Unbricking a Nexus 4

Unbricking a Nexus 4

Update: I figured out and fixed what was causing massive data drainage in this same device once Google rolled out with Android 5.0 Lollipop, settling for a simple workaround for a bit before finally fixing the issue.


This past while I’ve been getting to know smartphones a bit better, first owning an iPhone 4s in 2012 then swapping it for an LG Nexus 4 in 2013. One thing I hated with both was how the app stores — Apple and Android — required accounts in order to download apps. In trying to move away from such unfree practices, I flashed the Paranoid Android ROM onto my Nexus 4 this past summer and the results were just wonderful. Still very much tied up in Google, the custom ROM came with one or two stylistic upgrades that I absolutely loved, specifically a really neat pie menu feature that I now simply cannot do without.

Fast forward to this past Christmas when a Paranoid update became available. I tried installing it and, well, my phone became a brick. I suspect this was because the update I installed was only partially downloaded, likely due to a sketchy wireless connection that had a horrible habit of going offline just when you needed it most. During the process I also accidentally deleted my system back-up and any automatic restore points that might have been inherently present in the device.

This effectively locked my phone in a nasty bootloop cycle. When I plugged the phone in, it would charge and the “Google” logo in white on black was prominently displayed, but it would never move past this screen. When it would turn off, I was confronted with the anxiety-inducing “red light of death”. Pressing the power button and volume-down rocker moved me into the fastboot screen, from which I could do nothing since no backups existed on the device.

Luckily, I was able to fix my phone in about 20 minutes, largely thanks to this video (and its related forum discussion). All I needed was the phone, my laptop (Windows 8.0), and a USB cable to connect the two.

Here’s what I did. You should watch the video above first; the majority of these steps are outlined there. First, you need to download the following to your desktop: usb_driver.rar (File → Download), Google_Nexus_4_ToolKit_v2.0.0.exe, and the latest Nexus 4 Factory Image (for me, this was 4.4.4 (KTU84P)). That done, it’s probably a good idea to read all the steps below before you actually start the process.

Installing the driver:

  1. Extract the USB Driver file to your desktop. I used WinRAR.
  2. Put your phone into fastboot mode by holding the power and volume-down buttons down. It might take a few seconds.
  3. Connect the phone to your computer and open Device Manager (Windows button+F → type in “Device Manager” → hit “Settings”).
  4. In the box that appears, right-click the option that says “Android Device” or “Android ADB device” and select “Browse my computer for driver software”.
  5. Hit “Browse” and select the “usb_driver” folder on your Desktop. Your selection should look like this in the end: “C:\Users\your-username\Desktop\usb_driver”. Hit “Next” to install the driver.

Installing the factory image:

  1. Install and run your Google Nexus ToolKit (something like “Google_Nexus_4_ToolKit_v2.0.0.exe” on your desktop).
  2. When it asks you to “Make your choice”, type in “9”. This is the option to “Download, Extract Flash Google Factory Stock Rom”, if you read the legend.
  3. In the next screen, you want to “Flash Google Factory Image”, so type in “2” when they ask for your choice.
  4. This is important. Before moving on in the Google ToolKit (Matrix-like black screen with green characters), go to your computer’s C drive and find the Nexus ToolKit folder (“C:\Google_Nexus_4_ToolKit”). Open it and in the “put_google_factory_image_here” folder, paste the full, unextracted factory image file. The file should end in “.tar” or “.tgz” (mine was “occam-kot49h-factory-02e344de.tgz”).
  5. Now type “yes” in the ToolKit and let it run, and then “yes” again when it asks you if you want to “proceed anyway”.

Make sure you have enough battery power on your laptop at this point. I would plug it in, just in case. It’ll take about five minutes to move the factory image from your computer to your phone — just let it run. During this time your phone will reboot a few times and will finish with a pulsating “X” made of four coloured circles. After a few more minutes it should restart again — there are detailed instructions in the ToolKit on what to do if the phone gets stuck in this “pulsating X mode”, but I found patience to be just as effective. And presto, you’ve done it! Your phone is now working again, restored to pretty much factory settings.

Re-enabling as a Media Device

After resetting the device, my computer didn’t recognize it (ie: when I plugged it into the USB port I wasn’t able to directly access the files on it, eg. my photos). Another forum provided the fix: I just needed to reinstall the drivers which, luckily, the device can do on its own provided any previous drivers are deleted:

  1. Plug your phone into your computer and open Device Manager, as before.
  2. Select “Android Device” → “Android ADB Device”, right-click and select “Uninstall” → check “Delete the driver software for this device”.
  3. Unplug your phone from the USB port and then plug it back in. Your drivers will install automatically (give it a minute) and you’re done! If you’re looking for your device in the Device Manager now, it’ll be under “Portable Devices”.

I’m putting this guide up just in case I find myself back in the same boat. If it helps someone else along the way, so much the better!

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