which style. I think only some have the search and others don’t. I’m curious as to which style tho, I don’t want the search button

          • Anonymous

            Ah, sorry, I think it was the second to last one, right above the reflection ones. It had a search button image included but it didn’t show up when I was done though.

          • Anonymous

            Ah, sorry, I think it was the second to last one, right above the reflection ones. It had a search button image included but it didn’t show up when I was done though.

    • Alex

      You need a custom rom to get the search button.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthony.bottari Anthony Bottari

    Ah..damn  you have to be rooted..not ready to root until my warranty is up..oh well..still more stuff to add to the bookmarks! 

    • Jeremy Morrison

      If you need to make a warranty claim just flash back to factory and relock the bootloader. 

    • Anonymous

      Not ready to root until the warranty is up?  That was the entire purpose for getting the phone; rooting, custom roms and kernels. I rooted my Nexus after the battery was fully charged and I’m not looking back. 

      • Guest

        Actually, some of us just wanted a pure Android phone, sans skins, without having to root & rom.

        • http://www.facebook.com/anthony.bottari Anthony Bottari

          I’ll root when I have a better understanding on how to do it all safely ..My biggest fear of trying it is bricking it!..I like the stock OS as it is right now..if i were to root it would be for only minor changes ..and if by chance a rom comes that catches my attention i’ll flash it..It’s probably easier then I’m thinking it is.but can never be to sure..

          • Jac_White

            I dont blame you for not rooting…..I have not yet (although I have already unlocked the bootloader) but I have to say……the chances of bricking it are slim and none.   Since the stock recovery files were released if you really hosed something up you could just go back to that.

  • Elrutt

    id like to know how you got the home keys to spell out the app. is that just part of the mod or is it something i could do on my stock tbolt with a launcher

    • http://www.facebook.com/raphael.uduhiri Raphael Uduhiri

      You don’t need to be rooted. You can easily replace icons on the dock  using launcherpro/go launcher and custom icons from xda.

      • SteveTango

        The dock, yes. The soft keys, I dont think so.

      • Anonymous

        Nova launcher is better if you want a stock isc look with adw tweaks.

      • Anonymous

        Just a quick question: is there a website that specifies the dimensions, filetype (.png or .jpg) for making your own custom icons for say, LauncherPro?

  • Tim Buchanan

    Wish we could get something like this for the non-rooted users. :-/

    • balls

      that statement makes no sense, if you want more options then Root permissions starts it all

      • Tim Buchanan

        Thanks bro!

  • http://twitter.com/bettadaze bettadaze

    modded soft keys are the only reason i will be keeping my Nexus.  with the ICS menu & button changes, i cant quite reach all the way to various parts of the screen comfortably.  have all buttons back on the bottom at least makes a big difference

  • Anonymous

    Can you change the shade when pressed? Can you upload a picture of it pressed with that mod?
    Side note: does the stock ics keyboard not spellcheck in browser?

    • GNEX(MOTOX)

      yea you can choose any picture u want.. don’t know…bout the spell check in browser..

  • GNEX(MOTOX)

    oh, so only roms have the search key?

  • http://twitter.com/garhomes Garland

    Deffffinitely didn’t see that Note #1, but still got it to work on a stock, rooted GNex. Although I did have to pull the battery.

    • Anthony White

      Did you just follow the instructions Kellex listed? At what point did you have to pull the batter?

  • WormDoes

    Kellex, just an FYI, you can also use Desktop Visualizer to change the icons on stock launcher

  • Mood

    I’m sorry, but that live wallpaper is rubbish. 

    The soft keys are quite nice though. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    You’ll probably want to zipalign SystemUi.apk afterward. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/nickvargish Nick Vargish

    There’s an app called “Simple Text” that lets you create textual icons for, well, stuff that needs icons. It behaves like an icon pack, so if you’re running a launcher that plays well with them (I’m using Nova) the process is pretty seamless.

  • Anonymous

    I remember looking at ICS back when it was presented and thinking: “YES! customizable software buttons”

  • Evan Knofsky

    This works on stock perfectly fine

    • schmiggy

      which method?  Do you need a search key added to your phone already?  And if so, how? 

      • Evan Knofsky

        The method he stated, but you do need to be rooted

        • JSK

          Does this add the search key or just change the skin? Im rooted, but thought i needed to be on a deoxed rom for this. I thought this would just skin the key if it was available already.

  • Michael Forte

    Does long press on the search softkey initiate voice search?

    • Florynce

      Yes

      • GNEX(MOTOX)

        how do u get the search key?

        • Anonymous

          Xda ftw.

          • GNEX(MOTOX)

            true, because they’re in the middle but it seems more functional i guess..

  • GNEX(MOTOX)

    how/why do u have a search button on yours? can i get that?

    • Anonymous

      Kellex is chuck norris. Also, you took an arrow to the knee. ujealous bro?

      • GNEX(MOTOX)

        lol, kimir. i just want to know how to get the search button/ will it ever come in an update without rooting…at the moment.. to busy to root. 

      • GNEX(MOTOX)

        btw, i find it funny.. i changed my name to galaxy nexus and my profile pic was a galaxy…lol, its like it was destined to be! lol.

      • balls

        you can email chuck norris at: gmail@chucknorris.com

  • Zombieflanders

    Ummm…the XDA thread you linked to has at least one method of doing it on a stock rooted Nexus. I have my softkey mod working on a stock rooted Nexus right now.

    • JSK

      How exactly?  Option 2?  It seems to imply you need to be on a custom rom, because if your rom doesn’t have a search key already it wont show up? 

      “- If your ROM doesn’t have a “Search” softkey, then this image won’t be used. You can still use these styles!”

    • Zoloft_User

      Please share how you did that…

      • Zombieflanders

        Method #2 worked for me.

      • Anonymous

        Option 4 is the easiest way to go.  I am on stock and didn’t use the search images.

    • Mahale

      are you rooted?

  • http://www.thinknetbook.com Eloquescence

    Awesome!! Just what I was looking for — can’t wait to try this out tonight!

  • Michael Forte

    Ahh thanks for the dock icons. I already had the blue softkeys before reading this post but was wondering where you got those icons.

  • JSK

    So basically we need to run something like this?  http://androidforums.com/verizon-galaxy-nexus-all-things-root/464513-rom-cwm-lte-icl53f-deodexed-rooted-busyboxed-softkeys-apm-ab-mods-12-17-2011-a.html

    Seems to be the closest to stock I can find that is deodexed.